Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Short Jungian Interlude 11

Summing Up

Strong stern line, Howth Harbour, Oct 2010
What initially was intended as a short interlude on Jung before I resumed my reflections on Professor Paul Gilbert's The Compassionate Mind has now run to eleven separate posts, but happily I have now reached the end of this rather long break which is more of an interruption now than an interlude.  Still, I have long believed in following anything that I was passionate about and in playing to my interests.

The Meaning of Self-Knowledge

What does it mean to know the Self or the Soul?  Jung concludes this little classic The Undiscovered Self with a very short chapter - it runs to a mere four and a half pages in length - on the meaning of self-knowledge which he described in the previous chapter.  Now he wishes to explore its deeper meaning.  In this regard he makes several salient and important points:

(i) He is at pains to point out that the Shadow part of the psyche, while apparently dark, obviously shady and shadowy, is not all negative.  In fact its integration can lead us the discovery of real gems of wisdom hidden in the muck of the Freudian cesspit (Dr Anthony Storr's description of Freud's notion of the personal unconscious.)  Jung expanded on Freud and saw the existence of two types of unconscious, the personal and the collective.  While all those primitive instincts and drives were in both these types of the unconscious, there was much more besides - many ancient or primordial images or organising principles which were there from the start and of which we can easily and readily become aware if we are open to listening to the language of our dreams. 

While there are basic instincts down there in our unconscious there also are real powers and energies to be discovered and integrated into our personalities.  When they are integrated through soul work, that is through psychotherapy, creative writing, the arts in all their forms, music, drawing, painting etc we become bigger and better people - in other words, we become more whole, or literally more together in ourselves.

A ship's hold - an image for the unconscious, Howth, 2010
(ii)  In Irish the scout motto "be prepared!" is "bí ullamh!" and this is Jung's clarion call to his fellow human beings of 1957/8 and to us his readers and followers today.  He tells us that we must be in a state of "preparedness" so that the "irruption of these forces and images and ideas associated with them" will not knock us off balance.  If we are so prepared and/or open to being both surprised and even not a little disturbed, we will be rewarded positively both as individuals and as a society.  If we are neither prepared nor open to them we will literally be destroyed.

(iii) Change is slow, slow, slow.  Society will not be changed over night - it takes tens if not hundreds of years.  The only person we can really change is ourselves.  Often when we have done this we will unconsciously change others around us too.  Hence, many shallow idealists often give up in frustration and even despair because they cannot bring about the great changes they desire in others or in society.  Psychiatrists, therapist, counsellors - all those healers of souls - all realize that they can only work on one individual soul at a time, and even then it may take many years of therapy to bring about the desired change or amelioration.  Jung's words here are enlightening and inspiring I feel:

The effect on all individuals, which one would like to see realized, may not set in for hundreds of years, for the spiritual transformation of mankind follows the slow thread of the centuries and cannot be hurried or held up by any rational process of reflection, let alone brought to fruition in one generation.  What does lie within our reach, however, is the change in individuals who have, or create, an opportunity to influence others of like mind in their circle of acquaintance.  I do not mean by persuading or preaching - I am thinking, rather, of the well-known fact that anyone who has insight into his own actions, and has thus found access to the unconscious, involuntarily exercises an influence on his environment.  The deepening and broadening of his consciousness produce the kind of effect which the primitives call "mana."  It is an unintentional influence on the unconscious of others, a sort of unconscious prestige, and its effect lasts only so long as it is not disturbed by conscious intention.  (Op.cit., p.76)
(iii)  The Zeitgeist or Spirit of the Age

However, all is not lost on the question of bringing about change in society outside individual effort.  Jung adverts to the Zeitgeist or spirit of the age which often blows through a society and which is itself unconscious.  This unconscious force compensates the attitude of consciousness and anticipates changes to come.  He then goes on to instance the case of modern art as a potent example of such an unconscious energy: "[I]t is really performing a work of psychological education on the public by breaking down and destroying their previous aesthetic views of what is beautiful in form and meaningful in content." (ibid., p. 77)

(iv)  Avoiding Self-Annihilation

As I have stated in these several posts the book in question is very much one of its time.  Written in 1957, not long after the bloodbath of The Second World War and during The Cold War when Atom  and Hydrogen Bombs were very much to the fore in human consciousness and possible human destruction was not a mere fiction, this book underlines the important fact that educating ourselves to be aware of our unconscious is a most powerful way to rid the world of such an unthinkable idea as that of human annihilation.

In this book, Jung states that his greatest fear is that humankind is losing "the life-preserving myth of the inner man which Christianity has treasured up for him." (Ibid., p. 78)  Much could be said about this great psychiatrist's understanding of the role of religion in the human psyche, but such would be a digression from the centrality of the issue at hand - discovering the self.  Religion for Jung, at least in this little book would seem to be seen as a vehicle to keep alive in the hearts, souls and minds of all men and women the reality of an inner world, a world made up not just of the conscious mind but also of the unfathomable depths of both the personal and collective unconscious which are both a treasure trove for personal discovery and individuation when properly accepted and integrated.

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