Sum it up for me

Aion – Class 4 by Edward Edinger



This is class number 4 and the assignment is paragraph 43 through 67, the chapter entitled “The Self”.

The Self

We have now worked our way down in the psyche through the Ego, the Shadow, the Anima and Animus, and we now arrive at the Self and that brings up the question: do we now what we’re talking about, when we use the term “Self”? If you think the term “Ego” is problematic, it’s nothing in comparison to the term “Self”, as it’s used psychologically. So I think we must start with the acknowledgement that we really don’t know what we’re talking about when we use that term. We’ll go on using it, but it’s helpful to know that it’s an approximation. It does refer to an empirical reality, that is a fact, but exactly the nature of that reality is impossible for the Ego to delineate and all we can do is to approach it from various angles and get little pieces of it’s meaning, so let me offer a few such pieces.

In response to the question: what is the self?

  • One answer is that it’s the totality of the psyche which manifests itself as a unitary entity.
  • Another way of putting it is that the Self is the psyche in its state of wholeness which includes both the Ego and the totality of the Unconscious, obviously.
  • A third way of putting it would be that the Self is both the center and the circumference of the psyche, corresponding to that old definition of God that Jung is fond of quoting in which God is defined as the circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

You see, we have a logical problem because if we define the Self as the totality of the psyche, that totality include the Ego, so how is it then that the Ego, that is a real part of the whole, can stand separate and speak of the totality as though it were something separate from itself? That’s the paradox that’s built in to the human psyche and into the phenomenon of consciousness. It’s a paradox that characterizes the relation between the Ego and the Self, it’s as though the Ego as the son, takes over some of the qualities of the Self as the father and presumes to be a separate entity even while it’s still part of the whole. In certain respects the very nature of the Self and the very way it’s structured and functions means that it is a kind of image of wholeness in the context of the true wholeness. What we can say, however, is that empirically speaking the psyche has two centers: the Ego, the subjective center and the Self, the objective center; and it takes a considerable degree of psychological development before that fact even becomes visible empirically to the individual. It’s easy enough to grasp the idea conceptually, that there are two centers, but to empirically experience that fact in your own psychology, that requires a sizable level of development.

Now, amazingly, Jung being the psychological genius that he was, he had a clearer awareness of that as you and I’m gonna read you a passage from “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” that demonstrates that, starting from page 86. He’s talking about personality number one and number two and he says:

“… No. 2 regarded No. 1 as a difficult and thankless moral task, a lesson that had to be got through somehow, complicated by a variety of faults such as spells of laziness, despondency, depression, inept enthusiasm for ideas and things that nobody valued, liable to imaginary friendships, limited, prejudiced, stupid (mathematics!), with a lack of understanding for other people, vague and confused in philosophical matters, neither an honest Christian nor anything else. No. 2 had no definable character at all; he was a vita peracta, born, living, dead, everything in one; a total vision of life. Though pitilessly clear about himself, he was unable to express himself through the dense, dark medium of No. 1, though he longed to do so. When No. 2 predominated, No. 1 was contained and obliterated in him, just as, conversely, No. 1 regarded No. 2 as a region of inner darkness. No. 2 felt that any conceivable expression of himself would be like a stone thrown over the edge of the world, dropping soundlessly into infinite night. But in him (No. 2) light reigned, as in the spacious halls of a royal palace whose high casements open upon a landscape flooded with sunlight. Here were meaning and historical continuity, in strong contrast to the incoherent fortuitousness of No. 1’s life, which had no real points of contact with its environment. No. 2, on the other hand, felt himself in secret accord with the Middle Ages, as personified by Faust, with the legacy of a past which had obviously stirred Goethe to the depths. For Goethe too, therefore—and this was my great consolation—No. 2 was a reality.”

Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung

Et cetera.

It really is astonishing what Jung describes as a youthful experience, we’re talking about age 12-13, that range. Now, of course he’s describing this experience from the greatly enlarged consciousness of maturity, old age in fact, it’s probably safe to say he couldn’t have formulated it that way in his youth, but the experience was there and he then became able to formulate it retrospectively. These are kind of preliminary remarks I want to make as we enter an examination of this chapter on the Self, because what Jung has to say in this chapter, the way he discusses the Self, presupposes a very well developed Ego in the second half of life and I wanna say a few word about how that well-developed Ego in the second half of life arrives at that position, because that’s not the kind of Egos that we encounter very often. They are an uncommon breed.

I want to draw your attention to the discussion on this subject about the relation between the Ego and the Self at different stages of development that I go into in “Ego and Archetype”. I would recommend that you read a few pages of that, I’d recommend particularly pages 5 to 7, and also pages 62 to 69, and also figure 5 on page 41. I’m going to refer a little bit to that material right now, but not many detail, for I do wanna say something about how the relation between the Ego and the Self develops in the course unfolding consciousness and for that purpose I put this chart on the board which is taken from “Ego and Archetype” and it refers to four different stages of Ego-development, four different ways that the Ego is related to the Self.

  1. In the first stage, the Ego is still contained in the original Unconscious Self, it hadn’t been born yet, so to speak.
  2. In the second stage, it starts to peep out, and nevertheless, in spite of the fact that it’s got some separate existence, I mean to indicate the fact that its center remains within the Self. I mean that to indicate that there is still a predominant state of Ego-Self identity, which means that there could be no such experience as what Jung described as “personality number on and number two”. One would experience oneself only as one, so that Ego and Self would be experienced as identical, there would not be a distinction.
  3. In the third stage we will notice that the center of the Ego has emerged from its containment with the Self, and I mean that to indicte then that the Ego is now in a position to experience itself as a separate center and the connecting line between the Ego and the Self becomes conscious, what I call the Ego-Self axis becomes a connecting link which one is aware of, and of course you can’t be aware of such a link until you’re aware that you’re dealing with a twosome, rather than a onesome.
  4. The fourth stage is just a hypothetical ideal, an imaginary state, where there will be no residual Ego-Self identity at all.

To the extent the Ego is identified with the Self which is the predominant state of the vast majority of humanity, to that extent then the unconscious assumptions that will prevail are the assumptions that the Ego carries the qualities of the Self, namely, it’s immortal and it’s the center of the world, and its desires have the imperative of deity. Not consciously of course. Consciously one can be quite civilized and humble, apparently, but I’m talking about basic unconscious assumptions, which come into view under certain circumstances.

The way, least a schematic way of thinking of it, of the way that development proceeds from 1 to 4 is represented in this little diagram over to the right. That diagram is taken from page 41 of “Ego and Archetype” and it represents a sequence of events that happens when one acts out in some way that unconscious Ego-Self identity, he at then encounters a rebuff as long as it remains un-acted out, nothing happens, but when it’s acted on, it meets a rebuff from reality and that rebuff causes a wounding, and reflection, and then a “metanoia” or “change of mind” which then heals the wound and reconnects the Ego with the Self, and returns it to its state of Ego-Self identity until the next episode, that each time that circle is made, a little bit of Ego-Self identity is dissolved, so to speak, and a little greater consciousness is born.

One other point I want to speak about as a preliminary, concerns what happens with the break-down of religious projections, which I chart on pages 66 and 67 of “Ego and Archetype”.

As long as one is contained in a particular religious projection, that means then that the religious dogma that is containing one is carrying the projection of the Self, because the Self is equivalent to the inner God-Image, so that means than that the Self, the God-Image is carried in a metaphysical projection and that serves a certain protective function because as long as the projection remains intact, there won’t be any direct encounter between the Ego and the Self, but, if that projection breaks down, then various things can happen.

  • One loses one’s connection to the Self and going to fall into a state of alienation, despair, because life becomes meaningless.
  • Or one can call into an inflation when the projection breaks down which very often in due course leads to alienation its opposite.
  • Or the Self may undergo a re-projection, it may be re-projected for instance into a political movement, something of that sort, that’s a common phenomenon in modern times, the religious meanings that used to be carried by religious contents are now often carried by political movements.
  • Or the fourth possibility with the breakdown of the religious projection is that individuation can occur in which case the Ego has a living encounter with the Self as a psychological entity.

These are kind of preliminary remarks to get us to the experience of the Self that Jung talks about in this chapter, because his discussion pertains to developed individuals who have lost their religious projection. This chapter won’t have any meaning to people for whom the religious projection is still intact.

Now one of the problems he speaks of in encounter with the Self is inflation and he says in paragraph 44, let me quote a little bit:

“[44] … the more numerous and the more significant the unconscious contents which are assimilated to the ego, the closer the approximation of the ego to the self, even though this approximation must be a never-ending process. This inevitably produces an inflation of the ego,3 unless a critical line of demarcation is drawn between it and the unconscious figures. But this act of discrimination yields practical results only if it succeeds in fixing reasonable boundaries to the ego and in granting the figures of the unconscious—the self, anima, animus, and shadow—relative autonomy and reality (of a psychic nature).”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2 by Carl Jung

This is an important feature in practical analysis, the fixing reasonable boundaries to the Ego. For instance, our patients and sometimes we ourselves repeatedly make such remarks as “I did this or that”, “I made this mistake”, or “I had that reaction” when in fact it’s a prerogative of the Unconscious. A wonderful example of this phenomenon is the crocodile story, that Jung gives in the “Houston interviews”. The young interviewer asks him why is it Dr Jung, that a patient chooses a particular symptom? And Jung jumped on him with a vengeance: he doesn’t choose the symptom. That’s like saying if a man falls into a river and is eaten by a crocodile you ask him: why did you choose that particular crocodile to eat you? The Ego does not choose its symptoms, it’s a victim of the symptom that the Unconscious throws up because the symptom is like a crocodile that grips you and possesses you, and this is a most important fact to realize. This is the way we fix reasonable boundaries to the Ego, you see. We don’t grant to the Ego power and responsibility that doesn’t properly belong to it. That’s inflation.

Another point he makes in the same paragraph is that the state of inflation can be very perilous thing:

“[44] Everyone who has dealings with such cases knows how perilous an inflation can be. No more than a flight of steps or a smooth floor is needed to precipitate a fatal fall.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2 by Carl Jung

“[44] This condition should not be interpreted as one of conscious self-aggrandizement.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2 by Carl Jung

But that’s not the case, the matter is much more subtle than that. It’s rather an unconscious assumption of what one’s scope and responsibility are. See, a completely unconscious, unscrutinized presupposition that is almost universally held that there is no such thing as an autonomous psyche beyond the Ego and if anybody talks in public about the autonomous psyche you are suspicious of being a little crazy. So that state of unconscious inflation which is not conscious self-aggrandizement is practically a universal as I attempt to indicate in this chart, but one doesn’t get into any trouble with it, it’s really astonishing how the vast majority of people can live quite happily in that state of what we can perceive as inflation, but it’s because it’s natural condition unless the individuation process is activated and then one is held to account for his inflation.

Another point I had noticed in the same paragraph is that:

“[44] A clear symptom of this is our growing disinclination to take note of the reactions of the environment and pay heed to them.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2 by Carl Jung

It’s good to always remember that the Unconscious comes to us from the outside as well as from the inside, so the reactions people have to us and the events that happen around us they are all expressions of the Unconscious just as much as a dream is.

Jung then goes on to speak of two alternative psychic catastrophes. One in which the the Ego is assimilated by the Self, and the other in which the Self is assimilated by the Ego. I’d just remind you that this word “assimilation” that’s an euphemism for being eaten. Throughout nature the basic question is: who eats whom? I can’t overemphasize how important that principle is, in nature and in psychology. It’s the predominant principle of existence, the question: who eats whom?

If the Self eats the Ego then at the worst you have an overt psychosis.

If the Ego eats the Self, seems like an impossible thing to do, since the smaller shouldn’t be able to swallow the larger, but Jung does speak of such condition, he says in paragraph 47 that the Self can become assimilated to the Ego in which case the world of consciousness must now be leveled down in favor of the reality of the Unconscious. If the Ego devours the Self then we have the rationalistic inflation that is so predominant, in which the Ego assumes itself to be the totality and in such a case then the antidote must be that the powers of the Ego must be leveled down in favor of the reality of the Unconscious and in the previous case where the Self assimilates the Ego, what’s called for is that all the conscious virtues of attention, consciousness, patience, and adaptation must be mobilized to the maximum degree.

Paragraph 48 is an important paragraph. He says:

“[48] The real moral problems spring from conflicts of duty. Anyone who is sufficiently humble, or easy-going, can always reach a decision with the help of some outside authority. But one who trusts others as little as himself can never reach a decision at all, unless it is brought about in the manner which Common Law calls an “Act of God.””

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2 by Carl Jung

“[48] In all such cases there is an unconscious authority which puts an end to doubt by creating a fait accompli.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2 by Carl Jung

And Jung goes on then to say that such a fait accompli – an action of uncontrollable natural forces – is much better from a psychological standpoint to be thought of as the will of God than it is to be thought of as natural or instinctual forces, because he says, going on in paragraph 49:

“[49] If, on the other hand, the inner authority is conceived as the “will of God” (which implies that “natural forces” are divine forces), our self-esteem is benefited because the decision then appears to be an act of obedience and the result a divine intention.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2 by Carl Jung

He does admit, that this way of looking at it can be used as a convenient way of escaping Ego-responsibility but he says that’s justified only when one’s knowingly hiding one’s own egoistic opinion.

This is quite important, practically. His idea of the conflict of duty. It’s when one encounters a major conflict of duty that the opportunity emerges to discover the reality of the second center of the psyche, to move from stage two to stage three, because in such a conflict one is obliged to choose between two evils. We like to have the choice simply between what’s good and what’s bad, but when you’ve got a real conflict of duty, you don’t have such a simple choice, you have to choose between two evils, which means, that one cannot avoid experiencing the opposites, that whatever choice one makes one must realize that he is carrying both goodness and badness simultaneously in his choice. An example of such a decision might be the decision whether or not to have an abortion. Abortion is a crime against nature and one pays a heavy psychological price for it, on the other hand it can also, under certain circumstances, be a real crime to bring a child into the world in circumstances that are gravely unsuitable for its well-being, so that in such a case then you have to choose between evils and there’s no way of avoiding it.

The point Jung makes in this paragraph is that the unconscious authority puts an end to such a conflict by creating a fait accompli. I’d point out to you, that all our unconscious and un-willed actions, all of our so-called mistakes are such fait accomplis. You see, such mistakes have two different interpretations.

  1. For the young, the appropriate interpretation is that it’s the failure of the will, because the young must have a consolidation of the Ego and emphasis must be on Ego-responsibility, so if a mistake is made by the young it’s proper that they take responsibility for it.
  2. But, for one in the second half of life, a mistake is properly understood as an act of God, and this is how I think one should understand so-called mistakes in analytic work with patients, that they are meaningful acts of God and in that sense then they are not quite mistakes at all, because they’re interventions from the Unconscious that have a purposefulness to be discovered.

In paragraph 59 there is an important statement:

“[59] Although “wholeness” seems at first sight to be nothing but an abstract idea (like anima and animus), it is nevertheless empirical in so far as it is anticipated by the psyche in the form of spontaneous or autonomous symbols.”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2 by Carl Jung

And then going down a little farther:

“[59] Wholeness is thus an objective factor that confronts the subject independently of him, …”

Collected Works, Volume 9, Part 2 by Carl Jung

I don’t know, how to emphasize that any more than to underscore it, to remind you again, that as Jung says in this paragraph the factor of wholeness is at the top of the hierarchy of psychic entities, it’s the first, and that means then that wholeness as an objective factor that confronts the subject independently of him is something that we should have constantly in mind as we work with patient material, because images of wholeness, that objective factor, which confronts the subject independently of him show up in dreams all the time, but if nobody recognizes them, they will go unnoticed, you see, that’s why it’s so important to be thoroughly versed in the awareness of wholeness as an objective factor that confronts the subject independently of him. So quaternity images, mandala images, the axiom of Maria, the interplay of opposites, the union of opposites, as all such images are expressions of the objective factor that confronts the subject independently of him.

Another item I draw you attention to is in paragraph 60, where he says that mandalas which are symbols of order occur in patients principally during times of psychic disorientation or re-orientation. See, images of order don’t show up from the Unconscious, unless the conscious is in a state of disorder. Every now and then I encounter someone who’d say, oh I wish I could have such nice mandala dreams as such and such in that and that book, that person doesn’t know, what he is asking for, because they come at a heavy price.

Finally I draw your attention to paragraph 65 in which Jung speaks of metaphysical concepts which had lost their root connection with natural experience. You see, metaphysical concepts which once were the containers for the projected Self-image, the collective projection of the Self-image, when that projection is withdrawn, then the individual looses his sense of meaning of those metaphysical concepts and it’s certainly true that Jung thought as one of his tasks in his later years the redemption of metaphysics. He wanted to rescue the meaning that was previously carried by theological, metaphysical concepts by recovering the psychic entities, the psychic realities that those concepts had once been the projection carriers for and he alludes to that point in this paragraph 65.

OK, we’ll stop with that.

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