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What Carl Jung Means to Me—May 2013

 

 

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” Dr. Carl Gustav Jung 

 

Carl Gustav Jung was the most famous Psychologist of the 20th Century.  Additionally, the powers of politics, art, religion, and many other disciplines have used and abused his oeuvre for their own purposes ever since his famous split from Sigmund Freud’s iconoclastic orthodoxy.  Over the past quarter century, I have been drawn back to his work again and again.  I could say that I know not why, but that would be a falsehood.  

 

If you ask anyone, who thinks of themselves as a “Jungian” in whatever context, you will get a different answer about his significance.  Jung would probably be the first to tell you that Jungian Psychology is only the psychology of one man, Carl Jung himself--no one else.  One of the points of his prodigious scholarship over nearly seven decades was to show that, at base, we are all the same; but that the psychic journey of a lifetime is to individuate—to live the life we were meant to live as individuals.

 

This seems paradoxical, and it is, but he explains himself clearly in Psychology of the Unconscious, one of his earliest works.  By analogy, every acorn knows how to become an oak tree, but every oak tree is different in almost every detail except the fundamental features, which make it an oak tree and not a maple or a spruce, or an alley cat, for that matter.  

 

So it is with humans!  We unconsciously know how to become a human being; and in our depths, we know how to behave as human beings.    The psychic journey is to live our individual fate.  

 

Many “Jungians” believe that Jung’s work means that we should be passive vis-à-vis the lives of others.  Jung said, “I know no answer. Live, the unavoidable decides.”  [The Red Book, P. 234; A Reader’s Edition, P. 136] 

 

Perhaps this is the role of clinical psychologists, who seek to help us live happier lives.  I don’t mean the drug wielding ones, who would anesthetize our psychic pain with narcotics, but the ones who would help us find our own center—our Self.  Many pride themselves in not interfering with the processes of the unconscious, while helping them reach their intended goal by removing psychic obstructions.  

 

But I am convinced that passivity is not what Dr. Jung had in mind.  In the same passage he said, “You engender and give birth to what is to come, you are fecund, you live onward.” [The Red Book, P. 234; A Reader’s Edition, P. 136] This was the sense of his studies in Alchemy, which consumed much of the second half of his life.  One can engender an evolution; an evolution of mankind, if you like, or of any other vas.  [The vas is the container in which the Alchemist mixed his ingredients. By analogy, a Witch’s Cauldron served the same function.] 

 

I don’t mean, by this, that one can change what “the unavoidable decides.” But one can facilitate “the unavoidable,” and perhaps should facilitate it if you are convinced of the unavoidable result.  I offer the United States of America as an example of a vas, the success of which, over 400 years, may have been unavoidable in the Jungian sense.  

 

For a time I asked myself,  “What one feature about The United States of America makes it the most successful country on the planet?”  My measure for success here is the ability of the broadest spectrum of residents to live to their fullest potential as human beings.  Readers of other nationalities may disagree, and in many ways they would be right, but the results speak for themselves.  As this is my story about what Dr. Jung means to me, there is little point debating my assertion—it is only meant as an illustration; and is not offered for its truth.    

 

I am talking here about the alchemical transformation.  If we think of The United States of America as an Alchemist’s vas or Witch’s Cauldron, then into that we have added as ingredients peoples from every nation, ethnic group, religious group, racial group, or whatever other type of group category you might choose.  Whenever one group offers a good idea, we all adopt it.  Whenever bad ideas emerge, all of the other groups debate it out of the system (one way or another).  The result, over 400 years, is that The United States has been lifted on a tide of good ideas, while the bad ideas have been washed away.  To put it in Dr. Jung’s terms, “the unavoidable” has decided what system works best, from the best of the human psyche as a whole.  

 

So it is that it seems to me that contributing an ingredient to a vas, whether it is a country, a family unit, a religion, a political campaign, or the psyche of an individual  (among the millions or billions of other containers one might imagine), is precisely what Dr. Jung had in mind.  He spent his lifetime of prodigious scholarship doing precisely that.  His Collected Works offer tens of thousands of contributions of ingredients to the vas of the human condition.  Each of us can only hope that our contributions offer as much to producing the “gold” of humanity.   

Skip Conover is an international businessman, author and artist.  You can follow him on Twitter @skip_conover.