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Archive for February, 2011

The Red Book

“Great is he who is in love, since love is the present act of the great creator, the present moment of the becoming and lapsing of the world. Mighty is he who loves.”

C.G. Jung The Red Book

I return from Zurich, Switzerland where I went to see a museum exhibit of Carl Jung’s Red Book. The Red Book was created by Jung almost 100 years ago. It records in image and word his encounter with the unconscious, which occurred after the ending of his friendship and collaboration with Freud. Seeing the images and reading the words of this encounter, I am left with a tremendous respect for Jung. It required considerable courage to consciously enter into this relationship with the great unknown. Yet, he did and the world is the great beneficiary of this intense and meaningful journey. We tend to forget that no road map existed when Jung carried out his engagement with the unconscious. He was flying solo down into the depths of psyche and recognized that this was a journey that he had to take.

Jung later stated that all of his psychological concepts came from this early engagement with the unconscious, which he so beautifully recorded in the Red Book. I believe this is what makes Jungian psychology so unique. For our picture of the structure and dynamics of the psyche actually arose from his direct experience of the psyche. We can be thankful that Jung’s Red Book provides us with a map into the unknown realm of psyche.

The exhibit at the Museum Rietberg in Zurich includes not only the Red Book, but paintings and sculptures by Jung. One is immediately struck by the energy that was required to create these works. We see paintings of country scenes from 1901 to 1905, one of which was painted on his honeymoon. We see pencil sketches of evolving mandalas from 1917. We see him testing his calligraphy style for the Red Book. We see the original black notebooks in which he first recorded his dreams and visions, where his handwriting appears perfectly clear, indicating the care with which he documented his experiences. Thanks to special donations we also see some of Jung’s wood carvings from this time. There are beautiful many armed figures often exhibiting a primitive fierceness that reminds one of African art. And yes, there is the Red Book itself carefully contained within a glass case. Everything about the book: its lettering, its binding and its weight indicates a care and purpose in its creation.

After circling around the exhibit a few times I am left with one question: where did Jung find the energy to create all of this? For at the time he was creating these works of soul and art, he was also seeing patients, raising a family and carrying out the creation of his psychological understanding.

I am thankful for those involved in making this exhibit available. I was greatly moved by the exhibit and also renewed in my commitment to carry out my own personal journey into the unconscious.

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An Absolute Impasse

“… when you get into a disagreeable situation where you see no opening, no direct path, you assume that you are quite alone with yourself. … you may find yourself in a really tight place where you can’t get out, where you are helpless. Then you recognize that you are not alone, because such an absolute impasse is an archetypal situation, and an archetypal figure becomes constellated, a fact in your psychology, a potential, and so you are up to the situation. … it is the totality of the psyche that functions in that way; the psyche produces a double, it brings up another figure; that is a psychological fact. The psychopompos is this second figure; you can call it the daimon, or the shadow, or a god, or an ancestor spirit; it does not matter what name you give it, it is simply a helpful figure; it might even be an animal. … in such a predicament … we lose the power of the ego, we lose our self-confidence. Until that moment, we were willful or arbitrary, we had made our own choice … Then suddenly we are in an impasse, we lose faith in ourselves, and it is just as if all of our energy became regressive. And then our psyche reacts by constellating that double, which has the effect of leading us out of the situation.”

C.G. Jung (1931) Visions Seminar, p. 385

The above quote from Jung opens a door to a different view of psychology. Jung looks upon the psyche as a guiding force. The unconscious is co-creative in our lives and not a passive element in our psychology. The observation that being at an impasse is an “archetypal situation” is extremely important. We have all probably experienced the feeling of walking down a path only to discover we are in a “really tight place.” Who among us has not felt the tight place? That feeling of not knowing where to turn or how to remove ourselves from the tight place. In this moment of being stuck, we can feel very much alone. We look around and there is no one to help extricate us from our tough spot. This tough spot may be an emotional one, a financial one, or one of a failing relationship. Whatever the particular situation, it is one of tremendous loneliness. On the collective level, this impasse may be related to how our consumer life style has placed us in a very tight spot with regard to the environment. We see “no opening, no direct path” that will prevent terrible ecological destruction.

Yet, Jung’s observation is that this archetypal situation is accompanied by an archetypal response. An archetypal figure is constellated that comes to our aid. Jung notes that this figure may come in any number of forms, even an animal. For individuals, the appearance of the double – sometimes referred to as the ally – often first appears in dreams. Developing a living relationship with this “helpful figure” allows us to find our way out of the tight place. I find this to be one of the most creative aspects of Jungian work. The helpful figure will appear, if the ego can let go and open to the unconscious. As an analyst, I have witnessed this process many times.

What of the collective tight places? Can such a helpful figure appear to the collective and have “the effect of leading us out of the situation”? I believe this can happen and has happened in the past. Is such a figure already appearing in the dreams of the many? If so, what is the message that it carries for all of us?

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