The Spirit of the Times: Introduction to the Red Book


The Spirit of the Times: Introduction to the Red Book.

One of the most import books of this century was begun a hundred years ago. It is a documentation of Dr. Carl Jung’s encounter with the collective unconscious, a journey that was initiated by his vivid dreams prior to World War I. These were horrific, reoccurring dreams in which all of Europe was covered by a sea of blood and filled with the horrors of masses of dead bodies and horrible suffering. As a psychiatrist working at the Burgholzi clinic for the mentally ill in Switzerland, he feared that he was about to have a mental breakdown.

When the war broke out, he realized that all of his dreams had foreshadowed this calamitous event. It was a culmination of an awareness that he had had all of his life of other dimensions in the psyche, but which he had never tried to formulate. In Memories, Dreams and Reflections he wrote:
“ On August 1, the world war broke out. Now my task was clear: I had to try and understand what had happened and to what extent my own experience coincided with that of mankind in general. Therefore my first obligation was to probe the depths of my own psyche…..”

He continues in a later passage:
“ From the beginning I had conceived my voluntary confrontation with the unconscious as a scientific experiment which I myself was conducting and in whose outcome I was vitally interested. Today I might equally well say that it was an experiment which was being conducted on me.”

As a man of great pioneering courage and enormous spiritual strength, Jung also realized that if he could not have a conscious encounter with this side of life, he couldn’t be as of much service to his patients. He embarked on a conscious descent for an encounter with what he later called The Spirit of the Depths. Although critics later questioned whether or not he was having a psychotic break at the time that he wrote The Red Book, the fact was that he carried on with all his tasks in the outer world – as a psychiatrist, professor, renowned author and lecturer, husband and father.. However, in the evenings and on the weekends, Jung would allow himself to enter into the depths, and he recorded the journey. No one having a psychotic break could possibly manage what he did.

He later said that everything he subsequently wrote about the nature of the psyche and the collective unconscious in his vast Collected Works had its genesis in this prolonged encounter with the depths of the psyche. One of Jung’s key revelations and the point which he said was most often misunderstood about his approach was The Reality of the Psyche. In other words, psyche is not imagined; not a hypothesis or a speculation. He did not believe in God or religion. He was beyond belief because knew God, and he knew the reality of the depths of the psyche.

He came to understand that in the same way our DNA carries the encoding from our ancestors, the deep psyche lives and carries all that came before us and is yet to come. It is timeless and eternal, like a great living, breathing sea. He called it The Spirit of the Depths. However, he realized that most people today are caught up in this dimension and have little or no awareness of these depths. They are living in what he called The Spirit of the Times. This spirit is transient and changes with the passage of time. We know this to be true when we consider how different our lives are now from the lives of people living even 200 or 300 years ago.

The Spirit of the Times that we are in now is all about utilitarianism, and it is ignorant of the reality of the psyche. At the beginning of Liber Primus in The Red Book Jung writes:
“….I have learned that in addition to the spirit of this time there is still another spirit at work, namely that which rules the depths of everything contemporary. The spirit of this time would like to hear of use and value. I also thought this way, and my humanity still thinks this way. But that other spirit forces me nevertheless to speak, beyond justification, use and meaning. Filled with human pride and blinded by the presumptuous spirit of the times, I long sought to hold that other spirit away from me. But I did not consider that the sprit of the depths from time immemorial and for all the future possesses a greater power than the spirit of this time, who changes with the generations. The spirit of the depths has subjugated all pride and arrogance to the power of judgment. He took away my belief in science, he robbed me of the joy of explaining and ordering things, and he let devotion to the ideal of this time die out in me. He forced me down to the last and simplest things.” fol.i (r)/i (v)

Referring to his attitude at the beginning of his night journey, Jung said,
“I still laboured misguidedly under the spirit of this time, and thought differently about the human soul. I thought and spoke much about the soul. I knew many learned words for her. I had judged her and turned her into a scientific object. I did not consider that my soul cannot be the object of my judgment and knowledge; much more are my judgment and knowledge the objects of my soul. Therefore the spirit of the depths forced me to speak to my soul, and to call upon her as a living and self-existing being. I had to become aware that I had lost my soul. From this we learn how the spirit of the depths considers the soul: he sees her as a living and self-existing being, and with this he contradicts the spirit of this time for whom the soul is a thing dependent on man, which lets herself be judged and arranged, and whose circumference we can grasp. I had to accept that what I had previously called my soul was not at all my soul, but a dead system. Hence I had to speak to my soul as to something far off and unknown, which did not exist through me, but through whom I existed.” fol.ii (r) /ii (v)

On how the soul speaks to us, Jung continues on:
“I must learn that the dregs of my thought, my dreams, are the speech of my soul. I must carry them in my heart, and go back and forth over them in my mind, like the words of the person dearest to me. Dreams are the guiding words of the soul. Why should I henceforth not love my dreams and not make their riddling images into objects of my daily consideration? You think that the dream is ungainly? What is clever? What is foolish? The spirit of the time is your measure, but the spirit of the depths surpasses it at both ends. Only the spirit of the time knows the difference between large and small. But this difference is invalid, like the spirit which recognizes it.” fol.ii (r) / ii (v)

The average modern person in the Western world lives on the surface, exploiting whatever resource or situation is available in order to amass power for itself. We live on a horizontal axis until something from the depths comes up and grabs us, forcing us into an encounter with ourselves. When we do not listen to the promptings of our depths, which come in the form of dreams, intuitions or synchronistic events, the vertical pull of the soul will force an encounter. It does not want you to waste the precious opportunity of this life, and if that feels harsh, so be it. In other words, this type of encounter might involve a lot of pain and suffering, but hopefully it will open you to your depths. Now the cross is alive in you and there is the potential for something new to be born.

The Hero’s Journey always tells this story, because it is one that is essential to humanity. Across cultures, this same story is told in many different ways. The hero stumbles along in an unconscious way and then is forced through some hardship or challenging encounter to break through his little egoic bubble and learn something of importance, something from the depths of his soul that will infuse the rest of his life with meaning. It is interesting to me that a close colleague recently had this dream image and encouraged me to share it when I mentioned that I was writing a post on the Red Book. He was wandering in the dream landscape, on some sort of a journey, and suddenly he noticed a bookshelf with many large red books with shiny covers (he associated this with the Red Book). When he looked at these books more closely, he saw the title, which was: The Holy Bible. Jung wanted us to understand that we live in two worlds at the same time, and that we ignore the Spirit of the Depths at our own peril.

Listen to Sonu Shamdasani, editor of The Red Book:

an in-depth account of The Red Book, from the Library of Congress, Sonu Shamdasani:

Jung’s voice and words from Liber Novus:

Face to Face – a film in which the elder Jung is interviewed about his life and philosophy:

The Inner Community: Archetype and Identity Part Two

The Inner Community: Archetype-and-Identity Part Two

A middle-aged woman was complaining about her relationship with her daughter-in-law. “Sometimes I hate who I turn into when I am dealing with her,” she said. “The problem is more with me than it is with her, I think. Nevertheless, I still can’t prevent that side of me from coming up!”

I complimented her on her level of awareness. Just the fact that she was able to take ownership of her problem was a huge step forward, beyond what most people usually do. That was, I told her, more than 50% of the battle. More commonly we tend to blame and scapegoat others when we feel badly.

As we begin to take responsibility for the part we play in our relationships and the dramas that surround us, we need to parse out the various aspects of our psyches. It’s almost like each part has a personality of its own, at the core of which is the complex. These are the archetypal energies that inform us. Sometimes they even have voices. Most of us have strong enough egos to manage or control these ‘factors’ most of the time, but most of us have had a similar experience to this middle-aged woman when something rises up in us and we totally ‘lose it’.

The complexes are at the negative polarity of these archetypal factors, and they act like the swamps of our inner landscapes. Like a vortex of energy, they will suck you down when you least expect it, unless you have done enough inner work to navigate your way through most situations. When we have suffered enough from the damage, humilation or fall-out from our emotional outbursts, we are forced to face up to what I now jokingly call the inner community. We are all informed by a number of different archetypal patterns, some of which are more dominant than others at different times of our lives.

In one of Rumi’s poems he said, “I can’t tell you who I am, only who I am not”. In order to tune into the guidance of the Self, we need to deal with the complexes that pull us away from the place of our core wisdom. In the beginning it feels like the clamouring of many different voices, opinions, points of view, usually with some negative, emotional charge of some sort. Sometimes it can feel like a monster erupting from within. As we come to know these different parts (often referred to as the Shadow) we disempower the complexes surrounding them.

There are many variations on these different archetypal patterns, all of which can carry both negative and positive attributes, so this is a very simple overview. I will focus on the more troublesome ones:

The Great Mother
This archetypal pattern can be present in either a man or woman. He/she comes across as very giving and kind. It is the way this person gets a sense of power and strength because other people come to him/her for solace, guidance etc. However the problem is that eventually this complex burns you out, leaving you exhausted, drained and resentful. Deep inside is the feeling of ‘why does no one take care of me the way I take care of others’. Eruptions of anger or depression result. Many ‘good’ therapists, or ‘good’ parents or ‘good’ friends have this one.

The Starving Orphan
This part is very needy and starving. He/she never gets enough and always experiences a lack in relationships. Unfortunately this complex when activated will actually push significant others away. People simply get tired of the constant whining and dissatisfaction, so it is a sad result for the person who has this running in a major way. They create a reality in which others avoid them.

The Martyr
This was and still is very common among an older generation of women who felt trapped and disempowered by patriarchal cultures if they were discouraged from holding powerful jobs or places of importance in society. It is still common among people who subscribe to religious values that stress ‘being good’ over being authentic. The shadow is low self-worth, sadness and depression.

The Bag Lady or Pauper
This complex is very common in our culture because of the fear around money and poverty. Money is the highest value for many in our society, and when we are not dealing with money in a conscious way this complex is probably running underground.

Mr. or Mrs. Control Freak
This complex has a desperate need to control the variables in life as well as others through money or power manipulation. It comes out of a deep-seated feeling of being totally out of control and not trusting that Life will provide. Think perfectionist or tyrant.

The Manipulator
This part does not have a deep core sense of empowerment, and feels that the only way he/she can get power or love is through manipulating others. Think Scarlett O’Hara.

The Puer/Puella
This is the young, creative part of ourselves that does not want to grow up or be burdened with responsibility. A person who has this complex as a dominant part of their everyday life will be evasive when asked to make a commitment of any kind. They revert to charm, wit and humour as a way of compensating for this lack, and they often skip or slide out of obligations. They don’t want to be pinned down and will dance away or go into avoidance mode. The problem is that while it may be charming or cute in a young person, it becomes very grating in maturity. Think Peter Pan.

The Senex or Hag
This part is bitter, old, jealous and resentful of youth, enthusiasm and joy. Think Scrooge.

Archetypes of the Self
The Wise Old Woman or the Wise Old Man often personify the Self in dreams. The Innocent Babe can also personify a new emergence/connection to the Self. When these figures show up in your dreams, pay attention!

As we come to know and understand the dominant factors of our inner landscape, we can with understanding, self-compassion and humour begin to disempower these complexes. They are who you are Not, to paraphrase Rumi. Who you most deeply are is your deep, core Self which you can only access after you have done the hard work of disempowering or loosening the grip of the complexes. Part of the problem is that we spend so much energy trying to ‘manage’ these forces. We try to shove them underground and keep them there, but sooner or later they erupt and poison our relationships. If instead we can meet and face them with compassion and learn to unblock the energy, we can move into a more harmonious relationship with the Self and with others.

This poem of Rumi’s addresses the danger of being governed by a complex:

You miss the garden
because you want a small fig
from a random tree.
You don’t meet the beautiful woman.
You’re joking with an old crone.

It makes me want to cry
how she detains you,
stinking-mouth, with a hundred
talons, putting her head
over the roof edge to call down,
tasteless fig, fold over fold, empty
as dry, rotten garlic.

She has you by the belt,
even though there’s no flower
and no milk inside her body.

Death will open your eyes
to what her face is. Leather spine
of a black lizard

No more advice
Let yourself be silently drawn
by the stronger pull
of what you really love.

This is an interesting visual of a community that works under the direction of a central governing authority!

And this is Carmen:

Laundry and Take-Out: Why Therapy?

Laundry and Take-Out

Going into therapy, finding the right therapist – it’s a risk. Why would anyone want to bare their soul to a stranger – doesn’t that make you feel hugely vulnerable, awkward? Isn’t it extremely embarrassing, uncomfortable? Yes it can be, but the more dominant feeling of clients who walk over that bridge is one of relief. There is something sacred about sitting in with another who is truly attending to you that lends a deeper resonance and meaning to your process and your life. Having worked with clients for over 25 years, I feel deeply privileged to work with others in this way.

A very important part of Jung’s way of working was to attend very seriously to the dreams – both his own and those of his clients. He felt that the dreams most often pointed to content in the unconscious that was ready to become conscious. As a Jungian psychotherapist I place great value and importance on working with dreams, often in combination with mind/body work. I feel that if we can start working with a dream, it is like starting from the inside and working out. Many therapies do just the opposite – starting with outer content and facts, and work inwards, trying to understand the core issues. If we can understand the dream, we have a much better chance of getting to the heart of the matter. I will try and show this by talking about some of my own dreams, as I do not want to use clients’ dreams here. Some years ago when I was asked why I became a  therapist, I remember  I had this dream.

In my dream a woman had a business of going to people’s houses, and doing their laundry or taking it out to do, plus she had the added service of bringing take-out food to her clients. She would drop off the food and collect the laundry. On waking, I thought this might be a great business idea, though not one I was going to do.

However, I have been trained to interpret dreams symbolically, and so I questioned what this might mean. The Self communicates to us in images and symbols – that is the language of the psyche. And interestingly, it often has a very quirky sense of humour. I had to chuckle at this dream, because I saw that in some ways, doing therapy is closely aligned with laundry and take-out. Talking to a good therapist can in the beginning feel like ‘you are airing your dirt laundry’ – this is the initial hump of awkwardness that needs to be gotten over.  However,  it is surprising how quickly that can happen, because getting the laundry done feels good There is something very satisfying about dealing with stuff that has ben shoved in the closet for years. By speaking freely and openly about some of these issues, we can do the laundry together. Dark secrets don’t have to be so daunting – they can be aired in the sunshine.

And hopefully you leave with  a little take-out….something to chew on – reflect on. Ultimately, as the process builds and you start to become free of the complexes that stand in the way of you living a happier, more fulfilled life, you will feel nourished at a cry deep level.

I will share one other dream image that occurred over 20 years ago. I still remember it because it was so powerful, and because it had to do with laundry. I was going through a very difficult time. In my case it lasted for 7 years; I now think of it as the 7 years in the desert. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong: a marriage break-up, my elbow was smashed to smithereens in a bike accident, the deaths of my mother, father and my sister, financial woes, not to mention landing in another dysfunctional relationship. In the midst of all this I was thrown headlong onto my spiritual path. I seriously started to pray, to meditate, to do my own work in analysis.

During this time, I had a dream that I was hiding under my bed. I saw these absolutely enormous feet approach the bed. They were naked, gigantic feet, and they were blue. Then this figure walked away from the bed and I peeked out. It was a gigantic Kali figure, standing at a laundry tub. She must have been at least 11 feet tall and her skin was blue. She knew I was looking, so she  turned to look back at me. She had a huge, terrifying grin on her face, as she scrubbed rhythmically on a washboard. I was absolutely terrified, and woke myself up, sweating. But the more I thought about this image, the more I realized that SHE was going to wash things clean, and that I would be alright. The more I meditated on this image, the more settled and relaxed I became.

Looking back, I think this was a real turning point in my life. Knowing that I was being helped by higher powers allowed me to relax and to simply trust the process of my life. Kali is a goddess of the East who is often associated with death and destruction. In India , she is venerated because it is understood that nothing new can come unless the old is destroyed. Happily, I met her in her more beneficent aspect – as a laundry woman who was bent on cleaning up my dysfunctional life. I will be forever grateful for all the help that I have received, but at the time it felt like life was trying to crush me. We rarely have perspective when we are in the midst of a huge transition.

Part of my reason for sharing these dream images with you is to demonstrate the power of dreams, and the extraordinary intelligence that is in them. The difference between the Jungian approach and many other therapies, is that a Jungian will place supreme importance on the dream image, and strive to uncover what it may be trying to convey. In other words, it takes its lead from the Self.

Many other therapies expect you to come with the problem, and then the two of you (the therapist and you) try to deal with the problem. The difference is that the ego presents the problem, and then tries to dissect it to its own advantage. The ego is always limited by its own worldview and perspective. It can’t see what it cannot see. You and the therapist can easily get sidetracked into dealing with a problem that is not THE problem. The Self sees you from the other side and is the Friend or the Beloved that Rumi always talked about. Coming to know this through following your own dreams is an extraordinary gift. Your life begins to take on the feeling of a revelation that gradually reveals its sacred purpose to you.

Listen to this and learn to trust your life:

Rumi: Say I Am You