Below The Line Transcript: Episode #86 — Carl Jung — Heroes, Alchemy, and Connection
Below is the transcript of my interview with the historical giant and founder of analytical psychology, Dr. Carl Gustav Jung. The episode is available below or can be found any podcast player or at belowthelinepod.com.
Click “subscribe” if you want to check out more episodes of Below The Line as we build out more of a podcast presence on YouTube in the coming months.
James: So good to have you here, Dr Jung. Really excited to dive into the “Below the Line” version of your life and work today.
Carl: Good to be in the soup with you.
James: Yes, the soup [laughter]. How would you like to start?
C: We can start anyway you’d like. I’ve got all the time in the world.
J: Ok, well let’s start with giving listeners a little background on you before starting your career.
C: Well, I grew up in Laufen Switzerland, and had an interest in many different things… my father was a pastor and my grandfather was a physician in Basel, so you could say it was in the family to practice medicine and preach… something I combined in my own professional pursuit. At 25 I began practicing medicine and wrote my first book at 30 within the new scientific field of depth psychology. Would you like me to go on?
J: Yes, please.
C: About that time, in 1906, I began corresponding with Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst, who ended up actually being quite a piece of work [laughter], but for many years, we were inseparable, and I thought we would spend our lives working together.
J: [Laughter] I imagine he was difficult to work with. At least would you put it that way?
C: Well, the answer to the spirit of your question is yes, he was at times, but he was also phenomenally brilliant… you could say the former about myself too, I was terrible to people at times too. Truly awful when I look back. But the other part of my answer to you is in the phrase that “humor is the only divine quality we humans have acquired”… So part of that is in jest as well.
Ultimately, we should be as familiar with the existence of limitations within brilliant individuals; as familiar as we are with their brilliance.
J: You actually make a large point in your work and lectures around dismantling heroes. That our heroes should be “unclothed, shirtless, with flaws revealed.”
C: Yes, that is actually one of our largest, societal, collective flaws. We put heroes on mantles, with unattainable stature, washing them clean of any flaws.
That has its benefits of giving us ideals and exemplary models, but it has its cost of then making sure none of us can recognize a living hero when we see one… we see one, two, three flaws, and we say “well, that person is not a hero, because they have flaws — they are not like person X, person Y who is no longer with us, but was a real hero… or worse, they are not like the superhero in this fictional story or this main character in that factional story.” It turns out copper is quite useful, it turns out steel is quite useful… everything does not need to be gold to be useful… in fact, these others are vastly more useful than gold.
But we overlook these heroes around us until they are dead, and until they can be turned into gold after death with revision. How many heroes living and around us do we miss out on, do we not empower, because we have these false versions of hero stories, clothed in embellishment with all flaws masked or removed. It’s not just that we miss out on the steel, the copper, the silver around us… It’s that we miss out on the chance to make the gold right before our eyes. The very thing we’re looking for is right before us, but we’re told it’s not here, it was in a land called the past. A land we can never get back to, a land for others… What we need right now, in this century, is more heroes. More now than ever.
Early in my career, I had a disdain for a false representation of what was, the persona, the mask of the person. Later in my career, my disdain grew for what never was… the false hero worship, clothed in embellishment, stripped clean of flaws. We need heroes in the midst of flaws. Strengths in the midst of weaknesses.
J: Wow. I’ve never given it that lens, but that is part of the meaning behind this podcast project. That what is “beneath the surface” is far more universal, the truth beneath the perfectly polished version of a creator or thinker is far more universal than the above the surface vision of an iceberg. So I think we’re aligned on that.
C: As I said, it’s good to be in the soup with you. [Laughter]
J: I don’t want to delve too long on this because you’re known for so much more than this, but I can’t help but to pick up on the alchemy reference to the desire for heroes to be “unclothed and shirtless” as you put it in your comparison of gold to other metals. Between you, Isaac Newton, and many mystics, there’s a fascination with alchemy from demonstrably intellectual individuals… turning lead to gold that has largely been seen as a fool’s errand, one that no serious person pursues any longer. Why did you pursue the concept?
C: I still am pursuing it. There is the simplified literal articulation, lead to gold, that you just described, and then there is the deep symbolic representation that hooked me later in life… the spiritual side, the alive side. To put it back in the literal sense… most believe that lead and gold are what they are, and that they are dead, with no life. I thought that at one time too… But now I know they are not dead.
They may not have a heartbeat, but all matter is alive and all matter is a continuation. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Newton, the father of physics, also passionately pursued the philosophy of alchemy. If you believe in the theory of evolution, how can you not also believe in alchemy? Gold came from what was not gold. All matter came from what it was not. So how can you believe it is not alive? I remember when I was younger and thought it was a fool’s errand to believe in such things as well. Misplace time and thought. Take the time to look into the mythology of alchemy, a continuation and improvement in some ways of the Christian mythology. And replace the incalculably brief human time horizon of wanting lead to become gold in a day, a week, or your lifetime… and replace that horizon with God’s time horizon.
Replace the desire to utilize a theory for personal gain, and instead utilize it for universal understanding. It’s hard not to be fascinated by such a concept, by such a continuation.
J: Wow… I didn’t think we’d get into that, nor did I think anyone would be able to make me think about alchemy more seriously…
C: Like I said, replace the desire to utilize a theory for personal gain, and instead utilize it for universal understanding, and you might appreciate the viewpoint that matter is living slightly more deeply. The earth was flat and then it wasn’t. Matter is dead… and then it isn’t.
J: So fascinating that we started this conversation off talking about matter, because you’re more famously known for the interpretation of the opposite, non-matter, the interpretation of dreams and psychology. Zooming out, can you tell me a bit about the different concepts you have developed as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and then I’d love to spend time talking about the role dreams play in our lives in your opinion.
C: Well, we could talk about my work on archetypes and archetypal images, which are universal symbols and how they’ve varied over time, as well as how they influence ourselves and our society.
We could talk about complexes and the repressed organization within many of us, or my work on introversion and extraversion, or my work on the shadow.
The collective unconscious, anima and animus, the internal contra-sexual aspect of a man or woman’s psyche… their inner personal feminine or inner personal masculine. I could go on in the overview of the different concepts I worked on.
J: Yes please, go on.
C: I am happy to discuss the self, or what my current contemporaries might now call the capital “S” Self, the overarching concept that governs our collective unconscious and the unifying force between us. Or individuation and personal fulfillment, or synchronicity, the simultaneous occurrence of phenomena… Or we can go back as you said, to dreams and the unconcious.
J: Yes, I’d like to do that, but can you give me 2-3 others you’d like to touch on with our time today?
C: Well the overarching one might be Individuation, the process of fulfillment of each individual. If all of these concepts I’ve worked to develop are the tool kit… Individuation is the job for the tools to perform. So I could talk about the tools or the goal the tools are meant to bring about.
J: How do you mean?
C: Well, I’m more famous for things like self, or Extraversion or Introversion, which is wildly misinterpreted for popular consumption… It’s as if people are fascinated with the first level of the ladder. It’s the one right above them, it’s the interpretation of the dream they had last night. But individuation is where the ladder leads. And that is where the work leads… the process of fulfillment of each individual which debates neither the conscious or unconscious position but does justice to both of them.
The integration of the conscious and unconscious position, both of which are necessary and neither more important than the other. To build a stable structure you need both a stable environment, stable ground beneath you, and the stable structure on top. And most only focus on the structure on top… leave the unconscious out of the equation and wondering why our house crumbles with frequency. Why it creaks, why it sways, why it looks so different in practice than we imagined and wanted for ourselves. You become a true, useful individual to your community once you have stabilized the structure and you stabilized the structure by first building it upon rock and not sand.
J: Well, now it seems almost silly to go back to dreams.
C: That’s your purview into the unconscious… The first rung of the latter is critical too. It’s a very fine place to start.
J: Ok, what is a dream you’ve had lately?
C: Oh, I now have the same dream over and over. Different figures, different environments, but more or less the same dream. My dream is that I am the friend to the one who is lonely.
J: What do you mean?
C: When you are away from someone you love. A great friend. A parent. You husband or wife… You can be with 100 other people in some strange land… not alone but lonely. When you are disconnected from your unconscious… that same loneliness appears.
You were connected with it when you were young, your mind body and soul developed with it, but you have since been disconnected. Disconnected from a great friend, and you are lonely. Disconnected from yourself? And you’ll become a piece of work like that Freud fellow.
J: [Laughter] Shots fired!
C: I’m kidding, he was a clothed hero of mine for many years, and later in life, he became a true one. I like busting his balls though. [Laughter]
J: So disconnection from the self leads to loneliness?
C: Of the most important kind. And my dream is that I am the friend to the one who is lonely.
J: How are you that friend? How does that play out?
C: Well it plays out, hopefully, in conscious ways — as I aim to incorporate and not repress that vision and dream. And it plays out in developing the rungs of the ladder that my clients or lecture attendants need to climb. Whether that is the understanding of a recurring dream, by getting the client to paint them, write them, reflect on them… most have a dream that you say is funny or that you thought terrifying, then you forget by breakfast, the other rungs are awareness of the collective unconscious, the awareness of the Self, the integration of the anima, the aspect of the man’s psyche that is his inner personal feminine, conceived both as a complex and an archetypal image. The animus, the aspect of the woman’s psyche that is the same for the their inner masculine side; again as both a complex and as a archetypal image. The development of the conscious side, the house itself, the integration of the shadow or their repressed aspects of their personality that they’d rather not look at but guides them none the less. The archetypes we model our lives after, which are the true authors of our actions. Not ourselves, but this interiorized collection of myths.
J: I’ve read where you state that man must live within a myth.
C: Yes, man must live within a myth. That is not an external truth, but a biological truth. Meaning that a myth is not just an external story. It is a map. Myths develop and are adopted and adapted like a technology, like a hammer, because it serves an intrinsic need. Myths are not statistical or external. They are the way in which we solve for biological truths. Our biological needs. Myths in the world today, are not complimentary to our lives. They are not entertainment to abate boredom or to inspire insignificant behavior like many believe. The myth of the hero, the model of the ideal… It is how we are fed, how we find love, how we choose our work, how we connect, and misunderstanding them leads to the biological demise of anyone of those… our lack of love, our lack of food, our lack of connection. And when I say Man must live within a myth. Man is not male. Man is from the Latin, manus, which means hand… to be handy… to be useful. We all aim to be useful, that isn’t just our external pursuit or purpose, though it is that, but it’s also our internal biological truth. Meaning that an arrow is shot “true”, the etymology of the word “true” comes from archery, in the way it can most effectively hit the target. The most fundamental biological truth is the direction that hits the target of meeting our biological needs. And the the most true direction is to be useful… to provide for your community, and then your community provides for you. Paradoxical as it might seem. But true nonetheless.
Serve yourself, your lowercase “s” self, your separated self, and you will be in lack of nutrition, in lack of connection, in lack of love. Be useful, give others what they want, and you become indispensable. The community can’t give you enough to keep you around. And the way to learn to be most useful, is to heed the examples in our myths. We know this even if we don’t know we know it… That is why we tie our lives to myths. It turns out to be so powerful that man must live within a myth like a fish must live in water. It can try living in the air, but it knows… whether it has the language for it or not, it knows it will die if it continues to do so. We are no different. We inhabit a myth, and it is our communal decision and our biological decision to choose one myth over another.
Hence we are constantly in search of the most biologically true myths, in other words, the myths that best serve our biological needs for the short, medium, and long-term.
J: Holy shit.
C: That’s the proof that the truth is paradoxical right there! [Laughter]
J: [Laughter] What do you mean?
C: Holy. Shit. When you heard something that rang true… your instinctive, American slang response was the words holy and shit. Shit is not conventionally seen as holy… it’s the last thing we think of as holy… it’s a biological result, it’s waste, and no longer needed… yet you span out, you zoom out on a different time horizon, and it’s not the result… it’s the revolving beginning, feed for the grass, the forest, the orange tree, it’s a sign of health. It’s as much the result as it is the source. It is nothing in one scenario, and biological gold in another. On the conscious level, it is shit. On the unconscious level, we know it is more than that, we know that it is holy. So the colloquial myth, the colloquial term you just used… holy shit.. it’s not just a myth, it’s the biological truth. And deep down, you know that.
J: Woah. My head is spinning.
C: Individuation is disorienting at first.
To borrow another term from archery. The word “sin” means to miss the mark. To be separate from the target… To live in sin, not in the theological or Christian sense, but in the mythological, metaphorical sense is to live separate from your target, to live separate from your biological truth. Our myths, developed and refined over 25,000 years of collective authorship tells us this. And why do these myths survive generation after generation, millennia after millennia? It’s because they work. They help your arrow hit the target. They’re true.
J: So are we born in sin, as the myth goes, separate from the target?
C: When you feel lost, when you feel separate from the target, you are, to take the archery term literally… you are in sin, yes.
But Freud was certain that the infant, in the oceanic feeling, didn’t distinguish itself from the world, didn’t distinguish anything from anything else… It’s one entire ocean of experience. And certainly, if you zoom out to a time horizon that begins with the Big Bang, we… everything… was connected physically. It’s less obvious, but we still are… connected that is.
Zoom out 100Bn years, and there was the moment before the Big Bang, where we were in every sense, including literally, one. The arrow and the target. So you may feel lost, you may be separate from your target in life. But I don’t believe we were born in sin, born separate from our targets, our aims. Along the way, we just forget, lose sight, and lose touch with that target.
Let’s take the 100Bn years again, before, during, and after the Big Bang. We are under the illusion the universe was, in a way, exploded from a single point, dismembered. But this, this moment right now is not separate from the Big Bang. This is the Big Bang. This is it. You see? It’s still happening. And to go back to that moment where everything was one, before this great dismembering, we must re-member. It’s a matter of remembering. Re-collecting, to recollect.
And when we are lost, when we find ourselves separate from the target. We must remember, to recollect, to integrate who and what we are. The individuation process. The hero’s path. Biological truth. Universal truth. Personal truth. They are all one.
J: How do you know a paradoxical truth is true? How do you know it’s not just some intellectual sounding paper weight that sounds substantial but, you know… has no real value.
C: Oh that’s easy. The way one can tell if a paradox is true or not is… if you zoom out, does it unify the arrow and the target, does it get the arrow closer to the target, making it in that literal sense “true”, or does the insight or attitude separate the arrow from the target, you from your target, further.
The paradoxical observation that conflict on one level is harmony on another… that’s obviously true, your white blood cells attacking a virus allows you to live, countless nuclear explosions on the sun give us a peaceful spring day. Therefore, the paradox of “conflict is needed for harmony” is true if your aim is health or that spring day. If you want harmony, you must welcome conflict. It’s paradoxical, but the test… is that you zoom out, and does it unify the arrow and the target, you and your aim.
The major paradoxical truths are in our myths, and they have stood the test of time because they work. They pass this test, try it out subjectively and see for one’s self in your life or career. Be intensely selfless, and does that starve or serve the self? You can subjectively test this for a year or even a month in your own life.
And many untrue paradoxes —or good old fashion untruths, with regards to arrows and targets— don’t pass this test.
J: Damn carl, you’re blowing my mind!
C: [Laughter] my attempt is the opposite. I am trying to help you recollect your mind.
J: Conflict on one level, harmony on another I guess you could say [laughter]… I’ve never heard you talk about it in quite these terms before?
C: Well I’ve had a lot of time to think about it since I last spoke on such topics.
J: Are we wired, preternaturally to pursue recollection, integration, or individuation as you put it?
C: Oh that is a good question. Well, Freud believed in the oceanic state, where the infant is individuated and connected already in a primitive form, in a primitive way… Paradoxically, and the reason it is called individuation, is that individual fulfills their personal, their individual identity through “unification”, taking the divided self and undividing it… not through becoming more “individual” and divided. It is the unification of the lower self and the higher Self, the unification of the conscious and unconscious, the multiple personas, the unification of the archetype with the communal and current tactical need. Maybe the individuation is to become a knight or a soldier to fight bravely on the side of truth, and maybe it’s to be the best doctor in a city or blacksmith in a village 200 years ago. No matter the calling, the individuation is achieved through unification of these things, and ultimately the unification of the individual to their community, not through separation of the person from their community.
J: I wondered why the process of individuation, something that is like fitting into a communal need had the term “individuation” which would seem to imply standing out.
C: Yes, that is a common misconception. The word individual is from the Latin term for undivided, indivisible. You can stand out because you have a divided conscious and unconscious mind… the unintegrated shadow… that makes you stand out in the negative sense… the criminal or the drug addict.
Or you can stand out in the positive sense, the heroic archetype that stands out for their courage or the singular, prolific artist. But the person that stands out for the positive is the person that has most effectively integrated their two selves, their conscious and unconscious, and the right myth to their circumstance. Our attachment to these “individual” figures is our attachment to the same myths and our attachment to our biological truths.
J: In other words, they get kicked up onto the mantle as “offspring” stories of the larger myths we have attached to for biological reasons — food, safety, love, connection, etc.
C: Which is why I despise putting people up onto that mantle. We can no longer relate to Jesus… He has been pedastalized to such a degree with no evidence of vulnerability, that it’s an ideal, yes, but it’s one we can no longer relate to. It’s better than no ideal. But it’s not as good as the hero you identify with. There is a reason a billion people will go see a superhero that at least has some flaws and be captivated by that story on a film screen versus a sermon on an infallible, omnipotent hero that we must compare ourselves to. It’s still helpful. But it goes from being a map… to being a compass. When we can be comfortable with the flawed heroes. The monk that adulters. The preacher that drinks too heavily. The thinker that lazes. Then we can make heroes of those around us, treasure maps every way you turn.
J: Why have I not heard this much about the bone you have to pick with clothed and embellished heroes?
C: Because I only developed the viewpoint fully later in life. When trying to understand, not how to construct the latter, but why we all need one in the first place. Our myths and our heroes are on mantles, and we can’t reach them.
And we need to be able to reach them. We need to become them. We need to be more than passive participants in our communities.
The hero isn’t just a part of the community. They are an invaluable part. The skilled carpenter. The proficient mechanic. The informed doctor. The soldier returning from battle. The patient mother. The loving father. They aren’t a part of the community, they are an invaluable part. And you become invaluable by either doing what only you can do, or by doing what no one else will do. The right hand is not valuable to the body because it is latent or wasting, and it’s not valuable to the body because it is trying to be a foot. It’s value is in its individual nature. A hero’s value makes them indivisible from the community. Indivisible from the whole. Indivisible from the body, the collective in the same way.
J: Out of curiosity, given that you have been placed on a mantle in many ways since your death, what were some of your flaws, shadows, and weaknesses.
C: I’m glad you asked. Even in my integrated self, I was a terrible person. I was awful. So much of the time, I was just awful to people, caught up in my own conceit, ambitions, desires. Sometimes this worked to my advantage… I am notorious for being hard on my clients. Much of the time it was my own impatience and contempt for the lack of truth spoken openly that made me want to… how should I say… shake people up or shake them awake during a session. I would learn over time that it was the terribleness that they actually sought. So in a way, my shadow served a purpose to show me where this attitude and approach could be useful. But it was only later did I discover how to deliberately utilize it.
I also, in the parlance of today, was sexist in my earlier professional years. Though I would later work extensively with women, my childhood with a mother that was hospitalized for her psychiatric disorders and who I would see late at night hallucinating… both compelled me to want to work with women, in a way that I believe I was underprepared and desperately trying to stabilize my mother in my youth, not having any idea of how. But that experience also colored my view of women in general… to then view all woman as unstable. My wife Emma changed my mind on that. She was exceptionally stable. Even through all the grief, stress, ambition, and infidelity that I put her through during out marriage in Switzerland.
My dream, as I said, is that I am the friend to that one who is lonely. My unintegrated shadow in my earlier years was to befriend those who were the opposite of lonely. I pursued the correspondence and mentorship with Freud from the conscious sense that it would expand my viewpoint and my ability to help the lonely. But on the shadow side, my unconscious side, my pursuit for years to “belong” in the psychiatric inner circle was driven by my own loneliness. I was an only child my first 9 years, my mother was unstable and in and out of our house with her trips to the hospital, and though I am grateful for the support I always had, I was lonely and thought biological true north, biological connection and the cure for my loneliness was through acceptance of men others considered great — like Freud.
It wasn’t until I broke from what you might, with today’s terms, call our codependent path, and experienced a rather uncomfortable displacement from that inner circle, that I became truly useful and a true friend to the lonely.
J: Can you tell me a bit more about that time of life?
C: What would you like to know?
J: Well, many know that you were very close to the founding father of Depth Psychiatry… Sigmund Freud. He even referred to you as his heir apparent, his professional son. He went so far as to propose you as the lifelong president of his newly formed international psychoanalytical association. Two years later, he wouldnt speak to you again.
C: [Laughter] Well thank you for putting it so bluntly. To be honest, it still pains me to think of him in that light. I can joke around that he is a piece of shit, but the truth is that the pain comes from the other side of him… The brilliant, pioneering, and formative side. I am the analyst and scientist I am today because of him and his work.
J: Out of curiosity, why did you use the word codependent when referring to Freud?
C: Well, to take you back to 1899, this brand new field of psychology was just beginning still. It was barely born and therefore always on the brink of extinguishing without the proper life-giving care. Sigmund, though he was already building a name for himself in Vienna, his concepts were so radical that they got noticed years before they got credibility. And say what you want about the credibility of some of his claims… the connections he made and the insights he brought to the field of psychology and the understanding of the human mind and psyche… are up there with any philosophical musings of Socrates or scientific proclamations of Newton. Not all correct, but almost incomparable in terms of how much it pushed humanity’s collective thinking forward. I was 24, and studying medicine like my grandfather had done before, and knew enough to know Freud was going to be a world-renowned figure in the medical field.
His work on neuroses and his seminal work on libido… see what I did there… look up the etymology of seminal… Well, it was his work on the libido, sexual desire, sexual neuroses, perversion, sexual biology, and sexual pathology that was groundbreaking for its uniqueness. In his view, if you were represented as a house, your house looked the way it did because of sexual desire.
J: Why did this speak to you in the way it did?
C: Without having a language for it, I was in search of universal truths. Sigmund wasn’t writing about obscure disorders. He was writing about universal truths, right or wrong. Rarely do you find such educated, such intelligent, and such articulate individuals spending time on universal truths, much less proposed universal truths that were previously undiscussed.
He wasn’t a doctor talking about the latest trend in treating a patient with this specific condition or that specific issue, influenced by a peer’s research. His peers, his influences were the unspoken mythological truths of Shakespeare and the philosophical work of Nietzsche; even though he would later lie and say he owned works of Neitzsche as a teenager “but never read them.” He wasn’t on this earth to cure an illness. He was on this earth to cure mankind. That was his mission. So his work certainly spoke to me. It’s sheer ambition and expansion spoke to many of us. But I use the word codependent because he needed younger researchers. He needed the resonance with us, the further study, the credibility of others reviewing and disseminating his work in our universities. He was a consummate student of presentation and prestige… his metaphorical house, if you will, was meticulously orchestrated, and it was grand… and if you want your art, your work to rise above the noise, you can’t have just one clarinet player playing your ostenato… you want an orchestra doing it.
He needed us to be his orchestra.
And with the music he was writing, there were many of us in the field that couldn’t wait to play it for others. As a young scientist, or in this metaphor, a young musician, there was no one more exciting to play for others than Freud’s work. And when I wrote my first book in 1906, with a bit of notoriety that I had already established, I sent him a copy. I’m told he had already heard of me, and had already bought a copy of my book — and that year we began a fervent correspondence. In my early career, the mix of insight and validation that his correspondence afforded me was invaluable. We would meet about a year later… and can I tell you a story?
J: Of course!
C: When we first met in person, we talked for 13 hours straight through the night. 13 hours.. [Laughter] That piece of work!
J: What happened next? What was the path to you becoming the “heir apparent”?
C: Over the next few years, we were exceptionally close. Me learning from him, him benefiting from the resonance of another thinker of some note pushing his ideas forward. I pushed him on his concepts and he was foundational for mine. We would have these heated debates, and I always appreciated his approval and encouragement of such debates. After many years, I looked back and realized this time period was my own individuation. I feared, above all else, being lonely, and being under his wing seemed the most direct path to avoid that fear. It seemed the most direct path to belonging in the spiritual and biological sense. But it was belonging by association rather than belonging from the fulfillment of my individual usefulness.
J: Did you have a sense for a growing schism between you two?
C: The schism was within myself. My conscious life was moving towards him. My unconscious both directed and interfered with that. It directed that out of my fear of not belonging, not being useful, a fear of being lonely. A deep fear of being lonely, spiritually and biologically. It also interfered with that direction because I knew deep down that I was to be more useful in creating my own identity, not being his “Heir” for the rest of my life. That latter part grew more and more over time. And though my conscious life moved toward that inner circle through association with Dr. Freud, my unconscious direction moved me to first develop concepts separate to his — and second to develop concepts that were mutually exclusive, ultimately incompatible with his.
J: How so? What’s an example?
C: Well, I can give you the example. To Freud, our psychologies, our neuroses, our behavior had libido, sexual desire as the ultimate master. To him, the unconscious was just a “cellar” of the house, a kind of basement, but the purpose of the structure was reproduction. Evolutionarily, there is credible truth to that. However, to me, the unconscious was not just a basement of the house. It was the entire environment that the house was built in… It was the foundation, the air, the climate. It ultimately decided what the house would look like and dictate its stability or lack there of. It was not just a basement.
J: Those seem both compelling and compatible to me.
C: They are when you first discuss them, when you first think about them. But when you are helping a patient, it matters very much which is the first rung of the ladder you deal with. If it’s the wrong one, if it isn’t the real first rung, an illusory first rung of the ladder, the patient will never advance. Libido and sexual desire can be a rung, but it’s not the first one. That one is your understanding of your own unconscious. That is the choice upon building your treatment on rock or on sand. And there is no more important decision than where you build your structure. And over time, I increasingly felt his work built the structure in a partial, incomplete, and therefore unstable foundation. I did think that libido was an important part of the formation of the personality, but I increasingly believed in the collective creation and collective memory of mythology that co-creates the unconscious of the individual, from there, the environment and the individual create the rest of the unconscious — and that is what formed the personality. And my work took me even deeper than the individual’s unconscious as the first rung of the ladder. For me, it then became a matter of this “collective unconscious” this collective soup that first starts to shape and form the personality.
J: So what logistically happened next?
C: My views and our personal tension grew, and I think we were the first to know within our circle of peers that our views would become incompatible. And we both knew there was more than just a friendship on the line. We were all exploring new territory, recruiting our peers to explore it with us, and it wasn’t just a difference of opinion. If we did not explore it fully and find determined peers to help us excavate cures for our patients as doctors, then our work was futile. So it was more than just friendship or admiration that was strained. We bonded over the enthusiasm for adventure and exploration, and he proclaimed me his professional successor. But within a few years, he was recruiting to explore the north and I was recruiting to explore the south. I wish I didn’t have the internal need to separate, it was the most painful part of my life, but my ultimate usefulness was through a commitment to the truth, not a commitment to our friendship.
J: Commitment to truth?
C: Commitment to truth above all else. If you want to hit the target, aim true. And if the target is truth itself. Well… then truth itself is the only way there. I knew through the analysis of my dreams that my truth was to become the friend of the lonely. Not in a small sense, but a very big sense.
I had both the empathy to seek for the lonely because I myself knew what that was like and had tried to avoid it all my life, and I had the tools to deal with the lonely because I had spent my career, knowingly or unknowingly, finding the tools to correct that loneliness in myself and others.
As that unconscious depth became conscious and visible, I had to integrate that fully to fulfill my personal role as a doctor. I had to become a functioning whole in order to help others become the same. Truth, and the commitment to truth make you and the target one, in-divisible. The arrow no longer needs to travel anywhere when it’s already at the destination; the arrow is in the target. And once one sees that, and once one looks deep into what their unconscious is communicating all around them, and especially in one’s dreams, then what else is there then a commitment to one’s truth; a commitment to the truth.
People misinterpret individuation for the moment that a person transcends the group, the attachment to belonging, and departs from the collective.
It’s not that. It is the opposite. Individuation is when an individual transcends the attachment to the individual, the lower self, and attaches fully to the collective. Attaches fully to what the collective is calling for that individual. It’s not the wooden beams separating from the house. It’s the service of their purpose to hold it up. It is their service to the whole. It is the “indivisible” the “undividable” relationship to the whole.
When you zoom in, it is the threshold, the door, the beams, the cross-section, the wooden pier post, the courageous hero in battle, Odysseus choosing love and mortality over immortality and loneliness.
When you zoom in, they seem like separate parts, but when you move out, they have integrated their unique purposes to create something bigger than the individual parts, making the entire structure larger than it could have been otherwise. They have become indivisible by discovering what is needed and becoming individuated, individual to what they can offer. The whole is an amalgamation of separates, yes, but it is the whole that matters. There is no matter except for the entirety of the whole. Therefore, the whole is no laughing matter [Laughter]. So once I saw that, that was my commitment. Not a commitment to Sigmund’s orchestra. And when I look back, how I knew it was my truth is that, yes it was a paradox, but it was true. My usefulness, my unconscious integration, my connection would require a path through a crucible… of desolate separation and disconnection. My commitment to truth was my compass and my map, so I was unshakable, but a map through the territory of isolation, when that is what I feared most, does not make it any less painful. I like how Joseph Campbell put it: “the treasure you seek is in the cave you least want to enter.” That is how it was for me. But fire is the ultimate purifier.
J: Can you tell me a little more about that experience? The crucible and separation from Freud?
C: I published “Psychology of the Unconscious” in 1912, and the correspondence that followed with Freud showed a resounding censure of my idea that the unconscious is more than a cellar of repressed feelings, but is equal and collectively, with others, greater than the conscious mind.
It was clear that with his monarchical stature, it was one thing to explore new territory, but another thing altogether when the monarchy denounces it. Like I said, I had the unshakable determination to keep exploring, but within a year, the break between us as colleagues… well… You know, there were about 200 analysts in our professional circle in Europe at the time. Students, colleagues, scientists, doctors… And all but two of them, all but two of them denounced my work in the coming years.
J: For someone that fears loneliness and desires connection, what was that like?
C: I was 37, and in many ways, I had sufficient connection with my wife Emma, a force in her own right, and our five children. My unconscious fear of loneliness was partially born from being an only child until the age of nine with a mother that was intermittently unstable; intermittently in the home. To know that my own children would not have that experience both comforted me and was its own sort of cure to my own loneliness. It also further highlighted the calling to be the friend to the one who is lonely. The fulfillment with which I felt within my own family and my patients by pursuing my line of thinking was the truth that I connected to even if it had the cost of separation in a professional sense. So there was constant proof that it was the optimal way to hit the target, there was an inner peace that I felt in my pursuit. But the following years, perhaps the following 16 years were brutal on me as well. I can’t deny that.
My confrontation with the unconscious and then the subsequent experiences I had included visions, hallucinations, voices, and I often felt I was menaced by psychosis. It turns out that not much lead is left when it is turned into gold.
There were proofs that it was the right path yes, but the part of the me I had created out of fear, my personality, needed to die, to burn up, and for about 15 years, I kept small journals of these almost schizophrenic experiences… Experiences that I knew if I welcomed, would ultimately be useful in my own work.
I have come to learn that the pain of the individuation experience isn’t the price. It is a necessary part of the reward, because for me, the insight gained from exploring this territory ultimately allowed me to help others navigate it.
J: Hmm.. interesting…
C: How else would I be able to help others navigate it unless I myself knew the terrain? It turns out pain, suffering, isolation, loneliness is an expansive terrain to explore.
J: So 16 years before you began to publish again?
C: No, thankfully. It was only a few years before I began publishing journal articles more widely. 16 years of truly dealing with the voluntary split from my colleagues and internal reflection on this kind of professional and spiritual experience, perhaps longer, but just a few years of quieter work before I began publishing journal articles, slowly building momentum again, and by the end of it, the decade after the break form Freud was a prolific one for me. Many tried to make it more than what it was, tried to make it almost Shakespearean. And it was a professional diversion, that is for sure, and surely a painful one, but I am forever thankful I had the courage to make that choice, to choose that pain, even the betrayal — as I knew that my choices could cause such an experience — but I’m ultimately thankful for the entirety of the experience because it was necessary, every part of it, to pursue my path of befriending the one who is lonely. And I’m thankful that my work has aged relatively well over the last 100 years.
J: It has arguably aged better than Freud’s.
C: Well, that was the point I observed back in 1910, [Laughter].
J: But still, several years is a long time to be in exile.
C: Ah, I was in pain, but I wasn’t in exile. Before individuation, one lives a statistical life… the most money, the most prestige, the most faculty positions, the largest size of an audience. These are statistical truths yes, but they are not qualitative or biological truths. Life is in qualitative and biological truths. They are not the same… Though there was separation, I was not in exile. Though there was pain and suffering, I was in the midst of a life in which I could be of true use, if only to a few patients a few students and my family at first. There is separation once you leave a sinking ship. The bitter cold, the heavy, concrete water reminds you of your decision, reminds you of the comfort you may have previously had in contrast. But as you adjust, you know you’ve chosen life over death, something over nothing. As a scientist, as a doctor, as a man or woman, how can we make any other choice?
It’s not exile; it’s the dark, chilling introduction to freedom. When taken voluntarily, like responsibility, taking a plunge into fridged water, choosing life, it activates the soul.
It was freedom, it was responsibility, it was truth, it was suffering, it was my purpose, but no, it was not exile. It was momentary, apparent human disconnection for a deeper spiritual connection, that as I said, brought a truer sense of human connection to my individuated self.
We all know these things, we just don’t know we know them. Once you consciously know them, then statistical truths do not consume your life, which is all statistical truths do, consume your life like a man siphoning the existence of a burning cigarette, because they cannot do anything else with life… There is no life within a statistical truth.
Biological truths, in which our myths illuminate, gives life. We know these things. You know these things. But can you take the plunge off the sinking ship when you need to? Do you choose uncertain life or do you choose the certain alternative? Each day you have a chance, several times a day, you make a choice between those when you choose comfort over truth. Your lower self over your higher Self. Disintegration over integration. Separateness over usefulness.
J: Man, this is so good, Carl. Thank you for sharing all of this. I want to wrap this up by asking the two questions I ask every guest — the first is 1) What are three short stories in your life that have shaped who you have become?
C: Three stories… Well I’ve shared a few with you already. And I’d recommend reading my books to learn more from me of course. But three stories.
Well, one of the first is when I was 11. When I was 11 is when I had the first experience of curiosity of the separation of my two selves. Or personality one and personality two. The lower self and the higher self.
J: Can you explain that a bit more?
C: We touched on the persona before. Persona or person, is from the Greek word mask… I was one kind of person in one setting and another when all alone. It was as if certain circumstances —influenced by both my conscious and unconscious— created one individual in one circumstance and another circumstance, or the “lack” of certain circumstances in alignment with my unconscious development, that allowed me to be another individual.
At 11, I became aware of these different personas, and the following years, I observed their growth apart from each other. The fact that the absence of certain circumstances allowed me to be what I felt was a truer Self, a higher Self, was the beginning of my thought that there was a purer-Self that was at the center and a less pure self that my classmates saw at the periphery. I didn’t have the terms for this at the time, but it became the seat of my life’s work… the division between these two selves and the formation of a personality or personality “disorder” trying to reconcile the two differences, trying oftentimes unsuccessfully to integrate them into one life.
Another story would be my experience with Freud. But it wasn’t the 16 years or so that shaped me. It was the discovery just before that, that I needed to confront my unconscious, accept my truth — as fallible and immature as its current state might have been, it was my truth nonetheless, and more true of an aim than what I knew was not true… the unstable house that would not be as useful to patients but was seen as more stable by others — it was that voluntary acceptance, that integration of my conscious and unconscious that preceded those 16 years that was the formative moment that shaped me. And it was a moment that I could have easily let slip by. I am thankful, grateful, and overwhelmed with internal fulfillment that I did not let that slip by. Being liked is not being loving. Love thy neighbor has nothing to do with being liked or being nice. Sacrificing being liked for others’ well-being, that is love. That is kindness. So I am glad I had the insight and courage to choose love and life in that moment.
The third story… well that would be my marriage to my wife Emma, with whom I had five loving children. To take me down from the mantle, I was awful to her at times, even through infidelity that she knew about, that I was open about, consumed by my work, addicted oftentimes to championing my commitment to those around me and often forgetting my commitment to her. She was loyal and stable through it all. She was the stabilizing force during my hardest moments. The entirety of a ship can be saved by a strong anchor, and she was that for me. And it was more than just emotional support. I often think about the fact that her family’s background in business, a business in which she and I and her sibling and spouse inherited that allowed me to pursue my work and have food on the table for our family through the most isolating years. My mother was perhaps the most unstable part of my childhood. And it colored my early views on all women. But Emma corrected those views. She was the most stable part of my adulthood.
I owe her everything. My patients, my work owe her everything.
J: Thank you for sharing all of that, Dr. Jung. There’s a lot to reflect on within those…
The last question I have for you is “What is something you think quite a lot about but rarely get a chance to discuss?”… You being currently dead probably limits your discussions quite a bit, but what comes to mind as something you think a lot about but rarely get or rarely got a chance to discuss?
C: Oh, I like this question very much. Near the end of my life, I had a concept that I wished I had more time to develop… And that concept is the concept of the voice in your head. Who is that speaking to you? Telling you to or to not do something? Is it your conscience, an internal dialogue formed by personal selection of moral viewpoints? Is it your parental influence? Is it the voice of the collective conscious reinforced by myth?
My later thinking is that it is none of these things. It is a product of the collective unconscious in a way, yes. But that is like saying a tree looks a certain way because it’s the product of the universe. More specifically, why does the tree look that way? Is that voice in our heads, even for someone that has integrated their shadow, is that voice the collective unconscious itself or your parents or your pastor or a teacher or a myth embodied internally?
I’ve come to believe it is you, disconnected from time, and possibly you from a future perspective. In other words, it is you speaking to yourself from the future vandals point. Unshackled by time.
Continue to feed volume to that voice, your future self telling you what you ought to do, and the closer that voice gets to the ultimate timeless voice, God. The Latin root of religion is the “re-unite”, the Sanskrit root of yoga is “union”, and the union with God, nature, ourselves… perhaps comes from listening intently to that voice we have each been given. And separation from the timeless voice, separation from that voice, causes the disintegration of both selves and a disunion that makes life unbearable.
So, if you were my patient today, I would tell you to listen to that voice. Listen to your future self, it knows what it’s talking about. Continuously feed volume to that voice for one, five, ten straight years and see where it takes you. Does it take you to your target?
J: I think I’ve said the word “wow” too many times this episode, so I think I should just end this episode with… “thank you, Carl”… thank you for the time and more importantly for your commitment in life and death.
C: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
J: The man, the myth, the legend; for once in my life, that phrase genuinely applies. C.G. Jung, everybody.
This script was written by James, performed by James, and produced by Johnny Peterson and was reviewed and edited by two Jungian scholars for accuracy.
Subscribe to Below The Line with James Beshara on your favorite podcast app, at twitter.com/gobelowtheline, or on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/F64mrDO4cQM