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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Carl Jung: On the Benefit of Self-Examination

In explaining the nature and necessity of the spiritual (or religious) experience that he saw as requisite for the successful treatment of alcoholic addiction, the great psychologist, Carl Jung observed that "(t)he only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happen to you in reality, and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding."

"You might be led to that goal," Jung continues,"by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism."

Written in the last year of his life, Jung's letter to Bill Wilson (from which the above is extracted) was an explanation in many ways of the sum of his experiences treating not only alcoholics, but in treating his patients in general. In his letter to Bill (attached below), he observes:
"I am strongly convinced that the evil principle prevailing in this world, leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if not countered by a real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community. An ordinary man, not protected by an action from above and isolated in society cannot resist the power of evil, which is called very aptly the Devil. But the use of such words arouse so many mistakes that one can only keep aloof from them as much as possible."
Just what did Jung mean by these observations, and why (other than Bill's evident open-mindedness) did he confide these observations to A.A.'s co-founder? Much insight into Jung's meaning may be gained from the close perusal of a slim volume, 'The Undiscovered Self,' which Jung published several years earlier, in 1957. In it, Jung states that the fundamental question that one must answer in life is: "Have I any religious experience and immediate relation to God and hence that certainty which will keep me, as an individual, from dissolving into the crowd?"

"To this question," he points out, "there is a positive answer only when the individual is willing to fulfill the demands of rigorous self-examination and self-knowledge." (Thus, the necessity of taking, and continuing to take, a searching and fearless moral inventory of one's "self.")

"If he follows through on this intention," Jung continues, "he will not only discover some important truths about himself, but will also have gained a psychological advantage: he will have succeeded in deeming himself worthy of serious attention and sympathetic interest. He will have set his hand, as it were, to a declaration of his own human dignity and taken the first step towards the foundation of his consciousness - that is, towards the unconscious, the only accessible source of religious experience."

"This is not to say," he cautions, "that what we call the unconscious is identical with God or is set up in his place. It is the medium through which the religious experience seems to flow. As to what the further cause of such an experience may be, the answer to this lies beyond the range of human knowledge. Knowledge of God is a transcendental problem."
[Jung, 'The Undiscovered Self,' pp. 100-102.]
"There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation and prayer," writes Bill W. "Taken separately, these practices can bring much relief and benefit. But when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakeable foundation for life. Now and then we may be granted a glimpse of that ultimate reality which is God's kingdom. And we will be comforted and assured that our own destiny in that realm will be secure for so long as we try, however falteringly, to find and do the will of our Creator."
['The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions,' p. 98]

The process of taking the 12 Steps - i.e., engaging in the process of "self-examination, meditation and prayer" that Bill writes of - is the process that opens the alcoholic addict (or any other addicted person) to "a religious (or spiritual) experience and immediate relation to God." And it is this experience - the solution to Jung's "transcendental problem" - that relieves the alcoholic of his or her sole reliance on a limited self-consciousness to get by in life. And by opening him or herself to a higher, dilated consciousness, this process relieves the sufferer of the obsession to transcend self-consciousness with alcohol and/or drugs.

Thus, through membership and participation in A.A. (or its sister 12 Step organizations), the addict is opened (a) to "an act of grace", and provided with (b) "a personal and honest contact with friends," and (c) the opportunity for "a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism."

"The religious person," as Jung points out in 'The Undiscovered Self,' "enjoys a great advantage when it comes to answering the crucial question that hangs over our time like a threat: he has a clear idea of the way his subjective existence is grounded in his relation to 'God.'"

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