From Jung To an Ecology of The Collective Unconscious
The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness extends… All consciousness separates; but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of primordial night. There he is still the whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood. It is from these all-uniting depths that the dream arises…
– Carl G. Jung, “The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man” (Civilization in Transition 304)
With its emphasis on the individual, scientism and desacralization, modernity today has not been kind to some of the most basic human instincts for communality, for communion with nature, with ourselves and with each other. Neither dreams nor collective mythologies escaped the self-important modern consideration that they were either random hallucinations or primitive expressions, until Sigmund Freud appeared on the scene (only to assert that dreams arose from the unconscious as wish-fulfillments of the dreamer’s infantile sexual needs) (Cox & Hiller 14). It is becoming clear now that the popular conceptions of “modernity” could now be called a tradition, binding the human species to a set of self-destructive, aethical, “modern” values and hindering it from taking the next step in evolutionary complexity and collectivity.
It is psychologist Carl G. Jung who provides the beginnings of a critical, modern explanation of the collective unconscious, drawing on his studies of medicine, Eastern and Western philosophy, mythology, art, dreams, alchemy and astrology. For Jung, Freud’s incomplete understanding of the unconscious did not represent a full integration of the various components of the psyche; for though it included repressed urges, egoic impulses and other complexes it did not sufficiently explain timeless patterns of human behaviour or symbolism, which Jung called archetypes.
Jung goes on to assert that even deeper than this ‘personal’ unconscious is the ‘collective unconscious,’ which does not develop individually but is inherited (Archetypes 4), recalling the Australian aboriginal conception of the Dreamtime and Dream Law. Like the Iroquois, Jung recognized dreams as the language of the psyche, and it is from lasting collective dreams that mythology springs. Ultimately, Jung’s extensive clinical studies synthesized ancient and modern conceptions, redeeming the unconscious and universal archetypes from pejorative obscurity, while pointing to an expanded definition of the unconscious self that was both enduring and pertinent.
It was Jung’s underlying belief that the modern, rational conscious had to be balanced with the instinctual unconscious, or made “whole” through the process of individuation in order to address modern man’s spiritual crisis. The ego and intellect are only parts of the whole psyche and to ignore other components is to become psychically unrooted in escalating cycles of over-compensation, as Jung observed:
Age-old convictions and customs are deeply rooted in the instincts. If they get lost, the conscious mind becomes severed from the instincts and loses its roots, while the instincts, unable to express themselves, fall back into the unconscious and reinforce its energy, causing this in turn to overflow into the existing contents of the consciousness. It is then that the rootless condition of consciousness becomes a real danger. (Practice of Psychotherapy par. 216).
As Jung’s model of the counterbalanced psyche suggests, the conscious and unconscious processes of the psyche are permeable continuities closely linked to ‘exterior’ nature and has its roots in an interconnected ecology of existence that recognizes no boundaries. Implicit in these words are the idea that with material nature, there co-exists an immaterial wilderness in the psyche’s unconscious to which modern humanity must return to reconcile with. It is part of the psychic ecology that cannot be repressed indefinitely, for to do so would be to put the unconscious “in a defensive position which expresses itself in a universal will to destruction” (Archetypes par. 617). This widespread destruction of war, environmental degradation and social disintegration is already evident on a global scale and points clearly to a need for deep introspection on both collective and individual levels.
The imperative shift in paradigm is to re-imagine the collective unconscious as a vulnerable ecology as well and to act accordingly – with the deepest reverence. Eco-psychology, one of psychology’s emerging sub-disciplines, attempts to achieve this by expanding the “personalistic” focus of psychology and instead integrating concepts of collective consciousness with an ecological understanding.
Depth psychologist Jeremy Yunt underscores the fallibility of modern psychology, noting that
wholly intrapsychic and interpersonal understandings failed to take into account not only our daily interactions with nature but also the diverse familial, religious and cultural influences that help to shape our predispositions toward the natural world (106).
Overarching all this is Jung’s radical declaration that humanity is embedded in a “single all-embracing psyche” (Civilization in Transition par. 175), which suggests a much wider definition of “wholeness” and self that would necessarily imply extending beyond personal self and superficial, anthropocentric ethics and to instead embrace all of life: an indivisible unus mundus of being.
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