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 to me from something outside of his being.
You know this shit 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.
[There is also a facebook page now for this blog, here]
And now, after we have long been on our way in this manner, we argonauts of the ideal, with more daring perhaps than is prudent, and have suffered shipwreck and damage often enough, but are, to repeat it, healthier than one likes to permit us, dangerously healthy, ever again healthy — it will seem to us as if, as a reward, we now confronted an as yet undiscovered country whose boundaries nobody has surveyed yet, something beyond all the lands and nooks of the ideals so far, a world so overrich in what is beautiful, strange, questionable, terrible, and divine that our curiosity as well as our craving to possess it has gotten beside itself — alas, now nothing will sate us any more!
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo
“If we do not develop within ourselves this deeply rooted feeling that there is something higher than ourselves, we shall never find the strength to evolve to something higher.” – Rudolph Steiner, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds
Child prodigy, rebel icon, zen guru, Alan Watts was the philosopher king of the 60s counter-culture. At the age of seventeen, he experienced a mystical state which revealed the unity of spiritual and material worlds. And so began one of the most storied interior quests of the twentieth century.
During Watts’ lifetime his particular brand of wisdom pierced the conformist, Cold War society to appeal to the youth being drafted into a system they’d long stopped believing in. Besides leaving an indelible mark on the leaders of the sixties social movements, his council was solicited by corporations and the Pentagon. In this sense, Alan Watts was the ultimate cultural double-agent: a mystical trickster, courted by the same institutional elites who were fighting to sustain a societal paradigm that Watts was encouraging his young devotees to reject and transcend.
His enduring message asks us to see reality in a different way; to understand ourselves as components of a cosmic Self; the implications of which are different for every person whose life he has touched. Unfazed by his own shadow, and the one cast by the social order, he introduced a kind of commentary that was both ancient and ultra modern, and delivered it with an authenticity prized in today’s millennial culture.
I spent a lot of time with Watts’ writing and recordings recently and transcribed many of them into my journals. Watts was without question, for me, one of the greatest mystical teachers of the 20th century. Here’s one of my favorite Watt’s riffs from a talk in the 60s:
To control the world is not really what we want to do.
So if all explanations have as their function enabling us to control things, then maybe an explanation isn’t what we wanted. And furthermore, we can very simply see, what makes things complicated is explaining them. When somebody explains to you how a flower works… everybody stands fascinated. “How complicated that is. How clever God must have been to create that flower… to have all the complexity going.”
It isn’t complicated at all.
It’s only complicated when you start thinking about it. Because the vehicle of words is a very clumsy one. And when you try to talk about the processes of nature, what is complicated is not the processes of nature, but trying to put them into words.
That’s as complicated as trying to drink up the ocean with a fork. It takes forever.
So this intense complexity that we see in everything is created by our attempt to analyze it all. And so what we do, when we analyze, we use our eyes and ears as scalpels. And we dissect everything. And we have to put a label on every piece we chop off. And so we scalpelize and we get it right down to atoms…
There is no end to the minuteness that you can unveil through physical investigation. For the simple reason that the investigation itself is what is chopping things into tiny little pieces. And the sharper you can sharpen your knife, the finer you can cut it. And the knife of the intellect is very sharp indeed. And with the sophisticated instruments that we can now make, there’s probably no limit to it.
But in a way, all that is vain knowledge. In a way. Because you see… what it does is it gives the illusion that you’ve solved your problems. When have controlled certain things and you have solved certain problems. Practical problems. You say “fine, more of that please. Let’s go on solving problems.” And you create a world of people as we are today who are far more comfortable than the ones who lived in the 19th century.
But the problem is that we keep running into this thing that all constant stimulations of consciousness become unconscious. And when we take it as a matter of course to have certain comforts, then we switch the level on which we worry. When we solve a whole set of problems, people find new ones to worry about. And after a while you begin to get that haven’t we been here before feeling. Because we don’t realize we’re chasing our own tails, by a constant recurring process of not knowing who we are.
That is hide and seek.
That is the nature of what the Hindus call manvantara and the pralaya. The period of the manvatnara when the worlds are manifested and the period of the pralaya when the worlds are withdrawn from manifestation. In and out, in and out.
Ever more came out through the same door as in I went.
And the thing is to get to the point where you can see that you are doing that in every moment of your existence, with every tiny little atom of your body. You, now at this minute, you see, are the whole system. Of inning and outing.
In other words, you often think perhaps… maybe a long long time ahead I shall reach the point where I wake up from manifestation and overcome the world illusion and discover that I am the Supreme Reality behind all this diversification. My friends, there is no diversification. In other words, what you call diversification is your game. In the same way as you chop the thing and say it is made of pieces. Because you forget that you cut it.
Mabel Collins, Light on the Path