One of the more subtle themes in Carl Jung’s work is a dialectical exploration of the nature of the psyche, specifically that of subject/ object differentiation. This exploration weaves throughout his writings. It is most clearly brought to light in his writings on participation mystique. Jung says:
Participation mystique “denotes a peculiar kind of psychological connection with objects, and consists in the fact that the subject cannot clearly distinguish himself from the object but is bound to it by a direct relationship which amounts to partial identity.” (Jung CW 6: para 781).
Jung speaks of participation mystique in terms of projection of our unconscious contents onto others and the world around us. He says:
“People with a narrow conscious life exteriorize their unconscious, they are continually in participation mystique with other people… if more unconscious things have become conscious to you, then you live less in participation mystique.” (Visions, para 1184).
He also states:
“Most connections in the world are not relationships, they are participation mystique. One is then apparently connected, but of course it is never a real connection, it is never a relationship.” (Visions, p 625)
Participation mystique refers to an undifferentiated state of awareness that precedes differentiated awareness. It can also be a regressive loss of subject/ object differentiation. A regressive movement must be distinguished from an enlightened state of non-dual awareness, which is a progressive movement of consciousness. Non-dual awareness is not a state of fusion, but of unity.
In participation mystique, the subject and object are fused. The subject projects undigested and unformed proto-mythemes onto the object, and the world of objects. In other words, contents of the psyche are projected onto the object world, coloring or tinting the objects. In a state of participation mystique, we are fused with the object world. We are not able to see the objects as they truly are; they are colored by our perceptions.
Under such projection, there is no subject-object distinction, not because one is beyond duality but because one is fused with the object world. In Vedic terms, we are fused with Prakriti or Maya. In such fusion, we cannot know the object as it is, in its true form. A fusional relationship to the object world (Prakriti or Maya) precedes the capacity for both differentiation and for non-dual awareness.
In The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga, Carl Jung uses the chakras as a metaphor to illustrate an understanding of participation mystique in spiritual terms. Jung states:
“The lower you go down in the psychical centers, the more you will lose the consciousness of a separate self, the more you become collective, the more you are in a state of participation mystique, and when you arrive at the lowest center, you have lost consciousness of yourself altogether and the ego is a name only.” (visions, p. 56).
Lower down in the psychical centers, we lose the sense of the individual self. In the depths, one may lose the capacity for subject/object differentiation altogether. Jung likens this to merging with the ‘collective’.
Moving higher up the chakras we find greater and greater clarification until we reach the Sahasrara chakra, located at the top of the head. In the Sahasrara chakra, we may again lose the sense of the individual self. In turn, we may discover a connection with the supreme Self. Carl Jung says:
“In Sahasrara there is no difference. The next conclusion could be that there is no object, no God, there is nothing but Brahman [the supreme Self]. There is no experience because it is One, without a second.” (Carl Jung, The psychology of Kundalini Yoga, p. 59).
The work of the yogis has taught us that it is possible to have both a differentiated consciousness and awareness of non-dual unity, simultaneously. By de-fusing from the object world, we may experience non-dual unity, as a state of awareness beyond projective fusion with the object world. In the Vedas, this opens the door to the highest knowledge, experienced as a union between the individual self and supreme Self.
- Psychological Types (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol. 6)