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BOOK REVIEW: "Memories, Dreams, Reflections" by Carl G. Jung

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BOOK REVIEW: Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl G. Jung (Vintage Books) 1961

In the opening prologue to Carl Jung’s truly remarkable and groundbreaking autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections – originally released over 50 years ago – the legendary psychiatrist and thinker writes: “My life is a story of the self-realization of the unconscious. Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious conditions and to experience itself as a whole. I cannot employ the language of science to trace this process of growth in myself, for I cannot experience myself as a scientific problem.”

And that, Jung wrote, was due to the limitations that science offers. Unlike his colleague Sigmund Freud (see the amazing film addressing Jung and Freud’s rocky relationship in the David Cronenberg-directed 2011 film A Dangerous Method), Jung was comfortable with science and the mysteries of the unknown.

And what we get in this wonderful account (thanks to the help of biographer Aniela Jaffe) of Jung’s life – from his earliest years until his final days – is a man who is on a lifelong quest to understand himself at the deepest level.

I first came to understand this after reading Gary Lachman’s insightful 2010 book Jung the Mystic: The Esoteric Dimensions of Carl Jung’s Life and Teachings. It was there that I came to understand that this man simply – and openly – accepted and allowed “special, secret knowledge not obtained through normal methods of cognition” to manifest via dreams and visions. This would lead to his discovery of what he called “synchronicity.” It is Jung’s trailblazing in these realms that have seemingly led to a renaissance in interest in synchronicity and its offshoot synchromysticism.

But I also sought to know more about Jung’s whole life, not just a portion of it, as is noted by Lachman’s important book. This led me – via a viewing of Cameron Crowe’s 2001 film Vanilla Sky, where a copy of Memories, Dreams, Reflections can be seen on a table between two characters played by Kurt Russell and Tom Cruise, respectively – to finally read this book confirms the fact that I am a Jungian.

And while Jung’s earliest years have him trying to make sense of some of the dreams and visions he had as a child and boy in his hometown of Basel, Switzerland, as he grows, he becomes more comfortable with exploring his psyche, something that he discovers is not for everyone. Most people, he writes, are not at all comfortable confronting their “shadow.”

Later, after getting through school and realizing that he needed to be a psychiatrist, he was avoiding dogma – which Freud seemed to embrace – and a spirituality embraced by a cultural Christian (his father was a pastor at conflict with his faith) who is like that growing category in the U.S. – the “spiritual but not religious” individual.

And perhaps because of his unconventional and almost childlike wonderment regarding his personal discoveries – synchronicity, archetypes of the collective unconscious, the masculine and feminine found both in men and women – he has been called the “founding father of the New Age.”

The chapter “Confrontation with the Unconscious” we come across a recollection that Jung had in October 1913, something I have referenced in my synchromystic “Dust Devil Dreams” portion of Red Dirt Report. It was here that Jung was “seized by an overpowering vision” where he saw a “monstrous flood covering the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps.” A “frightful catastrophe” was in progress – “rivers of blood” covering Europe and later entire areas frozen over and devoid of life. These disturbing-yet-prophetic dreams and visions continued into the following year into the summer and on August 1, 1914 (exactly 100 years ago tomorrow, incredibly enough – as The Doors’ “Strange Days” synchromystically plays in the background as I type this) “the world war broke out.” The (Mars) war drums are pounding today, just as they were then. World War III  - and nuclear war - is on the lips of many.

Writes Jung upon realizing his visions were predicting the planet-altering world war that was to break out in Summer 1914: “Now my task was clear: I had to try to understand what had happened and to what extent my own experience coincided with that of mankind in general. Therefore my first obligation was to probe the depths of my own psyche.”

And this would only deepen his interest and pursuit of studying his psyche and, as a widely-regarded psychoanalyst, the psyches of others – he saw himself as a “doctor of the soul.”

His meetings with the guru Philemon (an old man with kingfisher wings and the horns of a bull) were life-changing and caused him to realize the wisdom this “figure of his fantasies” represented was “superior insight.”

Jung’s interest in alchemy and creation of mandalas (which can be found in his critically important Red Book) helped him understand his unconscious mind and soul all the better, as did the building of a Tower alongside a Swiss lake. A Walden-like place focusing on simplicity and simple focus. A place where the spirits of times long gone would visit and Jung would accept it as, well, seemingly normal.

Later in the autobiography, Jung takes us to places far away (Africa, Taos, N.M., etc.) and places deep inside. In the mid-20th century, when the subject of UFOs and flying saucers because de rigueur, Jung comments that the unexplained phenomenon, in his professional estimation, is evidence of “the collective unconscious” manifesting itself everywhere.

“The worldwide stories of the UFOs are evidence of that; they are the symptom of a universally present psychic disposition,” he writes in the chapter “Late Thoughts.”

Throughout Memories, Dreams, Reflections, I was impressed with how both honest and down-to-earth Carl Jung is/was. He comes across very much as an observer of the human condition – the entire human, not just the one we see on the outside. If you read any book by Carl Jung, this is the one to read. As for me, this is one of my top books in my entire collection of books. 


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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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