The subject of countless songs, poems, books, and expressions, the soul is probably the most referenced and least understood aspect of the human experience.
Think of all you have ever read or been taught about the soul. What are some of the words that come to mind? Mysterious. Immortal. Ethereal. Spiritual. Individual. Subconscious. It evokes a sense of the unknown at the same time that it seemingly forms a direct part of our most core identity.
In his Red Book, Carl Jung recounted a journey toward his own recognition of the soul’s primacy, and as a driver for all that is experienced in the worldly world, writing:
I shall learn that my soul finally lies behind everything.
I too have come to the conclusion that the soul is the most critical component of this giant apparatus that directly connects us to the divine. But it was not an easy one to reach. For the soul is in many ways abstracted and hidden by the spectacular illusions of the physical plane. And, it is not something we are explicitly taught about in the realms of formal education, organized religion, and especially science.
As a cartographer of the collective unconscious, Jung had every assurance that he had attained a superior perspective – one that would eventually be classified as scientific – on the forces and archetypes that populate and condition the human psyche. But as he began his descent into his own personal madness, traced eternally for us in the Red Book, the scientist began to discover vast rifts between his objective observation and his mystical experience:
I thought and spoke much of the soul. I knew many learned words for her. I had judged her and turned her into a scientific object. I did not consider that my soul cannot be the object of my judgment and knowledge; much more are my judgment and knowledge the objects of my soul. Therefor the spirit of the depths forced me to speak to my soul, to call upon her as a living and self-existing being. I had to become aware that I had lost my soul.
Looking back at what he, and the greater part of the intellectual society, had identified and classified as the soul, Jung writes:
I had to accept that what I had previously called my soul was not at all my soul but a dead system.
Let’s remember that Jung was creating the Red Book in the shadow of the Scientific Revolution. The motto of the time was still owned by Descartes, who put everything on the saddle of cognition when he wrote I think, therefor I am. In this respect, the ‘soul mechanics’ that Jung was surfacing in his shamanic states put him at direct odds with the time. The idea of the soul as some cosmic portal burrowed deep in the biological architecture of man was unreconcilable.
No wonder he never wanted the Red Book published.
Before Jung began his own inward journey, he placed the soul as a mind-driven phenomenon as well. Though he did believe it was a real feature of the human condition. But once he entered that long night of his search for meaning beyond the physical realm, he discovered the transfiguring force of a thing that was part conjurer, part guru:
You took away where I thought to take hold, and you gave me where I did not expect anything and time and again you’ve brought about fate from new and unexpected quarters. Where I sowed, you robbed me of the Harvest, and where I did not sow, you gave me fruit a hundredfold. And time and again I lost the path and found it again where I would never have foreseen it. You upheld my belief when I was alone and near despair.
At every decisive moment you let me believe in myself.
For those who wholeheartedly decide to take up the path, the soul becomes our silent but unwaveringly patient guide into an experience that has no relation to the world most people inhabit. One in which we lose all interest and hunger for the rewards of this earthly plane:
He whose desire turns away from other things, reaches the place of the Soul. If he does not find the soul, the horror of emptiness will overcome him and fear will drive him with a whip lashing time again in a desperate and ever and a blind desire for the hollow things of the world.
He could find his soul and desire itself, but not in the objects of desire.
Jung had become the servant of his soul. But not as some penitent pilgrim under the sway of a commanding and judgmental Lord. Not at all. This realization was the most transcendent of all because he realized that he was, at the highest level of identity, the “expression and symbol of the Soul.”
For the mystical aspirant, the promise of this level of soul-integration is an invitation to initiation. As Jung discovered, it is a deeply isolating and wholly internal process; one that could not have been directed from something outside of his being.
The initiate knows this is true because it is your soul, itself, that is beckoning you. And testing you at the same time.
How hard is faith! If you take a step toward your soul, you will at first miss the meeting. You will believe that you have sunk into meaninglessness, into Eternal disorder. You’ll be right! Nothing will deliver you from disorder and meaninglessness, since this is the other half of the world.
And its the only half of the world that I now want to explore.
This is the second part of a series about Jung’s Red Book, the first of which is here.