Alan Watts On Carl Jung & Acceptance & Healing

Jung managed to have wisdom and I think also sanctity in such a way that when other people came into his presence they didn’t feel judged. They felt, enhanced, encouraged, and invited to share in a common life. And there was a sort of twinkle in Jung’s eye that gave me the impression that he knew himself to be just as much a villain as everybody else. There is a nice German word, hintergedanken, which means a thought in the very far far back of your mind.

Jung had a hintergedanken in the back of his mind which showed, it showed in the twinkle in his eye. It showed that he knew and recognized what I sometimes call the element of irreducible rascality in himself.

And he knew it so strongly and so clearly and in a way so lovingly, that he would not condemn the things in others and would therefore not be lead into those thoughts, feelings, and acts of violence towards others which are always characteristic of the people who project the devil in themselves upon the outside – upon somebody else – upon the scapegoat.

Now this made Jung a very integrated character. In other words, here I have to present a little bit of a complex idea. He was man who was thoroughly with himself – having seen and accepted his own nature profoundly. He had a kind of a unity and absence of conflict in his own nature which had to exhibit additional complications that I find so fascinating.

He was the sort of man who could feel anxious and afraid and guilty without being ashamed of feeling this way. In other words, he understood that an integrated person is not a person who has simply eliminated the sense of guilt or the sense of anxiety from his life – who is fearless and wooden and kind of sage of stone.

He is a person who feels all these things, but has no recriminations against himself for feeling them. And this is to my mind a profound kind of humor. You know in humor there is always a certain element of malice. There was a talk given on the Pacifica stations, just a little while ago which was an interview with Al Capp. And Al Capp made the point that he felt that all humor was fundamentally malicious. Now there’s a very high kind of humor, which is humor at oneself.

The real humor is not jokes at the expense of others, it’s always jokes at the expense of oneself and of course it has an element of malice in it, it has malice towards oneself. The recognition of the fact that behind the social role that you assume; behind all your pretentions to being either a good citizen or a fine scholar or a great scientist or a leading politician or physician or whatever you happen to be – but behind this façade – there is a certain element of the unreconstructed bum. Not as something to be condemned and wailed over, but as something to be recognized as contributive to one’s greatness and to one’s positive aspect; in the same way that manure is contributive to the perfume of the rose.

Jung saw this and Jung accepted this, and I want to read a passage from one of his lectures, which I think is one of the greatest things he ever wrote. And which has been a very marvelous thing for me. It was in a lecture delivered to a group of clergy in Switzerland, a considerable number of years ago, and he writes as follows:

People forget that even doctors have moral scruples and that certain patient’s confessions are hard even for a doctor to swallow. Yet the patient does not feel himself accepted unless the very worst of him is accepted too. No one can bring this about by mere words. It comes only through reflection and through the doctor’s attitude towards himself and his own dark side. If the doctor wants to guide another or even accompany him a step of the way, he must feel with that person’s psyche. He never feels it when he passes judgment. Whether he puts his judgments into words or keeps them to himself, makes not the slightest difference.

To take the opposite position and to agree with the patient offhand is also of no use, feeling comes only through unprejudiced objectivity. This sounds almost like a scientific precept. And it could be confused with a purely intellectual abstract attitude of mind. But what I mean is something quite different. It is a human quality: A kind of deep respect for the facts – for the man who suffers from them and for the riddle of such a man’s life. The truly religious person has this attitude.

He knows that God has brought all sort of strange and unconceivable things to pass and seeks in the most curious ways to enter a man’s heart. He therefore senses in everything the unseen presence of the Divine Will. This is what I mean by unprejudiced objectivity. It is a moral achievement on the part of the doctor, who ought not to let himself be repelled by sickness and corruption. We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate. It oppresses. And I am the oppressor of the person I condemn – not his friend and fellow sufferer. I do not in the least mean to say that we must never pass judgment when we desire to help and improve. But, if the doctor wishes to help a human being, he must be able to accept him as he is. And he can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he is. Perhaps this sounds very simple, but simple things are always the most difficult.

In actual life, it requires the greatest art to be simple. And so, acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem, and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life. That I feed the beggar – that I forgive an insult – that I love my enemy in the name of Christ – all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all – the poorest of all beggars – the most impudent of all offenders – yea the very fiend himself – that these are within me? And that I myself stand in need of the arms of my own kindness. That I myself am the enemy who must be loved. What then?

Then, as a rule, the whole truth of Christianity is reversed. There is then no more talk of love and long suffering. We say to the brother within us: Rocca, and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide him from the world. We deny ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves. And had it been God himself who drew near to us in this despicable form, we should have denied him a thousand times before a single cock had crowed.

Well, you may think the metaphors are rather strong, but i feel that they are not so needlessly. This is a very very forceful passage, and a memorable one in all Jung’s works. Trying to heal this insanity from which our culture in particular has suffered, of thinking that a human being can become hail, healthy and holy by being divided against himself in inner conflict, paralleling the conception of a cosmic conflict between an absolute good and an absolute evil, which cannot be reduced to any prior and underlying unity.

In other words our rage, and our very proper rage against evil things which occur in this world must not overstep itself. For if we require as a justification for our rage a fundamental and metaphysical division between good and evil, we have an insane and in a certain sense schizophrenic universe, of which no sense whatsoever can be made.

All conflict, Jung was saying, all opposition has its resolution in an underlying unity. You cannot understand the meaning of ‘to be’ unless you understand the meaning of ‘not to be’ you cannot understand the meaning of good unless you understand the meaning of evil. Even St. Thomas Aquinas saw this, for he said: “that just as it is the silent pause which gives sweetness to the chant, so it is suffering, so it is evil which makes possible the recognition of virtue.”

This is not, as Jung tries to explain, a philosophy of condoning the evil. To take the opposite position, he said, and to agree with the patient off-hand is also of no use, but estranges him the patient as much as condemnation.

Let me continue further, reading from this extraordinary passage:

Healing may be called,” Jung says, “a religious problem. In the sphere of social or national relations, the state of suffering may be civil war, and this state is to be cured by the Christian virtues of forgiveness and love of one’s enemies. That which we recommend with the conviction of good Christians, as applicable to external situations, we must also apply inwardly in the treatment of neurosis. This is why modern man has heard enough about guilt and sin. He is sorely beset by his own bad conscience and wants rather to know how he is to reconcile himself with his own nature. How he is to love the enemy in his own heart and call the wolf his brother. the modern man does not want to know in what way he can imitate Christ, but in what way he can live his own individual life, however meager and un-interesting it may be. It is because every form of imitation seems to him deadening and sterile, that he rebels against the force of tradition that would hold him to well-trodden ways.

All such roads lead for him in the wrong direction. He may not know it, but he behaves as if his own individual life were God’s special will which must be fulfilled at all costs. This is the source of his egoism, which is one of the most tangible evils of the neurotic state. But the person who tells him he is too egoistic has already lost his confidence, and rightfully so, for that person has driven him still further into his neurosis. If i wish to effect a cure for my patients, i am forced to acknowledge the deep significance of their egoism. I should be blind indeed if i did not recognize it as a true will of God. I must even help the patient to prevail in his egoism. If he succeeds in this, he estranges himself from other people, he drives them away, and they come to themselves as they should, for they were seeking to rob him of his sacred egoism. This must be left of him for it is his strongest and healthiest power. It is as i have said, a true will of God, which sometimes drives him into complete isolation. However wretched this state may be, it also stands him in good stead, for in this way alone can he get to know himself and learn what an invaluable treasure is the love of his fellow beings. It is moreover only in the complete state of abandonment and loneliness that we experience the helpful powers of our own natures. End of quote.

This is a very striking example of Jung’s power to comprehend and integrate points of view as well as psychological attitudes that seem on the surface to be completely antithetical. For example, even in his own work, when he was devoting himself to the study of eastern philosophy, he had some difficulty in comprehending the, let’s say the buddhistic denial of the reality of the ego. But you can see that in practice, in what he was actually trying to get at, he was moving toward the same position that is intended in both the Hindu and the Buddhist philosophy about the nature of the ego. Just for example as the Hindu will say, that the “i” principle in man is not really a separate ego but an expression of the universal life of Brahman or the god-head, so Jung is saying here that the development of ego in man is a true will of God, and that it is only by following the ego, that one, and developing it to its full extend that one fulfills the function which this, you might say, temporary illusion has in man’s psychic life.

For he goes on, he says here: “When one has several times seen this development at work, one can no longer deny that what was evil has turned to good and that what seemed good has kept alive the forces of evil. The arch demon of egoism leads us along the royal road to that ingathering which religious experience demands. What we observe here is a fundamental law of life: enantiodromia or ‘conversion into the opposite’. And it is this that makes possible the reunion of the warring halves of the personality, and thereby brings the civil war to an end.” End of quote.

In other words he was seeing that, as Blake said: “A fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” that the development of egoism in man is not something to be overcome or better integrated by opposition to it, but by following it.

Post Author: Chad

A child of the universe. A student of life and death.