Re-envisioning Carl Jung from “The Red Book”


Many modern-day therapists and psychologists – particularly those who work with dreams as a means of exploring a patient’s unconscious – owe a great debt to the Swiss analyst Carl Jung. While he lived, Jung significantly broadened the scope of psychoanalysis from the model established by Sigmund Freud. Whereas Freud largely viewed the Unconscious as a repository of unsavory memories and repressed impulses, Jung believed that it was in many ways aware and responsive, and an untapped reservoir of wisdom, knowledge, and even spiritual revelation.

Jung - Red BookSince the recent publication of The Red Book, a spiritual autobiography that Jung labored over for decades and then locked away in a vault for the remainder of his life, we at last have the opportunity to really evaluate his contribution to our understanding of dreams, the Unconscious, and the struggles of “modern man in search of a soul”.

It’s questionable whether Jung ever intended The Red Book for publication. What unfolds within its pages is a very intimate account of his struggles to process very intense content that was emerging from his unconscious. Jung relinquished conscious control and allowed the deeper regions of his psyche free reign. The material that surfaced from this “dark night” journey he then drew upon for his own psychoanalytical practice and for all the books that he published in his lifetime. Within those books, however, he made only vague references to his source material. Somewhere along the line, Jung decided that although the Unconscious was inviting every many and woman to undertake an inward journey, it was a journey that was too dangerous to be undertaken.

Perhaps therein lies the key to his secrecy regarding The Red Book and its contents. In turning his back upon the invitation of the Unconscious, Carl Jung was essentially presuming to make that choice for the rest of mankind as well. Now that his lavishly illustrated night-sea journey has been published posthumously, we can glean for ourselves the possible causes of his fear and resistance. What echoes, again and again throughout its pages, is the angst of a man who acknowledges that he has lived his life separated from his soul.

Reading The Red Book today, we might consider Jung’s personal spiritual journey to be a tentative beginning rather than the final word with regards to the exploration of the Unconscious. Although he may have opened the door and then closed it to himself, the gift of his spiritual memoir signifies that the door still remains open for the rest of us. Do we dare to confront the Unconscious, to explore those realms that Jung himself shied away from? Can we, perhaps, carry on the great inner expedition from the place where he faltered?

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