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Monday, April 18, 2011

Carl Jung and Our Spiritual Imperative

Carl G. Jung (1875-1961)
(See: Jung and the birth of A.A.)
The alcoholic addict who is a student of the 12 Steps and their history will know that "the taproot" of what would become the whole 12 Step movement was the conversation that the great Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, had with one of his patients, "a certain American businessman," named Rolland Hazard. In essence, Jung told Hazard that only a "vital spiritual experience" might relieve his alcoholism, and that was what he had been trying to provoke in Hazard.

Jung described the 'mechanics' of such a spiritual awakening in the following terms: "Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them." (That is old thoughts, their concomitant feelings and our habitual ways of thinking are replaced by new thoughts and drives.)

Hazard, of course, returned to the United States, joined the Oxford Group, and helped sober up Bill W.'s sponsor, Ebby T. Although, Hazard never joined Alcoholics Anonymous, he passed the six principles of the Oxford Group through Ebby to Bill, who further explained and clarified those principles in the 12 Steps. But it was not in the alcoholic alone that Jung detected a certain 'need for wholeness' that could only be brought about, in his view, by what he termed an authentic "religious experience."

In his invaluable little book, "The Undiscovered Self," Jung writes:
"Just as man, as a social being, cannot in the long run exist without a tie to the community, so the individual will never find the real justification for his existence, and his own spiritual and moral autonomy, anywhere except in an extramundane principle capable of relativizing the overpowering influence of external factors."

"The individual who is not anchored in God can offer no resistance on his own resources to the physical and moral blandishments of the world. For this he needs the evidence of the inner, transcendent experience which alone can protect him from the otherwise inevitable in the mass (of humanity)."

"Merely intellectual or even moral insight into the stultification and moral irresponsibility of the mass man is a negative recognition only and amounts to not much more than a wavering on the road to the atomization of the individual. It lacks the driving force of religious conviction, since it is merely rational."
For those who might balk at the terms "religious experience" and "religious conviction," please note that Jung is talking about what William James called "inner religion," and not the "outer religion" of dogma, doctrine, denominations and creeds. What is clear, however, is that in Jung's view all men and women are vulnerable to the temptations of a meaningless life, by the "physical and moral blandishments of the world," and it is not just alcoholics who Jung would see as 'at risk' of a meaningless life.

Of course, the alcoholic addict is particularly at risk since his or her 'blandishment of choice' will ultimately prove fatal due to the progressive nature of alcoholic addiction, but he or she is decidedly not alone in the vulnerability to getting sidetracked by the allure of money, sex, entertainment and so many other 'distractions' that our culture offers.

The essay on Step Three in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions directly addresses this, when the author (Bill W.) discusses how "ordinary folks" are doing living a life that is driven by their 'self-will.'
"Should his own image in the mirror be too awful to contemplate (and it usually is)," Bill suggests, "he might first take a look at the results normal people are getting from self-sufficiency. Everywhere he sees people filled with anger and fear, society breaking up into warring fragments. Each fragment says to the others, "We are right and you are wrong." Every such pressure group, if it is strong enough, self-righteously imposes its will upon the rest. And everywhere the same thing is being done on an individual basis. The sum of all this mighty effort is less peace and less brotherhood than before. The philosophy of self-sufficiency is not paying off. Plainly enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final achievement is ruin."
In his correspondence with Bill W., Carl Jung observed that "the evil principle prevailing in the world, leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by a real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community."

The alcoholic addict in recovery is, thus, triply blessed. First, being on the short road to death by overindulgence, he or she typically 'wakes up' to his or her spiritual needs earlier than ordinary folks. Second, the 12 Steps provide the alcoholic with a tried and true path to "real religious insight." And, third, the sense of belonging he or she gets through membership in a 12 Step fellowship provides a very real "protective wall of human community." Alcoholic addicts in recovery are, thus, truly blessed, indeed.

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