Carl Jung

This probably sounds crazy, but I think I may be a bit in love with Jung.

 

Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and a contemporary of Sigmund Freud’s in the early part of the 2oth century and alongside Freud, a giant of the psychotherapeutic tradition, the so called talking cure which is now standard treatment for mental health problems.

 

Imagine a tall man, formally dressed in a tweed suit and waistcoat with glasses, a kindly and courteous manner and a keen gaze that seems to miss nothing and invite everything. 

We discover nothing new in the mentally ill; rather we encounter the substrata of our own natures.

 

Jung was a radical and mystic; his insight was that all our psyches in their depths overlap in a pool of universal consciousness[1] : so none of us a really separate from one another. When we really know ourselves deeply, we discover this Jung said.  And the same is true the other way round: in the deep understanding of another we may get to know ourselves too. Then we discover that all the ways in which we imagined we were separated from other human beings, through our history, our background, our education, our gender....starts to fall away. Deep down we are connected by a consciousness that is shared.

Even though Jung writing style is complex and his vocabulary sometimes obscure, I felt reading his biography that I was in the company of someone I knew and deeply trusted. It was like going on a deep journey around the most awesome mind;  insightful, brave, kind and curious and which accepted wholeheartedly he would always be student of life. Despite being one of the most eminent men of his time, he remained deeply humble.  ‘So you’re in the soup too’  was one of his opening remarks to a new client.  When I finished I felt genuinely sad, as if I was leaving a friend.

 

Jung taught me about the pysche. The 'field' of feeling, memory, sensation, dreams, thoughts and ideas that add up to the experience of Self, of me much of which I am not aware of.  He taught me that my psyche is a deep and dark treasure trove of wisdom. through which all things could be known. Even nightmares and dark thoughts are not to be feared but explored, with fascinating revelations to be discovered and trusted. He taught me make friends with my psyche, to trust that whatever arises is always assistive - a Jung word, meaning basically helpful. 

 

The unconscious would protect me and give me everything I needed for my life. My duty was to do my inner work.’

 

He believed that inner work, the business of getting know one’s psyche was how we become whole and ultimately leads to freedom from inner conflict. He demonstrates beautifully what it is to do 'inner work'. No other than to pay attention to the feelings, dreams, sensations and thoughts: the activity of the psyche with the attitude of an explorer discovering a country. By such means we get to know our greatest friend, the Transcendent Self. 

 

The approach to the Transcendent Self [2] is the real therapy and inasmuch as you attain to this you are released from the curse of pathology.

 

In fact, Jung stated that his patients that were really ‘cured’ had regained their ‘religious attitude’, by which he meant a  person becomes whole or healed once they found a relationship with an order and mystery greater than ourselves 'which naturally has nothing to do with creeds or belonging to a church.


In fact it was very absence of attention to the greater order and mystery of life in our lives that created neurosis  in Jung's view.

 

Among the so-called neurotics of our day there are good many who in other ages would not have been neurotic – that is – divided against themselves. If they had lived in a period or a milieu in which man was still linked by myth with the world of the ancestors, and thus with nature truly experienced…they would have been spared this division within themselves.’

My understanding of this from experience is that human beings suffer: and most of the time they are lonely in their suffering, assuming wrongly that theirs is a particular fault of weakness on their part. In cultures where the challenges and transitions of life are acknowledged through story telling (myth) and ritual, individuals are able to 'normalise' their suffering. By this means the burden of hiding the secret of one's weakness is lifted, as we begin to see ourselves as being part of a greater body of humanity that has suffered and is suffering with us.

 

Despite being highly revered as one of the Grandfathers of psychotherapy, at 80 years old this kindly and learned gentleman said of himself, ‘I am in doubt about myself as much as ever.’

 

And yet one of Jung’s colleague said of him that he had a kind of ‘powerfulness that is profoundly human, does not arouse fear, does not embarrass or make you feel small, but changes you; it compels veneration and awe.

 

I love that Jung never claims to have 'arrived', to know it all or even feel sure of himself.  By his example, I feel it's OK to be confused, it's not a sign of failure. He was living testament that a person can be  in a state of confusion and still be a strong, effective, loving presence in the world as he clearly was.

Jung taught me not fight the world, either the one within me or the one without. That everywhere I look, the contradiction of life are all around; good and bad are inextricably entwined in people and situations, and  crucially, the rea gift: I don't have to make sense of it.

 

Jung's insight was that unless we can hold the tension of the opposites there shall be no peace either within ourselves or in the world. It's the constant seeking to cancel out one 'truth' with the another; in the striving to make space for only one version of 'truth' we lock ourselves in a see saw of confusion, and at worst aggressive drive to prove truth that leads to conflict and even war.

 

When we can relax, and allow there to be contradictory truths that do not have to cancel each other out, peace comes. It sounds impossible at first but it's worth considering. When we decide that we can tolerate the tension of the opposites, there comes a great deal of relief or so I have experienced and have many others.

 

Greater peace comes from being able to hold the tension of these opposites, the good, the bad and the ugly and let them all be there:  impossibly packed in together. And in that allowing, is the ability to transform. I can't tell you exactly how this works, I do know that the practise starts at home with ourselves with allowing the all the parts of oneself, both those we are proud of and those we shrink from in shame - to be there.  Jung showed me this. Undoubtedly Jung was a great healer, he is healing still.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Known as the 'collective unconscious'

[2] Jung used the word ‘numinous’ but it is a bit obscure for my purpose so I have taken the liberty of substituting the word Divine

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