Chakras and Participation Mystique

Sapta Chakra, from a Yoga manuscipt in Braj Bhasa lanaguage with 118 pages. 1899. US Public Domain via wikimedia.
Sapta Chakra, from a Yoga manuscript in Braj Bhasa language with 118 pages. 1899. US Public Domain via wikimedia.

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.


  1. Psychological Types  (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol. 6)

9 thoughts on “Chakras and Participation Mystique

  1. Hi Jennifer,

    I’m not sure I understand the difference between undifferentiated and differentiated states of awareness. Is it the same as the difference between feeling connected to others (lower chakra/gut) vs feeling connected to one’s self (higher chakra/mind)? Why then, according to Jung, is feeling connected to others a false affirmation of consciousness (mystique)?


    1. Aaron,
      The problem with participation mystique is that it may be a connection but it is a state of connection through fantasy and/ or projection of our own psychic contents upon others. As Jung says, participation mystique “consists in the fact that the subject cannot clearly distinguish himself from the object.” (Jung, CW 6, para.781) As far as I understand Jung’s perspective, I think he might say that the development of psychic life moves from undifferentiated states of projection and fantasy (participation mystique) toward greater and greater differentiation through the process of individuation. It is a paradox in that the greater our differentiation from others the more we can be truly connect with them. This is because differentiation allows us to notice the unique subjectivity of another person without the projection of our own psychic content upon them.

      Feeling connected to others is not a false affirmation of consciousness by any means. The work is to be connected with others in a manner that allows them to be both separate and significant. If so, then we can create a connection that honers the unique subjectivity and individuality of both ourselves and others.

  2. So, in early stages, we feel no differentiation, but it is uninformed, like Kohlberg’s Conventional Morality. In intermediate stages, we differentiate ourselves from the surroundings, much akin to the individual who differentiates his or her own morals from society. Only once we have done that and again venture with greater humility and courage into relationships is there a possibility of transcendence, wherein Universals emerge. In this sense, subject and object are seen as one again, but they are not without difference; the difference has been transcended. We are in Eden again, but we’ve eaten of the other tree. Jung is not denouncing what Watts, Campbell, and Krishnamurti refer to as a recognition that “the observer is the observed”; he draws a distinction between that sort of enlightened sense of empathy/transcendence and this less developed sort of projection. Is this correct? Dmitry.

    1. Welcome Dmitry,

      Thank you for commenting on the post. I am delighted by what you have said: “We are in Eden again, but we’ve eaten of the other tree.” Indeed, we are no longer eating from the Tree of Good and Evil, but instead we are feasting upon the Tree of Life.

      The issue of subject and object is of central importance to the conceptualization of transcendence and immanence. You said: “subject and object are seen as one again, but they are not without difference.” Shakespeare offers a summation:

      “Two distincts, division none: Number there in love was slain. Hearts remote, yet not asunder; Distance, and no space was seen.”

      Rumi as well:

      “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
      there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

      When the soul lies down in that grass,
      the world is too full to talk about.
      Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.”

      And yet Rumi, in his poetry, is relational. His work is filled with love with divine love for both God and for his friend Shams.

      I would say that there is a minimal distance between self and other, one that allows for recognition. We are, at a certain point in our development, no longer splitting the world apart, no longer needing to project into the others our good or our evil. What is essential in ‘me’ meets what is essential in ‘you’. And yet there is recognition of you, of the particularity of your being. Here we discover a paradox, the opportunity for a dialectical synthesis that is capable of experiencing the essential, while simultaneously honoring difference.

  3. Jennifer, I hope your blog is still going. I like what I have seen. I happened on your blog (what an unprepossessing term!), because I used the phrase participation mystique in a conversation this morning. As it turns out, I mistakenly used it to indicate a more individuated sense of participation than the term initially was used to describe. I am currently rereading Edinger’s book, Ego and Archetype, and am much taken with his summary of Jung’s thought, particularly the importance of the symbolic life, the life that connects us to the numinous dimension of life’s contents without which we flounder in experiences of alienation, despair–and, on the other hand, with too much undifferentiated connection, we flounder in inflations of various sorts. (Dare I mention Donald Trump…). I think I was confusing participation mystique with Jung’s conjunctio mysteriosum (sp?).

    Can you comment on Jung’s description of the symbolic life and the experience of enlightenment. Perhaps this is apples and oranges, not comparable. Perhaps the fact that they emerge out of different cultures (one from the East, one from the West) is determinative.

    I love your statement to one of your blogees (?), “It is a paradox in that the greater our differentiation from others the more we can be truly connect with them. This is because differentiation allows us to notice the unique subjectivity of another person without the projection of our own psychic content upon them.”

    1. Hi Tom,
      The blog is still on going, just a little more slowly as of late.
      I believe that an active engagement with symbolic life holds the potential to transform libido (psychic energy), leading to or pointing us in the direction of enlightenment. My reading of Jung indicates that he understood this. One has to read and imagine and dream on Jung’s work, and then a realization may begin to emerge. The Hindu seers (enlightened beings) seem to say that first we must make a connection to the sacred forms. If we are ready, then may lead us toward realization. I believe Jung might say that through a connection to our symbolic life we are lead mysteriously toward Self-realization. This process is never the same for any two people, it nonetheless follows archetypal currents.

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