Monthly Archives: January 2017

From the correspondence of Carl Jung: life after death

After a serious heart attack in 1944 Carl Jung wrote during his recovery some letters about his experiences. One begins:

‘What happens after death is so unspeakably glorious that our imagination and our feelings do not suffice to from even an approximate conception of it.’

Jung believed at this time that ‘the dissolution of our time-bound form in eternity brings no loss of meaning. Rather does the little finger know itself a member of the hand.’
In a longer letter to Kristine Mann an American analytical psychologist who was terminally ill he wrote of what he experienced during the attack. The longer account is given in his autobiography Memories, Dreams and Reflections. Whilst greatly weakened physically he notes that fortunately his head hadn’t suffered:

‘On the whole my illness proved to be a most valuable experience, which gave me the inestimable opportunity of a glimpse behind the veil … When you can give up the crazy will to live and when you seemingly fall into a bottomless mist, then the truly real life begins with everything you were meant to be and never reached. It is something ineffably grand. I was free, completely free and whole, as I never felt before.’

Jung then describes his near death experience of floating above the earth and seeing it as an immense globe in an inexpressibly beautiful blue light; he sees the southern end of India shining in a bluish silvery light with what was then Ceylon, now Sri Lanka like a shimmering opal in the deep blue sea. He goes on:

‘I was in the universe, where there was a big solitary rock containing a temple. I saw its entrance illuminated by a thousand small flames of coconut oil. I knew I was to enter the temple and I would reach full knowledge.’

At this moment a messenger appears summoning Jung back to the world and the whole vision collapses. However during his recovery in a state alternating between sleep and wakefulness Jung experiences what he calls ‘the complete vision’. He felt in a deep union with somebody or something that was itself united – ‘the mystic Agnus’. The experience was permeated by ‘an incomparable, indescribable feeling of eternal bliss, such as I never could have imagined as being within reach of human experience.’
In the letter Jung says that death is the hardest thing from the outside but once inside ‘you taste of such completeness and peace and fulfilment that you don’t want to return.’ The experience was so overwhelming that as he recovered Jung suffered from black depressions which felt like dying as he returned to ‘this fragmentary, restricted, narrow, almost mechanical life, where you were subject to the laws of gravity and cohesion, imprisoned in a system of 3 dimensions and whirled along with other bodies in the turbulent stream of time. There was fullness, meaning fulfilment, eternal movement (not movement in time).’

Jung finishes by saying that throughout his illness he had felt carried by something and that ‘my feet were not standing on air and I had the proof that I have reached a safe ground.’ He urges Kristine Mann to do whatever she does with sincerity and that this will become the bridge to her wholeness, ‘a good ship that carries you through the darkness of your second birth, which seems to be death to the outside… Be patient and regard it as another difficult task, this time the last one.’

From the correspondence of Carl Jung: prayer

In Carl Jung’s correspondence he writes extensively about religion. In letters to pastors and religious who sometimes critique him about his writing on religion he clarifies that he is only commenting as a scientist, an empiricist on what is psychologically present, and so is verifiable… ‘Confessions of faith are, as we know, not the business of science….I only go as far as the psychological facts I have experienced permit me.’ And yet Jung avows the ‘immeasurable significance of the Church’ and sees the schism between the churches – Catholic and Protestant and the falling away of interest as leading to many victims. Whilst critical of the organised church Jung holds fast to his Protestant background and this he confirms many times.
It is in his letters to lay people that some of his own personal beliefs emerge. In September 1943 he wrote by hand to someone with the initials N.N. who remains anonymous. In it he replies to what must have been a query about prayer. Jung’s response is about the importance of prayer:
‘I have thought much about prayer. It – prayer – is very necessary because it makes the Beyond we conjecture and think about an immediate reality, and transposes us into the duality of the ego and the dark Other. One hears oneself speaking and can no longer deny that one has addressed “That.” The question then arises: What will become of Thee and of Me? of the transcendental Thou and the immanent I? The way of the unexpected, not-to-be-expected, opens, fearful and unavoidable, with hope of a propitious turn or a defiant “I will not perish under the will of God unless I myself will it too.” Then only, so I feel, is God’s will made perfect. Without me it is only his almighty will, a frightful fatality even in its grace, void of sight and hearing, void of knowledge for precisely that reason. I go together with it, an immensely weighty milligram without which God has made his world in vain.’
Jung seems to be able to convey the deep seriousness of the encounter with God in prayer and the necessary relationship between ‘I and Thou’. The power of God is tempered by the mutual need for relationship and for wholeness.
In another letter to the analyst Aniela Jaffe, Jung muses on the divine within: ‘The self must become as small as, and yet smaller than, the ego though it is the ocean of divinity’ and Jung quotes the German mystic Angelus Silesius (1624-77): “God is as small as me” this linking for Jung with a verse from the Upanishad: “That Person in the heart, no bigger than a thumb, burning like flame without smoke, maker of past and future, the same today and tomorrow, that is Self.”
Here the Self with or without the capital stands for the immanent God which becomes ‘the thumbling in the heart.’

The Courage to Be: part 2

Being able to participate in the community or contain one’s anxiety through work or campaigning means that you also have to find a way to be within one’s own psyche. In 1982 my inner anxiety felt as if it were reflected out in an unsafe world, so part of the focus was also in trying to manage that by going into therapy. From that I understood that the anxiety I had always felt came from unsolved conflicts between structural elements of the personality and that by beginning to confront all that; and that courage resists despair by taking anxiety into itself.

The thing about anxiety is that it is a way of avoiding non-being by avoiding being – Paul Tillich writes about the neurotic personality which on the basis of greater sensitivity to non-being and consequent anxiety has settled down to a fixed though limited and unrealistic self-affirmation. In contrast courage is the readiness to take on the negatives anticipated by fear for the sake of a fuller positivity … the courage to be is then a function of vitality which is the power of creating beyond oneself without losing oneself. This is the affirmation of being over non-being.

A person’s power of life is their freedom and the spirituality in which vitality and intentionality are united. The courage to be is essentially always the courage to be as a part and the courage to be as oneself in interdependence. In other words being fully alive is also about being able to relate and realise the connections with one another.

Tillich knew that the Augustinian analysis of the classical Christian doctrines of fall, sin and salvation are also the material of depth psychology. Both involve the struggle for the preservation of the person, for the self-affirmation of the self is found in a situation in which the self is more and more lost in the world.

Courage is the self-affirmation of being in spite of the fact of non-being, affirmation as part of an embracing whole or in its individual selfhood. Courage has to be rooted in a power of being greater than the power of oneself and the power of one’s world … every courage to be has openly or covertly a religious root. For religion is the state of being grasped by religion itself.

In this way every enquiry into the self is also a spiritual searching and every spiritual search involves self-discovery.

The Courage to Be

Depending on one’s nature and experiences the New Year can be seen as a time of opportunity or seen with some trepidation and dread … and that can apply to personal concerns, to the immediate community and to the world situation.

In 1982 I began to see a Jungian analytical psychologist who loaned me a copy of a book The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich, which I then carried with me at all times wrapped up in a see through plastic bag. Every so often I would look at the title which of course was highly symbolic, but over time I also read the book and made many notes from it. I’m not sure what I made of the book at that time, I remember finding it quite difficult, and eventually bought my own copy and returned the original.

Looking again at my notes written all that time ago I can see that the book is remarkably philosophical and insightful about religion with a deep understanding of the psychological.

Tillich quotes Seneca who points to those who ‘do not want to live and do not know how to die’ and that no courage is as great as that which is born of utter desperation. For Tillich the courage to be is the courage to affirm one’s own reasonable nature over against what is accidental in us, so this is about the affirmation of one’s essential being in spite of anxieties and desires and this affirmation creates joy. It is also participation in the universal or divine act of self-affirmation.

Everyone carries anxiety because being has non-being within itself and anxiety is the state in which a being is aware of its possible non-being. Tillich writes about the different types of anxiety: fate and death; emptiness and loss of meaning; guilt and condemnation. These anxieties can at times overwhelm us and from this comes despair. The pain of despair is then that a being is aware of itself as unable to affirm itself because of the power of non-being. All human life can be interpreted as a continuous attempt to avoid despair.

Tillich notes that there are periods of anxiety within civilisation, where what is potentially present in every individual become general if accustomed structures of meaning, power, belief and order disintegrate. These structures keep anxiety bound within a protective system of courage by participation.

It’s hard not to feel concern about the state of the world at present and I remember in the 1980s a similar state of worry about nuclear war and the proliferation of weapons, and there were protests and participation in campaigns which both changed minds and did function to hold a place for the anxiety to be managed. Now plus that possibility there is climate change with regular news about extinction of species and a number of proud and autocratic politicians in power or about to take power. The message from The Courage to Be feels timely to hold to… or perhaps I’m just being unduly pessimistic…