Thursday, May 05, 2011

THE REDBOOK - A PERPLEXING GUIDE How Do We Make Sense of It?

This is a talk I gave at the Jung Institute of Chicago Founder's Day event at Loyola University on March 19, 2011:


THE REDBOOK - A PERPLEXING GUIDE How Do We Make Sense of It?

Jung began his RED BOOK journaling in December of 1913, less than a year before the outbreak of WWI. That war shook the world as none before. And that war marked only the beginning of a trying and turbulent century--terrifying in the horrors it would contain.

We have entered a second century of turbulent times, and we seek in any place we can for help in navigating it. We can find help in this RED BOOK, though, as Ann [Ulanov, the first speaker of the day] said, to take it up is to enter into our own turbulence, into our own chaos and confusion. Swimming along with Jung in this fascinating work, seeing through his eyes, learning from his experiences seems to set up a parallel process in us. We seek not to imitate Jung but to explore our own interior and acquaint ourselves with our own complexities.

Today I want to share some insights I have gained from studying the book, discussing it in a small group over several weeks, attending other programs about the book, and turning Jungʼs ideas and images over and over in my mind. My immersion in the work has indeed jarred my being and plunged me into considerable chaos and confusion. Taking part in this program today is one way of sorting through my feelings and reactions, coming more to terms with a certain level of turbulence I find in myself.
Jung spent his life making sense of the experiences he describes in THE RED BOOK and translating that sense into scholarly, scientific language. Our rational understanding needs to be organized around a scaffolding of logic and reason. However, our experiences and our emotional lives often make a mockery of logic and reason, seeming to be at their very root irrational in nature. Nowhere is this divide more apparent than in our understanding of gods and religions. That is the area of this book and Jungʼs subsequent elaboration of it that I am most keenly interested in.

According to Shamdasani, there are two running themes in the book: One theme is how Jung regains his soul and overcomes the contemporary malaise of spiritual alienation. A second theme is how, by doing his, he enables the rebirth of a new image of God in his soul and develops a new worldview in the form of a psychological and theological cosmology.

A third theme in the book, and the one I will begin with here, is that of the inherited complex.

So, there are these three interrelated themes I want to talk about:

First, THE RED BOOK can encourage us to recognize and make use of our inherited complexes.

Second, Jung regains his soul and overcomes the contemporary malaise of spiritual alienation. He does this partially through active imagination. Jungʼs process as he recorded it in THE RED BOOK can show us something about the development of personality over a lifetime, what he called individuation.

Third, Jung makes possible the rebirth of a new image of God in his soul and develops a new worldview in the form of a psychological and theological cosmology. As he does this, he reveals to us the relationship between the god image and the structure of personality.

That THE RED BOOK can encourage us to make use of our inherited complexes came out very clearly to me in a RED BOOK study group in St. Louis last Fall. We ended our last meeting with an active imagination with Dr. Jung, that is, with the spirit of Dr. Jung, in the spirit of Dr. Jung. Ten of us were gathered around a small table, RED BOOKS set aside, a figure of Jung on the table, and the lights dimmed. We asked Dr. Jung to comment on a particular aspect of his work and our study of it. And he did! I will only share his message to me. First, he said with a hearty laugh, “So, you want to understand in a few short months what took me decades to decipher!” I had to admit guilt to that charge. Then he went on to answer my question to him which was about his statements in THE RED BOOK that the dead seek to live their unlived lives through the living.

He said: “I first came upon this notion indirectly when I was doing my work on the association test and complexes. That was early, of course, during the time I still thought the psyche was an object for my study--not vice versa. Later in my confrontation with the unconscious I came to realize that complex theory is but an abstraction of the reality. The reality is that the dead try to live out their unlived lives through the living, and the mechanism for that is the complex. That is why I urge everyone to live as fully as possible, otherwise they pass on a debt that must be paid by someone else. And, of course, if these inherited impulses are not realized consciously, they will be lived unconsciously in oneʼs outer life.”

Jung proved the existence of complexes in the unconscious and popularized the term. We all know about complexes from everyday experience. They are those parts of our personality that surprise us, cause us to behave in unexpected and often troubling ways, and give rise to endless complications in our relationships. Who has not said, “I donʼt know what got into me!”

My question for Dr. Jung arose out of a realization I have dimly felt but more fully understood when I studied THE RED BOOK. My paternal grandmother suffered a depression after the birth of her third son in 1900. She spent the rest of her life, over 45 years, in an asylum for the insane. In some strange way that I have long felt, I have been the benefactor of her unlived life, and Iʼve owed a debt to it.

Although I never met this woman, she has played a profound role in my development. She first appeared in a dream some 20-plus years ago. That dream started my reflections about her and her life. What did she learn in those 45 years? What does she have to teach me? She learned with certitude limits, galling limits, placed on her existence by ignorance, a rule-bound church, and medical care that even for the times was largely quackery. She, that is her spirit, what I call my grandmother complex, rises up in me when she/I feel galling limits, when my consciousness is too confined by outside “authorities,” or when I abdicate my responsibilities by relying too heavily upon outside authority.

What she did not know and had to learn from me is that some authority is actually benevolent and quite helpful. And, if Jung is right, that an archetype lies at the core of a complex, then that archetype is the Great Mother. That archetype has also been too long confined by chafing limits, by a patriarchal collective consciousness.

Jungʼs theory about complexes satisfies my need for intellectual understanding. My personal experience, his statements in THE REDBOOK--and in my active imagination with him--that the dead seek to live unlived parts through us-- reached beyond my intellect and convinced me at another level of my being. Is there scientific proof for such a notion? Of course not. Is it reasonable? No. But then much of reality and life do not accord with reason. My subjective experience convinces me completely.

Turning now to my second them--how Jung regains his soul, overcomes his spiritual alienation, and shows us something about the development of personality over a life-time:

Jung began his experimentation with fantasy, his confrontation with the unconscious, on December 12, 1913, and he began to journal intensely at that time. Five days later he had his “Siegfried Dream,” a dream that held great significance for him. He discusses that significance in THE RED BOOK when he talks about guilt, sacrifice, and the necessity to kill the hero. Decades later he recounts the dream in MEMORIES, DREAMS, REFLECTIONS. Jung came to understand that killing the hero meant deposing the first function--thinking in his case. Philemon first appears in the “Black Books” on January 27, 1914. Jung understood later that Philemon represented superior, objective insight, insight unavailable to a consciousness dominated by one primary function.

Most of us develop one primary function in the first decades of our lives, and that function may serve us well for a long time. That was the case with me. Driven by the Sputnik spirit of my times, I developed--indeed, was strongly encouraged to develop-- my first function, thinking. I can personally attest to the suffering and pain involved when the primary function no longer serves adequately but refuses to go quietly. The primary function is a creation of the personality that can pass out of control of its creator. The same can be said of ego consciousness itself when it is unmoored from the unconscious substratum from which it arose.

If you have read the section of the book about Jungʼs meeting with Izdubar, another important figure for him, you have a sense of Jungʼs coming to understand the limits of scientific, rational knowledge and the need for something more. As with the other figures Jung meets, he learns a great deal from Izdubar. You can read this passage as Jungʼs making conscious his third function, intuition, in his encounter with the giant. Through the rebirth of Izdubar, Jung experienced a renewed god-image. He writes: “The renewed God signifies a renewed attitude, that is, a renewed possibility for intensive life, a recovery of life, because psychologically God always denotes the greatest value, thus the greatest sum of the libido, the greatest intensity of life, the optimum of psychological lifeʼs activity.”

And my third theme--that Jung makes possible the rebirth of a new image of God in his soul and develops a new worldview in the form of a psychological and theological cosmology. As he does this, he reveals to us the relationship between the god image and the structures of personality.

Understanding the personality and the god-image go together in Jungʼs experience and thought. If THE RED BOOK has one overarching theme, it is this: Jungʼs seeking to understand the secret of the personality, especially his own personality. In MDR, very late in his life, he wrote: “. . . from my eleventh year I have been launched upon a single enterprise which is my ʻmain business.ʻ My life has been permeated and held together by one idea and one goal: namely, to penetrate into the secret of the personality. Everything can be explained from this central point, and all my works relate to this one theme.”

When Jung began his confrontation with the unconscious, he largely withdrew from his outer life, resigning prestigious positions and drastically limiting the field of his activities. That Jung withdrew from his very successful outer life probably seemed like craziness to many. At age 39 he looked like a man who had it all. What he had to reckon with in himself was the Biblical question: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” Jung set out on an inner journey in search of his soul. THE RED BOOK is an account of that journey.

Jung was born into a time in history when reason was God. All the old gods had been declared dead. For those of you who study Jung, you know he read and lectured extensively on Nietzsche and his work. Shamdasani has included a wonderful footnote in THE REDBOOK in “Scrutinies,” Footnote #91. “To Nietzscheʼs statement (God is Dead), Jung noted, “. . . it would be more correct to say: ʻHe has discarded our image, and where will we find him again?ʼ”

Shamdasani is citing a paragraph from Jungʼs PSYCHOLOGY AND RELIGION, CW 11. My Volume 11 doesnʼt read that way, so this must be a case where Shamdasani retranslated Jung for THE RED BOOK. His retranslation is more direct and, to my mind, renders more accurately Jungʼs thinking about the problem of God in modernity. God is not dead, but has rejected our image of God. Where will we find God again?

In the exploration of his own personality, his own interiority, Jung doesnʼt simply accept the irrational he encounters in his active imaginations. Over and over we find Jung disagreeing with and arguing with the figures he meets in the unconscious, but also learning from them. He does not abandon his conscious stance but rather comes to his understanding and insights in dialogue with the figures. Much later he will write that coming to terms with the unconscious requires a fight between equals. Consciousness must have its say, and the unconscious must have its say. In his confrontation Jung realized there is much in the unconscious that is not wise and should not be accepted at face value.

Jung shows that the way beyond science is through the symbol. The ability to entertain and explore symbols is key to both development of personality and transformation of psychic libido. Perhaps our ability to create symbols is limited, but our ability to make of ourselves larger vessels for entertaining and understanding symbols seems to be limitless.

Jung depicts his own individuation process and elaborates the concept as a general psychological schema. By reconciling his No.1 and No. 2 personalities, Jung was able to reconcile the spirit of the time with the spirit of the depths. Jungʼs No. 1 personality was a successful man of the world who bought into the values and mores of the day. His No. 2 personality was far more complex, was in touch with other realms, with other times, and with his soul. His No. 1 personality was rational, scientific, rooted in the enlightened times, and dominated by his primary function. His No. 2 personality was irrational, of the ages, utterly incomprehensible to his No. 1 self.

This work of reconciliation between the spirit of the times and the spirt of the depths became the leitmotif of his subsequent scholarly work along with the full elaboration of the individuation process.

What is it about Jungian Psychology and now THE RED BOOK that so many of us find helpful? They offer the possibility for renewal, for living more intensely, for changing difficult and poorly adjusted attitudes. Jung has provided a methodology and map for those of us who seek soul, search for purpose and meaning, yearn to connect with the divine, and suffer the divisions in our own natures.

What can we do to make Jungʼs information in THE RED BOOK and his other writing work for us? If we as individuals suffer a split in our personality, do we know it? And if we do, how to we heal it? To borrow a phrase from another realm: Jung provides us with “actionable intelligence.” He states that to be truly healed and whole, we must develop a religious attitude. But Jung has a nuanced definition for “religion”

In a lengthy letter to a Pastor Tanner dated 12 February 1959, Jung explains his psychological definition for the word “religion.ʼ” First he provides a definition the ancients used: religio derived from relegere or religere, “to ponder, to take account of, to observe (e.g., in prayer).”

Then he gives the definition the Church Fathers used: religio from religare, “to bind, to reconnect,” which speaks to relationship with God. Thirdly, Jung writes of a contrasting conception that was “current in pagan antiquity: the gods are exalted men and embodiments of ever-present powers whose will and whose moods must be complied with. Their numina must be carefully studied, they must be propitiated by sacrifices . . . . Here religion means a watchful, wary, thoughtful, careful, prudent, expedient, and calculating attitude towards the powers that be . . . .

Finally, Jung provides his own thinking about the meaning of “religion:”

“By ʻreligion,ʼ then, I mean a kind of attitude which takes careful and conscientious account of certain numinous feelings, ideas, and events and reflects upon them.” This is the attitude so well exemplified in THE RED BOOK.

Jungʼs notions about the psychological meaning of a religious attitude are more akin to that of the ancients and pagan antiquity than to that of the Church Fathers. However, in his view that ego consciousness can connect with its unconscious substratum and be nourished by it, Jung is closely aligned with the early Christian thinkers. Some individuals and some of modern Christianity have lost the ability to make that vital connection. Jungʼs psychology offers a new way--new "wineskins" as the times require.

It will also help us to remember that when Jung talks about religion and God, he is not referring to a god of dogma or tradition or even of belief.

In a 1952 letter he wrote: “I find that all my thoughts circle around God like the planets around the sun, and are as irresistibly attracted by Him. I would feel it to be the grossest sin if I were to oppose any resistance to this force.” Jungʼs god is up close and personal. In another letter, also from late in his life, he wrote: God “is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.”

I have worked with numerous people in analysis for whom the problem of God is not a problem at all. Their God is removed and remote, so transcendent as to be completely invisible, unrelated, and without impact. Their problems are with those troublesome, under-the-surface factors that affect their moods, their relationships, their work, their feelings about others and about themselves. In other words, all those things that upset their subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of their lives for better or worse. Through careful attention to moods, affects, dreams, fantasies, unintended life events, numinous experiences, and invisible influences that are only registered indirectly, sometimes these people have developed a “religious attitude” in the sense Jung means.

Sometimes these people discover or give birth to a god-image in which God becomes up close and personal, around which their consciousness revolves as a planet around the sun. They experience a new zest for life, a renewed attitude. Stated like this, this work toward wholeness looks straightforward and relatively simple. It is anything but! It is challenging, difficult, disorienting, often gut- wrenching. It requires patience, endurance, courage, sacrifice, and honesty. The right way is fraught with wrong turns and blind alleys, and the actual path is not known but must be created by walking it. There are, however, sufficient rewards and consolations along the way to make it worthwhile.

If we take seriously Jungʼs prescriptions for wholeness, that is, for working toward our own individuation, our task is to do what Jung did. If we find we suffer from “loss of soul,” we must go in search of our soul. If we feel the demands of those who have gone before us, we must--to the degree that we can--fulfill those demand. We have to have our own “confrontation with the unconscious” and come to terms with it. As Jung tells us, we cannot achieve wholeness through an imitation of Christ. And as Ann has said, we cannot do any of this by imitating Jung. It has to be our task and our way. From my vantage point, this journey toward wholeness is a lifelong work and a goal which gives an individual life meaning and purpose. The work at reconciliation of consciousness and the unconscious is the prescription for our own turbulent times.

I will end with these words of Coleridge which apply so aptly to Jung:

He looked at his own Soul with a Telescope.
What seemed all irregular,
he saw and showed to be beautiful Constellations;
and he added to the Consciousness hidden worlds within worlds.

Rose F. Holt March 17, 2011 copyright

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you! Your insights help as I struggle with Jungian work, which is often confusing and unclear.

Rose F. Holt said...

I appreciate your kind comment and would like to hear more about your struggle if you are willing to share. Jungian work is indeed often confusing and unclear! Best of luck in your struggles.

Kay said...

Thanks, Rose. I enjoyed this article very much--just "happened" to stumble upon it today, which I've spent writing for the first time in months. You've inspired me!

My favorite part is this:

"Jung has provided a methodology and map for those of us who seek soul, search for purpose and meaning, yearn to connect with the divine, and suffer the divisions in our own natures."

And your closing comment that it has to be OUR way, our individual journey. So true!

mateo45 said...

Rose... just another 'traveler' who has stumbled onto your site ("JUNGIAN READING OF THE ODYSSEY"). BTW, your Jung group in St. Louis sounds quite amazing, and I wish we had something like that out in my own neck o' the woods here in California! But you especially seem to be able to make Jung and his ideas so much more "accessible", and I've learned a great deal just by perusing your blog... thank you!

Very Best Regards, -Mat

Rose F. Holt said...

Thank you for your kind words, Fellow Traveler. Our St. Louis Jung Society is wonderful. It is an all-volunteer group who use their time and talents (many they are!) to further Jung's ideas. I know the San Francisco and Los Angeles Institutes have some fine programs. Perhaps they are close enough for you? Also, the Chicago Jung Institute and soon the St. Louis Society will be offering more online classes for people who do not live near a society or institute. Best of luck to you in your travels!

Rose Holt

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