Jung's Red Book

Written by Tayria Ward on January 23, 2010

I was fortunate to attend today a seminar conducted in Zürich, Switzerland that was attended in a Skype sort of televised arrangement – by persons in 18 countries, I believe he said, all at the same time. It is quite a concept. I would never have imagined that I could feel so present with people as far away as Europe, Taiwan and Australia sitting in a little sound room at UNCA in Asheville. I could see in my mind’s eye some of my former colleagues from the Analytical Psychology Club and the Jung Institute in Los Angeles; I thought I could guess half of who might be in that room. Murray Stein gave a brilliant and personable introduction to C.G. Jung’s recently published Red Book, which I enjoyed immensely. Now I feel a little more ready to approach this enormous 13 pound 12×16 inch book. It will still be overwhelming I am sure; but I am less intimidated by the immensity of its size, beauty and content.

For those who haven’t read of it, The Red Book is a personal journal that Jung wrote in during the period of his life which he called “the encounter with the unconscious”, a time in which he feared many times that he might be losing his sanity. But as a result of this period came most of his vast contribution to the world of psychology. The book includes Jung’s phenomenal mandalas and art, with notes in calligraphy written in Jung’s own hand — an exquisite illuminated manuscript.

Enough about what you can read elsewhere. I want to make a personal note about something of what I experienced today. I finished my Ph.D. and became a doctor in 2003. In 2004, after 30 years of living in Los Angeles, I moved to the middle of “no-damn-where” as one friend likes to describe it. I live in the mountains, in the woods; imagine going into the middle of nowhere and then go a little further. That is where you will find me. I wanted to live in the wilderness; I think unconsciously I thought it would match my internal landscape. In the few years previous to this move, what I had thought was a sturdy, well-ordered and defined psychological structure had become shattered. Suddenly it was as vast, wild and open as the Serengeti plains.

I started a retreat center and began giving small, intimate retreats. During my doctoral studies I had invested in gathering quite a library of books, and I built a library right into my new home. Now I might have time to read, study, become more knowledgeable in the things I craved to know about. However I did not, nor could I have anticipated the terrain of mind I would enter when – after being wife, mother of teenagers, a professor with classrooms full of students, a woman driving on freeways every day of her life – overnight I began living in complete solitary silence. I have friends who have visited the mountain and remarked that they never knew quiet could be so quiet. Living here, I have a life and friends, I conduct retreats and I do private work with people and lead dream groups. But the peopled times of my life often feel like tiny dots on the immense landscape of solitude, and often sense of isolation, in my larger expereince here. I couldn’t have dreamed of what it would be like. But I am here, doing it.

Though I have wondered many times and surely will continue to wonder about the wisdom, practicality and sacrifice of other alternatives having made this choice in life entails, today I felt safer and more affirmed after listening again to Jung’s story. Jung often said that Christians mostly get it wrong in their idea of what it means to imitate Christ. Jesus is the example of a man who did not blindly adhere to the doctrines and laws passed down through tradition or religion; he is an example of a man who went into the wilderness to find and to become completely himself, adhereing to that truth no matter what the cost. Jung would also say, humorously, “I’m glad that I am Jung and not a Jungian.”  He watched his students having to work out what it meant to study and internalize Jung’s discoveries and wisdom, while not giving up their own.

These last 5 1/2 years have been an life experiment for me. That’s really all I can say about it at the moment. But I feel better about the experiment today.