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In the Beginning there was the Word ~ C.G.Jung-The Red Book Reflections

November 29, 2010
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I am not a great believer in words..but I guess the more people believe in words the more powerful they can be.. (thank you Mona K). I came across these words in my twitter stream just as I pondered Jung’s imaginal encounter with “the Anchorite” in the Red Book (RB), in which the two of them discuss the meaning of words.

We are shaped by the spoken and, to even a greater degree, by the written word.

The Anchorite (an inner, imaginal figure) speaks to Jung: “Surely you know that one can read a book many times – perhaps you almost know it by heart, and nevertheless it can be that, when you look again at the lines before you, certain things appear new or even new thoughts occur to you that you did not have before”.

What is suggested here is to appreciate the “word” as a symbol and not as a sign with a definitive, unmovable meaning. A symbol is a door into the unknown and language, the word, can be such a portal. We all the know the power of poetry or of a book that transported us into another world. A good piece of writing can take us to very unexpected places, if we allow it to happen. “A succession of words does not have only one meaning. But men strive to assign only a single meaning to the sequence of words, in order to have unambiguous language”, the Anchorite proclaims.

Like a tightrope walker we are asked to perform a delicate balancing act.Words and language allow us to grasp and assimilate the nature of reality. It is hard to detach the word from human consciousness. “What was word, shall become man. The word created the world and came before the world. It lit up like a light in the darkness“, Jung writes. He also says that “this striving is worldly and constricted” and the mysterious addition that this striving “belongs to the deepest layers of the divine creative plan”.

Initially the limited, narrow range of meaning provides security. We need to believe the illusion that we know what is what. Jung writes, “the unbounded makes you anxious since the unbounded is fearful and humanity rebels against it”.

The paradox: We must build walls of meaning in order to emerge as conscious beings out of the chaos, but then these very walls must be broken down, because “words should not become Gods”.

One way of measuring ego-strength and maturity of personality is to assess a person’s capacity to tolerate ambivalence. This capacity is closely related to the ability to feel empathy. It is all about tolerating otherness. Empathy is the genuine ability to see the world through the eyes of another. Another who is truly different, someone who cannot be easily understood. It takes effort (and ego-strength) to make room for another standpoint, another meaning. There are many ways to be right. We have reached maturity when we can give up tour need to be right without losing ourselves and our values.

Imagine ~ making room ~ imagine that the entire universe is within you and every person, every other living creature is a parallel universe ~ no either/or, no right or wrong

“He who breaks the walls of words overthrows Gods and defiles temples”, Jung writes. We need to break down the prison of stale and empty words. We need to dismantle inherited belief systems, which have lost the spark of life. We need to give up the delusion that a word in itself represents truth. It does not matter whether the word is in the Bible or in another writing considered sacred, in your favorite novel, on the internet or in one of our ingrained thought patterns. The word may give us temporary security. That may be necessary for some time. But the evolution of consciousness cannot be stopped, it can only be resisted, which makes it harder. The evolutionary trajectory of life pushes us towards new meaning. Meaning full of juicy freshness and uniquely individual. This is what Jung’s entire life’s work was about. But this encouragement comes with a warning. Jung writes: “But no one should shatter the old words, unless he finds the new word that is a firm rampart against the limitless and grasps more life in it than in the old word”. We find this over and over again in Jung’s work. Jung who parted ways with Freud, because he believed that the unconscious did not only need to be tamed, but was also the source of rejuvenation and great treasures, was also acutely aware that its forces were so powerful that it could sweep us into the chaos of psychosis at any time.

The word is a container and a prison. We need to find the balance on the tightrope. Words, stories, narratives create our lives. As we grow, our stories, memories and narratives can change. Are our narratives, the way we think about ourselves still true? Are they still meaningful in the sense that light and life are pulsating through them? Or do they need to be shed like a serpent leaves its old skin behind?Nothing is forever. We are always becoming.


On Gratitude and Thanksgiving – A Jungian Perspective

November 24, 2009
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Thanksgiving is a huge holiday in this country. Their favorite one many of my US friends say. It was not a holiday where I grew up and as the meaning of holidays is very much tied to one’s culture and familial traditions, Thanksgiving as I saw it practiced in mainstream America meant very little to me. I love the idea of harvest festivals and of expressing gratitude, but I could not make  sense of a national turkey day and an obese nation stuffing themselves silly followed by a shopping spree on Black Friday.

I wonder if those who consciously experience and express gratitude on Thanksgiving are a miniscule group. Maybe not, but probably not as large a group as they could be. How do we understand gratitude psychologically and how does one get there? Melanie Klein introduced gratitude, together with its opposite, envy, into psychological language. There are always two sides to everything. Just as light and shadow do, gratitude and envy go together. Jung had a profound understanding of the duality of nature. He knew that the opposite is always present, but usually hidden in the invisible world he called the unconscious.

Most people who experience gratitude describe a feeling of fullness and richness that is unrelated to any material possessions. They experience a well of goodness that does not run dry. There is  enough good to go around for all. They feel as if they were plugged into a source that stills a thirst beyond the physical. Gratitude is an expression in response to an experience of being deeply cared for and held by something larger than oneself. This gratitude goes far beyond a thought of gratefulness that one’s lot is a little lighter to carry than one’s neighbor’s. Gratitude is fearless, it fosters compassion for all living beings and the ability to see life even in the so called inanimate matter.

I do not believe one can fully experience gratitude without being aware of its opposite envy. In Jungian thought gratitude and envy are archetypal forces. They exist outside of our individual lives, but we partake of them. In the case of envy, there is no escaping it.  We all are envious to some degree. The problem is that envy lives in the shadows of the unconscious. Whatever is unconscious will be projected out. Our unconscious searches for a suitable object  and we just hang our projection on this object like an old hat. Consciousness will trick us then into believing what what we see is “reality”.  (Reality becomes more slippery the more we think about it.)

We all know some of these people, may even have been one of them at times, who spew nothing but negativity. Everything needs to be criticized, ridiculed, made small or put down. Envy destroys hopes and dreams.  Envy is full of fear. There is never enough of the good. It is anti-life. It poisons the soul.

Envy is even harder to catch when it is directed against oneself. Then it manifests in that, often very rational and “adult” inner voice, that ridicules our desires and will stop us from believing that our dreams are worth pursuing. That you are too young, too old, too fat, lack education, lack money, not healthy enough or it is just plain impossible or unrealistic… I better stop, I made my point, the list could go on forever. Envy constricts and restricts and hardens, it turns the heart into an arid patch.

What to do about envy? Unfortunately there is no miracle cure or pill. But, as with everything else, awareness and acceptance are the first steps. Nothing changes without them.  Envy is archetypal. We did not create it. We are only responsible for how we express it. We need to trace our negativity. Who or what is on the receiving end of our sneer? How can we put an image to that inner  voice, that judge or saboteur that prevents us from living our life with courage and grit. As we take a stance and stand up to the poison of envy, its opposite, gratitude and trust in goodness, can be released. We don’t own goodness either, but we can take our fill from that cup that never runs empty, regardless of where and who we are in our lives. Gratitude – at last.

Happy Thanksgiving.


On the value of time and what it takes to be a Jungian

October 26, 2009
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The alchemists, and I consider Jung to be one of them, were guided by the belief that in order to fully comprehend a text one needs to follow the Latin dictum of “lege, lege, lege, et relege”. The English translation means,”read, read, read and then read again”. A work of the magnitude of the Red Book most likely needs to be read four times. I have just begun my first reading, it will take time.

Time is such an interesting concept. From psyche’s point of view there is no such thing as time. Psyche lives in the experience of the eternal moment that includes past and future. The conscious personality, the ego, has difficulties wrapping its head around such an idea. And for good reason, linear ego time is all too real in lived life. Whether we like it or not, we grow older, “time” moves on and one day we will “run out of time”. I often struggle to “make time” for what really feels important. Jung worked diligently and with unwavering focus from about 1913 to 1930 on what was to become the Red Book (RB). That is a long time. He painstakingly devoted seventeen years of his life to a self experiment that became known as his confrontation with the unconscious and ultimately resulted in the RB. He gained all material for his later works, now published as the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, from this confrontation. It was a humbling reminder of the energy, devotion and, yes, time it takes to establish a fruitful relationship to the unconscious. I was reminded of how often I had a dream that felt meaningful. I may have written it down, engaged the images for some time and then moved on. Jung was always very clear on the fact that there is a proportional relationship between the effort, (which I define as the investment of energy, intent and time) one puts towards the unconscious and the fruits this labor can bring forth.

I don’t think I ever felt as clearly as I do now what it is that defines a Jungian.  It is not that one has the credentials of being a Jungian analyst, it is not years of Jungian analysis, nor is it the reading of Jung’s writings up and down and four times back and forth. None of that may hurt, but the defining quality will always be the courage and strength to confront the unconscious, this invisible world as it manifests within each one of us. The persistence to bring forth meaning and to follow the path that will form out of it. A truthful Jungian will find the courage to walk his own path, with the highest degree of consciousness possible. Much easier said than done, I know. But this attitude is a Jungian’s North Star, a point of  orientation and navigation. I quote Jung from the RB, p. 231 ” Believe me, it is no teaching and instruction I give you. On what basis should I presume to teach you? I give you news of the way of this man, but not of your own way. My path is not your path, therefore I cannot teach you. The way is within us, but not in Gods, nor in teachings, nor in laws. Within us is the way, the truth, and the life”.

The Red Book by C.G. Jung

Edited and Introduced by Sonu Shamdasani

Philemon Series, 2009


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