Left and Right United?

One of my favorite quotes from Jung’s Collected Works Vol. 16, from the essay “Psychology of the Transference” describes the longterm goal of achieving a working balance between the left and right, or between unconscious and conscious aspects of ourselves.  Once in a while we may achieve a balance that feels blissful, especially when it is new. But if we hold on too tightly to that bliss, we end up tipping one way or the other and disallowing meaning in any other experience, or in anyone else’s experience. Overall, the bliss of wholeness is “important only as an idea; the essential thing is the opus…” And the opus is an inner work, one that our world needs from each of us.

“Is there anything more fundamental than the realization, “This is what I am”? It reveals a unity which nevertheless is—or was—a diversity. No longer the earlier ego with its make-believes and artificial contrivances, but another, “objective” ego, which for this reason is better called the “self.” No longer a mere selection of suitable fictions, but a string of hard facts, which together make up the cross we all have to carry or the fate we ourselves are. These first indications of a future synthesis of personality, as I have shown in my earlier publications, appear in dreams or in “active imagination,” where they take the form of the mandala symbols which were also not unknown in alchemy. But the first signs of this symbolism are far from indicating that unity has been attained. Just as alchemy has a great many very different procedures, ranging from the sevenfold to the thousandfold distillation, or from the “work of one day” to “the errant quest” lasting for decades, so the tensions between the psychic pairs of opposites ease off only gradually; and, like the alchemical end-product, which always betrays its essential duality, the united personality will never quite lose the painful sense of innate discord. Complete redemption from the sufferings of this world is and must remain an illusion. Christ’s earthly life likewise ended, not in complacent bliss, but on the cross. (It is a remarkable fact that in their hedonistic aims materialism and a certain species of “joyful” Christianity join hands like brothers.) The goal is important only as an idea; the essential thing is the opus which leads to the goal: that is the goal of a lifetime. In its attainment “left and right” are united, and conscious and unconscious work in harmony.” (Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 16, para. 400.)

The Forest in Fairy Tales: Symbol of our Lone Nature

Marie-Louise Von Franz in her book, The Feminine in Fairy Tales, discusses the psychological meaning of the forest in fairy talesIn many tales about the developing feminine, a girl or princess retreats into a forest, hiding or taking refuge from a situation that seems destructive. In one such tale, Allerleirauh or All Fur, the heroine runs away from her father, who wants to marry her because she looks just like her late mother. Allerleirauh hides in the forest of a nearby kingdom and takes refuge in a hollow tree.

The fairy tale depicts a psychological situation in which an old, ruling attitude in the psyche (the old king) fails to recognize a new generation of feminine development (the princess). In a woman, such an attitude can live a dynamic life as her own inner masculine voice, an animus voice that is stuck in old ideas about who she “should” be. Such a voice often and loudly insists on a woman meeting expectations that do not belong to her true nature, expectations for example that insist on perfection or pleasing others. Von Franz says a retreat “into the forest” to escape such an attitude or voice in oneself symbolizes a retreat into one’s deep inner nature. Such a withdrawal from collective life necessarily involves an encounter with existential loneliness:

“Most women, since they depend so much on relationship and long for it, have great difficulty in admitting to themselves how lonely they are and in accepting that as a given situation. To retire into the forest would be to accept the loneliness consciously, and not to try to make relationships with good will, for that is not the real thing. According to my experience, it is very painful, but very important, for women to realize and accept their loneliness. The virgin soil would be that part of the psyche where there was no impact of collective human activities, and to retire to that would be to retire not only from all animus opinions and views of life, but from any kind of impulse to do what life seems to demand of one. The forest would mean sinking into one’s innermost nature and finding out what it feels like. The vegetative is also spontaneous life and offers healing to the woman destroyed by a negative animus or negative mother-complex.” ( 1982, p. 85.)