[by Sarah Vanderpoel]
As each member of the group gave a brief explanation of what brought them to “The Works of Carl Jung” Delve seminar, I realized how fortunate I was to be among these people—so many different histories and interests, and, yes, some real Jungian experts!
Seeing how my own knowledge of Jung is limited, I was relieved to know that we were now partners on this intellectual exploration. However, the conversation wasn’t merely intellectual. As the evening drew to a close, the conversation focused in on more expansive ideas, including concepts of unity and interconnectedness. We started to talk about Jung’s theory of the “collective unconscious.” A fellow Delver mentioned she had doubts about Jung’s concept of pictorial archetypes, and as she spoke, her questions mirrored the questions that came up for me while reading. Can the collective unconscious evolve? She wondered if anyone else felt the same way. I did, and I said so. Satya, our guide, asked one member (whose brief bio blew me away) for her thoughts. The response was brief and intensely clarifying: “I’ve never dreamt of dragons, but I have dreamt of atom bombs.” Archetypes are not necessarily a specific visual image, but can also be experiences, thoughts, feelings, etc. Yesterday’s dragons become today’s atom bombs—in our world and our psyches.
It was only one of several moments of insight brought about during the discussion. I left invigorated, my mind churning away.
Life, we are constantly told, is busier and more complicated than ever. So even highly motivated, dedicated people wanting to explore concepts like the self, ego, personality, and the unconscious struggle to find the time and space for such endeavors. Perhaps that time and energy would be better spent organizing that overstuffed closet, rather than trying to organize an ever-changing, unpredictable person—you.
After the close of the second Delve session on “The Works of Carl Jung,” I knew that every member of the group was there for multiple reasons. However, one reason, I imagined, was true for all of us: This material is not merely a philosophical curiosity, but is also intriguing because of a deep desire to better understand ourselves, our world, and our place in the world.
Our guide, Satya, posed three questions to direct the conversation this week, including, “What does Jung mean by his term ‘Individuation’?” It’s not an easy concept to describe. The answer, from what I gathered, only reveals the challenging process that people do or do not engage in during their lifetimes to become themselves.
While the idea of individuation is tricky to define, one thing was obvious: all the people in this room were striving toward it. Being in the room, having the discussion, reading the texts, asking the questions—all of this is part of the process to better understanding what it means to be human. I can think of no endeavor more essential, and I think Jung would agree.
What are the major issues threatening our world today? Climate change, social injustice, political instability—it isn’t challenging to make a long list. What, however, is the source, the underlying cause, of those issues? The topics we settled in to discuss during this week’s Delve seminar on “The Works of Carl Jung” were basically “What is wrong with the world?” and “How do we fix it?”
In his essay “The Undiscovered Self” (this week’s reading assignment), Jung articulated the worldly woes of his time and their antidotes. It was impossible not to make connections between the troubles of Jung’s time and our own. As a group, we drew out specific examples of both “the problem” and “the antidotes.”
The problem, as Jung laid it out and as we interpreted it, is multifaceted: 1) Our culture has no mythology—the myths of the past have been degraded to the point of uselessness, and nothing has sufficiently replaced them; 2) man succumbs too easily to group thought, desperate to relinquish the challenging work of choice to a leader; and 3) we are disconnected from God and the unconscious.
Jung’s antidotes to the problem include 1) acknowledging the potential for evil that exists in all of us; 2) seeking transcendent experiences or direct connections with God or the unconscious—a rebirth of the spirit; 3) becoming fully realized individuals by developing the individual soul; 4) recognizing the shadow side that exists in all of us; 5) withdrawing the projections we place on “the other”; and 6) transmuting our negative life experiences into something divine.
Describing non-physical influences and how to work with them is not an easy task. Jung did it in his essay “Symbols and the Interpretation of Dreams.” As a group we tried to solidify his concepts in this week’s “The Works of Carl Jung” Delve seminar.
We believe we are autonomous, but we lack independent agency. Our nature is split. We do not fully know ourselves or realize the complete scope of our experiences.
Dreams and instincts are ephemeral and invisible. It is difficult for modern beings to accept them as significant influences. A typical view of dreams is they are a way to review and categorize our daily, waking experiences. Often we are so out of touch with our instincts we do not even believe they exist. For ages we have been conditioned to be scientific, rational, thinking beings.
Jung says dreams and visions are God’s way of speaking to us directly. If that is true, we are repressing a powerful force when we ignore the invisible.
The experiences of ancient man (or even the precursors of ancient man) are alive and accessible today, Jung says. The invisible factors that shaped modern man have been preserved and passed down just as physical characteristics have been passed down. This is to say that our psyches evolve, as do our bodies.
We have access to all of antiquity.
Even with the wisdom of our ancestors, it is a struggle to conceptualize Jung’s radical ideas.
“Life is like a spiral. You keep going around and around. Hitting the same spot, but it’s different, because you’re different,” said one member of “The Works of Carl Jung” Delve seminar. Last week I felt it, and this week it was more pronounced. We are circling. Our conversation circled through the four essays we read this week. And as the weeks go by, we keep circling a few pivotal Jungian themes.
Most central is the idea of achieving greater awareness of the unconscious and, through this awareness, becoming a more independent, complete individual. Although the essays we read were varied (they focused on marriage, the transcendent function, poetry, and modern spiritual problems), all of them highlighted the barriers to and means of achieving balance and unity. Marriage can be a vehicle for transformation. Creativity gives the unconscious an outlet. Achieving the transcendent function allows the ego to mediate the relationship between the conscious and unconscious. The spiritual problem of “modern man” is that there is no system to facilitate the exploration of the unconscious.
One set of questions also comes up again and again: Where is the end? When are we done? When are we whole? It’s not enough to open to the subliminal forces that shape our lives and being. The spiral continues. As our minds become more and more saturated with Jung’s theories, we increase our potential to relate in drastically different ways to the reoccurring places in the spiral the next time we circle round.
For the sixth and final time, I stepped out of “The Works of Carl Jung” Delve seminar and into the night. The physical world is abundant, vivid, undeniable. The world that we’ve read about for weeks and spent hours discussing is not limited to this space. The emphasis has been on the invisible. Many of us born into a “Western” world struggle to value the intangible. When we do not give credit to this significant part of existence, it can force itself upon us.
The divide between the inner world and the outer world is permeable. One of the forms the inner world takes in the outer world is synchronicity. Many people have experienced these highly unlikely, extremely meaningful, personal coincidences. The reactions and value we give to these experiences varies. Dismissing synchronistic experiences is easy, because they challenge our world views. Members of the group shared some personal experiences with synchronicity. Some felt the incidents were powerful and real, while others doubted their validity and importance.
Perhaps the different reactions can be attributed to our psychological type. If we value the external world over the internal world, our inner experiences are disregarded. If we value quantitative thinking over qualitative feeling, we can reason away the most profound experiences. If the things we notice are of the physical sensory world, we may not notice the unseen intuitive world. All of us are capable, however, of developing all these types. In fact, we are driven to do so in every facet of our lives.
I would not be framing my experience in this way were it not for this seminar. My mind will be plugging away at these ideas, perhaps for a lifetime.
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