Jung’s Psychological Reflections at Year’s End

“Without consciousness there would, practically speaking, be no world, for the world exists for us only in so far as it is consciously reflected by a psyche.  Consciousness is a precondition of being. Thus the psyche is endowed with the dignity of a cosmic principle, which philosophically and in fact gives it a position co-equal with the principle of physical being.  The carrier of this consciousness is the individual, who does not produce the psyche of his own volition, but is, on the contrary, pre-formed by it, and nourished by the gradual awakening of consciousness during childhood.”  106:528

As each year comes to a close, I generally try to spend some time reflecting on the events and experiences contained within that time frame, with the hope of gleaning some measure of progress brought about by my efforts to better understand and appreciate my place in the world.  This past year has seemed to me to be as tumultuous as they come, with a number of epic challenges, difficult days, and wondrous moments of life-affirming experience, all wrapped up in both inspiration and exasperation.

Many of these experiences and events are deeply personal in nature, and involve aspects of my life which are clearly relevant to my topic here at “John’s Consciousness,” and while I have tried to include those which fit this description as much as possible in my blog posts during the year, I frequently find myself reluctant to do so, mostly because I prefer to express the deeper meaning of these events, rather than the particular events themselves.  My main goal is to present my ideas in a way that might inspire others to consider their own lives and to reflect on their own experiences, rather than to simply describe mine.

Jung’s words at the top of this post are particularly powerful in my mind because they address one of the central themes of my own work—which is that the nature of physical being and the nature of our non-physical being are co-equal, and must carry the same weight in any comprehensive explanation of our human nature.

The collection of essays and quotes in the book I’ve been reading this year, “Jung: Psychological Reflections—Collected Works 1915-1961,” is rich with material for anyone wishing to explore the subjective experience of consciousness.  His extraordinary insights and intellectual discipline in addressing the most important aspects of understanding our true nature as human beings results in some of the most compelling ideas I’ve ever encountered regarding our inner lives.

In particular, I have been struck by Jung’s concept of the archetypes of the unconscious—primordial symbols, images, and possibilities of ideas, inherited as members of the human species, Homo sapiens, which are of particular interest to me personally, since I have had numerous encounters with my own “unconscious contents,” and have developed some of my own ideas based on my appreciation of this interpretation by Jung.

“The great problems of life…are always related to the primordial images of the collective unconscious. These images are balancing and compensating factors that correspond to the problems which life confronts us with in reality.  This is no matter for astonishment, since these images are deposits of thousands of years of experience of the struggle for existence and for adaptation.  Every great experience in life, every profound conflict, evokes the accumulated treasure of these images and brings about their inner constellation.  But they become accessible to consciousness only when the individual possesses so much self-awareness and power of understanding that he also reflects on what he experiences instead of just living it blindly.”

69:373f

Part of the reason that Jung’s words are so compelling for me, is that I have a fascination already with prehistory—before there were established religions during the Neolithic epoch, which began around 20,000 BCE, when some of the most interesting cave paintings were being done, although some were created as much as 35,000 years ago.  Looking at the development of humans during that time and moving forward, we see that agriculture appeared around 10,000 BCE; irrigation and agriculture began in earnest in Mesopotamia around 5,000 BCE; the megaliths at the Stonehenge site began around 3,100 BCE; and the Neolithic period ended around 1,900 BCE, right before the beginning of the Bronze Age. 

My fascination with prehistory stems partly from observing how the trends taking hold in our modern world have clearly resulted in the loss of the concept of mystery that the early humans accepted as simply being part of the way of our existence—explanations of the strange and inexplicable in prehistory had none of the restrictions or prejudicial roadblocks of modern thinking.

We tend to suppose in our current epoch that we have surpassed our prehistoric ancestors in every way, and while modern life does have an enormous advantage in almost every area of knowledge and accumulated wisdom, we seem to have lost that unfettered capacity for consideration of the mysterious and ineffable, so matter-of-factly assumed in prehistory.  Jung describes the archetypes as:

“Living symbols that rise up from the creative unconscious of the living man.  The immense significance of such symbols can be denied only by those for whom the history of the world begins with the present day.”     69:202f

We cannot lose sight of the existence of the mysterious and elusive aspects of our very human nature, for to do so would cut us off from what constitutes the very essence of our foundation as a self-aware and cognitively talented species.  The early humans, in spite of possessing the very same physiological structures in the brain, took thousands of years to blossom into creatures with the capacity for creating symbolic representations of objective phenomena observed in the world included in the early cave paintings.  It took thousands more years to develop grammatical languages to express those concepts, and thousands more years to develop writing.

As always, we are limited in our ability to describe our ineffable aspects and inherited foundational sources, since they are, in important ways, transcendent of the physical universe, but with a sustained and determined approach to the subject, we may eventually break through our current limitations.

I look forward to continuing to do research and to consider these ideas more fully in the coming year, and wish to express my gratitude to all those who visit and comment here at John’s Consciousness.

Wishing you all the best in the coming year!

Finding Meaning in the Winter Season

Once again, as the year winds down and the fullness of the winter season begins to take hold, we are presented with a whole range of considerations and expectations, which seem to appear typically at this time.  For me, this year has been as tumultuous as they come, and there is a flood of concerns yet to be addressed, as well as the unfolding of events which have prompted me to reconsider my current path, and inspired me to investigate further, several of the ideas which have occupied my mind of late.

Chief among these have been the ever-changing landscape surrounding my home.  I have been paying close attention to the comings and goings of the plants and trees and flowers this year, and continue to marvel at the sometimes astonishing changes that have taken place.

As many of you readers may recall, I have been mourning the loss of the large tree out front, and have truly been inspired by the natural resilience of that tree to continue to sprout new growth in spite of being recently reduced to a stump.  The final images were a bit disappointing, as the leaves simply turned brown and fell off around the stump.

And yet, the smaller tree stump near the house, finally burst forth with some brilliant leaves this fall and provided a few lovely images that reminded me of years past.  The relentless growth of the ivy creeping once again up the front of the house truly astounds me with its dynamic persistence, and will require some additional attention this spring.

The autumn this year provided some wonderful opportunities for photography, and I was fortunate to have the chance to expand the range of my travels to include some fabulous scenery in several of the surrounding states near my home.

One of the most impressive blossoms of the year came just a few days ago, where the unusually warm weather of the past few weeks apparently triggered the blossoming of the rose bush out front in a spectacular burst of color, just ten days before Christmas!

This year, even with the restrictions of the pandemic, and the relentless stream of unfortunate events out in the world-at-large, I have been prompted to consider what meaning might be found in the winter season, and particularly, how it all gets wrapped up in the Christmas rush.

It’s not everything that has been done and said, written or expressed through history that reveals the significance of the Christmas season.  It’s clearly not only about all the hoopla and the carrying on, the decorations and sales, or the visits to Saint Nicholas at the local mall.

It’s also not really just about what has been depicted in the many traditional religious interpretations of the season from around the world.  If we look back in human history, long before there was a Christmas morning with a baby in a manger, expectant parents forced to stay in a stable, and wise men traveling to see the newborn king, there were a number of other traditions and much cultural reverence for the winter solstice, when the Earth tilted just the right way, after the harvest, leading us into the approaching winter.

When you look back over the ancient literature of the past centuries, you will see often an equivalence drawn between a human life and the seasons of the year.  The spring being the birth of all life on the planet, through the blossoming of the flowers and trees, the unfolding green lushness of the world of summer, all the way through to the maturity of the autumn, where the beauty becomes ubiquitous and startling. As it fades, we gradually find ourselves leading up to the winter season, when all things begin to decay and return to the Earth, and for a time, we must endure the harsh realities that appear at the end of the year.

These rhythms have been with us long before Christmas as we know it today.  Humans have long drawn the comparison of a human life to the turning of the seasons; we are born in the spring; we grow and flourish as we enter the summer, which brings with it the peak of our powers, and as we age, we reach the autumn of our years—the most brilliant, most productive and beautiful part of our lives—right before the encroaching winter as we enter the final stages of life.

In time, even the religious implications of the stories surrounding the preparations of the birth of the Christ child, were altered to fit the calendar; all of the various ideas surrounding the religious traditions constitute an expression of the symbols of the season and were made meaningful by the humans who created them.  If you have even a small amount of sensibility, you can see how the seasons shape us—how the tides of our lives shape us—and how all these aspects mirror a truth—a reality—and while it might not conform precisely to whatever traditions we follow, it does suggest something very human.

As we approach the season of Christmas in our current tradition, we all look forward to coming together, sharing familial love, and receiving gifts.  As young children, we have always looked forward to receiving gifts at Christmas—which is completely reasonable—and even as we age we may look forward to receiving a gift from that special someone in our lives.  As you age even further, you begin to understand a bit better, that the most important gifts we can receive at the winter solstice and at Christmas time do not need to be wrapped in paper and sealed with ribbons.

The most important gifts can be as simple as an embrace; as a loving glance; as a heartfelt “I love you,” spoken by the people we love.  And while recently there have been far fewer opportunities for such gifts, those of us in our maturity now can look back over a lifetime of all such gifts, and we understand now, better than we ever could before, that the greatest gifts are often intangible.  There’s no need to embellish or invoke cultural mythologies or any of the variety of religious connotations. This time of year, this season, is a reminder to us of the finite nature of life, which begins with birth in the spring, continues through the growth and flourishing of all things in summer, transitioning into the glorious peak in the fall, and ending with the diminishing seasonal winds of winter, when all things once again, end and renew.

While we may not especially look forward to the relentless broadcasts of seasonal music everywhere you go, there’s no reason to be opposed to the music that invokes the arrival of the winter solstice, the end of the seasons of the year or the winter of our lives.  The traditional songs and music are the echoes of what runs through everything, not just through the music we hear at this time of year.

There’s no need for discord or disbelief. It doesn’t matter what we believe. What truly matters is the embrace, the heartfelt glance, and the echo of the words, “I love you,” from those we love.

Let’s not forget, that everything that came before us, is what brought us here today, and as we celebrate here and now, what we show each other will fill in the moments of the memories of our children and our grandchildren, and we hope that they will feel the same way that we do.

God Bless Us, Everyone!