Carl Jung spent his final years fascinated by the evolution of consciousness, and more specifically by the number three moving to four. To him, the number three represented a consciousness that was time-dominated, and devoted to acting, doing, processing and accomplishing.
We live in a world, says Robert Johnson, that is dominated by the third level of consciousness, most notably because we live in an age that holds a trinitarian view of theology.
“The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is basic to the Christianity of our time,” he writes, “and the Holy Trinity is an exact model of our modern consciousness.”
The number four, on the other hand, denotes being, eternity, peace, and contemplation. It was Jung’s belief that we live in an age where the collective unconscious is devoted to the evolution from three to four.
Jung thought that nearly every modern person is drawn into this evolution and even dreams of these symbols. He claimed that our dreams involve three turning into four whether or not we have any conscious awareness of the process or of what it means.
“If our civilization is to negotiate the perilous years immediately ahead,” Johnson says, “it will be by virtue of this evolution.”
Jung believed we could make it “if enough people will make the necessary evolution within themselves.”
This, unfortunately, is an incredibly painful experience. It has been called “the dark night of the soul,” “the journey through hell and purgatory (by Dante),” and it was the forty days and forty nights in the desert for Jesus.
“For modern man,” Johnson writes, “it is midlife crisis or, worse, a nervous breakdown; or still worse, physical suicide.”
Basically, Johnson says, the process can be summed up in one sentence: it is the relocating of the center of the personality from the ego to a center greater than one’s self.
“This super personal center has been variously called the Self,” Johnson writes, “the Christ nature, the Buddha nature, superconsciousness, cosmic consciousness, satori, and samadhi.”
It is the death of the ego and the only way for the ego to die is through violent suffering, which is why very few choose to engage this process.
“The relocation of the center of the personality is a form of suicide,” Johnson says, “and it’s best done voluntarily by the ego.”
A very good example of this is found in Shakespeare’s King Lear. The Earl of Gloucester has been blinded as well as shorn of all his worldly possessions, his family and his power. Wandering miserably on the moors, his son, disguised as a peasant boy, arrives to protect him. Gloucester pleads with him to take him to the cliffs of Dover where he might hurl himself into the sea and end his life. Instead, Edgar takes him into the middle of a field, convincing Gloucester in his blindness that he is on the edge of a cliff.
Gloucester throws himself over the “edge” but only falls forward into the field. His suffering was so intense that he truly believed he had fallen. And yet, he lived. He stands, relieved of his suffering and ready to face life anew. According to Johnson, Gloucester did his “suicide” correctly.
After making his journey to the maternal depths, Faust blunders again. Instead of admiring the archetype of femininity in Helen of Troy, Faust attempts to embrace her, have a personal relationship with her. There is a huge explosion and Helen vanishes. Faust is left unconscious on the ground, burned and nearly destroyed.
As Jung put it, if you have an assimilating match with a tiger, you know who will assimilate whom. You might be able to open up the unconscious, but it is incredibly difficult to enter into a relationship with the super personal forces that will be unleashed.
Faust makes a serious mistake. Again.
“Archetypes and archetypal energy are bigger than we are,” Johnson writes. “We cannot try to embrace that energy without causing a psychological explosion.”
Mephistopheles returns to help Faust and carries him back to his study for a bit of ordinariness.
The word, ordinariness, is derived from ordered. And, ordinariness is the perfect remedy for inflation or egocentricity.
“That which is dry, pedestrian, and bookish can have a healing effect at critical moments,” Johnson explains. “An iconoclast needs to learn that a little reason and discipline are not hindrances on his way to heaven.”
Next Week: The Second Puer–The Homunculus