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On Image and Duality – C.G.Jung – The Red Book Reflections

January 11, 2010
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In 1925, in the midst of working on the Red Book (RB) Jung wrote “It seemed to me I was living in an insane asylum of my own making. I went about with all these fantastic creatures: centaurs, nymphs, satyrs, gods and goddesses as though they were patients and I was analyzing them”. S. Shamdasani, the editor of the RB, noted that Jung found mythological work both exciting and intoxicating. Jung understood mythological images as symbols of the universal life force (libido) depicting the movements and dynamics of the autonomous, archetypal psyche.

Jung writes about one of his earlier visions: “On the night when I considered the essence of the God, I became aware of an image.” In this vision he dialogues with Elijah and his daughter Salome. Two thoughts strike me immediately as relevant for an understanding of Jung’s approach. One is his use of the word image.

An image is not to be confused with outer reality. Physicists provide explanations for the nature of matter and outer reality, but one thing is certain, our experience creates an inner image that is not the same as outer reality. The image is a subjective experience in the individual mind. It can be visual, but the experience of a sound or a physical sensation will also bring forth an image. A thought is an image.  No question, there is an outer world and also an objective psychic reality, but it is only through the subjective capacity of cultivated self-reflection that one can – with some luck and grace – gain access and insight into the larger, transpersonal realities. An image is like a symbol. It is not to be taken literally or the door becomes a trap holding you prisoner in a concrete and narrow reality. An image is a doorway  into another reality.  A paradoxical situation, the image is you and is not you. You are the observer and the observed. A necessary duality has been created. Necessary because all creation depends on this duality and the forever shifting dance between the two opposing forces. A oneness has been torn asunder. It is in the liminal space in-between that new life can be born. In the context of self-reflection the new life can be a new insight, the possibility of a new pattern of experience.

In the context of a necessary duality, it is interesting that Jung when contemplating the essence  of “the God”, encountered a male AND a female figure. The transpersonal may be a field of oneness, but the human intellect can only approximate the  divine mystery of creation as two intertwined forces. As above so below. Think DNA. These two opposing forces are often referred to as masculine and feminine, but one must drop all preconceived notions about gender or sexuality. Each individual psyche, male or female,  is made up of these energy strands, as is the objective, archetypal psyche. Yang and Yin are more neutral descriptions. Jung elicited the principles of Logos (yang, masculine, foresight, legislation, ordering, willful) and Eros (yin, feminine, receptive, related, moving, dissolving) out of his visionary meeting with Elijah and Salome. Jung writes: The way of life writhes like a serpent from right to left, from thinking to pleasure and from pleasure to thinking. Collectively and individually we are suffering an imbalance in this eternal dance that has favored the masculine principle. Where Logos rules order and persistence  prevail, where Logos rules at the expense of Eros, it degenerates into dominance and abuse of power. In the individual this tendency can be associated to the sickness of the soul, known as the narcissistic personality. The problem of narcissism has been thought of as a characteristic of a dying culture. I can see this trajectory, unless psyche is irrigated by the flow of eros and balance is restored one more time again.

I am less interested in why Jung’s psyche chose Elijah and Salome as personifications of his unconscious thoughts. These are uniquely his images. It seems of much greater significance how he engaged these images. A method that later became known as Active Imagination. A technique that strongly emphasizes the duality principle. In other words, the ego, the “I” as I know it does not disappear in the face of the visionary figure. One must hold ones ground vis-a-vis an imaginative figure. They are to be met with respect, but not revered as gods, because they are not. Nor are imaginative figures spirits who have all the answers and will tell one what to do. They also don’t foretell the future. Our psychic images are real, but the essence of their reality is behind the surface of the mental image.

It is in this dialogue with Elijah and Salome, in that sacred, liminal space between them that  Jung realizes: “If forethinking and pleasure unite in me, a third arises from them, the divine son, who is the supreme meaning, the symbol, the passing over into a new creation. I do not myself become the supreme meaning or the symbol, but the symbol  becomes in me such that it has its substance, and I mine.”

Not one, not two. The paradox, nonduality requires duality.


Now we have Jung’s Red Book. So what? Reflections on the tasks ahead

November 1, 2009
1 Comment

There is indeed a buzz about Jung’s Red Book (RB). At least within the comparatively tiny group of people who either know of Jung’s significance in the field of depth psychology or those who, in one way or the other, appreciate the value of soul and psyche. So far the book’s images elicit the greatest interest. No doubt, they are magnificent and incredibly meaningful in the context of Jung’s journey through his psychic depths. But be warned, I say, don’t be simply seduced by their esoteric beauty. Don’t become reduced to a mere audience that applauds a master.

I wonder what the purpose of the publication of the RB at this time might be? One valid answer is a purely academic one and Shamdasani, who edited and introduced the RB,  notes the importance of putting Jung’s process in a historical context. But that still begs the question of how Jung, or at least the Jung that I have internalized, would have liked to see the RB put to good use? We already know that he rigorously refused to be cast in the role of a teacher or guru. He clearly did not want his way, which we can trace step by step in the RB, to be seen as the way. Nothing is further away from Jungian thought than a dogmatic one size fits all program of how to understand psyche.

The RB follows Jung’s trail of how the School of Analytical Psychology came into being through the process of Jung’s “most difficult experiment”. Maybe this is what ails main stream psychology and other forms of the healing arts today, a stifling willingness to follow a well trodden path, even if the path was forked out by someone like Jung, without delving deeply into the chaos and mystery of one’s own psychology. Maybe this is one reason why the RB is needed. Jung records the development of  tools and techniques, which later became known as active imagination. Armed with these tools we can walk our own path. Jungian work is all about experience followed by integration. Our own experience. The value we give to the imagination, the sense we make from our dreams, the relationships and dialogues we build with our dream figures. Jung demonstrates over and over again that only through the imagination do we gain access to the mysteries of our inner lives. What has been experienced needs to be integrated. The alchemists knew this phase of the process as the reddening. When experience needed to be infused with the red of one’s own life blood, which means bringing what you have gained in your imaginative exercises into your life. That is integration. Then you live your truth. So don’t be an admiring audience, Jung would not have any of  it, be a participant in the great work of the alchemical tradition that Jung envisioned. The world needs it and that may be why the RB has been made available to us at this time.


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