Friday, January 22, 2016

DANGERS AND TREASURES OF THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS...January 22, 2016

A good number of people are aware that the work and writings of C.G. Jung were very helpful to me during my rather frightening mid-life transition some thirty years ago. In those confusing times some of the writings of Jung happened into my circle, and in them I found a voice that seemed to speak richly  of the 'hope of light in the darkness'. This of course is a central archetypal kind of theme in the Bible as well. But the ways I had been taught to understand and use the Biblical material had not let me see the parallel  message and experience there. Only afterward did I see the threads of hope I saw in Jung's work, often including much Biblical reference, were there all along in my own heritage, just buried to deep for me to access.
During the intervening years in my work as licensed  'clinical professional counselor', ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, Hospital and Hospice chaplain and as a science/math teacher for high school freshmen at risk, Jung has continued to challenge and inform me. This has been in the most comprehensive and specific ways of any writer or journal-er of my acquaintance. I have come to see Jung is speaking of collective realities that do not just pertain to the individual but regard the whole of life and humanity. He is not the only one who has ever addressed the whole.  I am very grateful for the work and legacy he has left. He is presently being reevaluated in light of his family publishing what is called Jung's Red Book six years ago. It is a painstakingly recorded account of his most personal experiences with what he coined the Collective Unconscious. It is giving a new insight into the origins of his most creative written works and fresh insights into his most private life.

Here I simply wish to share one of the insights of Jung that is so relevant and timely to our times of extreme cultural transitions in America and world wide. He made clear that the content of the Collective Unconscious when it occurs as direct personal experience is both a gift beyond measure but also, depending on the level of human consciousness that receives it and perhaps fate, a great and threatening danger to the survival of the individual, the human species and of the planet. One place where this danger is described by Jung is in his close observation of the life and genius of Friedrich Nietzsche- German philosopher 1844-1900. Friedrich Nietzsche was a very rare genius of his day who apparently made unprecedented contact with our human Collective Unconscious content and whose ego unfortunately in the end was overwhelmed by it. He did what Jung so warned himself and others of..... to not identify personally with the mesmerizing numinous content of the Collective Unconscious. To do so causes first an unconscious inflation of the ego , of one's too high an estimate of his conscious self, to the extreme of thinking of oneself as, or nearly as, God which can result in total insanity. Anyone who visits a psychological ward at a hospital would hear those who do not just talk about God and Jesus intently but truly think they are such. More functional people are under the same kind of unconscious influence and are our cultures' megalomaniacs. This can sometimes be seen tragically happening with highly charismatic celebrities, public leaders, politicians and dictators. Rare ones like Nietzsche, their ego-  both as strong, creative, genius and tender as it is- has been completely lost, drowned eventually in the flood of the Collective Unconscious which represents all that is and can be. But Neitzsche was able to leave behind some of what he discovered in the depths.

Jung entered his years(roughly 1915-1930) of the Red Book experience fully aware of this danger and he took precautions. He had an objective trusted person to debrief with after each encounter and he had a strong daily routine of family life and of seeing several patients. (He gave up most of his teaching and professional posts during these years.) He says he often, to retain sanity, reminded himself that he "was only Carl Jung who lived at 330 See Street in Kusnacht, Switzerland and he repeated aloud the names of his wife and children." And he wrote it all down , commented reflectively on it and embellished it all with calligraphy and paintings(The Red Book or Libra Novis as it exists now.) He had to keep clear that the themes and figures of the visions or fantasies, though a part of him and his psyche, were 'more than' and 'other than' his personal conscious ego. Such experience would be what lies at the foundation of all formal world religions as the experience of a 'voice of God. ' Yet these religions arrived powerfully in the past   without the objective understanding we can have of them now through the arrival of depth psychology erupting, with its proofs of the Unconscious, with Sigmund Freud at the beginning of the twentieth century. His personal experience and objective description of such natural phenomena of the collective human psyche is central to Jung's very unique contribution to human knowledge. Knowledge based in recorded experience that I suspect has only yet been barely appreciated and benefited from. His seminars on Nietzsche show how he recognized and understood the genius of that man's work. I've tried to read Zarathustra a few times. It is a highly creative and predictive lens into the evolving human situation or our times.



A strong collective danger, in times of major transitions, that is always possible is that a large narcissistic fearful part of a culture can identify with such a megalomanical genius leader and live through him, by following without critical challenge, vicariously his self perceived 'god almightiness', the long awaited hero who will save us all.  This part of the collective culture will be unconsciously drawn to such a person as if by a strong magnet. The result can be  a Hitler type of collective phenomenon. Or maybe now there are dangerously a good number of such "I am god" persons around the globe that others are attracted to give their unquestioning full allegiance . Only some critical mass of advancing human consciousness can prevent this from happening. Is there enough of that in America and the world right now is a big question mark. Our civic institutions, churches or or Sacred texts taken as specific answers can't save us from such a tragedy, only some critical mass of individual human's evolved capacity for just enough suffering consciousness can be the new and necessary savior. This is what Jung was getting at and warning of as best I can understand him. It strikes me as likely a most timely contemporary voice out there at our very critical historic moment. *I apologize for getting so serious without warning. It would be comical if not so real. So even the most serious issues have some humor attached. :) Here is a letter from Jung on the influence of Nietzsche, written shortly before  Jung's death:

To the Rev. Arthur W. Rudolph
Dear Sir, 5 January 1961
It would be too ambitious a task to give you a detailed account of the influence of Nietzsche's thoughts on my own development.
As a matter of fact, living in the same town where Nietzsche spent his life as a professor of philosophy.
I grew up in an atmosphere still vibrating from the impact of his teachings, although it was chiefly resistance which met his onslaught.
I could not help being deeply impressed by his indubitable inspiration ("Ergriffenheit").
He was sincere, which cannot be said of so many academic teachers to whom career and vanity mean infinitely more than the truth.
The fact that impressed me the most was his encounter with Zarathustra and then his "religious" critique, which gives a legitimate place in philosophy to passion as the very real motive of philosophizing.
The Unzeitgemiisse Betrachtungen were to me an eye-opener, less so the Genealogy of Morals or his idea of the "Eternal Return" of all things.
His all-pervading psychological penetration has given me a deep understanding of what psychology is able to do.
All in all Nietzsche was to me the only man of that time who gave some adequate answers to certain urgent questions which then were more felt than thought.
Max Stirner, whom I read at the same time, gave me the impression of a man who was trying to express an infinitely important truth with inadequate means.
Over against him the figure of Zarathustra seems to me the better formulation.
Those are the main points I could mention about Nietzsche and his influence on my own development.
If you have any further questions and if their answer is within my reach, I am quite ready to cope with them.
Sincerely yours,
C.G. Jung



*http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-lachman/why-jung-is-important_b_2664409.html

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