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The Red Book: The Other Way To Get To Yoga

One of my favorites

A few weeks ago I opened Carl Jung’s Red Book and I have since been glued to it with a force I understand not.

He has touched in me a new fiber. I feel that there is another way to find our center, and that he was a pioneer of going down the rabbit hole into finding it.

He worked on the book, originally a handwritten manuscript, for 13 years, and well aware that he would probably be scorned and laughed at by academics of the time including himself. (see photo excerpt below)

In the pages he details his conversations (fantasies/active imaginations) with characters that appeared to him, from the unconscious.  He talks about his descent into the mystery, his quest for “individuation” or what we call “yoga” (uniting unconsciousness and consciousness).

Let me tell you, I’ve not been able to put the enormous book down.

He believed that every person just by virtue of existing has a “mythology” a set of symbols that belong to the way in which his or her experiences and nervous system are put together, and it is through the images of this mythology that an individual can connect to the underlying forces that can lead her to the Self, to Center, to Yoga, to Individuation, to Enlightenment.

Not only that, he also believed it is a personal responsibility of every person capable of doing so (i.e. not afflicted by neurosis or diseases of the mind) to become a whole human being.  Tall order. I am intrigued.

Jung had a vision in 1913 which both made him fear for his sanity and that, in reality, became a prediction of events to come:

“…In October [1913], while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. This vision lasted about one hour. I was perplexed and nauseated, and ashamed of my weakness”

This premonitory vision of the imminent World War I  lead him to believe that there is also such a thing as a “collective unconscious” as well as a personal one, which we all have, and that encompasses our own symbols and mythologies.  In the same way, once tapped into, we can probably also connect to the collective mythology, the siddhis that yoga speaks of, the super powers of, for instance, being able to see the future.

Shortly after that vision, thinking it was possible that he could be going mad, he started working with his visions, treating himself so to speak, and co-creating the Red Book.  It turns out he was far from crazy. He was perhaps the sane-est person of last century.

I say co-creating because the book is not just his work.  It is the work of his consciousness that showed up and was willing to listen, to do the work, on one hand, and, on the other, that of  the “spirit of the depths” (as he calls it) which talked to him in the form of visions.

An excerpt on the topic of mockery…

He considered this his most important work:

“The years…when I pursued the inner images- were the most important time of my life. Everything else is derived from this… My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me…”

Every night he would go to his Tower, (yes, he had one of those) and after the work for the day with patients was done, he would then embark in journeys of conversations with beings that came to him. He then recorded what he obtained, pieces of wisdom, aha! moments (like when he understood that it is in the banal that we learn from ourselves), lessons learned, etc.

These were not merely fantasies of the day-dreaming type, where you can stop at any time and re-run them for a better outcome in your mind.  No. He was a scientist after all, so he had rules.

It’s Huge and heavy, click on the image
to see it in Amazon with more customer photographs

For example: a patient once told him while recounting a visualization that a lion had approached her and then transformed into a boat and vanished into the sea. Nonsense! replied Jung, if a lion approaches you, you get a reaction, something happens, you get scared, it does not just simply transform into a boat and goes off to the sea.  All the rules of reality applied, the images were treated as events.

Then the meaning of such imaginations/images/dreams would be given energy by way of painting them.

Found myself looking at this one for a while

As the energy went into them, his imaginations became more powerful and frequent, and as he acted on what he learned from this processes then trust was established between the forces of his conscious and his unconscious.

Isn’t this what we seek in yoga?  To unite our actions in agreement with our own deepest truth? to become detached from the influences that the “spirit of the times” impose on us (you must own a home, have a college degree, be certified, be approved of, have credentials etc), and connect rather with the “spirits of the depths”?

Sometimes he would have this red leather book in his studio and when patients came for consultation (he had an average of 7 a day and continued serving in the military as well while he created the book), he would show them pages, share with them his findings and so on.

I am learning much from it.  I have a post coming up with those things that seem like gems to me!

The original Red Book.
Until early 2000 It was kept in a vault in Switzerland

The descendants of Jung had kept the original Red Book in a vault in Switzerland and only recently agreed to open it and let it be scanned for translation and publication.

Meaning that the book slept for almost a hundred years, away from the public eye, and not for our eyes to see.

It was finally published in 2009 and although I knew about it I could not really get myself to pay over 200 dollars for it. So I forgot all about it… But  now at a bit over 100 and with the thought crossing my mind again I decided to go for it, and it has proven enormously satisfying.

“At 15″ by 12 inches and nearly 10 pounds, the physical size and weight of the book serve as a warning: once a reader decides to follow Jung into his unconscious, it will be some time before the tour is over… ” says New York Times writer Kathryn Harrison in an article published right after the book came out.

Sonu Shamdasani is the editor and one of the translators, who has also curated the first presentation in New York City back in 2010. He is here introducing the book in a series of short YouTube Videos.  Below is the first one, for the whole series click here.

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14 Responses to The Red Book: The Other Way To Get To Yoga

  1. Craig Strukoff October 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    I've always come at the "problem" of individuation from the psychological angle, so it was a pleasant surprise to see you write about this topic from this whole other perspective. It seems obvious reading it now, but I never would have thought of it myself. I look forward to reading your further thoughts on the Book as you go through it!

  2. Claudia Azula Altucher October 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    very interesting that you say &quot;problem&quot;, I guess in yoga we have it as a goal? which in the end is also a problem… these days I much prefer having &quot;themes of life&quot; rather than goals…<br /><br /><br />I am so glad that you commented, I am as fascinated as one can be with the work and I cannot quite put my finger on what it is that is happening to me, but something is! 🙂

  3. Maria Long October 11, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    I enjoyed the exhibit of the original text at the Rubin Museum a couple of years ago (I think). The drawings were truly exquisite. Might be time to check if copies have become more affordable….

  4. Claudia Azula Altucher October 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Oh my! you went there?! I am becoming a groupy of the book, wonder if they showed the real thing, I believed they shipped it to the museum for that exhibition… did you see it? <br /><br /><br />I cannot believe I missed it… they had free lectures too and people coming to talk about it… which one did you attend? Robert Thurman? Sarah Silverman?<br /><br /><br />Anthony just pointed out in

  5. Claudia Azula Altucher October 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    oh, never mind, you did see original! guess you did see the real thing…. envy you

  6. Rae Ann October 11, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    I love your blog! I am so fortunate to have found it. If you have time, maybe you could swing by and check out mine :)<br /><br /><br />R

  7. Kati October 12, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    Quite a coincidence..We had a visiting professor giving a lecture on Jungs Red Book yesterday at my uni and then I open your blog and there it is again 🙂

  8. Chiara Ghiron October 12, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    interesting how I dismissed psychoanalysis for a long time. My mother is a Freudian psychotherapist…perhaps some Oedipus here 😉 – but the ONE book from her library which pictures I used to look and re-look at as a young girl was &#39;Man and his symbols&#39; which I have now bought and finally read. And interesting how now I am, driven through yoga and the changes that it caused in my life,

  9. ClaudiaYoga October 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    Kati, that is interesting, a &quot;synchronicity&quot; of sorts…

  10. ClaudiaYoga October 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Chiara that is interesting, very much so!<br /><br /><br />Have not read Man and His Symbols yet, I am making my way through Jung so it will probably be soon.

  11. Chiara Ghiron October 13, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    yes very interesting. Another good ome I read is http://www.amazon.co.uk/Psychotherapy-Robert-Hinshaw/dp/1570626219/ref=sr_1_15?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1350148308&amp;sr=1-15.<br />Man and his Symbols is actually a collection of essays (proved by Jung and with a chapter by himself) written by his students

  12. Scott Campbell October 15, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    Claudia, are you familiar with the work of Anodea Judith? Her book &quot;Eastern Body Western Mind&quot; draws on the work of Jung and others to link the chakra system to western psychology.

  13. kamalravikant October 15, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    Looking forward to the post with the gems.

  14. ClaudiaYoga October 16, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    Me too!, Been taking notes for days now, and it keeps getting mor and more interesting. He definitelly was a magician bridging east and west and alchemy with the I Ching and mythology and on and on and on… fascinating!