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Life Arts

Getting Our Bearings from Jung

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) March 15, 2015: On car trips, kids at times ask, "Are we there yet?"

Years ago, C. G. Jung, M.D. (1875-1961), the Swiss psychiatrist and psychological theorist, predicted the emergence of a new age in Western culture, which he styled the Age of Aquarius.

So liberals and progressives today may ask, "Are we there yet?"

After all, in recent years in the U.S., public opinion has shifted dramatically on same-sex marriage, despite the vocal opposition of certain elements in the Christian right..

But does this shift in public opinion signal the emergence of the new age?

Few would say that Western culture has yet emerged into the new age, the Age of Aquarius.

However, this shift in public opinion does show that many Americans are now ready to stop making unconscious projections of evil on to homosexuals. According to Jung, unconscious projections of evil on to homosexuals are projections that people make from the unconscious. But in his view, adults in the second half of life need to work to integrate their shadow contents into ego-consciousness. Evidently, many American adults are doing this with regard to homosexuals.

So when are we going to get there? In my estimate, we will get there when a critical mass of people in Western culture have integrated their shadow contents into ego-consciousness. Let me explain.

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To formulate a sense of what it will take for the new age to emerge in Western culture, we should turn to Jung's thought in the great synthesis of his life-work that was original published in German in two parts in 1954 and 1955: Mysterium Conjunctionis: An Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy, 2nd ed., translated by R. F. C. Hull (Princeton University Press, 1970).

Jung worked on this book from 1941 to 1954. By 1941, Jung had worked out an elaborate psychological theory. As a results, he is able to construct analogies and parallels between certain psychological processes that he has written about elsewhere and certain aspects of alchemical thought.

As the subtitle of Jung's book indicates, he focuses on psychic opposites in his psychological theory, and he finds numerous parallels and analogies in the opposites discussed by the alchemists -- usually as personified opposites.

Liberals and progressives of a certain age might be interested in what Jung says about the psychological process of individuation. According to Jung, all adults undergo the psychological process of individuation in the second half of life (roughly from the proverbial mid-life crisis onward). However, people can get stuck along the way and not complete the process.

In all honesty, I should say that Jung does not make the individuation process sound easy or like much fun to go through. As I will explain momentarily, he repeatedly uses the alchemical term the nigredo to draw parallels and analogies with the individuation process. According to the index, Jung uses this term on 45 different pages. You see, the nigredo involves melancholia (depression). But you must keep working on the opus. You and your psyche are the opus that you must keep working on. If you ever succeed, you will have succeeded in making psychological gold, so to speak.

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All of the alchemists that Jung studied were Christians, and all were men. Granted, they used fanciful terminology and imagery. To be sure, I am not recommending their fanciful terminology and imagery.

However, in plain English, the unio mentalis represents Christian Spirituality 101, just as the nigredo represents the novitiate experience in religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, over the centuries, numerous Christian mystics advanced to and lived the unio mystica (a.k.a. the unio mundus).

So you don't have to wait until the second half of life to undertake the unio mentalis and experience the nigredo. But people in the second half of life should not avoid undertaking the unio mentalis and experiencing the nigredo.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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