“… all unconscious functioning has the automatic character of an instinct, … [which] … because of [its] compulsiveness, … may positively endanger the life of the individual. As against this, consciousness enables [one] to adapt in an orderly way and to check the instincts, and consequently it cannot be dispensed with.”
C.G. Jung (CW 8, par. 412)
“The closer one comes to the instinct-world, the more violent is the urge to shy away from it and rescue the light of consciousness from the murks of the sultry abyss. Psychologically, however, the archetype as an image of instinct is a spiritual goal toward which the whole nature of man strives; it is the sea to which all rivers wend their way…”
C.G. Jung (CW 8, par. 415)
Looking out on the world today can cause one tremendous anxiety. Just this past week new studies were released indicating that we are putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than previous years and that the current rate at which the world is warming is unprecedented. Rate of warming is significant, because it effects how readily life can adapt to change. Since the rate of climate change is now unlike anything we and many other species have ever experienced in our history, we are placing ourselves in a very precarious situation.
How does all of this relate to depth psychology? Depth psychology tells us that we are more than just our ego. That our decisions and behaviors towards our world and others is determined in large part by unconscious factor or forces. This fact about our way of being is continually reinforced by neurological and social science research. Thus, learning about our psychological depths is imperative if we are going to pull our selves back from the murky abyss of global warming.
Jung views the unconscious as holding both the dynamism of biological instincts and the numinous archetypes, or images of instinct. In the quotes above, Jung explores the dynamic capabilities of the these two forms. We know that compulsive instincts lead to life threatening behaviors. With regards to global warming, think of our rampant consumerism and excessive use of energy to fuel this compulsively consumptive behavior. We consciously recognize that if we come too close to this ‘instinct-world,’ we approach the ‘sultry abyss’ of collective destruction. However the compulsive urge is so strong that we continue the behavior.
How do we avoid the urge towards destructive compulsiveness? Jung argues that we consciously engage with the image of the instinct, rather than the compulsive urge itself. The image or archetype holds collective meaning and connects us with a sense of the numinous. It is not that we reject the physical or biological instinct, but that we include the spiritual or numinous dimension of it. Jung poetically states that this experience of the numinous is the “spiritual goal toward which the whole nature of man strives; it is the sea to which all rivers wend their way…” What is the numinous archetype embedded in the instinctual compulsion to consume? What is the image arising from this instinctual force that holds the ‘spiritual goal towards which [our] whole nature… strives?’
Perhaps our compulsion to consume Earth is an attempt to fulfill our inner selves. Could our need for tremendous amounts of energy to create new material things in the outer world be a reflection of our need for creative energy within us? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but depth psychology opens the door to such reflection. If we are to deal with our compulsive need to consume the world, then we need to consciously work on the images that surround this instinct. Depth psychology is a way to do this work. It provides a numinous and valuable way to deeply explore psyche and the world.