The violent nature of man began against his surroundings, with the will to survive. From this, what came with exponential advancement and the increasing capacity to manipulate the environment was a sense of prosperity from chaos. Countless conflicts and two world wars later, our tendencies for destruction and hostility have remained evident. You might then ponder the chicken-or-the-egg hypothesis: has our history of conflict turned us into highly efficient chaotic beings or are these conflicts merely a symptom of our true nature as the apex predator? Regardless of the answer, it's hard to deny that the modern man has been born into a time where on paper, he has escaped chaos and that at our prime as a species he should be happy. We live in a world now where the average first-world human has access to resources that the royalty of the past could only dream of. But, the feeling of distress and the anxiety that humans have always felt regardless of their place in history, has remained. Our chaotic nature, arguably born from a biological necessity has managed to follow us into the age of sophistication. The tension and anxiety that used to drive the caveman to survival and advancement have shifted to man's search for meaning.

"Man cannot stand a meaningless life. The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it. It is only the things we don't understand that have any meaning. Man woke up in a world he did not undertand, and that is why he tries to interpret it" - Carl Gustav Jung

Today's article will again be about Jungian theory and how it relates to existentialist philosophy. Was Jung an existentialist? As a psychoanalyst, Jung definitely required some sense of the world at a glance to understand how his idea of the collective unconscious would give way to the neuroses of his clients.

'About a third of my cases are suffering from no clinically definable neurosis, but from the senselessness and emptiness of their lives. This can be defined as the general neurosis of our times.' - Carl Gustav Jung

This statement is profound, in it that the source of modern man's feeling of unfulfillment is a direct result of our lack of direction or purpose. Now that we no longer have to compete without our environment, man's base instinct to survive requires less effort than previously required which allowed our great thinkers to focus on philosophical questions. This is nothing new as thinkers like Heidegger and Camus have attempted to tackle the nature of this "existential angst" and yet we still haven't found any final answers. How do Jung's ideas hold up in light of this dilemma?

Jean-Paul Sartre, a key existentialist philosopher

Jung and Existentialism

Existentialism is a philosophy that explores man's search for meaning in what is potentially a meaningless universe. Thinkers of this school employ inquiries about the value of existence, purpose and meaning. Was Jung among them? Well, first off, Jung criticised existentialist philosophy's tendency to get caught up in the confusion over definitions and words. Perhaps you could say that his somewhat ideological bias for the dream metaphor is clear:

"This credulity and entrapment in words is becoming more and more striking nowadays. Proof of this is the rise of such comical philosophy such as existentialism, which labours to help being become being through the magical power of the word." - Carl Gustav Jung

Additionally, Jung's concept of the archetypes within the collective unconscious, as he describes, is "ancestral" and "immortal" in nature which heavily undermines and contrasts existentialist philosophy regarding issues like the death of the individual and their temporal place in the world. Existentialist thought opposes Jung's proposition that the nature of the individual is predisposed to the "timeless" influences of the archetypes and that our nature is derived from outside forces as if existence provides a sort of human-shaped shell prone to the whims of immortal icons that reside in the unconscious.

"Existence precedes essence." - Sartre

Does existence "instantiate" essence? In other words, is our nature fixed and preconceived once we come into existence? Existentialists like Sartre move away from the traditional idea that our essence or nature defined us as individuals and that existence merely confirmed that we exist and that the former and the latter are mutual exclusives. Existentialists put forward the idea that our individual nature is inherent in the fact that we exist and that this allows us as individuals to develop our purpose and values through life experience. I guess logically, what follows is the appeal to ethical issues... Is someone justified to be an oppressor if confronted in an oppressive situation? Is our existence-provided essence shaped solely by experience?  Sartre builds upon this by affirming that the capacity of our existence to 'nurture nature' is there but that it ultimately depends upon the individual's free will to be "authentic". Sartre's ideal of authenticity in the ethical sense is the capacity to develop one's own values rather than give in to external influences of conformity. Oddly, this sounds a bit like the psychological conflict between the Persona and the Anima or Shadow but Jung is less heavy-handed with word definitions like 'authentic and inauthentic' and stresses the need for balance.

"Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards" - Sartre

Where the differences lie between the Jungian and the existentialist is that Jung believes the individual derives meaning/nature from the "timeless" collective unconscious while the existentialist derives it through conscious experience and our capacity to exercise free will if we take the Sartre angle.

So where is the common ground?  Jung's idea of 'Individuation' and Sartre's ideal of 'Authenticity' both establish the thought that through the individual's inherent freedom and capacity to introspect, one can derive meaning from within himself. Both Jung and Sartre are interested in individuality and idealise the journey of understanding their "inner-world" in the hopes that it can provide some holistic value in navigating the absurdity of life itself.  Both disagree with the traditional idea that our behaviour, values and proclivities are a result of us coming into existence and that we hopelessly are who we are. Therefore, despite Jung's grievances towards existentialist ideas, aspects of his philosophy encompass similar values.

During Hajj, Muslim pilgrims walk around and circle the Kaaba

Circumambulation: Finding meaning through the Jungian way

The traditional Jungian definition of Individuation only requires that the individual reintegrate their psychological archetypes. To objectively understand one's self, their purpose. values, nature and the position of their uniqueness in the grand scheme of time and space is the ultimate goal of Individuation in my opinion. I don't think Individuation has to stop at personality development and that the process itself is just one answer to existentialist questions.

“There is no linear evolution; there is only circumambulation of the self.  Uniform development exists, at most, only at the beginning; later everything points towards the centre.” (Jung 1961, p. 188)

Now that we've established that, to some degree, Jung's process of Individuation shares a relationship with existentialist philosophy, the 'method' of developing one's own values and nature can be examined. In the context of reintegration and disintegration of the archetypes, individuals normally sway to and from the final goal of Individuation throughout their development.

Circum- (Latin: around) -ambulation (Latin: to walk) is the act of moving around a sacred object or idol. Jung used this term in the context of self-development and that it provides some sort of explanation to the way people find meaning. Do you ever find yourself going through phases of intense interest in certain activities or topics? If you are, it's very easy to self-diagnose as some sort of hyperactive but perhaps it's something from your unconscious influencing your conscious mind. Here's an exercise. Look back at your life at a glance and try to piece common traits among the interests you held at one point or another. If you're observant enough, you might find a commonality, a sort of GPS course correction with short and long gaps of time in between. In Jung's definition of Circumambulation, when we "walk" and meet the "signposts" of one interest to another, they eventually lead to the centre of it all, the true source of what's been pulling at us.  Circumambulation is Jung's answer and antithesis to what we call "Analysis Paralysis" and all we need to do is reflect on our past decision and be aware of unconscious tendencies. This existence doesn't have to be meaningless and this process of Circumambulation, the continuous reflection to reveal our true self can be a source of meaning itself. This is reaffirming because this constant circling of who you COULD be is just around the corner and that you're allowed to start anywhere.

'If you are not willing to be a fool, you can't become a master.' - Jordan B. Peterson