Carl Jung: the psychological and the spiritual

During January I am planning to look at the thinking of Carl Jung from the perspective of the interconnection between analytical psychology and spirituality. The focus is on his autobiographical work rather than his more theoretical writings because it is here that he is more relaxed about sharing his spiritual experiences. This first post is an introduction:

I first read Carl Jung in 1980 when I came across his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections. This is the account that he wrote, somewhat reluctantly, towards the end of his life – he was born on July 26 1875, and died on June 6, 1961 – and that was published in the early 1960s. It’s a wonderful account of his life and his thinking, someone open to experiences at the very deepest psychological level and also open to spiritual and religious life. As an analytical psychologist Jung broke away from Freud and founded his own particular way of working therapeutically. When involved in the project of writing about his experiences – Jung was reluctant to write personally before this time – he said how the memories which had remained vivid to him were to do with emotional experiences. The ‘outer’ aspects of his life he saw as accidental and that only what is interior had proved to have substance and a determining value. Any sensible biography he thought were all about outer manifestations of life: people once met, entanglements, blows of destiny, travels and so on but for him he could barely recollect these outer events although at the time he had participated in them with all his energies they no longer stirred his imagination. On the other hand the recollections of inner experiences had continued to grow all the more vivid and colourful. He thought outward circumstances are no substitute for inner experience.

So his biography is really about his inner experiences and the development of his thinking, and there is a particular focus on his religious ideas for Jung believed that the psyche is ‘by nature religious’ and that every being is ‘a splinter of the infinite deity.’ Jung stands outside traditional Christianity not least because of his conception of God who is not entirely good, and as he noted, ‘they would have burnt me as a heretic in the Middle Ages!’ But he did declare his allegiance to Christianity and his great contribution is to look at the religious problems from a psychological point of view. Above all else he understood the need for understanding and reflection rather than blind faith. In 1952 he wrote to a clergyman, ‘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.’
Above all the life experiences that Carl Jung describes is about the bringing of the unconscious into consciousness. ‘We are a psychic process which we do not control, or only partly direct. Consequently, we cannot have any final judgement about ourselves or our lives… We do not know how life is going to turn out.’

Memorably he wrote: ‘Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. It’s true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away – an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilisations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.’

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