I didn’t know what to expect with my first foray into a C.G. Jung book. It took a long time to get here but perhaps for the better. Time to build up an understanding of what to expect when I opened the pages. Despite the delay, thankfully I’ve now added this to my collection. It’s not the last book I’ll read either as I’ve also picked up a couple of other ones to get through. The Undiscovered Self is my first foray into the mind of one of the most pronounced modern psychotherapists the world has encountered. It was intimidating for no other reason in that I wasn’t sure I was going to understand what I was reading. Number of psychology courses taken in University = Zero.
The idea of self discovery has long been at the core of my own beliefs and in the past two years has jumped into the driver seat. As the anxiousness began to subside and I made my way through the pages it became clear that Jung’s style of writing conveyed the vast amounts of time he spent thinking about these very topics. The timing of when this book was written is important to recognize in that Jung lived through both World Wars and saw society in a setting that many of us now can’t understand. Although we can look back in a historical context and realize the atrocities that went on, there is something lacking when it comes to simply looking back and watching on video or reading in a book. I’m not exception to the rule. Of course, we have our own woes in today’s society and I’m sure if Jung had lived today he would have found relevance in many of his ideas and thoughts. Many of the challenges we face today as a society existed back then they are simply in different form.
Jung’s words strike a remarkable relevance that even today still hold true:
“Today, our basic convictions are becoming increasingly rationalistic. Our philosophy is no longer a way of life, as it was in antiquity; it has turned into an exclusively intellectual and academic exercise. Our denominational religions with their archaic rites and conceptions – justified enough in themselves – express a view of the world which caused no great difficulties in the Middle Ages but has become strange and unintelligible to modern man.” – C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self, p. 40
In sixty years it seems that society has gone rapidly down the rationalistic path combatting faith based ideas with the surge in scientific knowledge. Science’s advance to levels unknown in any previous era has led to a community that has never been more connected and yet never so distant from one another. We can communicate to each other faster than our minds even process yet there is now more isolation between us. Is the tide slowly shifting back as we see areas such as mindfulness and the application of ancient philosophy to modern day life (i.e. stoicisms resurgence in the current day) appear as a direct response to this isolating and rationalistic viewpoint. Ways to reconnect with our self as Jung would put it.
Even today there is a line drawn between science and religion with many staunchly positioned in their own camp all with arguments that seem valid to the respective individual. I don’t intend to take up this battle because self discovery can truly ignore these boundaries. Who am I to judge an individual’s sense, or path, to self discovery as I, myself, am on this path as we speak. There are no boundaries to be had. Religion, as much as science, can provide equally and fascinating looks into who we are as humans and perhaps how we make ourselves, in our own eyes, better. How we discover ourselves again amidst the overwhelming barrage of everything going on around us.
Jung is adamant that the individual must embark on this process of self-discovery to avoid the pitfalls of both religious views and even those based on science and rationalistic thought:
“To this question there is a positive answer only when the individual is willing to fulfil the demands of rigorous self-examination and self-knowledge. If he does this, he will not only discover some important truths about himself but will also have gained a psychological advantage: he will have succeeded in deeming himself worthy of serious attention and sympathetic interest.” – C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self, p. 49
Mindfulness, clearly based on many of the foundational tenets of Buddhism, is a path of self-discovery and self-knowledge. It’s been the most important aspect of my own self-discovery because it’s allowed me to spend countless hours alone with myself. With my own thoughts and slowly over time being able to identify that they are only thoughts and feelings and not who I am.
Jung spends a lot of time discussing the importance of dreams in our lives. Dreams being the gateways to our unconscious self where he saw there being more connection to others than we in fact know or are able to scientifically prove. We know little about how the unconscious works, even today, namely because our ability to rigorously test it is rather limited. It’s a fascinating topic though and one I’ve started to find interest in aligning with the fundamental belief that with a mindfulness/meditation practice I’ve been able to both physically and mentally change my mindset. There is no scientific evidence other than my own personal experiences. If you ask those around me though, they will agree. If historically I would habitually respond one way and today can see a marked difference, that to me represents evidence of change. The idea that we can directly impact our conscious thought leads me to believe that unconsciously we are having an impact as well. As neither a scientist, or psychologist, I’m merely speculating but it is interesting to think about.
Pema Chodron often referenced the seeds that exist deep in the garden of our mind and whatever we watered would eventually grow. Water fear and anger and those seeds will grow into sprouts and trees. The unconscious that Jung refers to bears a resemblance to these seeds. We know the seeds are there and yet by consciously acting to watch ourselves water them, we can direct ourselves to where we want growth.
I’m interested to find the works of those individuals who have taken Jung’s theories and ideas and begun to work on them scientifically. This is where the path will lead. Jung, throughout his book, truly believes that the individual is more important than the collective when it comes to self knowledge because the collective begins to develop hive mind and group think over time. Consider our modern day election process and political system. How easy is it to fall into a camp of a large group and see our own personal beliefs mold into what the group thinks. We may have a very specific set of viewpoints and yet choose to fall in line behind one political party because they are the closest to what we resemble. Jung would argue that in doing so we have given up a part of our self in order to align with a group and given up a part of ourselves to that process.
Jung leaves the reader with this thought:
“As any change must begin somewhere, it is the single individual that will undergo it and carry it through. The change must begin with one individual; it might be any one of us. Nobody can afford to look around and wait for somebody else to do what he is loath to do himself. As nobody knows what he could do, he might be bold enough to ask himself whether by any chance his unconscious might know something helpful, when there is no satisfactory conscious answer anywhere in sight. Man today is painfully aware of the fact that neither his great religions nor his various philosophies seem to provide him with those powerful ideas that would give him the certainty and security he needs in face of the present condition of the world.” – C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self, p. 141
It leaves the reader with the realization that yes, we are small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and yet even small change within us can eventually lead to bigger change elsewhere. Change begins with our own beliefs and ideas and putting those into action. Jung argued against religion and philosophy and yet many of these ideas showing resurgence provide different pathways to look at our own self. My own pathway has taken me through some of them and as anyone who has been reading this blog for some time will see; the path can swerve in many directions. Mindfulness, psychology, philosophy, religion, and science. These make up a self that generate ideas to change the world.
- Self discovery is as important today as it was in Jung’s era. We need to continuously work on ourselves to drive change into society around us. It isn’t enough to fall in line with a group, whether a religion or political movement, to affect change.
- In today’s rapidly advancing scientific community, self discovery is even more important as we constantly find new ways to seemingly create space and isolation with those around us. Finding comfort in ourselves will help to break through these walls we can erect with modern technology and help us overcome these disguised barriers.
- Consider the dreams as part of our unconscious self and what they may be telling us. Is there a link to what our dreams tell us and our actions we take consciously? Can we begin to focus more closely on our conscious self and help to affect change at an unconscious level; I think so.