The coincidence of opposites in Carl Jung’s ‘The Red Book’

Carl Jung’s The Red Book is both enriching and maddening, complicated and extremely strange but within it there are truths worth teasing out and exploring. The Reading of the Red Book by Stanford L. Drob has been my guide and so from that I’ve tried to make some sense of Jung’s discoveries – discoveries that cross between psychology and religion and provide the foundation for some of his most enduring theories.

Throughout Jung emphasises the importance of the apparent paradox of holding the balance of the tension of the meeting or as he calls it the coincidence of the opposites and from that unwieldy and uncomfortable, and often highly conflictual balance he believes there can emerge a unity or wholeness. This is a unity that in some contexts is symbolised by both God and the Self.

One of the first sorts of opposites that struck me was Jung’s holding the awareness of what he calls ‘the spirit of the times’ and ‘the spirit of the depths’. The spirit of this time promotes use and value (Jung saw this as exemplified by science and below the rational discourse) while the spirit of the depths is beyond justification, use and meaning (he saw this as spiritual understanding). A very rough definition might link these more universal ‘spirits’ to the ego, the part of us that is rational and functional and the opposite the irrational and at times unconscious aspects coming from deep within ourselves.

Jung writes, ‘The spirit of the depths took my understanding and all my knowledge and placed them in the service of the inexplicable and the paradoxical.’ The ‘spirit of the depths’ challenges our assumptions and complacency so messages from the unconscious prompt us to question the value and direction of our current modes of thinking, feeling, and living. This is both psychologically and spiritually.

Similarly there are things that happen with no great meaning and other processes that become highly meaningful, some things are nonsense and some contain great wisdom … without both these processes we are incomplete. It’s not that one is good and the other bad but rather that both contain both; so the depths include the great and the mundane, the beautiful and the ugly, the sick and the well.  One of the messages from The Red Book is that everything, all, is ‘the one essence of God’. One cannot arbitrarily judge that one aspect of the world is more spiritual, godly, or valid than any other. All is part of the ‘sum of life’ … and in the course of Jung’s journey into the depths his soul will implore him to accept everything…

Jung thought that each of us must find their own way and each must live their own life ‘the way is within us, but not in gods, nor in teachings nor in laws’. Rather than an eagerness to ‘gobble up the fruits of foreign fields’ the realisation is that one is oneself ‘the fertile acre.’ In other words, ‘there is only one way and that is your way’ and it is only by standing apart, and by each finding their own path and dignity through the chaos and destruction that we find true fellowship, love, and community.