“Look into your depths, pray to your depths, waken the dead.”
C.G. Jung, “The Red Book”
The chapter entitled On the Service of the Soul contains a dire warning: soul work is not a light endeavor. Jung describes his fear and trepidation as to whether he should follow in the footsteps of his soul. The supernatural understanding, which the soul offers, reaches way beyond the human measure. Jung laments:
“I limp after you on crutches of understanding. I am a man and you stride like a God. What torture!”
The rational aspect fails when confronted with the soul, at least initially:
“If you take a step toward your soul, you will at first miss the meaning. You will believe that you have sunk into meaninglessness, into eternal disorder. You will be right!”
Especially when the ego approach was fixated on meaning an order, a confrontation with the soul will bring “the dark flood of chaos with it.” The depths of the soul can be horrifying. This chapter of The Red Book reminded me very much of the following passage from Tao Te Ching:
The enlightened path appears dark, and advancing on this path may seem like retreating.
The greatest virtue appears empty, and the greatest purity appears tarnished. The most magnificent virtue seems insufficient, and firmly established virtue seems frail. Real virtue is fluid and changeable.”
(translated by Robert Brookes, Kindle edition)
Jung resists the soul and wants to return to the rational light of day but the spirit of the depths does not let him – he is “forced back into himself.” He reflects on the necessity of virtue in soul work in a passage parallel to the quote from Tao Te Ching above:
“If your virtues hinder you from salvation, discard them, since they have become evil
to you. The slave to virtue finds the way as little as the slave to vices.”
Here Jung seems to be saying that any rigid attitude, even if it is regarded as a virtue, estranges one from the soul. In Tao Te Ching “te” is what is usually translated as “virtue.” It is a linguistically complex word in Chinese. It may mean something close to virtuous deeds or the embodiment of the Way (tao). It means being authentic in relation to one’s inner essence rather than the external demands.
There are no straightforward prescriptions on how to follow the path of the soul. The following quote from The Red Book is baffling at first because it suggests that soul work does not always mean serving the soul passively:
“If you believe that you are the master of your soul, then become her servant. If you were her servant, make yourself her master, since she needs to be ruled.”
If the conscious attitude is too biased towards serving the soul, an opposite approach should be developed. Here an important tenet of the Jungian psychology is formulated: the unconscious performs a compensatory role to the conscious approach.
The relation between the unconscious and the conscious creates a divine child:
“If you marry the ordered to the chaos you produce the divine child, the supreme meaning beyond meaning and meaninglessness.”
Thus Jung begins his descent into the fertile chaos of prima materia – “the raw material for creation,” as Sanford L. Drob puts it in his interpretative guide to The Red Book.