Five Ways Carl Jung Led Us to the “Inner Life”
Lying behind much of the way we talk about the inner life today is the work of the Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung. He revolutionized how we discuss dreams and archetypes and gave us our words “introvert,” “extravert” and “synchronicity.” However, what made him a true psychological pioneer was that he looked inside himself in a way that is still unique today.
From earliest beginnings of human civilization, we have considered dreams a doorway to the soul. Jung saw that they showed us parts of ourselves that were being rejected by our waking consciousness: strengths unexpressed and shadow figures run amok; qualities that we were missing about ourselves; and desires that we’d rather not acknowledge. The mission of dreams was to balance us, to compensate for our often one-sided attitude toward life and lead us to integrate what we need for health and growth. We know today that dreams can have messages for us that are not only psychologically relevant, but even biologically urgent, relaying information about illness. Jung introduced the term “wholeness” to describe the aim of the unconscious: the further filling out of ourselves; an increasing completeness in the unique being that we are.
#2) Personality Types
Jung saw the differing pathways in our personalities. He observed that some people got energy from interacting with people, while others were drained by it. Introvert or extravert, intuitive or sensate, thinking or feeling; he described these differing forms as Psychological Types and they led to today’s MBTI categories. In normalizing different kinds of personality, Jung helped us to get over our natural biases against other types.
While he recognized variety in human personality, Jung believed that there was no one-size-fits-all approach to therapy. He saw each individual as having a unique blueprint for growth, an untold inner story, and he knew – from his own experience – that one man’s medicine is another’s poison.
“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.” – C. G. Jung
Jung also saw that the unconscious sometimes conveys information beyond the personal. He saw that the dreams of his patients sometimes echoed mythological motifs from far-flung foreign cultures. He saw the action of peoples’ lives following forms depicted in Greek tragedy. He discovered ancient, even timeless, pathways that energy flowed into: toward some things and away from others, attracted to some things, repulsed by others. This level of the psyche is beyond the personal and Jung called it the collective unconscious.
“I thought of Jung as a noetic archeologist, [he] provided maps of the unconscious.” – Terence McKenna
The collective unconscious shows us eternal, dynamic qualities in our nature: they are alive and timeless. One of these archetypes is our inner opposite sex figure and soul guide–what Jung called the Anima or Animus. We encounter it both in our dreams and when just the right person walks up to us and we fall in love at first sight. Even though we experience this figure through others, but it is ultimately up to us to integrate it for ourselves.
Once we’ve learned to recognize these archetypes, we see them throughout classic literature and film and even in modern sitcoms. However, we may not really discover them for ourselves until we’ve been battered and bruised and are wondering how we got into this mess (again). Usually we need a little help to gain sight of these figures in our own lives.
“You don’t see something until you have the right metaphor to let you perceive it.” – Robert Stetson Shaw
Jung’s psychology is only really understood when it is a lived experience, and nothing exemplifies this more than the mystery of synchronicity. Jung coined the term synchronicity to refer to extraordinary moments when outer happenings reflect inner states. What we see in such a coincidence of events is a meaningful interplay alive in our reality. The notion that there’s a deeper principle actually operating in the world can be frightening to people from a culture that believes that it’s the only conscious force in the universe. Yet at the same time, discovering that there’s more going on can be experienced as a profound relief. In order to get through our resistance to such experiences, it helps to hear others’ stories and share our own (and you can do so here). Incorporating the meaning of these experiences for ourselves requires something authentic from us – a real inner change, the genuine achievement of a new attitude.
“It is addressing life in the present that cleanses and heals a festering wound. Jung never tired of saying this. After the past is explored, additional inquiry into yesterday does not lead to further healing. A change of attitude into the present does, and this change of attitude is exactly the business of a synchronicity.” – J. Gary Sparks, At The Heart of Matter
#5) Our Inner Life is Real
Tending to the unconscious, to dreams and to the inner voice are the acts that define Jungian psychology, but it’s not just the act that’s definitive, it’s the attitude. Jungian psychology recognizes that we’re more than just our ego and that there is more to the psyche than just the conscious mind. With this in mind, engagement with the inner voice is pursued not as a form of inner housekeeping, but rather in the humble service of the development of a relationship with an intelligence present within us but greater than our own. Committing to that service means relating more deeply to our inner nature; its only end-goal is the whole-bodied, whole-hearted, full blossoming of who we really are.