Sunday, April 06, 2003

A key concept of Jungian Psychology is that of the "Self." Jung writes: "The self, in its efforts at self-realization, reaches out beyond the ego-personality on all sides; because of its all-emcompassing nature it is brighter and darker than the ego, and accordingly confronts it with problems which it would like to avoid. Either one's moral courage fails, or one's insight, or both, until in the end fate decides. The ego never lacks moral and rational counter-arguments, which one cannot and should not set aside so long as it is possible to hold on to them. For you only feel yourself on the right road when the conflicts of duty seem to have resolved themselves, and you have become the victim of a decision made over your head or in defiance of the heart. From this we can see the numinous power of the self, which can hardly be experienced in any other way. For this reason the experience of the self is always a defeat for the ego." [C.W., Vol. 14, Para. 778]

In our "Jung Readings" class this week, we talked about the reasons it is so difficult for the ego to fully apprehend and consider the demands of the Self, let alone respond to them. A full apprehension and consideration would require decisions and responsibilities that the individual is rarely fully prepared for. I found this quote which, I think, helps us understand why our ego development often lags behind the demands of the Self. Jung seems to imply that it is often, if not always the case, that the ego simply cannot keep up, that necessarily the ego must suffer defeat in order to have an experience of the Self. Another way of saying the same thing is that it is impossible to will oneself not to will, which is a precondition to experiencing a greater will.

Jung stresses the need for an ethical, moral responsibility toward the demands of the Self and the images of the unconscious that appear to us in Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

"It is equally a grave mistake to think that it is enough to gain some understanding the the images and that knowledge can here make a halt. Insight into them must be converted into an ethical obligation. Not to do so is to fall prey to the power principle, and this produces dangerous effects which are destructive not only to others but even to the knower. The images of the unconscious place a great responsibility upon a man (sic). Failure to understand them, or a shirking of ethical responsibility, deprives him of his wholeness and imposes a painful fragmentariness on his life." [P. 192-3]
Jung writes of two kinds of thinking. The first kind is linear, learned, goal-oriented, directed and the kind of thinking we strive for in our consciousness. The second kind of thinking is circular; often disorienting and confusing to consciousness, not directed by consciousness; more given over to play and fantasy, and is the very basis of creativity. This second kind of thinking relies on symbol and image a good deal while the first kind finds itself more at home with words and thought.

Symbolic thinking, however, can be acquired and can greatly enrich our normal, more linear, word-based consciousness. Following are some helpful ideas about symbols from C.G. Jung and Paul Tillich:

Jung, in Man and His Symbols, pp. 20-27, writes:

A symbol “implies something vague, unknown or hidden from us.” . . . “Thus a word or an image is symbolic when it implies something more than its obvious and immediate meaning. It has a wider ‘unconscious’ aspect that is never precisely defined or fully explained. Nor can one hope to define or explain it. As the mind explores the symbol, it is led to ideas that lie beyond the grasp of reason.”

“Because there are innumerable things beyond the range of human understanding, we constantly use symbolic terms to represent concepts that we cannot define or fully comprehend.”

“Thus every experience contains an indefinite number of unknown factors, not to speak of the fact that every concrete object is always unknown in certain respects, because we cannot know the ultimate nature of matter itself.”

“As a general rule, the unconscious aspect of any event is revealed to us in dreams, where it appears not as a rational thought but as a symbolic image.”

Tillich, in Dynamics of Faith, pp. 41-43, writes:

“Symbols . . . point beyond themselves to something else.” Symbols “participate in the reality of that to which they point.” Symbols cannot “be replaced for reasons of expediency or convention . . .”

A symbol “opens up levels of reality which are otherwise closed to us.” And a symbol “also unlocks dimensions and elements of our soul which correspond to the dimensions and elements of reality.”

“Symbols cannot be produced intentionally . . .” Symbols “cannot function without being accepted by the unconscious dimensions of our being.” Symbols grow and they die.