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.

A Short Jungian Interlude 10

Looking at the Individual Psyche

Seagull, Howth, October 2010
Carl Gustave Jung repeats himself often in this short classic The Undiscovered Self, but, like T. S. Eliot, if he does so, it is always from a different and unique angle each time.  Our psychiatrist author argues that we humans are largely unaware of our motivations as we are of our complicity in what happens on a more global scale.  Individuals today, Jung argues, are unconscious of the fact that each and everyone of them "is a cell in the structure of various international organisms," and as such constituent cells we are implicated in the conflicts of these "organisms." (Op. cit., p. 71)  So for the German people who lived during World War II there can be no excusing themselves from guilt.  There should be no blaming others through projecting guilt onto them, by attempting to foist onto others what they cannot accept in themeslves.  If they do so they project their blackest of shadows outwards onto other less fortunate groupings.

Jung goes on to blame much of modern society's ills (bear in mind that he was writing these thoughts in 1957) on the moral complacency and lack of willingness by members of society to take on responsibility for their actions and those of their fellows in that social grouping.  Then, once again he makes an astute and insightful remark that the mutual withdrawal of projections promotes much undestanding among conflicting sections in any society.  However, Jung acknowledges that getting rid of prejudices is hard work and that it takes a very long period of sustained and determined energy on the parts of all involved.  On humanity's failure in this regard, he writes:

Seal grabs a thrown fish, October 2010

He does not recognize them [his prejudices] for what they are, anymore than one does oneself.  We can recognize our prejudices and illusions only when, from a broader psychological knowledge of ourselves and others, we are compelled to doubt the absolute rightness of our assumptions and compare them carefully and conscientiously with the objective facts... The mass State [USSR at the time] has no intentions of promoting mutual understanding and the relationship of man to man; it strives, rather, for atomization, for the psychic isolation of the individual.  The more unrelated individuals are, the more consolidated the State becomes and vice versa. (Ibid., 72)
The phrase that appeals to me in this paragraph is the rather powerful one which runs simply: "the psychic isolation of the individual."  This, for me, is sheer magic - after all awareness of one's own personal unconscious and indeed awareness of the vastness of the "collective unconscious" in each one of us would have a consolidating effect on the mass of people and would thereby take away all the "brainwashing" control exercised both subtly and obviously on the citizenry by the State.

The Call to Recognize our Shadow:

The central call of this chapter "Self-Knowledge," as of the very book, is to each one of us to begin to recognize his/her shadow.  This means that we must begin to be less egocentric and egotistical, less wrapped up in our cerebral and personal concerns, more open to our unconscious motivations, and consequently more accepting of our faults, failings, flaws, short-comings or sins - call them what you will.  This leads to modesty, the opposite of blind hubris or pride.  Jung calls on us to begin to acknowledge our imperfections.

Human Relationships: 

Once again Jung has some interesting and unique thoughts on the subject of human relationships.  He argues that a human relationship can never be based on differentiation and perfection, because these qualities only call forth stagnant sameness and imperfection.  Strangely and paradoxically our psychiatrist author argues that good relationships are based on imperfections and the mutual acknowledgement of them by each partner.  Our imperfections make us lovable.  They are what make us weak, helpless and in need of support.  In short, the perfect has no need of the other because by definition the perfact has all.  On the other hand, weakness has need of the other.  In such a relationship there is no mutual humiliation, no inferior or superior partner.  This question of human relationship is very important, Jung argues, because in the Mass State there occurs what he calls "the atomization of the pent-up mass man." (Ibid., p. 74)  To counteract this deliberate atomization of individuals in an anonymous society what is needed is a spiritual power which will enlighten, enliven and lift up and fuse together the souls of individuals into an ebergy which is essentially love or "caritas" as the Vulgate Bible and the Catholic Church puts it.  This love for one's fellow man and woman is a most important binding principle in society (the exact opposite of the atomization principle).  

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Short Jungian Interlude 9

Our Shared Guilt

The Parish Church of Santa Caterina dello Ionio
In the Bible we are in the heartlands of the mythothology and of the mythopoetic.  Fair enough, there is also a fair deal of history intermixed, but it is coloured by the eyes of faith, by certain cultural standpoints, biases and indeed prejudices.  One of the great Biblical mythic stories is that of Adam and Eve, the so-called First Parents of Mankind.  This is a mythological story based on other Near-Eastern mythologies.  Like all good myths, it has a message for its listeners and/or readers.  It's message is simple - evil has entered the world through humankind's fall from grace, from its sheer hubris to want to go it alone without outside help (namely that of God in this case), from its sheer disobedience to its Creator.  This is a mythical or mythological story which seeks to take into account the sheer guilt and culpability that belongs to the human race through its very humanity.

From a psychological point, Jung argues, that this mythical story reveals much truth, viz., the innate guilt and culpability that lies in human nature innately, hard-wired into our genes from the word go.  Now this position is not that extreme at all.  Any thinking and feeling human being will be aware of the "dark side" or the "shadow side" of his own nature and psyche.  In other words, Jung is arguing that Relgion has always had a role in life, namely that of alerting its adherents to the depths and heights and expanse of human nature and of the psyche.  He is arguing that the real task of Leaders in the world of Psychiatry/Psychotherapy is to alert humankind to the world of their Unconscious, to all that repressed and suppressed stuff or issues that lie there.  In arguing for this growth in awareness, Jung is pleading with mosern men and women to be open to the dark or shadow or evil side in their character because it is there anyway due to our sheer animality, that is, there in our genes from the beginning and lurking there suppressed and repressed in our Unconscious.  Let us listen to the learned and wise psychiatrist's own words here:

The evil, the guilt, the profound unease of conscience, the obscure misgiving are there before our eyes, if only we would see.  Man has done these things (all mannner of evil); I am a man, who has his share of human nature; therefore I am guilty with the rest and bear unaltered and indelibly within me the capacity and inclination to do them again at any time.  Even if, juristically speaking, we are not accessories to a crime, we are always, thanks to our human nature, potential criminals.  In reality we merely lacked a suitable opportunity to be drawn into the infernal melee.  None of us stands outside humanity's black collective shadow.  Whether the crime lies many generations back or happens today, it remains the symptom of a disposition that is always and everywhere present... [O]nly a fool can permanently neglect the conditions of his own nature.  In fact this negligence is the best means of making him an instrument of evil.  Harmlessness and naiveté... lead to projection of the unrecognized evil into the "other." (The Undiscovered Self, p. 69)
Now, the above is a weighty and profound passage which I would implore any readers of this piece to read again and meditate on it.  Jung is here getting to the real root of evil, viz., in our very own heart, in our very own soul, in our very own psyche, in the cesspit that is the unconscious, both individual and collective.  The above is also a psychological rendition of another religious myth which is at the heart of the doctrine of Original Sin.  This last doctrine can therefore be seen as a metaphor for psychological guilt occasioned by what Jung calls above "humanity's black collective shadow."

Jung has already underlined clearly many times in the present work the point that there is a split in the human soul or self or psyche, call it what you wish, namely the split between the Conscious and the Unconscious.  The real task of all psychotherapy is in making the unconscious side of the personality conscious.  This is no easy task, but it is the only way to discover the real self in its totality or wholeness.  Hence the title of Jung's book, The Undiscovered Self, refers to the fact that most of humanity blithely ignores the wholeness or totality of the self.  When humans ignore their own dark or shadow or evil side they project it onto others, and will use certain people as scapegoats for their guilt.  Hitler used the Jews and many other undesirable minorities as a scapegoat for his personally denied shadow.  Other Germans would follow suit.  The coloured races have also been victims of such scapegoatings - projections of the shadows of the white majority.  Look at war in any country: the enemies are always demonized while the local heroes are canonized.  Once again demonizations and canonizations are both wrong as they only acknowledge one side only of the duplex which humankind is.  I'll finish this post with some more words from our learned psychiatrist because they cut to the heart of the matter and really makes one think, at least certainly this reader:

Cowslips in the fields around Santa Caterina dello Ionio, Jan, 2011
... evil... is lodged in human nature itself [and] it bestrides the psychological stage as the equal and opposite partner of good.  This realization leads straight to a psychological dualism, already unconsciously prefigured in the political world schism and in the even more unconscious discicciation in modern man hiumself.  The dualisdm does not come from this realization; rather, we are in a split condition to begin with.  It would be an insufferable thought that we had to take personal responsibility for so much guiltiness.  We therefore prefer to localize the evil with individual criminals or groups of criminals, while washing our hands in innocence and ignoring the general proclivity to evil.... The great advantage of this view [the christian view of evil] is that it exonerate's man's conscience of too heavy a responsibility and fobs it off on the devil, in correct psychological appreciation of the fact that man is much more the victim of his psychic constitution than its inventor.  (Ibid., p. 69)

A Short Jungian Interlude 8

Memories of older days on the Sea: Soverato, Jan 2011

I have long been a lover of philosophy - since my eighteenth year to be precise.  For the following four years this subject would be one of the subjects I studied for my primary degree.  My love for this subject has never left me.  When we started out we were given the many often quoted aphorisms with respect to this important subject.  We were told that philosophy meant literally and etymologically "the love of wisdom," and that it "begins in wonder and ends in wisdom."  Another aphorism we were taught was the Ancient Greek one "Know thyself",  along with the Greek characters: γνῶθι σεαυτόν or rendered into English characters for ease of remembrance: gnōthi seauton.  Apparently this adage was  inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. 

Then we had a very brilliant philosophy teacher whom I have mentioned often in these pages, and he introduced us to the Socratic method, that searching, logically structured and questioning approach to the Truth.  This has meant that I have had a life-long fascination with the Greek philosophers.  In Plato's Apology (pologhma) we learned all about Socrates' wonderful defense of his conduct as a philosopher and a pursuer of Truth in life.  Indeed, that this man was an authentic individual is without doubt.  That's what makes him a man for all ages and an intellectual and spiritual leader for many.  Socrates'  wisdom, we learnt, was a type of ignorance: an open awareness of his own intellectual shortcomings.  This is a wonderful starting point for learning anything new.

The goal of Socratic interrogation, then, is to help individuals to achieve genuine self-knowledge: even if that meant learning all about their faults and shortcomings as well as their strengths.  Then, under the excellent tutelage of Rev Patrick Carmody, M.A., M.Phil., we went on to learn the provenance of that other oft-quoted philosophical aphorism from Socrates, namely: "The unexamined life is not worth living."  That adage occurs in the following context: Even after he has been convicted by the jury, Socrates declined to abandon his pursuit of the truth in all matters. Refusing to accept exile from Athens or a commitment to silence as his penalty, he maintained that public discussion of the great issues of life and virtue was a necessary part of any valuable human life. "The unexamined life is not worth living." (Apology 38a) Our brave Ancient Greek philosopher would rather die than give up philosophy, and the jury was happy to grant him that wish.

Back to Jung:

In the shadows - Fontana di Trevi, Roma, Dicembre, 2010
I have already mentioned that Carl Gustave Jung refers to absolutely no other scholar or philosopher in his book The Undiscovered Self.  Rather, this book is sort of a testament to his own life and to his own deep convictions about psychology and psychotherapy in all its various incarnations, and especially in his very own therapy called analytical psychology.  It is a book written for the lay person, and consequently it serves as a very good introduction to his work.  However, we will find many overlaps in what he has to say in chapter 6, entitled Self-Knowledge with the contents of my introductory words.

The Weight of Evil:  The Human Shadow

It is hard to blame Jung for concentrating on the propensity for evil that exists in the human heart.  After all this book was written at the height of The Cold War in 1957, barely 20 years after the bloodbath of The Second World War and the horrors of the Holocaust of Innocent Jews as well as that of many other minorities.  The shadow of evil was psychically palpable to the more sensitive members of the human race and Jung was among the most sensitive in this regard.  The harsh reality, though, was that most Germans, and indeed other nationalities, were in denial of their responsibilities for any of this evil.  There is nothing new in this, at all.  We can but agree with our psychiatrist scholar that denial of guilt is common to all humankind.  As Dr. House says in an early programme in that series: "We all lie.  There's no one that doesn't!"

I am deliberately skipping the first four or five pages of this chapter as they deal essentially with the religious nature of humankind, but will return to it at the end after I have dealt with the reality of the almost universally denied Shadow that lurks in each one of us.  In Jungian thought, and the present writer finds it hard to deny this stark truth, wars are the result of humanity's failure to deal with its own shadow on an individual basis.  Instead of integrating it in the psyche it seeks to externalize it in evil out there, by demonizing others.  I read the following words with deep acceptance because these and others must be said, and repeated very often for us to come to our senses:

The horror which dictator states have of late brought upon mankind is nothing less the culmination of all those atrocities  of which our ancestors made themselves guilty in the not so distant past.  Quite apart from the barbarities and blood baths perpetrated by the Christian nations among themselves throughout European history, the European has also to answer for all the crimes he has committed against dark-skinned peoples during the process of colonization.  In this respect the white man carries a very heavy burden indeed.  It shows us a picture of the common human shadow that could hardly be painted in blacker colours.  The evil that comes to light in man and that undoubtedly dwells within him is of gigantic proportions, so for the Church to talk of original sin and to trace it back to Adam's relatively innocent slip up with Eve is almost a euphemism.  The case is far graver and is grossly underestimated.  (Op. cit., p. 67)

Humankind's Ignorance and its Denial of Knowledge of Evil

What adds to the problem of evil is each individual's lack of true or real knowledge of his/her own soul.  Some of us are not aware at all of the Shadow at work in the psyche, while others are in denial of this reality completely.  Universally almost humankind believes that it is merely what its consciousness knows of itself.  In other words once again human beings are living a one-dimensional life, namely merely a conscious one and are forgetting about or actively denying even, that we have an unconscious level to our psyche too.  As Jung says elsewhere in this short wonderful classic - we are duplex, not simplex creatures.  The level of evil in the world all boils down to humanity's failure to take on board this duplex nature of his psyche which is at once Conscious and Unconscious, Rational and Irrational, Head and Heart, Thinking and Feeling, Head and Gut - call this a principle of opposites if you wish.  Real self-knowledge means that one sets about integrating the two poles by keeping them in a healthy tension as it were.  Jung argues that humankind adds stupidity to his iniquity when s/he regards himself/herself as harmless or innocent.  None of us is harmless or innocent!