The World is Psyche
One of Jung’s greatest discoveries is what he called “the reality of the psyche,” by which he means that the psyche exists in its own right, in its own open-ended sphere of seemingly unlimited influence. To quote Jung, “The psychic is a phenomenal world in itself, which can be reduced neither to the brain nor to metaphysics”[i] (Note: “psychic” is used throughout this article as the adjective form of “psyche” and not with any parapsychological connotation). Jung is using the word “psyche” in an all-inclusive sense, as he means the totality of all psychic processes, both conscious and unconscious. Jung says, “For me, the psyche is an almost infinite phenomenon. I absolutely don’t know what it is in itself and know only very vaguely what it is not.”[ii] The psyche is not an epiphenomenon of biochemical processes in the brain, however, as it cannot be reduced to physical matter, or anything other than itself for that matter. Instead of the matter of the brain being the source of the psyche, to quote Jung, “We might well say, on the contrary, that physical existence is a mere inference, since we know of matter only in so far as we perceive psychic images.”[iii] The psyche can’t be factored out of our experience of either matter, or metaphysics, as it is inseparable from and connects both the seemingly opposite physical and metaphysical realms. Any physical or metaphysical experiences are mediated by the psyche by virtue of both of them essentially arising out of and being experiences within the psyche. Jung states, “Metaphysical assertions, however, are statements of the psyche…It is the psyche which, by the divine creative power inherent in it, makes the metaphysical assertion; it posits the distinctions between metaphysical entities. Not only is it the condition of all metaphysical reality, it is that reality.”[iv]
Jung states, “For our only reality is psyche, there is no other reality.”[v] The psyche is a mysterious, substance-less substance through which spirit and matter work out their seeming differences and intermingle so as to reveal their unity. To quote Jung, “Between the unknown essences of spirit and matter stands the reality of the psychic – psychic reality, the only reality we can experience immediately.”[vi] We never have an experience, of either the world or ourselves, except within the psyche (please see my article It’s All in the Psyche). Jung writes, “The realm of psyche is immeasurably great and filled with living reality. At its brink lies the secret of matter and of spirit.”[vii] The psyche is the essence of humanity, its greatest instrument, an indefinable creative entity of enormous scope, subtlety and power that eludes all attempts to explain it, including this one. We should not forget that, to quote Jung, “when we say ‘psyche’ we are alluding to the densest darkness it is possible to imagine.”[viii] The psyche is a true mystery that is impossible to pin down. Jung comments, “In reality, there is nothing but a living body. That is the fact, and psyche is as much a living body as body is living psyche: it is just the same.”[ix] The world is the living psyche. Because the psyche is not separate from the farthest corners of the whole universe, Jung writes that “The psyche reflects, and knows, the whole of existence.”[x]
The psyche is inseparable from the whole materialized universe, while at the same time being a “no-thing” that is other than and transcendent to the physical universe. The psyche is indistinguishable from and expresses itself as and through its manifestations, yet is independent from and other than its forms. Jung comments, “matter is a thin skin around an enormous cosmos of psychical realities, really the illusory fringe around the real experience, which is psychical.”[xi] This is what the Eastern sages are pointing at when they talk about the world being an illusion, as the phenomenal world is not separate from, as well as being a revelation of, the more fundamental reality which is the psyche itself. To quote Jung, “The East bases itself upon psychic reality, that is, upon the psyche as the main and unique condition of existence.”[xii] The whole materialized universe is moment by moment the display of and emerging out of the spacious, radiant and effulgently over-flowing ground of the psyche. Jung continues, “The psyche is therefore all-important; it is…the Buddha-essence, it is the Buddha-Mind, the One…All existence emanates from it, and all separate forms dissolve back into it.[xiii] The forms of this universe are not separate from the spacious emptiness out of which they are arising. As the Heart Sutra of Buddhism succinctly expresses: “Form is Emptiness. Emptiness is form.” Emptiness itself is appearing in the form of form. Form and emptiness are not two separate entities; the universe is non-dual. The psyche, which is the bridge between the inner and the outer dimensions, has a “sacred” (from sacren – to consecrate and make holy, whole, and unified) nature, which is a reflection of our own divinity. Jung continues, “The Buddha is really nothing other than the activating psyche of the yogi – the meditator himself. It is not only that the image of the Buddha is produced out of ‘one’s own mind and thought,’ but the psyche which produces these thought-forms is the Buddha himself.”[xiv]
Jung writes, “The psyche creates reality every day.”[xv] It is as if the psyche extends its tentacles out into the world and arranges, configures, and organizes the world so that the world becomes the very medium through which the psyche is simultaneously expressing, em-bodying and revealing itself. Being nonlocal, the psyche is “located” both within our heads (i.e., in the subjective domain of mind) and synchronistically out in the world at the same time, as time and space become relativized within the all-embracing realm of the psyche (please see my article Catching the Bug of Synchronicity). Jung points out that “it is clear that timeless and spaceless perceptions are possible only because the perceiving psyche is similarly constituted.”[xvi] The nonlocal psyche is not bound by either the rules of third dimensional space and time, nor by the laws of man. Because of the psyche’s nonlocality, “we have every reason to suppose,” Jung says, “that there is only one world, where matter and psyche are the same thing.”[xvii] For psyche and matter to be inseparably united is just like being in a dream, where the apparent matter of the dream is a direct reflection of the psyche that is dreaming. Jung writes, “‘At bottom’ the psyche is simply world.”[xviii] The psyche animates and gives rise to the world, while at the same time, the world reciprocally generates and in-forms the psyche. The psyche is not just a reflection of the world, however, but to quote Jung, “The psyche does not merely react, it gives its own specific answer to the influences at work upon it.”[xix]
Endowed with the dignity of a cosmic principle, the psyche has a pre-eminent place in the natural order of things. The life of the psyche arises out of organic life, while at the same time transcending it through its own self-creation. The psyche has the unique quality of creating itself through its own activity. A product of cosmic evolution, the conscious psyche is a relatively recent emergence out of the womb of nature itself. The psyche, what Jung calls “the greatest of all cosmic wonders”[xx] is a natural phenomenon, emerging out of and being nothing other than pure nature itself. Jung writes, “And just as life fills the whole earth with plant and animal forms, so the psyche creates an even vaster world, namely consciousness, which is the self-cognition of the universe.”[xxi]
Many people have been conditioned to devalue the psyche, thinking of the contents of the psyche as mere nothings, empty fabrications. Realizing the reality of the psyche is to recognize, that quite to the contrary, its contents have a living reality. If many people have a belief that a river runs backwards, for example, this is not a physical fact (i.e., the river doesn’t run backwards), but the fact that many people believe this irrational idea is a psychic fact that has its own category of existence per se. Jung comments, “A psychic process is something that really exists, and a psychic content is as real as a plant or animal.”[xxii] Though psychic contents aren’t quantifiable, don’t occupy space nor have a location, and don’t have a physical mass, they have a reality all their own. Jung even suggests that if “we wished to form a vivid picture of a non-spatial being of the fourth dimension, we should do well to take thought, as a being, for our model.”[xxiii]
Jung writes, “We could well point to the idea of psychic reality as the most important achievement of modern psychology if it were recognized as such.”[xxiv] The discovery of the living reality of the psyche was a precious gift that the new field of psychology had to offer to the world, and yet, it has mostly gone unappreciated and unrecognized. Jung was so far ahead of his time when he realized the living, autonomous reality of the nonlocal psyche that few people understood what he was talking about. The discovery of the ‘reality’ of the psyche, the ‘most important achievement of modern psychology,’ is something that most people still don’t even know about. Modern, behaviorist psychology, in Jung’s words, “reduces psychic happenings to a kind of activity of the glands; thoughts are regarded as secretions of the brain, and thus we achieve a psychology without the psyche.”[xxv] The psyche itself is truly a subject worthy of our contemplation and veneration. Jung opines, “It is my conviction that the investigation of the psyche is the science of the future.”[xxvi] The psyche is the subject of all knowledge, being the womb in and out of which both art and science are born.
“I am of the opinion,” writes Jung, “that the psyche is the most tremendous fact of human life.” The psyche is the underlying matrix, the infinite emptiness that is over-flowingly full, the maternal womb out of which world events are born. Jung calls the psyche “the mother of all human facts, of civilization and of its destroyer, war. All this is at first psychic and invisible.”[xxvii] What is currently playing out in the collective body politic is a process that has been gestating in the depths of the human psyche over millennia (please see my article Shadow Projection: The Fuel of War). There has been a preparatory process going on within the human psyche over the history of our species that has unleashed the very forces that are at work today in the world. Jung writes, “what the unconscious really contains are the great collective events of the time. In the collective unconscious of the individual, history prepares itself.”[xxviii] World events are being cooked up in the crucible of the collective unconscious of humanity into living experiences.
Jung elucidates, “What future developments are being prepared in the unconscious of modern man…It depends on us whether we help coming events to birth by understanding them, and reinforce their healing effect, or whether we repress them with our prejudices, narrow-mindedness and ignorance, thus turning their effect into its opposite, into poison and destruction.”[xxix] We are potential spiritual midwives, who by ‘understanding’ the psychic nature of ‘future developments,’ ‘reinforce their healing effect’ and birth ‘coming events’ into incarnation through the womb of the psyche. The psyche, which is pregnant with open-ended possibilities, is the very cipher in which the history of humanity is being written. Jung writes, “The world today hangs by a thin thread, and that thread is the psyche of man.”[xxx]
The psyche is historical, in the sense that its development can only be understood in the context of its personal and collective past. History, which is the psyche’s revelation of itself, is not only being given birth to within the psyche; the psyche itself is the very force which in-forms and gives shape to history. The psyche is simultaneously historical and trans-historical, however, which is to say that the psyche atemporally abides outside of linear time yet simultaneously generates events experienced by humans as historical time. Though within its very structure is written the whole history of humanity, the psyche is at the same time teleological, in that it is purposeful, seeking its own actualization. Jung writes, “Anything psychic is Janus-faced: it looks both backwards and forwards.”[xxxi] The psyche is like a pivot through which, both on the individual and collective levels, we choose either to look backwards and re-create the unhealed past, or step into consciously participating in our own creative future evolution in the present.
The psyche doesn’t solely belong to a self-contained, particular person, but is related to the collective, which is to say everyone, as the psyche exists in and as an underlying, all-pervasive field which in-forms and gives shape to all of life. To quote Jung, “the psyche is not only a personal but a world problem.”[xxxii] The psyche is like an omnipresent atmo“sphere” that exists in all times and throughout all space. The psyche expresses itself like a fractal, in that it uses synchronistic iterations of itself to express itself in multiple dimensions simultaneously – within ourselves, in relationship with each other, and throughout the collective organism of humanity. Jung comments, “the psyche of a people is only a somewhat more complex structure than the psyche of an individual. Moreover, has not a poet spoken of the ‘nations of his soul?’ And quite correctly, it seems to me, for in one of its aspects the psyche is not individual, but is derived from the nation, from the collectivity, from humanity even. In some way or other we are part of a single, all-embracing psyche.”[xxxiii] In his own researches, both with his patients and within himself, Jung had tapped into a supra-personal psyche that he called the collective unconscious, a dimension of reality in which we are all contained through our infinitely intricate interconnectedness. Pointing at the nonlocality of the psyche, Jung writes, “the psyche does not exist wholly in time and space…For the psyche this means a relative eternality and a relative non-separation from other psyches, or a oneness with them.”[xxxiv] Commenting on a collective evolutionary process that is taking place within the psyche of humanity, Jung writes, “Our world has shrunk, and it is dawning on us that humanity is one, with one psyche.”[xxxv] We are beginning to wake up, due to evolutionary necessity, to the fact that we are indivisibly interdependent, only existing in relation to each other. We are, by our very nature, one human family. Just like when one family member changes it propels the whole system to reconfigure itself, each single person waking up to the fact that ‘humanity is one’ changes the whole world’s psyche, the soul of the World. When one person in this moment realizes the reality of the psyche, which is to become lucid in the waking dream called life, this particular person’s realization nonlocally registers throughout space in no time whatsoever, changing everything.
Jung could just as well have been talking about our current war(s) when, speaking about World War I, he says, “The whole war was a psychical phenomenon…It was simply the time when that thing had to happen from unknown psychical reasons. Any great movement of man has always started from psychical reasons.”[xxxvi] The source of any great transformative collective movement of humanity throughout history, be it constructive or destructive, is the human psyche. Jung comments, “I can see no sense in our blaming the war for things that have happened to us. Each of us carried within himself the elements that brought on the war.”[xxxvii] Most people don’t realize that wars are themselves full-bodied expressions of inner psychic processes being played out in the world theater (please see my article Archetypal Dimensions of World Events). Commenting on the Second World War, Jung said that it “was recognized as an unmitigated psychic disaster only by the few. Rather than do this, people prefer the most preposterous political and economic theories.”[xxxviii]
Just like a dream supplies all the evidence we need to confirm the seemingly objective truth of the viewpoint we are holding within it, once the sociopolitical insanity plays itself out in the form of war, we have all the proof we need that the conflict is outside of ourselves. It is then nearly impossible to convince anyone that the source of the conflict lies within the psyche of every individual. The psyche becomes exteriorized, as an internal psychic conflict then takes place on the plane of projection outside in the world in living flesh and blood in the form of war. To quote Jung, “In the same way that the atom bomb is an unparalleled means of physical mass destruction, so the misguided development of the soul must lead to psychic mass destruction.”[xxxix]
As if an iteration of the same, underlying fractal, the psychic forces that animated the totalitarian psychosis (what I call “malignant egophrenia”) that inspired the two world wars of the previous century are actively at work creating war in our current day and age. Being Janus-faced, however, hidden in this psychic dis-ease is a profound potential blessing. Jung points out that “the totalitarian psychosis with its frightful consequences and the intolerable disturbance of human relationships are forcing us to pay attention to the psyche and our abysmal unconsciousness of it. Never before has mankind as a whole experienced the numen of the psychological factor on so vast a scale.”[xl] Jung is articulating that the psyche, in its full-blown numinosity, is manifesting in, as and through our world crisis as if the psyche is a higher power. Just like the unconscious compensates a one-sidedness through the dreams it sends our way, the totalitarian psychosis that is playing out in the world today is the very compensatory form through which the psyche is trying to get our attention about the psyche’s profound importance. The totalitarian psychosis running rampant throughout the world today is the psyche’s way of revealing to us that we are forgetting the very role the psyche plays in creating our experience. Marginalizing our own authorship and authority, we then dream up totalitarian forces to limit our freedom and create our experience for us. A true conjunction of opposites, the totalitarian psychosis is both a horror, as well as a potential revelation showing us how we have disconnected from our own creative power. A quantum phenomenon, how the madness plays itself out depends upon whether we recognize what it is revealing to us about ourselves.
It is high time for us to pay attention to the psyche’s role in human affairs. Paradoxically, both the origin as well as the potential re-solution to our world crisis are to be found within the subtle organ of the psyche (please see my article Shadow Projection is its own Medicine). To quote Jung, “a complete spiritual renewal in needed. And this cannot be given gratis, each man must strive to achieve it for himself. Neither can old formulas which once had a value be brought into force again. The eternal truths cannot be transmitted mechanically, in every epoch they must be born anew from the human psyche.”[xli] What is born anew from the human psyche is the awareness of the reality of the psyche, as we become the instruments through which the psyche becomes aware of itself. Jung writes, “It is our own psyche, constantly at work creating new spiritual forms and spiritual forces which may help us to subdue the boundless lust for prey of Aryan man.”[xlii] The potential re-solution to our world crisis is emerging out of, into, and through the human psyche itself within each person. Since there are no absolute boundaries between an individual’s psyche and any other part of creation, none of us are separate from the cosmic creative principle itself; in fact, we are that principle incarnated in human form. This is to say that each of us is ultimately identical with the divine source of creation itself.
Jung writes “no explanation of the psychic can be anything other than the living process of the psyche itself.”[xliii] This means that these very words about the psyche are the “living process” of the psyche reflecting upon itself. Jung reminds us that “We should not forget that in any psychological discussion we are not saying anything about the psyche, but that the psyche is always speaking about itself.”[xliv] Not just in these words, but in everything, at every moment. The universe is an oracle, an instantaneous feedback loop that is a living revelation of itself, and it is speaking symbolically, just like a dream. Literally.
The psyche is the means by which we observe the psyche; it is in the peculiar position of being simultaneously subject and object of its own contemplation. In the domain of the psyche, the observer is truly the observed. Jung writes, “there is no knowledge about the psyche, but only in the psyche.”[xlv] Instead of the psyche being within our brains, just like a dream, we are inside the psyche. Jung comments, “the psychical is no longer a content in us, but we become contents of it.”[xlvi] We are indeed ‘such stuff as dreams are made.’ To quote Jung, “Far, therefore, from being a material world, this is a psychic world”[xlvii] (please see my article One Great Dream of a Single Dreamer). Recognizing the psychic nature of reality is to recognize that, just like in a dream, the inner is the outer. Recognizing the mysterious co-relation between what is occurring in the world and what is happening within our own minds empowers us to become dynamic transformative agents in our world. Instead of unconsciously reacting to our projections as they appear out in the world, our relationship to our projections and our world radically changes. Recognizing ourselves in the world, we become en-abled to play with our projections in a way that serves the whole field, ourselves included.
Jung over and over reiterates in his writings that the greatest danger which threatens humanity comes from our own psyche. Millions of us can fall into our unconscious together and reinforce each other’s madness, feeding a contagious psychic epidemic in which we unwittingly become complicit in supporting the insanity of endless wars (please see my article Diagnosis: Psychic Epidemic). Unconscious psychic forces are the active world powers which rule over humanity. “The powers of the psyche” are so unimaginably vast that, in Jung’s opinion, they “are far mightier than all the Great Powers of the earth.”[xlviii] The psyche is an active power that can’t be form-fitted into a limited, materialistic world view that sees the world as separate from itself. Hidden within the psyche, like a treasure in encoded form waiting to be discovered, is an incalculable meta-nuclear power which, as history shows, can transform entire civilizations in unforeseeable ways. Jung says, “the investigation of the deeper levels of the psyche brings to light much that we, on the surface, can at most dream about.”[xlix]
What would happen, I find myself imagining, when more people investigate and more fully realize, not intellectually, but experientially, the living reality of the psyche? What would it ‘bring to light?’ Being that recognizing the psychic nature of reality simultaneously transforms both the psyche as well as our experience of ‘reality,’ how would the psyche, and the world, reflect back this realization? How would the human dynamic of our present day world change, I wonder, if the psyche was realized to be the ground and origin of all that occurs in our world? How would we, as individuals, be different than we are right now? The psyche itself is an always-available, living portal through which we can both transform ourselves and re-create the world in which we live. It is our greatest gift. Being that this gift is a passageway to the healing and evolution of our species, what if we more fully open it?
[i] Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, CW 14, par. 667.
[ii] Jung, Letters, vol. 2, p. 69.
[iii] Jung, Psychology and Religion: East and West, CW 11, par. 16.
[iv] Ibid, par. 836.
[v] Jung, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, vol. 2, p. 986.
[vi] Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, CW 8, par. 748.
[vii] Jung, Letters, vol. 2, p. 71.
[viii] Jung, Psychology and Religion: East and West, CW 11, par. 448.
[ix] Jung, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, vol. 1, p. 396.
[x] Jung, The Practice of Psychotherapy, CW 16, par. 203.
[xi] Jung, The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga, p. 47.
[xii] Jung, Psychology and Religion: East and West, CW 11, par. 770.
[xiii] Ibid, par. 771.
[xiv] Ibid, 931.
[xv] Jung, Psychological Types, CW 6, par. 78.
[xvi] Jung, Letters, vol. 1, p. 117.
[xvii] Jung, Letters, vol. 2, p. 342.
[xviii] Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i, par. 291.
[xix] Jung, Freud and Psychoanalysis, CW 4, par. 665.
[xx] Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, CW 8, par. 357.
[xxi] Jung, The Development of Personality, CW 17, par. 165.
[xxii] Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, CW 14, par. 651.
[xxiii] Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, p. 213.
[xxiv] Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, CW 8, par. 683.
[xxv] Ibid, par. 658.
[xxvi] Jung, Psychological Reflections, p. 14.
[xxvii] Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i, par. 206.
[xxviii] Jung, The Symbolic Life, CW 18, par. 371.
[xxix] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, par. 731.
[xxx] Jung, Psychological Reflections, p. 14.
[xxxi] Jung, Psychological Reflections, p. 15.
[xxxii] Jung, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, p. 132.
[xxxiii] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, par. 175.
[xxxiv] Jung, Letters, vol. 1, p. 256.
[xxxv] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, par. 779.
[xxxvi] Jung, The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga, p. 46.
[xxxvii] Jung, Analytical Psychology: Notes of the Seminar given in 1925, p. 85.
[xxxviii] Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, CW 8, par. 424.
[xxxix] Ibid, 428.
[xl] Jung, The Practice of Psychotherapy, CW 16, par. 442.
[xli] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, par. 443.
[xlii] Ibid, par. 190.
[xliii] Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, CW 8, par. 429.
[xliv] Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i, par. 483.
[xlv] Jung, The Development of Personality, CW 17, par. 161.
[xlvi] Jung, The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga, p. 57.
[xlvii] Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, CW 8, par. 747.
[xlviii] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, par. 326.
[xlix] Ibid, par. 330.
Image by GerryT, courtesy of Creative Common license.Tweet