Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Comprehensive View

One of the more interesting ideas in Carl G. Jung’s work is the suggestion that consciousness is a very bright but also a very small sort of light. It is a tiny but very energetic island afloat on a vast ocean of Unconsciousness. And that phenomenon, the Unconscious, comes in a personal and a collective form. Moreover, it holds a deeper wisdom. Or that, at least, was how Jung saw it. He was, as I’ve remarked elsewhere here, a transitional figure between an ending and a dawning age, the Enlightenment and the New Age. Let’s call the second the New Dark Age to signal that, unlike the Enlightenment, it will takes its inspiration from within, not from the world without.

Living in that transition, Jung seemed to have trouble deciding what could and what could not be conscious. Getting down to the practical, the Personal Unconscious just has to be our memories, thus a kind of record. But while records, like books, may contain the products of consciousness, they are not in themselves conscious. And similarly with that Collective Unconscious. The only practical way to imagine that vaster complex is to say that, in some as yet undiscovered way, we participate or have access to the deposit of the memories of all who’ve ever lived. In Jung, however, these formations not only contain a kind of wisdom; they are also active, as if they were persons, the Collective older than the Personal. And in dreams the Unconscious presents information to the little consciousness in symbolical formations, as if awarely guiding us. Not surprisingly, he sometimes treats the Unconscious as if it were God.

To someone like me, born into the early days of the New Dark Age, consciousness is the property of souls, of agents. And rather than talking of it as if it were a kind of mysteriously arising Phenomenon that streams through us, to use William James’ phrasing, it is a power. So how does the Unconscious fit that scheme? It fits nicely if we think of the powerful, bright light not as consciousness but as attention. What we know in the day-to-day and general sense is what we mind. But we experience a good deal more than we mind. Nevertheless, what we ignore is also cumulated in our memory.

This suggests the great importance of cultivating a comprehensive view of reality, be it of the mundane or of the exalted. “Comprehensive” has become a key word in my mind of late because our ordinary state of being, what with media bombardment almost unavoidable, is so dangerously one-sided. We shouldn’t have to wait for dreams to remind us of aspects of reality we should be minding. I develop a here-and-now example of that in a post on LaMarotte today (link)—which, as I was writing it, reminded me of the bigger picture sketched out here.

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