The coincidence of opposites in Carl Jung’s The Red Book (2)

A piece of advice that Carl Jung offers is to turn ‘away from outer things’ if one wants to reach the soul; it is through living life (presumably he means here living life to the full and not accepting other people’s propaganda) that we find the way to what he calls the unfathomable and which we call divine. The search for God leads us to the ‘other’ and the unexpected place… ‘The God is where you are not…’ (This seems similar to Gerard Hughes’ the God of surprises). It is about experiential knowing or as Jung refers to it as ‘knowledge of the heart’.

Returning to the idea of allowing an awareness of the opposites Jung holds that this leads to an understanding that each opposite is indeed intertwined with and dependent upon its presumed contrary – this insight creates a tolerance for ambiguity and difference and thereby opens new modes of thought and experience. So one example he gives is that meaninglessness and chaos is ‘the other half of the world’ and no one can be complete or have a full understanding of the world without embracing its chaotic and meaningless elements. For Jung order and meaning are as an entity lacking in that they are in a state of having already become, while chaos and meaninglessness are in a process of becoming.

So what happens if we accept and appreciate these apparent opposites of order and chaos, meaning and meaninglessness? Jung says from struggling with this (perhaps like a Zen koan) we can reach a place ‘beyond meaning and meaninglessness’ – for Jung this is what he calls the wedding of the opposites and from this a third is produced which he says is the divine child. Chaos brings a form of freedom and creativity which can lead to our development both psychologically and spiritually.

For Jung there is supreme meaning through the coincidence or meeting of absurdity and meaning and meaning reaches its greatest significance in the context of a world that appears to be devoid of all sense. A rebirth takes place from a mixture of depth and surface; it does not come from events in the external world but is rather a change that occurs within the individual. For Jung it is God that makes an arbitrary and inherently meaningless cosmos meaningful and so meaning arises out of an interaction between the psyche and the world.

In this part of The Red Book Jung also says that one should not be a Christian, but should rather see Christ within oneself, and actually become Christ, otherwise one ‘will be of no use to the coming God’. This he sees as the call to find Christ within oneself which he also sees as a call to individuation. Jung sees the task as to seek a numinous experience which will lift each of us from the despair of the everyday and allow one to experience self and world as bathed in the darkness of terror and/or the light of wonder, awe, and spiritual affirmation. The reality of the ruling discourse must be set aside in favour of an experience that initially appears to be fantastic, mad, and nonsensical but that includes divine reality. Then we have a sense of both – holding the coincidence or meeting of the opposites.