Collective, complex, archetypal unconscious: we use Carl Jung's words, but hardly know him
Carl Jung, on the shore of Lake Zurich in 1949.Dmitri Kessel / The LIFE Picture Collection via

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) always wanted to live by the water. Born in Kesswil (Switzerland), near Lake Constance, the father of analytical psychology spent most of his life in Küsnacht, on the shores of Lake Zurich. There is the mansion, now converted into a museum, which he shared with his wife (the wealthy heiress Emma Rauschenbach, later a psychoanalyst as well) and five children, and also his discreet grave in the local cemetery. Next to the same lake, in Bollingen, also stands the enigmatic tower that Jung built himself inspired by his own visions and dreams. A fortress where he remained isolated for days, feeling immersed in the flow of centuries.

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In those two worlds so close and distant at the same time, Jung developed his multifaceted personality. That of the prestigious psychiatrist who managed to establish his theories after breaking with Sigmund Freud in 1913 and that of the insatiable explorer of the soul who used dreams and “active imagination” to open a path to the psyche. That of the doctor interested in scientific advances that filled the conference rooms and that of the mystic who attempted a synthesis between the spirituality of the East and the West, approached kundalini yoga and astrology.

The psychiatrist reflected his knowledge in his Complete works; the spiritual seeker, inspirer of the new age movement, produced works as enigmatic as The red book, or his autobiography. The latter, entitled Memories, dreams, thoughts, now reissued by Seix Barral, is a required reading to get a glimpse of the character. Written by his assistant, Aniela Jaffé (he completed it in 1961), based on interviews with Jung himself, who only wrote four chapters, it was published after his death. The book that we know is not the original approved by Jung, but a version censored by decision of his heirs, who control the archives with an iron hand. Still, as Professor Alan C. Elms – along with Sonu Shamdasani, one of the scholars who first spotted the changes – has pointed out, “it brings the reader much more of the inner Jung than the other books available.”

From this “inner Jung” come essential concepts that have become part of everyday language. Words such as complex, archetype, extraversion, introversion, shadow or collective unconscious that are in common use, “although people do not know their deep meaning”, as Isabel Uribe Visiedo, president of the Spanish Society of Analytical Psychology (SEPA), points out. Not to mention his contributions on the therapeutic plane. Luis de Rivera, former head of Psychiatry at the Jiménez Díaz Foundation in Madrid, who practices autogenous therapy based on meditation, highlights “the importance of symbols and archetypes to understand the patient, as well as the bridge to transcendence that we offers”. Santiago Torres, president of the Jungian Analytical Psychology Foundation of Córdoba (Argentina), emphasizes the clarity of the concepts formulated by the Swiss psychiatrist. “They have the characteristic of being easily assimilable, since they start from the author’s personal experience, which is reproduced in our own psychic lives.” For Jung, Torres adds by email, “the process of growth and psychic balance was individual and unrepeatable. So much so that he called it the ‘individuation process’. It consists in bringing together the opposites and being sensitive to the opinions of the self ”.

Like Freudian psychoanalysis, the Jungian method became official. In 1955 the International Association for Analytical Psychology was created in Zurich, which brings together 58 societies scattered around the world. It is surprising that whoever insisted so much that the approach to each patient should be unique and personal agreed to create schools in which to impart their teachings. “Initially, I did not want to create institutes of this type, I was very against the standardization of processes or methods,” Evy Tausky, current president of the Zurich Institute, created by Jung in 1948, points out by email. his was an ‘approach’, but not a method ”. If he finally compromised, it was “to make sure that his ideas and values ​​were represented and integrated with total rigor”. Tausky also defends the work of the institute. “We have tried to keep his spirit alive, and the balance between his emphasis on spirituality and the sense of things.”

Jung’s disciples are multiplying in Latin America, but not so much in Spain, where the SEPA society only has 30 members. Doctor De Rivera is not surprised. “The most used by psychiatrists today is the cognitive-behavioral method,” he says. “Both Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis are expensive, long and difficult methods, and their results minimal.” This is not the impression of Isabel Uribe, president of SEPA, who rather notes an increase in interest in Jungian therapy. It is not for everyone, of course. It is claimed, he assures, “by people who are in search of a meaning to their life and a development of their own spirituality and creativity that is housed in the depths of the unconscious.”

Jung considered himself a “doctor of the soul.” And his theories “provide us with a bridge to merge with nature as part of a whole,” says Santiago Torres. “They give us access to a possible path to escape isolation and nonsense in this age of isolating hypercommunication. Wherever Wi-Fi loses connection will be where the spirit of the time guides us towards the interior that hopes to flourish ”.

His spirituality, his familiarity with the divine, however, clashes with the prevailing rationalism. His famous response to the BBC reporter who asked him if he believed in God (“I don’t need to believe, I know him”) may be disconcerting. From a Jungian perspective, the experience of divinity is available to everyone, explains Isabel Uribe. “It is in the collective psyche, it only takes each individual to activate this potential within himself. But since we are therapists and not theologians, we only try to favor the path of each one to his own spirituality, which does not imply the ascription to any religious confession ”.

“For Jung, God is the name we have given to a kind of cosmic mind that contains all forms of consciousness,” adds Tausky. “What he means is that he knows that he has to confront an unknown factor in himself, something stronger than himself that can be called ‘God’ or that he would call ‘the self’. His interest in oriental thought, particularly in Buddhism and the I Ching, opened his spirit to a state of being that can be reached through religion, but also through meditation or by looking into nature. ” And his proposal to search for the meaning of his own life continues to be, he adds, an eternal goal.

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