C.G. Jung contended that our personalities are made up of a multitude of archetypes, Dr. Keiron Le Grice, Chair of the Jungian and Archetypal Studies program at Pacifica Graduate Institute, reminded me when he recently sat down with me to share his insights into the field of depth psychology. Each archetype asserts its own aims, moods, and ideas on our personalities, influencing our lives on a day-to-day basis. Jungian and depth psychologies, by aiming to make what is unconscious conscious, offer an entrance point into recognizing and understanding the various deep forces that move through us from one day to the next, engendering a deep comprehension of the psyche and the motivations, instincts, and impulses that are at work in our lives.
Individuation, a term coined by Jung, is a way that we can come to terms with this multiplicity of forces, and to attune to a greater organizing force, perhaps looked at as “the god within.” An archetypal view can enable us to find deep meaning in life, Keiron notes. We live in a time when we no longer have a religious, spiritual, or mythological framework to provide orientation in our lives. To be able to turn within, through the study of dreams and synchronicities that occur to us, through direct engagement with the unconscious and through spiritual experiences, we can begin to find our own personal sense of meaning. When we encounter the numinous, (a term coined by Rudolf Otto and adopted by Jung), that tremendous and fascinating mystery that underlies our experience can ground us in our own spiritual and moral autonomies. We need to each find our own individual myth at a time when the collective myths are rendered invalid by the dominant scientific rational perspective in the western worldview.
Keiron became interested in spirituality in his late teens, particularly dedicating himself to learning astrology (which led him to Jung’s writings), then studying philosophy and psychology at university in England. Disappointed at how mainstream academia bypassed Jungian ideas, Keiron read most of Jung’s Collected Works in his spare time, and pursued the work of Joseph Campbell after seeing him interviewed by Bill Moyers for The Power of Myth. He found himself most impressed with Jung’s Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, written in the 1920s, which focused on the role of archetypes in individuation, and described how these ideas really gripped him. He felt like he was tapping into a deep current in his life, he declares. In his late twenties, his interests in astrology, Jung, and Campbell evolved into a book, The Archetypal Cosmos, which was ultimately published in 2010.
For people who are predisposed to find their way in this field, there’s a “right time,” Keiron maintains. For him, discovering depth psychology so early in his life was perhaps something of an impediment to participating in the world because when one is powerfully drawn to the depths of the psyche, it can have a tendency to pull us away from the world, a concept even Jung made note of in his many writings. After having some profound spiritual experiences in his late teens and early twenties, Keiron reveals how he made a conscious decision to put some of it aside for a while and “build his ego” in Jungian terms. He believes, however, that his early exposure was helpful, providing a strong foundation as he took time to integrate and really discern which ideas were relevant and valuable to him and which were not.
Now, years later, as professor and chair of a Jungian and Archetypal studies program, Keiron is keenly aware that the “gifts” of Jungian and depth psychology are that they empower the individual to find a spiritual, mythic, or symbolic mode of being in the world, which, in his words, can counter a sense of existential meaningless which is so prevalent today. It may well be the responsibility of depth psychology practitioners to bring awareness and recognition around the dark side of the unconscious energies that have not been brought into conscious awareness and which manifest in destructive ways, he asserts.
In the Gospel of Thomas, Keiron points out, it says that if you “bring forth what is deep within you, it will save you, but if you do not bring that forth, what is within you will destroy you.” Some of that unconscious destructive energy seems to be surfacing in our time, so the more we can be aware of it, the more we can engage to mitigate it. We need to be able to channel the forces at work in the world constructively, in service of the deep psyche. The challenge of our time for those in depth psychology is to be able to communicate the tenets to a new audience, Keiron believes, to somehow convey the integrity of the ideas through a new medium in a way that they are not rendered superficial. It’s critical to connect people and bring them into community into a web, akin to the noosphere discussed in the writings of French philosopher and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955).[i]