Our heart glows, and secret unrest gnaws at the root of our being. Dealing with the unconscious has become a question of life for us.
From the day of the universe’s creation and beyond
Through the infinite centuries and beyond
In the previous life and maybe the next too
We’re eternally together
None of this is a coincidence – because we’re the two who found our destiny
(DNA by BTS)
Eternally together. Light and dark. Persona and Shadow. Conscious and unconscious. Writing our own story. Or following a path of pre-ordained destiny. A product of deterministic, in-built archetypal certainties. Or a blank canvas, as random and contingent as the universe itself – as impossible to pin down as a quantum-leaping electron. Whatever your stance on the analytical psychology of Carl Jung, or the artistic, philosophical imagery of BTS’ lyrics, I defy any intelligent person who can’t at least admit this is all rather intriguing. Whatever you think about the unconscious and how big an affect it has on our lives, there is no denying that it is inextricably bound to our make-up. Just like our DNA, it is a part of our coding. It helps to define us.
As anyone will know if they’ve read my blog from last summer, Smells Like BTS Spirit – The Tale of One Small Tweet and One Giant ARMY, I have a lot of admiration for the BTS project. The seven-piece South Korean group truly are more than just a boyband. And the team behind them, BigHit Entertainment, has clearly figured out (to great success) that there is more to connecting with people on an emotional level than just making nice pop songs. There is more to building an Army of dedicated followers than just sticking a bunch of good-looking singers, dancers and rappers together and working them incredibly hard – although that is certainly part of it!
I admire BTS and the Army movement because it is helping to empower people of all ages. It is an inclusive safe space where people from all walks of life can come together to share in something positive and life-affirming. It is helping to teach people to love themselves and care about others – to realise their self-worth. And, best of all for me as a lover of philosophy, this ‘movement’ is doing so in way in which the fans are actually being educated; they’re still having fun, of course – belting out the songs, dancing like Dionysian maniacs and generally going bonkers at these epic sold-out stadium concerts.
But there are strong philosophical themes that underpin the entire project. From the lyrics to the music videos to the concepts behind every album thus far, the founder of BigHit, Bang Si-Hyuk (also known as Hitman B), is using his background in Aesthetics (a branch of philosophy that deals with art, creativity and subjective values like judgment and taste) to transcend the pop genre. BTS are the biggest band on the planet because people love their music – but also because they love the philosophy behind it. A great deal of the Army would never have come across these ideas if it wasn’t for BTS. But it is the philosophy which has them hooked. And whether or not you agree with the philosophical perspective of Friedrich Nietzsche or Carl Jung or Lao-Tzu, one cannot help but be sucked in by the intrigue that this project arouses.
What’s most important of all, of course, and what ties my Being & Niceness philosophical project to BTS and the Army so inextricably, is that, deep down, we all want the same thing – a world where kindness prevails. A world where niceness is championed. A world where compassion is at the top of the agenda. A world where everyone is cared for – where everyone is made to feel welcome, and at home. At peace. A world where we can be who we are – and not feel ashamed about that. A world of acceptance, but also a world of understanding. And, ultimately, a world where everyone can thrive and live their best lives. An impossible ideal, but something we’re all fighting for. And perhaps something we are beginning to form the right kind of Armies to help realise.
Map of the Soul
And so, on to the latest philosophical narrative driving BTS’ new album Map of the Soul: Persona – the work of analytical psychologist Carl Jung. I studied Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory in depth at university, and so I have come across Jung before. But, after his rather pronounced split from Freud, I was always under the impression that his work was of less value, so I never really gave it the time that I perhaps should have. Which is one of the reasons I was pleased to see that Murray Stein’s book, Map of the Soul, was chosen as the key text behind the next chapter of the BTS project.
As a huge admirer of Freud and Lacan’s work, there was always this feeling that Jung’s branch of psychology was too infused with mystical and mythical themes. But, having read Stein’s book, which essentially covers the key tenets of Jung’s work throughout his entire career, I can now see that the Swiss psychologist was always attempting to underpin his theory with scientific explanations. To be honest, if you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you’ll find plenty of metaphysical pondering, so I’m not sure why I never thought of reading Jung – and I’m now glad I have experienced his work in more detail. Because there really are so many fascinating, resonant and pertinent ideas in his oeuvre.
Ego-consciousness and complexes
Stein ‘maps out’ a kind of potted history of Jung’s most important ideas to give an overview of the way Jung himself was boldly attempting to map out the internal dynamics of the human soul (or psyche, if you prefer to keep it technical). He gives a detailed and thorough examination of ego-consciousness from the Jungian perspective – the surface of the psyche and “locus of decision-making and free will”. The ego is the centre of consciousness – and what sets human beings apart from other animals. “It is the individualising agent in human consciousness,” writes Stein. The ego is ‘I’ – it doesn’t account for the whole person, though – it is merely (or not!) the centre of awareness.
Stein discusses Jung’s complexes – which stem from inner collisions. The complexes are unconscious contents responsible for disturbances of consciousness – they’re like inner triggers tied to archetypal, innate, instinctive, primitive images. Jung uses the term ‘constellate’ to describe the moment a complex is psychically fired up into action. “She really knows how to push my buttons”. The most well-known complexes involve family members – particularly the mother and father and repressed memories from childhood.
It’s why we repeat mistakes over and over again – often, a complex is so powerful our egos are unable to prevent the complex taking control of us. Stein describes the way these frozen memories and associated images are repressed memories that are emotionally charged. They’re often produced by trauma. This then fuses with the archetypal image I referred to earlier. For example, we battle moral complexes in order to deny our true feelings and ensure we can participate correctly in society.
Libido and archetypes
Jung used the Freudian term libido to denote psychic energy – that life force which drives us; the primal motivator of human thought and activity. Many of our psychic activities have a sexual origin or purpose, but Jung insisted that this wasn’t the case for everything we did; he believed we could have non-sexual pursuits, in art and music and whatnot, but this belief ultimately led to his split with Freud. Jung believed our sexual motives and thoughts were often replaced by metaphors, analogies and symbols – unconscious psychic images. The key difference between Jung and Freud was in the incest wish, where Freud believed the child’s desire for a return to completeness with the mother demonstrated itself in a literal desire to have the mother sexually. Jung, on the other hand, interpreted the incest wish symbolically – he saw the child’s wish as a longing to remain in the paradise of childhood and suggested this sacrifice of the incest wish was part of our maturation and adaptation process. We need to go through this for the sake of our personal development – to become cultural beings.
Speaking of psychic energy, Jung placed a great deal of importance on what he termed archetypes – the foundation of the psyche and the ultimate source of psychic symbols. He saw the collective unconscious as being comprised of archetypes and instincts – nature’s “gift to us”, as Stein puts it. These in-built programmes we all share are like the groundplan of our nature built over millennia, according to Stein. And Jung saw these ‘spiritual’ archetypes as powerful enough to sway consciousness. These repeating patterns of behaviour crop up again and again in people of different cultures across the world. We recognise them in image and emotion. Common archetypes include the mother (nurturing, soothing) and father archetype (powerful, controlling) or hero archetype (rescuer, champion), but Stein focuses on Jung’s four main archetypes in more detail – Shadow, Anima, Animus and Self.
Persona and Shadow
Before I cover the Shadow archetype, I will briefly explain what Jung (and Stein) mean when they talk about our Persona. This will be pretty obvious to most people anyway, but the Persona in Jungian terms is like the face or mask we wear to meet the world. The Persona and Shadow are like our own personal Jekyll and Hyde/Apollo and Dionysus/light and dark/rationality and emotionality/reasoned and wild – complete opposites and yet eternally bound like twins. The Persona is the mask we wear to fit in – to absorb, experience and be a part of culture and society. And its job is to mask the dark inner contents that we don’t want others to see. It is a presented front – and therefore not a true reflection of the whole being; a kind of mimicry. It helps us to meet the demands of society and achieve our social aims and aspirations.
The Shadow, conversely, is the unconscious side of the ego’s operations – our immoral or disreputable qualities. It wants what the Persona will not allow us. It’s like the inner darkness that we drag behind us – we don’t like to admit it’s there, but it’s bound to us inextricably. This is essentially the Freudian Id – the part of us that carries out the unsavoury acts within that the ego cannot cope with. It is the unconscious contents that the ego rejects and pushes down – repressed traits that are incompatible with the persona. What is key to Jung’s philosophy is that we must learn to accept both Persona and Shadow – we must accept our true nature, accept our psyche as it is and integrate these opposites for healthy psychic development.
Anima and Animus
Stein explains how Jung came to describe the archetypal nature of men and women using the terms Anima and Animus. While the nature of gender fluidity and our attitudes toward sexuality in contemporary culture puts this particular Jungian concept under scrutiny, it is still worth exploring. Jung believed that outwardly masculine men have a feminine inner core (Anima) and outwardly feminine women have a more masculine inner figure (Animus). And this definite inner masculine or feminine image is unconscious. It is ingrained within us. This archetypal imprint manifests itself in various ways – but most pertinently in the partners we are attracted to, or the creative aspects of our personalities.
As men and women, we have an in-built, primordial capacity (or deposit) which puts us in touch with our feminine or masculine side, even though we might not realise this a priori ‘soul’ even resides within us. As Tracey Cleantis describes it in her excellent article for Psychology Today, the Animus for women is “more of an inner guy who is loaded with fixed ideas, collective opinions and unconscious a priori assumptions that lay claim to absolute truth”. Whereas for men, the Anima is “something each guy has; no matter how butch or bad ass or unevolved he may be, he has an inner feminine even if he is completely disconnected from it… the gal who completes him or the other one who makes him jump on the couch like it was a trampoline at a kid’s birthday party.”
Whether or not one wishes to ascribe such behaviours to particularly genders, there is certainly something in these archetypal ideas that resonate. When I look deep enough into my own patterns of behaviour, I realise there is a lot to be said for this Anima/Animus identification. I often feel like I have a strong inner feminine presence – and I believe it permeates in many of the things I write for this blog. Perhaps it’s the same Animus archetype that causes me anxiety and leaves me feeling a bit helpless or insecure sometimes – perhaps that’s utter sexist drivel. Either way, I try to think about my inner feminine as a positive aspect of my psyche which helps me to be a better, more-rounded person – responsible for the patient, compassionate and nurturing qualities that I endeavour to adopt.
Self, Wholeness and Individuation
Forgive me if it seems like I’m skirting over these topics quite briefly – and for those of you who are annoyed at yet another long post, I also apologise. I’ll do my best to wrap up quickly – starting with the Jungian notion of Self. This archetype is key for Jung – the Self is essentially a coming-together of consciousness and the unconscious. The process by which this unification and ‘wholeness’ is realised he terms Individuation; an integration of all the psychic factors. Jung sees the Self as transcendent – it lies beyond the subjective realm; the most impersonal of all the archetypes. By practising wholeness on a regular basis, we come closer to realising the way of the Self. And this wholeness is represented symbolically within us, deep down – usually by autonomous circles or squares that we recreate when exploring our psyches. They represent the completeness we seek via the Individuation process.
Stein suggests we carry the mark of ourselves within us like the stamp on coin. The Self’s task is to hold the psyche together and keep it in balance – a transcendent centre which governs the psyche from outside of itself. And this emergence of the Self comes through Individuation – we go through different stages of life and are in a constant state of psychic flux; Individuation is one’s psychological development over their lifetime. Jung explains how the unconscious compensates the ego by taking in psychic contents throughout one’s lifetime to maintain balance in the psychic system.
Individuation is all about uniting the conscious and unconscious – with the emergence of the Self into consciousness. We are in search of our soul – and with Jung’s map, perhaps more of us can find it, and thus the wholeness we seek. Stein tells us that the unconscious cannot be swallowed – an open collaboration is needed. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs featuring Dionysus (and there are a lot!), you’ll know how highly I value the need to tap into that more Shadowy (dark, but also fun and adventurous) side of our being every now and then. The same goes for the psyche – all that Shadowy stuff is there whether we like it or not. We need to aim for this unified sense of being and accept that we are ALL we are.
While we’re on the subject of unified systems, I shall give a quick overview of Jung’s concept of Synchronicity – in which the Swiss psychologist veered into the realm of more metaphysical inquiry. Synchronicity is about embracing matter and spirit – a hidden order that gives unity to everything in existence; something akin to the Tao. Jung wondered if there were patterns in our chaotic and contingent existence. Jung believed that the psyche was not bound by time and space. Stein describes Synchronicity as the “simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state when an external event which appears as meaningful parallels to a momentary subjecting state”. Or, in other words used by Stein, a “falling together in time”.
We dream of an event – like a plane crashing – and within a fairly short time frame, it happens. Sounds a bit crazy, but haven’t you ever dreamed or imagined something which then transpired in real life soon after? Jung believed that the archetypes are transgressive – they’re not limited to the psychic realm. These in-built narrative mechanisms are actually affecting the way our lives are panning out. Synchronicity is all about meaningful coincidences – there doesn’t appear to be a causal relationship evident in an event – and yet there may be an underlying meaning and togetherness – a universal ‘way’. Jung aligned archetypal patterns in the psyche with patterns and processes in the physical world; archetype and instinct lie on a continuum with the physical world. And this all ties in with the absolute a priori knowledge of the unconscious. As Stein puts it: “We know many things we don’t know that we know.”
Do we really have this psychic connection to the physical world? Do we really dream things which then happen in the real world? Are these in-built archetypes writing our stories for us? Is history just an unfolding of this pre-ordained inner coding? Is there an archetypal order arranging history? Synchronicity gives meaning to events which seemingly have none, according to Stein. “There are no accidents in the meanderings and vicissitudes of historical progress,” writes Jung. Whether or not there is a principle underlying cosmic law, I find this theory of Jung’s as captivating as Lao-Tzu’s Taoism (because they’re so similar!) I prefer to believe that we are the makers of our destiny – and that existentialist mantra is unlikely to wither any time soon. But I am always willing to accept a healthy dose of determinism, too.
My Jungian elaborations
And so, on to my latest blog series. It is not my intention to simply regurgitate what Stein illuminates so beautifully in Map of the Soul. There is no point in me going over the various Jungian concepts he explains quite brilliantly any more than I have done in this post. Instead, I shall endeavour to build upon some of those ideas – I will discuss them in the context of my own knowledge and opinions, and I will attempt to do so in a way that the reader might experience new concepts or perspectives that perhaps they hadn’t thought of. Or, at least, stir up thoughts or feelings that you might’ve had while reading Stein’s book without even realising it. That is of course what the collective unconscious is all about – that side of our potential that we haven’t realised yet; all that we are that we don’t actually know we are.
Over the course of four proceeding blog posts, I will attempt to introduce some of my thoughts and feelings on a range of different topics devised and inspired by Jung and Stein – from Libido, Shame and Creativity to Persona and Shadow; Individuation and Wholeness to Synchronicity, I have been noting down my thoughts on different aspects of the book as I’ve been reading it – kind of like a stream of consciousness, if you like. And so what I aim to bring to you is a series of posts unlike anything I’ve ever written on Being & Niceness before.
Rather than coherent pieces with structure and focus, I shall instead be packaging these pieces as a series of thoughts – which aren’t necessarily connected. Little nuggets of ideas inspired by the work of Jung and Stein. Hopefully, some of those nuggets of consciousness are interesting. Hopefully, some of them teach you something. But, most of all, hopefully they’re enjoyable to read. Because I really enjoyed reading Map of the Soul.
I love the idea that Jung wanted to map out the psyche. I love the way he mixes art and science to create such imaginative theory. I love the scale of his ambitions. And I love the way Stein conveys the poetic artistry behind Jung’s work. But most of all, I love the fact that, like my Being & Niceness project, BTS and the Army, what Jung really wanted to do was help people. And he did – in his work as an analytical psychologist and beyond. Perhaps one day, his bold philosophical ideas will help humankind to come to terms with accepting that it’s okay to be who you are. Both light and dark. Persona and Shadow. Conscious and unconscious.
Perhaps we can find that wholeness – and live happier, or at least more contented, lives in the future thanks to his concepts. The unconscious really has become a question of life – because we are realising just how significant it is. It is who we are. And for better or worse, we can’t escape it. So we need to come to terms with it, accept it and find a way forward. Let us rewrite the destiny of humankind – with love, kindness and compassion in our hearts, and an acceptance that’s it okay to be who we truly are.