I will spend one week alone in the country, in a comfortable guest house lent to me by a friend living near Uppsala, Sweden, reading and immersing myself in the book by the renown psychologist Carl Jung, Liber Novus (Latin for ‘New Book’), or The Red Book as it is presented in English. I’ll explain more fully, below.
I intend to take notes and write whatever may come to mind during this happening, but I cannot predict the outcome—I don’t know what to expect by my diving into the psyche of Carl Jung.
The worst case is that I may have a psychotic break. If this should happen, my friend and her husband live close by in the main house. Also, I will send a text message to my wife in Stockholm every evening informing her of my status.
Why would I even contemplate such a possible outcome? Here is an edited excerpt from Wikipedia’s listing on The Red Book:
Carl Gustav Jung was associated with Sigmund Freud beginning in 1907. Their relationship became increasingly acrimonious. When the final break came in 1913, Jung retreated from many of his professional activities for a time to further develop his own theories. Biographers disagree as to whether this period represented a psychological breakdown. Anthony Storr, reflecting on Jung’s own judgment that he was “menaced by a psychosis” during this time, concluded that the period represented a psychotic episode.
Jung referred to the episode as a kind of experiment, a voluntary confrontation with the unconscious. Biographer Barbara Hannah, who was close to Jung later in his life, compared Jung’s experiences to the encounter of Menelaus with Proteus in the Odyssey. Jung, she said, “made it a rule never to let a figure or figures that he encountered leave until they had told him why they had appeared to him.”
About the Red Book, Jung said:
The years… when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then. (Source)
So, I expect an adventure—an internal one which I cannot describe until I may experience it, and even then may not have words sufficient to communicate it to others. But I will try.
I have been reading about Jung, and reading some of his works (translated, of course, from the German), starting around 50 years ago when I was in university (Berkeley, California). I became superficially aware of his theories of archetypes and the collective unconscious and felt he was on to something. But, I was not pursuing a career in psychology and let the interest lie until I might be able to pursue it later.
Near the end of my career I became aware of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a psychological profiling instrument for normal people, based in Jungian psychology. A consultant to my hospital performed this profiling for my management team to help us deal with some communication problems. It worked.
As I prepared for retirement from employent in the middle of my 66th year, intending to return to management consulting which I had occasionally done in my 40-year career, I attended a workshop to become qualified to administer and interpret the MBTI. I was successful.
In the ten years since I stopped being an employee and having more discretionary time than ever before, I have read several more books by and about Carl Jung (see next section), and have written three articles which mention or focus on his findings and teachings:
- Before and After Human Consciousness, or The Voice of God vs. Auditory Hallucinations
- Jung’s Answer to Job
- Jung’s Archetypes and the Quantum Sea
In Preparation for the Seven Days
Before I go on retreat I will re-read all the books I have collected by and about Jung and his theories:
- Answer to Job, C.G. Jung
- C.G. Jung and Hermann Hesse: A Record of Two Friendships, Miguel Serrano
- C.G. Jung: Lord of the Underworld, Colin Wilson
- Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types, David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates
- The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead, Stephan A. Hoeller
- Transformation of the God-Image: An Elucidation of Jung’s “Answer to Job,” Edward F. Edinger
I intend to post a subsequent article, Seven Days with Carl Jung, Part II of II, about whatever I realize from this inner adventure, within the limitations of mere words on a page.
Wish me luck.