Until the 1840’s, the starting hypothesis for every scientific experiment was that the cosmos is organized in an intelligent, harmonious and unknowable design.
Under Descartes’ influence, who believed reason was the only valid way to gain knowledge, The New Science was born. Purely interested in objective, physical reality, the unknowable was no longer marveled and esteemed, but renamed ‘irrational,’ and made synonymous with absurd.
The philosopher-alchemists, who sought to link matter and spirit, faded to the fringes and Materialism grew into the myth of our time.
The next 150 years of rationalism produced astonishing advancements in technology and industry, but while the logos-bias may have relieved some of the anxiety produced by the unknown, it also killed the mythic imagination.
Without Eros, we forgot the teachings of our ancestors which connect us to the eternal. We lost the very thing that gives us substance and brings accountability into our lives. Without a sense of location in nature and the family of things, we have set a slow apocalypse in motion.
Cheerleader of the Soul
In a wildly skeptical era which saw few dream-warriors, one intrepid visionary took a stand for the soul. Carl Gustav Jung, founder of Analytical Psychology, felt that our fate depended upon our personal undertaking to reconcile the great divide within.
Today millions of Jungians have undertaken the path Jung mapped out for us, but his concepts are still met by the mainstream with hostility and cynicism. Imagine what a rogue he was in his own time.
Born in Switzerland in 1871, when Psychiatry was held in general contempt, certain magical events of Jung’s childhood beguiled him into the field. Fiercely academic, he studied medicine at the University of Basel and practiced as a clinician for the early part of his career.
It wasn’t until he turned thirty that he met his mentor, Sigmund Freud, with whom he collaborated for six years, until a critical difference of opinion sundered their friendship forever.
Considering himself a new scientist, Freud believed the universe was causal, that every event was the effect of a prior event. As such, Freud reduced most psychological disturbance to repressed childhood influences, usually sexual in nature.
Jung, on the other hand, believed we had not only a personal unconscious containing our life’s experience, but we were also tapped into a giant network he called the Collective Unconscious, which held the entirety of human experience, heedless of time and space.
The unconscious, Jung discovered, is not some repository for psychic junk, but has an unfathomable intelligence which inclines it to growth and wholeness.
The parts of us that are lost, ignored or rejected, personally and collectively, are felt as missing to the unconscious, so it works urgently to retrieve them by producing dreams; the prima materia of our souls.
This ‘soul retrieval’ is what Jung called Individuation; a lifelong dedication to reconciling inner imbalances. If the tension of opposites is not brought to harmony within, what you produce instead are factions within the personality – and thereupon the world.
The story of Jung and Freud’s split is important to us because it echoes the collective healing work yet to be done. Freud rejected Jung’s “One World” theory, saying “We need a dam against the black tide of mud of occultism.” But Jung was intent on dissolving the dam.
A Creative Illness
The break with Freud left Jung desolate. The next nine years of his life were spent in a ‘creative illness’ which demanded he surrender his core identity. More profound than a physical dying, Jung underwent a protracted spiritual death.
“The experience of the Self is always a defeat for the ego,” Jung wrote. Having outgrown the container it called home, the ego finds itself violently detached from all that was once familiar. With no land in sight, it sails adrift on a sea of meaninglessness.
The image it once had of itself no longer fits, but before it can take up a new one, it must confront the emptiness where once it was fulfilled. Paradoxically, it is only once the ego surrenders to that despair that a potential greater than anything it had previously imagined, begins to grow inside.
While it almost cost Jung his sanity, this ‘dark night of the soul’ ultimately yielded his finest work. “It all began then;” said Jung, “the later details are only supplements and clarifications of the material that burst forth from the unconscious and at first swamped me.”
Ignoring his obligations to academia, Jung spent those years harvesting numerous, potent dreams, studying the Gnostic writers, and researching alchemy, astrology, Eastern Mysticism and the I Ching.
Synchronicity: Time is Art
The I Ching, or Book of Changes, is an ancient divination system which originated in China around 50 BC. Its philosophy of paradox-straddling profoundly influenced Jung’s work, inspiring his greatest, if least popular, theory which he coined synchronicity; the meaningful coincidence of inner and outer events.
Jung discovered that, if interpreted well, the I Ching produced chillingly accurate synchronicity. The implication was that not only are spirit and matter connected, but they are, as Jung puts it, “two different aspects of one and the same thing.”
You dream of an owl and the next morning an owl swoops by your windshield. You are feeling grateful for a friend’s support when the song, “You’ve got a friend” comes on the radio. You finally quit an unhappy job and are offered a great opportunity that afternoon.
All of us have experienced synchronicity, (especially frequent among active dreamers,) and while we may not agree on why it occurs, we unanimously experience our clock and calendar constructs collapsing, and are saturated with a sense of meaningfulness.
As many aboriginal cultures view it, time is more circular in pattern, not like the Western linear comprehension of time, (past-present-future), but flexible to the individual at the centre of that`time-circle.’ This is why we can heal our past, as if it hasn’t happened yet.
When synchronicity strikes, our lives seem not random and chaotic, but purposeful. We are given a brief, rapturous glimpse into an awareness that, like mycelium networks, everything is connected. And even the awkwardly long, know-it-all, teenaged phase of our human evolution is unfolding according to divine design.
The Next Responsibility
“Getting it right with respect with your past is not enough,” says Jungian analyst J. Gary Sparks, “You have to to take a stand toward the screwed up character of what’s going on in your historical epoch.”
Indeed, as Jung made an offering of his microcosmic life for the good of the whole, we are each similarly summoned. In addition to yessing the traumatic events of our lives for how they have shaped us, we have a responsibility then, to live into the greater potentials we are freeing up.
So whenever you feel lonely in this work, it may help to remember that you are one of a gentle multitude living “out there” on the lunatic fringe, letting your life be galvanized by the irrational, dissolving the dam between the worlds, doing your tinygiant part to restore one divinely destined marriage.