Written: 14th Jun 2005 | Last Updated: 14th Jun 2005
“We rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness. We no longer live on what we have, but on promises, no longer in the light of the present day, but in the darkness of the future, which, we expect, will at last bring the proper sunrise. We refuse to recognise that everything better is purchased at the price of something worse; that, for example, the hope of greater freedom is cancelled out by increased enslavement to the state, not to speak of the terrible perils to which the most brilliant discoveries of science expose us. The less we understand of what our fathers and forefathers sought, the less we understand ourselves, and thus we help with all our might to rob the individual of his roots and his guiding instincts, so that he becomes a particle in the mass, ruled only by what Nietzsche called the spirit of gravity.”
These thoughts seem fresh in their observations - but they’re not from some TV guru on Oprah or an excerpt from “Psychology Today”. They’re the words of Carl Jung contemplating, fluidly yet complexly, the human condition in his famous book, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” (Random House, 1961).
Jung believed that “our souls as well as our bodies are composed of individual elements which were already present in the ranks of our ancestors”. He felt that “the ‘newness’ in the individual psyche is an endlessly varied recombination of age-old components”.
This alignment of ancestral experience with unconscious self, and the concept that happiness and inner peace are dependent upon those inherent ancestral components harmonising with the existing conditions of the present, are Jungian theories that attract as many disciples as they do critics.
Is it possible that we channel our ancestors’ thoughts and experiences? Do we feel compelled in our own lives to answer the questions left hanging by dearly departed relatives? And, if we are tuned in, do we make decisions and act on them with the aid of that collective intelligence of previous generations? It’s an extraordinary premise when you think about it - and one that can only be fathomed by those who actually believe it possible.
If we have a sense of that ancestral cache of knowledge, if we feel more than occasionally guided by it, we must also feel a resultant, immense humility and an overwhelming sense of understanding of the giant picture of the human experience.
We surround ourselves with objects in our compulsive desire to keep up with the Joneses, as the old saying goes. We buy gadgets and invent new methods of accomplishing certain things and believe we have re-invented the wheel en route to creating a better universe. But, ironically, these methods and material things do not ultimately make us happy, because they do not directly address our souls, our spirits. They make life seem easier, more comfortable and they make industry, communications and travel more efficient and accelerated, but they do not, at the end of the day, make us better people, or more in tune with our inner core, or more reliable friends or better partners, parents, employees and so on. They do not allow us to find comprehensive joy.
To talk about retrogression, as Jung does, might seem pointless and somewhat antiquated in a world “progressing” at the velocity ours is today, but retrogressing, to the point where we look and truly see what it is that we hope to achieve in life, and how we hope to share it with other people we care about, is a critical exercise. Some people might call it “making a sea-change”. Others may label it a “mid-life crisis”. Whatever we call it, it is a cry from the unconscious to put the brakes on, to reflect, to look inward and find something more in our complicated, multi-layered lives, and offer some respite to our constantly bombarded souls.
Jung admitted in his book that “I have devoted considerable space to my subjective view of the world, which, however, is not a product of rational thinking. It is rather a vision such as will come to one who undertakes, deliberately, with half-closed eyes and somewhat closed ears, to see and hear the form and voice of being”.
The form and voice of being. If we are to be, to find our voice, to exercise our right to live as completely as we can, with as great a sense of personal fulfilment as possible, we should acknowledge our connection to the ages, both past and present. We should accept that, whether we hear the other voices or not, we are part of a great massed choir, a greater experience, a continuum that carries humanity on its shoulders.
Sometimes I talk to people who say they “feel a sense” of someone close to them who has died, that that person is somehow still in their lives, as an active member, perhaps an ally, guiding their thoughts and their inclinations. Is this delusional? Hopeful? Or is it merely a vibrant example of what Jung wrote about and believed? If we have a heightened awareness, if we listen, if we care to open our minds to such events, are we experiencing something paranormal? Or are we simply experiencing the greatest reality, the ultimate and essential tap into all of human history?