Life offers sacred paths for the transformation of the soul
Over the past three years I have been laboring, struggling to give birth to some ideas. Those of you who have been reading my blog may have sensed the ideas emerging within and in-between my words. In taking the title Path of Soul the concept has begun to take a more complete form in both my mind and in words. While I am just beginning the process it is significant for me in that I am finally able to articulate a working thesis. It is quite difficult to address the complete idea in a blog post or even a series of blog posts. So I decided to begin to write in long form essay ‘off blog’ for now. Some ideas can take shorter form, but others need to be worked through in a long form process, such as an essay or a book. So I am going to begin to work slowly but steadily on the longer form, and simultaneously share the archetypal waypoints of the thesis here on my blog.
This means that I will be sharing more short and concise ideas and images that I believe support my thesis regarding Carl Jung’s work. If you read the Gift of Love you will get an idea of the overarching movement of the idea. I am working with the latent ‘movement’ of psyche as perceived by Carl Jung and articulated at the latent level in his life work. I am also going to use some of Sigmund Freud’s conceptions so as to illuminate this latent idea that I see within Jung’s work. Particularly, I am working through Freud’s idea of an “unassimilable portion, the thing” (also known as Das Ding p.423). This idea is found in Freud’s earliest work ‘A Project for a Scientific Psychology,’ often called ‘the Project.’ I believe that this conception deeply influenced Carl Jung; Jung’s work spirals around ‘the Thing.’ Jung was able and willing to take this idea into the realm of the spiritual, allowing for a more full view.
Freud saw that the from birth the ego is in relationship to “the thing.” For Freud this thing is the ‘unassimilable portion’ of the mother’s breast when the infant is nursing. I love the story: the infant looks at the breast straight on and sees a nipple. Then, the infant looks at the breast from the side and sees the side profile. These perspectives need to be integrated, but cannot be, in part because of the intensity of the wish for the breast. The ego develops in relation to what can be ‘known’ from experience, as “attributes” or activities. But there is always an ‘unassimilable portion, the thing.’
For Freud, the ‘unassimilable’ is the fundamental ‘thing’ that we each must come to terms with. In many ways working through this problem seems to have been his own ‘analysis,’ setting the stage for his subsequent work. Jacques Lacan took up this drive to know, as did Melanie Klein, and Wilfred Bion, each in their own unique way. One could say that Hegel and Kant influenced them all. Nonetheless, Jung too spirals around the ‘unassimilable.’
Right from the beginning of Symbols of Transformation, Jung address the ‘unknown’ and the ‘hidden’ ( CW 5, para. 4- 5) Jung brings insight to the ‘unassimilable’ by saying that it is ‘assimilable,’ to some degree. Or at least that the instincts of the living soul, if healthy, guide us on a journey toward greater and greater assimilation of the ‘unassimilable.’ The life instincts of the soul are toward greater unity. And through a healthy libidinal nature we are driven to dialectically integrate opposing views, taking us into deeper and deeper levels of integration. The soul’s instinct is that of ‘Affirmation—uniting—Eros.’ And the highest synthesis is the capacity for divine union, a knowing of the unknown, a seeing of the unseen.
Life is determined by modes and forms of such seeking for unification. A life is the manifestation of a particular way a being seeks and strives toward unknown and unfathomable ‘ends.’ We seek fulfillment, a goal:
“Life is teleology par excellence; it is the intrinsic striving towards a goal, and the living organism is a system of directed aims which seek to fulfill themselves.” (Carl Jung, CW 8, par. 798)
The word teleology is from Greek telos ‘end’ + -logia. The word denotes a branch of philosophy that deals with the ‘ends’ or a final cause. Living souls seek ‘to fulfill themselves.’ Jung spoke periodically about Teleology. In the Notes of the Seminar Given in 1925, Jung speaks in detail about his views on teleology. Here, Jung is expressing an insight into teleology in terms of the direction and purpose of libido. I will quote the paragraph in full:
“The expression ‘ambitendency’ is a way of denominating the contradictory nature of energy. There is no potential without opposites, and therefore one has ambitendency… The libido [has] direction, and it can be said of any function that it has a purposive nature. Of course, the well-known prejudice against this viewpoint that has existed in biology has to do with the confusion of teleology with purpose. Teleology says there is an aim toward which everything is tending, but such an aim could not exist without presupposing a mind that is leading us to a definite goal, an untenable viewpoint for us. However, processes can show purposive character without having to do with a preconceived goal, and all biological processes are purposive. The essence of the nervous system is purposive since it acts like a central telegraph office for coordinating all parts of the body. All the suitable nervous reflexes are gathered in the brain. Coming back to the original point about ambitendency. Energy is not split in itself, it is the pairs of opposites and also undivided–in other words, it presents a paradox” (p. 86).
Our instincts, in the form of libido, appear to have a purposive character. This purposive character is expressed through the contradictory nature of the libidinal energy, always expressing itself in archetypal pairs of opposites. I have been calling this the archetypal dialectics of the soul. The larger movement of libido is dialectically moving toward an unknown and inconceivable goal. This dialectical movement is a process in which opposites integrate into new syntheses. Upon integration a horizon of knowing emerges, bringing with it new oppositions. We seek to assimilate the unassimilable. The unassimilable is both the ‘Thing’ that gives rise to a primordial tension, as well as a horizon toward which we are instinctively drawn. In psychoanalytic terms we are perturbed and stimulated by the ‘unassimilable’ in the parental couple. In archetypal terms we are driven toward the ‘unknowable’ as presented in both God and beyond God, as expressed in the archetypal Mother. We are all children of the primal couple, and their archetypal dialectics forms the primal poles of psychic life. Jung says:
…..instinct is purposive. It works properly only under certain conditions, and as soon as it gets out of tune with these conditions it threatens the destruction of the species. (p. 86)
The soul seeks its natural path, a path towards creative dialectical integration. This integration allows us to hold more complex awareness through dialectical modes of thinking. It is the creative synthesis through transformation of symbols that is so significant for both the living soul and our species at large. With this we are able to face and integrate the most complex tasks and tensions of being human, such as the ones that we are now facing as a collective culture. This capacity for assimilation and integration of the unknown is fundamentally a capacity of the soul. Moving toward greater capacity to tolerate the ambiguities and think the ‘unassimilable’ spaces is truly a path of soul.
But without a collective connection to the soul’s path we risk ‘destruction of the species.’ It is through the soul that we begin to form ‘symbols of transformation’, creating new paths for transformation for our civilization. If we are incapable of working with the unknown, of facing the ‘unassimilable’ then it may reveal itself in catastrophic form. The unknown in its split off form is always catastrophic to the ego, and to the collective culture of the ego as well.The path of soul as conceived of by Carl Jung offers a form of spiritual practice, of integration, that is vital to greater awareness for both the individual and the culture. Jung’s path of soul offers potential for renewal, transformation, creative change.
Over the next weeks and months I will be working toward a greater knowledge of the ways in which Jung presents the path of soul through archetypal symbolism. I will be writing posts that are brief, attempting to point out the myths and stories that elucidate the path of soul in the text ‘Symbols of Transformation.’ Please understand that in doing so I am reading Jung’s text in a manner that takes into account various psychoanalytic theorists, but that is unique to my own creative reading. For example James Hillman is a great reader of Jung, but was not necessarily reading with an eye to the ‘unassimilable.’ My project is to re-read the myths and re-perceive the archetypes with the ‘unknown and ‘hidden’ in mind. This is my unique reading, outside of any symbolic investiture at the institutional level. Because of this I am especially delighted to receive feedback from scholars, practitioners, and psychic explorers alike.
Analytical Psychology: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1925 by C.G. Jung,
edited by William McGuire