Development of the Human Consciousness - "The Stages of Life, Modern Man in Search of a Soul" - Carl Jung

By Stephen Alexander Beach
(2609 Words) 

One aspect that I would like to point out ... Jung makes the point that today we view truth as solely scientific truths, and thus we are skeptical of life after death. And yet, as a psychologist if he considers "what works" as far as helping people with their problems in the deepest sense of finding meaning and being at peace with their life, it is religious imagery and practice that is most healthy and healing for people. If we are honest when we examine the world then we must admit that when there is a correlation between a cause and effect; that it is speaking to the order of things, it is speaking to the nature of reality. And yet, as Materialism dominates our culture, people categorically reject the possibility of spirituality because it is not part of their worldview presuppositions. 

Anyway, this is an interesting look at the existential problem of the human person's search for meaning as related to our growth in consciousness throughout our lives. The four stages are described below. 

Consciousness and the Problems it Awakens
This excerpt from Carl Jung is from his work called "The Stages of Life, Modern Man in Search of a Soul". He begins by stating that he is going to focus on "problems" which arise in the growth and unfolding of the mind of a person in their maturation. By problems he means, "...things that are difficult, questionable, or ambiguous..." in human development. 1 Now by psychic problems he is referring to problems of human consciousness, as human consciousness naturally pits itself against the unconscious drives and instincts of man. And so as man's awareness of himself grew, so too did these stumbling blocks of conscious development. "...they are the Danaan gift of civilization." 

"As long as we are still submerged in nature we are unconscious, and we live in the security of instinct which knows no problems. Everything in us that still belongs to nature shrinks away from a problem, for its name is doubt, and wherever doubt holds sway there is uncertainty and the possibility of divergent ways. And where several ways seem possible, there we have turned away from the certain guidance of instinct and are handed over to fear. For consciousness is now called upon to do that which nature has always done for her children - namely, to give a certain, unquestionable, and unequivocal decision." And so consciousness bring with it possibilities of action whereas instinct had its set paths before. The fear for the individual who is now awake is that they choose well with this conscious state. Hence, this is central to the whole idea of maturing. 2 

Now Jung interprets Genesis and the Fall in the Original Sin as a representation of this original awakening of consciousness in man, and the curse and problems that come with it. And we cannot turn back to the innocence and instinct of unconsciousness. We cannot hide from or run from these problems. Rather, the only way forward at this point is to achieve a higher conscious understanding of the problems and transcend them, thus solving them for ourselves. It requires pushing forward into the unknown and darkness in order to emerge on the other side with the light. This process may take speculations at points, as these are untraveled paths, but such is the nature of finding a solution. 3

Stage One - The Unconscious Self
Now, Jung mentions how the question of man having problems at all, compared to animals, has been one that has been around for quite a time. The question really is, though, how did human consciousness arise, because without consciousness there are no problems, as he has already been stating. While such a question seems impossible to say, Jung points out that we can observe in children this process of awakening. He begins by pointing out that the lowest consciousness is babies is when they are able to hold together in their mind a past experience/context and match it to a current experience/thing as being the same thing or related. "Accordingly the first stage of consciousness which we can observe consists in the mere connection between two or more psychic contents." 4

At first this memory and connection is sporadic, but as time goes on a certain continuity of memory forms and the child begins to form a continuous subjectivity, or ego. "Only later, when the ego-contents- the so-called ego-complex- have acquired an energy of their own (very likely as a result of training and practice) does the feeling of subjectivity or 'I-ness' arise." Interestingly, Jung talks about how childhood until puberty, while being a physical separation from its mother, is still a stage of psychic pregnancy, so to speak, for the parents. The child has no problems of its own and is dependent totally on its parents, and his/her instincts are correct guides. 

Stage Two - Beginning to be at Odds With Oneself
When puberty hits and the sexuality of the person begins to come onto the scene, things begin to change. "Psychic birth, and with it the conscious differentiation from the parents, normally takes place only at puberty, with the eruption of sexuality. The physiological change is attended by a psychic revolution. For the various bodily manifestations give such an emphasis to the ego that it often asserts itself without stint or moderation. This is sometimes called 'the unbearable age.'" 5 On a conscious level there begins to be a division of a person against themselves, such that competing drives wrestle for control over the ego and the person must make a knowing decision which one to follow. 

"This state only arises when what was an external limitation becomes an inner one; when one impulse is opposed by another. In psychological language we would say: the problematical state, the inner division with oneself, arises when, side by side with the series of ego-contents, a second series of equal intensity comes into being. This second series, because of its energy value, has a functional significance equal to that of the ego-complex; we might call it another, second ego which can on occasion even wrest the leadership from the first. This produces the division with oneself, the state that betokens a problem." 

Stage Three - Awareness of a Divided State of Being
Here, then, Jung talks about a stage from right after puberty when the division first becomes conscious to middle age, around 30 - 40 years of age. 6 A division can occur between the assumptions about life that the individual has in place versus the reality of the world. Or it can come in the form of an inner disturbance within the person, even if their exterior life is going well, such as a feeling of being inferior or some sexual unease. 7In so many words ... "It we try to extract the common and essential factors from the almost inexhaustible variety of individual problems found in the period of youth, we meet in all cases with one particular feature: a more or less patent clinging to the childhood level of consciousness, a resistance to the fateful forces in and around us which would involve us in the world. Something in us wishes to remain a child, to be unconscious or, at most, conscious only of the ego; to reject everything strange, or else subject it to our will; to do nothing, or else indulge our own craving for pleasure or power. In all this there is something of the inertia of matter; it is a persistence in the previous state whose range of consciousness is smaller, narrower, and more egoistic than that of the dualistic phase. For here the individual is faced with the necessity of recognizing and accepting what is different and strange as a part of his own life, as a kind of 'also-I'."

Ultimately it is the tension of this stage between one's past understanding and tension of a new understanding that allows eventually for a resolution in a deeper way, reconciling both together into a new synthesis. If one tries to wholly abandon the past to embrace the novel, or run from the novel and embrace the past, they will both remain in a problematic and limited state of understanding. "...they are reinforcing their narrow range of consciousness instead of shattering it in the tension of opposites and building up a state of wider and higher consciousness." 9 

Now there are also roadblocks along the way in the process of the reunion of the self, one of these being society itself not valuing this process, but rather more practical traits related to success. Being successful or useful in society is certainly somewhat of a start, but does not resolve our ultimate interior division, mostly because our division is not just a need for physical survival. Likewise, this deeper reunification is not something that is ever complete. Rather, success is found in the never ending growth and progress towards becoming whole, though never finished. "The serious problems in life, however, are never fully resolved. If ever they should appear to be so it is a sure sign that something has been lost. The meaning and purpose of a problem seem to lie not in its solution but in our working at it incessantly. This alone preserves us from stultification and petrification." 10

Stage Four - The Need for Synthesis or Resolution in Middle Age
If the "...ideals, convictions, guiding ideas and attitudes...", the "...childish illusions and assumptions and egoistic habits..." are never challenged as we progress into this third stage, then they will become entrenched as we being to reach middle age. We begin to assume that they are absolutely correct, but this brings with it a crisis. Statistics show a rise in neurosis and mental depression as men and women hit the 35 - 40 year old mark. 11 If these childhood convictions are never challenged, they will reach a breaking point, moving from total adherence and surety to a complete breakdown, and a choosing of the opposite way of life. 12 "The very frequent neurotic disturbances of adult years all have on thing in common: they want to carry the psychology of the youthful phase over the threshold of the so-called years of discretion." These people become stuck in one phase of life or another, not able to accept the changing stages of life and integrate them all into themselves. 13

One such change that Jung mentions is the reversal of masculinity and femininity in the second phase of life. He gives examples of how men are slowed down and become more effeminate, while women in their older years often become more masculine. 14 Indeed, Jung points out that many of the ways of being and beliefs in the first half of life may not be suitable for an integrated second half of life, as its focus is necessarily different. "The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life's morning. The significance of the morning undoubtedly lies in the development of the individual, our entrenchment in the outer world, the propagation of our kind, and the care of our children." 15 

He gives another example in that if in old age men and women try to take up and compete with the goals of life from their younger years that they will ultimately fail because that time of their lives has past. Their life then they will see as less valuable. Rather, "In primitive tribes we observe that the old people are almost always the guardians of the mysteries and the laws, and it is inn these that the cultural heritage of the tribe is expressed." 16 And yet another factor of peace in old age is having lived life to the fullest in youth, so that there are not regrets lingering. Most meaningful, Jung talks about, is the religious goal of eternal life. Such a goal continues to beckon people in their older years and fill each day with purpose. Yet, he says that modern man struggles with belief in eternal life because we have reduced all truth to scientific truth. 17 And yet scientific truth cannot speak about such things that are immaterial, and so they are neither a denial or proof for immortal life. And yet Jung, from a purely practical perspective as a psychologist, says that religious belief in afterlife is one of the healthiest things that people can have in their old age. 18

"In spite of the fact that the majority of people do not know why the body needs salt, everyone demands it nonetheless because of an instinctive need. It is the same with the things of the psyche. By far the greater portion of mankind have from time immemorial felt the need of believing in a continuation of life. ... For this reason we are thinking correctly, and in harmony with life, even though we do not understand what we think." He goes on to say that we only understand certain parts of what we think, such as mathematical equations, but there are other ways of thinking which we do not fully understand. Here he brings in his notion of archetypes and the collective unconscious briefly. 19

"But besides that there is thinking in primordial images, in symbols which are older than the historical man, which are inborn in hum from the earliest times, and, eternally living, outlasting all generations, still make up the groundwork of the human psyche. It is only possible to live the fullest life when we are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them. It is a question neither of belief nor of knowledge, but of the agreement of our thinking with the primordial images of the unconscious. They are the unthinkable matrices of all our thoughts, no matter what our conscious mind may cogitate. One of these primordial thoughts is the idea of life after death. Science and these primordial images are incommensurables. They are irrational data, a priori conditions of the imagination which are simply there, and whose purpose and justification science can only investigate a posteriori, much as it investigates a function like that of the thyroid gland. Before the nineteenth century the thyroid was regarded as a meaningless organ merely because it was not understood. It would be equally shortsighted of us today to call the primordial images senseless. For me these images are something like psychic organs, and I treat them with the very greatest respect. It happens sometimes that I must say to an older patient: 'Your picture of God or your idea of immortality is atrophied, consequently your psychic metabolism is our of gear.' The ancient athanasias pharmakon, the medicine of immortality, is more profound and meaningful than we supposed." 20

To conclude, Jung makes the point that the end of stage four, in old age, the psychic problems of division fade away, just as in childhood, as the mind falls back into unconsciousness as it becomes more and more frail and deteriorated. These, then, are the stages of the psychic life of man, and the existential problems they produce. 21
1 - 3 'From The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. Collected Works, Vol. 8, pars. 749-795. (Originally published as "Die seelischen Probleme der menschlichen Alterstufen," Neue Zürcher Zeitung, March 14 and 16, 1930. Revised and largely rewritten, it was republished as "Die Lebenswende." Seelenprobleme der Gegenwart (Psychologische Abhandlunger, III; Zurich, 1931), which version was translated by W. S. Dell and Cary F. Baynes as "The Stages of Life," Modern Man in Search of a Soul (London and New York, 1933). The present translation by R. F. C. Hull is based on this.-EDITORs OF The Collected Works.]
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