(The following post was originally written for the Jung Society of Utah blog. As I was struggling with how to end this article, I randomly opened Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections and came across his quote about the importance of the outer world. It was a nice synchronicity.)
“This inner world is truly infinite, in no way poorer than the outer one. Man lives in two worlds.”
– C.G. Jung
In Carl Jung’s memoir, he wrote of experiencing an “other,” inner reality, in addition to the outer world. He believed in balancing identification with the external world by having inner experiences of the psyche, writing, “I can understand myself only in the light of these inner happenings.” But what does this mean? How did Jung connect to this inner world?
Jung wrote: “What most people overlook or seem unable to understand is the fact that I regard the psyche as real.” He defined the psyche as “the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious,” and considered it a “self regulating system, just as the body is,” with a structure that is accessible through empirical methods.
Jung considered himself “first and foremost an empiricist.” He stated that, “the ‘reality of the psyche’ is my working hypothesis, and my principal activity consists in collecting factual material to describe and explain it.” In order to collect this material, Jung paid attention to things that seemed to be expressions of the psyche. This information included dreams, daydreams, fantasy, and things in the outer world that seemed to reflect internal situations. He later developed a technique called active imagination in order to further explore the inner world.
Jung believed that dreams originate in the unconscious, and could provide information about conscious and unconscious mental processes. He said, “The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the psyche…in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of primordial night.”
Lucid dreams may offer an even more powerful way to access the inner world. Dream expert Robert Waggoner says that lucid dreaming feels “like you have become an inner astronaut, exploring the inner space of dreaming.” He notes, “the lucid dream environment often looks, feels, and sounds just as you would expect in the waking world.” Through his years of experience with this inner realm, he has found that “the exploration of the psyche holds many of the same lessons for all lucid dreamers.”
Jung shared the belief that there were lessons to be found in the inner world, and that it held information that was outside of his conscious awareness. He developed a technique he called active imagination as a way to consciously dialogue with the unconscious. Jung found that he was able to access “those contents of the unconscious which lie, as it were, immediately below the threshold of consciousness and, when intensified, are the most likely to erupt spontaneously into the conscious mind.”
Jung called active imagination “the royal road to the unconscious,” and made extensive use of it in his explorations of the inner world. As he did so, he kept a careful clinical record of his observations, compiled into what is now known as The Red Book.
While Jung found inspiration in the inner world, he also valued the grounding and stability offered by the outer world, appreciating the balance it brought to his life: “When I was working on the fantasies…it was most essential for me to have…a counterpoise to that strange inner world. My family and my profession remained the base to which I could always return, reassuring me that I was an actually existing, ordinary person.”
As Jung found, interacting with the inner world can be a fascinating and rewarding experience. We can do the same by paying attention to dreams and daydreams, noticing what we imagine when our mind wanders, and being aware of synchronicities. What message might the inner world have to offer you?