Autumn’s Call: The Collective Unconscious
After preaching last week on the scapegoat, I went home, and in the evening watched the second Trump/Clinton debate. I don’t think it’s very controversial to say that I find Trump a revolting figure, a man incapable of apology. It is a naive idea to believe that any person can personify pure goodness or pure evil, darkness and light are all bound up within us. In Trump I see someone who is incapable of recognizing his own darker side, utterly lacking any self-awareness or self-knowledge, and therefore constantly playing the game of projecting his darkness onto others, turning others into his scapegoats. The larger degree to which we become aware of the darkness within us means we are not likely to project it onto the other. I have been reading around psychoanalysis recently, particularly the work of Carl Jung. Jung was a man thoroughly with himself, a man in whose presence you felt at ease. An acquaintance of his, the philosopher Allan Watts, said that you could see in the twinkle in his eye that he knew his darker side, he knew his own innate villainess nature, and therefore you knew he would not condemn the villain in others. In this way he put people at ease. Despite being the intellectual giant he was, it didn’t feel intimidating to be in his presence.
The other does not feel accepted unless the very worst in him is accepted too. No one can bring this about with mere words, it comes only through our self-reflection, through our own attitude towards ourselves, and our attitude to our own darkness. If we wish to be a guide of others, to accompany them a step of the way, we must feel WITH that person’s psyche, with their soul and mind, with the totality of that person. We never feel this when we pass judgment; whether that judgment is expressed in words or kept to ourselves makes no difference. This kind of connection only comes through an unprejudiced objectivity – this is such a moral achievement and human quality, to have a deep respect for the riddle of a person’s life. The truly religious person has this attitude. He senses in everything the presence of the divine will, and he is not repelled by the corruption in the other, but accepts the other fully. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. I am the oppressor of the person I condemn, not his friend and fellow sufferer. Accepting the other starts with accepting the self. What I do unto the least of brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all beggars, is within me? And that I myself stand in need of the arms of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy that must be loved?
Psychoanalysis is a discipline which helps people reconcile the warring dimensions of themselves. Broadly speaking, the self, or the psyche according to Carl Jung, is made up of three parts. The conscious mind – which is that part of the mind we are aware of, where all our thoughts and knowledge reside; then at the next level down, we have the personal unconsciousness – all that stuff that makes it into our head without us being aware of it, either because it is too mundane for us to bring to awareness, or because it is too painful or visceral to bring to awareness; and then finally, and most interestingly, the collective unconscious – the illusive core of our psyche which Jung believed we are born with, which resides within us as a hangover of our evolutionary past. Jung often used the word ‘primordial’ when talking about aspects of the collective unconscious, meaning innate and ancient, a vestige of our pre-historic origins. As our prehistoric ancestors lived on the land, and communed with the spirits of nature as they perceived them, as they felt themselves at one with the ebb and flow of nature, at one with the cycle of seasons, the cycles of the moon, at one with the web of life in which they were intimately bound up – the very fabric of humanity’s psyche at its core took shape. A primordial religious mind became rooted within us. This is the ‘collective unconscious’, this is the aspect of the human psyche which we all share. Out of our collective unconscious strange forces and fantasies may surface. When there is great tumult within us, our unconscious mind rears up, and creative expression outpours from within - outpours from that primordial core at one with nature, as if we were spread across the landscape, and within the trees, the clouds, and within the seasons. In this way then ‘God’ – if that is an appropriate word – is a reality at the deepest core of our being. An inner core which nudges us down paths of spiritual fulfillment, nudges us towards a harmony between the inner and outer self; an inner reality we are made aware of through creative expression, be that religious or poetic, or artistic expression.
In Jung’s waning years he was asked in an interview ‘if he believed in God?’ He said it was a difficult question to answer... He paused, and then he said, ‘I know God. I do not believe, I know.’ Carl Jung was a Darwinian, he believed that the human mind was a product of evolutionary history, and that religion, the gods, were all of human origin, echoes and projections of humanity’s inner self. As such, unlike other contemporary atheists of his day, he regarded religious beliefs as glimpses into this inner world. In other words, Carl Jung was a religious naturalist, putting aside supernaturalism, and holding onto the mystical notion that the knowledge of God is the same thing as self-knowledge. Knowledge of God is about knowledge of self, harmonizing the components of one’s nature. The ‘collective unconscious’ in this way knows the blueprint for humanity. Our inner core is the physician we need, when the various stages of life confound us with its new set of existential crises. In this way a Bible passage such as: ‘For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope’ can be recalimed, and make more sense – talking of God’s plan for our lives makes more sense.
The changing seasons, the innate beauty of autumn’s many colours, call us into a relationship with our primordial inner core, recalls within us our instinctual relationship with nature, and our connection to the cosmos. For in the trees, in the thunder above, in the stones, and in pools of water, there are symbols which resonate with the inner self – symbols which awaken dormant spiritual realities deep within our unconscious mind. Sometimes it is only nature herself which can sooth and relieve the agitated mind. We are all in our own way at war with ourselves. The straightforward self-image we present to the world is an injustice to the far more complex reality of our inner self. The most common analogy for this is that of the iceberg – there is far more below the surface than meets the eye. Part of what it is to become a fully realized human being is in reconciling this outer expression of you with the inner reality of you. For if there is a deep mismatch we naturally feel pained, or unfulfilled, or diminished. In recognizing the reality of this war within us, the reality of forces at work upon us from within, that unprejudiced objectivity towards the other becomes the only adequate manner in which we might hold our friends, and our fellow sufferers. I want to live in a world in which people have unconditional regard for one another. I want to live in a world in which our individuality can take precedence over “normal” modes of being, take precedence over expectation. I want to live in a world where people might hear the voice of God within calling them towards their own respective spiritual paths.