Self-realization as revealed in art, symbol & sacred text: the archetypes of Carl Jung & the lore of enlightenment
“This, then, is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.” -Søren Kierkegaard
Carl Jung understood that there are two aspects of the psyche: the conscious and unconscious. Conscious reality is affirmed through our capacity to speak about it. Unconscious reality is negated: it is that which the ego cannot assimilate or represent.
Human beings use conscious awareness to make sense of and represent the world around them. Conscious awareness is expressed through language. Most of us take language for granted. We use language to express our desires, feelings, thoughts. We use it to navigate our world and get what we want, focusing only on what we know and can name and speak. Our conscious awareness is represented by the ego.
Consciousness may be represented by the number 1. The unconscious, as negated, has no representation, except as we may give it a notation of 0. Thus, 1 and 0 may represent the primal binary duality of mind. This is the most basic coincidentia oppositorum of psychic life.
Another way to say this is that psychic life is made up of that which the ego affirms (1) and that which the ego negates (0). What the ego negates (0) may show itself in negative terms: shadows, demons, the void or abyss or in positive terms as spiritual images and forms.
Carl Jung understood that the Self includes all that is unconscious and unsayable. The Self, as ultimately unrepresentable, is the sacred ground of our perceptual experience. All representations arise from and in relationship to this ground. We may experience the Self in positive or negative images. It may appear as a theophany to one person or void and abyss to another.
The religious archetypes are forms through which the mind represents of the unsayable dimensions of the Self. Religious images provide a means for the psyche to represents aspects of psychic life for which there are no words or thoughts. Archetypes which are neither sayable nor unsayable, but paradoxical, point at that ‘something that thought itself cannot think.’
The Self so deeply saturates our perception that it is, in fact, very hard to get a hold of, to grasp. It is the purity of our awareness that simply cannot be represented with words. Yet it remains within every given moment, saturating our experience, providing a ground for all conception and experience.
Note: This post was updated from its original version on 11/1/ 15.