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.”


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!

2 thoughts on “Jung’s Psychological Reflections at Year’s End

  1. “transcendent of the physical universe”

    As I wrote recently, I have become convinced that there is something rather than nothing. And clearly you are of the same persuasion. Mind, a mind or minds. Perhaps as some posit, consciousness is an as yet unrecognized force of nature and will eventually take its rightful position alongside the other fundamental forces and energies.

    I am reading Walden at the moment. Nothing too fanciful there (or not yet) but in every sense Thoreau seems to have trodden a similar path to that you and I and so many others tread.

    Recognizing what is fundamentally important in life and the vast majority of things which have no importance at all. I would not like to die of tetanus from a shaving cut as his brother did and so I would have to count modern medicine a blessing.

    So much else is not a blessing. In general, I would prefer to live as those people in your picture above, although I would prefer to build myself a shelter as Thoreau did.

    Hurrying and competition and the amassing of material possessions are all things I could happily do without. Thoreau felt he would rather do without post offices and railways and “news”. How right he was. How I share his views.

    Perhaps we die before we have worked out all the pieces of the puzzle. And then we will find the answers. Or not, as the case may be.

    All best wishes for a new year of contemplation and growth


    1. Anthony,

      Your thoughtful response to my posting is much appreciated, as always, and reading it has inspired me to revisit some writing I did in 1998 when I had the privilege of visiting the site of Thoreau’s cabin in the woods. At the time, as a much younger version of myself, I felt an urgency to make the pilgramage, and was able to do so during a vacation, which also included stops at historical sites in Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, as well as several other locations from my time in the military. Everything seemed to fall right into place when I arrived in Concord. The spring weather in April that year was unusually mild, and I was able to comfortably walk the long path along the water’s edge on the way to the site. It was gratifying in ways that I could not have anticipated, and I wrote about the experience all those years ago. I also was fortunate to have some camera equipment with me and took some historical photos as well.

      I now intend to make my first posting of the New Year about this event and thank you for the inspiration!

      The two chapters of Walden within which you might find includes a bit of the fanciful are chapter five called “Solitude,” and chapter nine called “The Ponds.” I can also recommend Thoreau’s offering of “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,” in particular the account of his experiences on “Wednesday,” which expresses some ideas relevant to your comments here:

      “We are grateful when we are reminded by interior evidence, of the permanence of universal laws; for our
      faith is but faintly remembered, indeed, is not a remembered assurance, but a use and enjoyment of
      knowledge. It is when we do not have to believe, but come into actual contact with Truth, and are related
      to her in the most direct and intimate way.”

      At the conclusion of the Wednesday musings, he includes a poem entitled, “The Inward Morning,” which remains one of my favorite Thoreau contributions.

      We do not choose the epoch into which we are born, by most accounts, but wouldn’t it be grand indeed if we could select the best of each and roll them into one superbly fabulous epoch! Modern medicine is indeed one of the most beneficial blessings in our current epoch, and our explorations of our universe both in the very distant reaches of it, down to the very heart of it, have given us much needed perspective that the ancients lacked. World-wide travel which can be largely conducted in a matter of hours is an extraordinary benefit that was absent even two hundred years ago, and while advanced technology in all its forms brings with it advanced challenges as well, when used wisely and made available widely has improved many of the issues that have plagued humans over millennia. It remains a puzzle as you say, but what wonders await us if we can apply our knowledge wisely! I think it is largely up to us as the current inhabitants of our epoch.

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