Updated: Jul 13, 2022
I love swimming. It is fun and a great way to maintain fitness. I'm fortunate enough to live in Switzerland where there are lots of fresh water lakes to swim in. Lake Zurich is the closest to me and it has many spots to swim. I found a quiet spot where I can swim to my heart's content with very few crowds of people, crystal clear and deep waters and a short cycle ride from my apartment. I spent hours travelling on London's underground, overground and buses just trying to get home from work. Since moving to Zurich, that is all behind me. I can cycle to the lake after I finish work, relax by the lakeside and do several strenous laps in the water to keep up my fitness levels which declined during the pandemic. I began to formulate ideas in my head for my latest blog while I was swimming yesterday evening. There is something about doing physical exercise while in deep thought. My best ideas seem to emerge from this brief dynamic of mind and body. While I enjoyed the creativity emanating from my thoughts, I simultaneously took some photos of the lake and quayside which show how beautiful it is around here. I hope you enjoy.
In my latest blog, I focus on conscious and unconscious thinking as a precursor to the publication of my Symbol Paper 'Rearing Cobra'. I travelled to India in 2015/16 for 6 weeks where I suddenly realised that I wanted to train as a Jungian Psychoanalyst. It was an unexpected 'encounter' with a rearing Cobra on a street in Jaipur which was so personally meaningful to me that it altered the direction of my life. I'm now training as an Analyst and just finished writing my Symbol Paper, a pre-requisite before taking exams and seeing clients under supervision,. Entitled Rearing Cobra, I explore, from an analytical psychology perspective - what do we mean by Symbol?, symbolism of the Rearing Cobra in history, culture, mythology and in my personal life. I will publish the paper as part of my blog series 'What's it like to train as an Analyst?'. Subscribe to #JungianBitsofInformation and you will be the first to read or listen to my latest blog or podcast.
My blog and podcast explores the unconscious in the workplace. The kind of thinking need to explore this topic is irrational. We tend to live in a rational society and so my ideas takes a lot of persuasiveness. However, most people tell me that my blogs are insightful and provoke a lot of interest. The unconscious cannot be engaged in the same way that we communicate with each other. It requires a type of thinking Carl Jung described as non-directed or fantasy thinking. I will try to explain how to engage or dialogue with the unconscious for the purposes of trying to understand what the unconscious is attempted to communicate or convey to you. I will also put everything within the context of the workplace but this is kind of tricky. Companies or organizations, consciously or unconsciously, already engage the unconscious in the workplace. I will turn to Carl Jung to explore his earliest writings on how to engage the unconscious and interpret its information via symbols. I will also briefly look at how we can engage the unconscious in the modern workplace using Jung's earliest approaches.
How does one engage, communicate or dialogue with the unconscious? In my latest blog, I will explain how symbolic thinking is key to understanding what the unconscious is trying to convey. This type of thinking is tricky for the workplace. We no longer communicate in such a way in the workplace, preferring what Jung called, directed thinking. But if we are going to try to understand how the unconscious is affecting the workplace, we need to think about how we can bring an irrational perspective into the rational workplace. The industrial revolution is the origin of the modern workplace. We have made steady progress towards a technology driven workplace based on logical thinking. We are virtualising reality accelerated by the pandemic becoming ever more remote from one another. Each working day is fuelled by online meetings, emails and instant chat. The unconscious has played its part in the development of the modern workplace. We just explore the unconscious in ways that are not so obvious; leadership and management development programmes, coaching, conflict resolution, grievance handling, staff surveys etc. The most clear example is personality assessment. Some of you may have taken a personality questionnaire as part of a selection process or team building event. Personality questionnaires are designed to assess an individual against a pre-determined personality framework, to identify that individual's preferences for engaging the outer world and their shortcomings which may be consciously or unconsciously undeveloped.
The discovery of the unconscious and psychoanalytic ideas based on a scientific methodology are credited to two notable psychiatrists, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Freud and Jung's theories of the unconscious remain credible even to this day, however, their psychoanalytic ideas are not as influential as they were when first developed at the turn of the 20th century. However, we still use Freudian and Jungian terms in our day-to-day workplace language such as ego to describe a difficult individual, complex to describe someone who has a 'chip on their shoulder', persona a composite sketch usually by marketing of a company's target consumer market, and shadow to describe, in a negative sense, someone's 'dark side', projection attributing one's less desirable characteristics on to others, defence mechanism acting out in a way to avoid an inner emotion or reality, and the unconscious. Like Freud, Jung uses the term 'unconscious' both to describe mental contents which are inaccessible to the ego and to delimit a psychic place with its own character, laws and functions [Samuels, A. 2013. A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis. p.155]. Jung further describes the unconscious as a place of psychological activity which differs from and is more objective that personal experience since it relates directly to the phylogenetic, instinctual bases of the human race. The former, the personal unconscious rests upon the latter, the collective unconscious. The contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness and reflect archetypal processes. Inasmuch as the unconscious is a psychological concept, its contents, as a whole, are of a psychological nature, whatever their root connection to instinct may be. Images, symbols and fantasies may be termed the language of the unconscious. The collective unconscious operates independently of the ego on account of its origin in the inherited structuree of the brain. Its manifestation appear in culture as universal motifs with their own degress of attraction [ibid.]
Reflecting upon the unconscious gives rise to an understanding about why some parts become conscious and others remain unconscious. Jung's concluded that a quantum of energy alters and the strength of the ego deterines what may pass over into consciousness. The crucial factor is the ego's ability to dialogue and interact with possibilities revealed in the unconscious. If an individual's ego is strong, it will allow the passage of some unconscious contents into conscious awareness. Over time, the unconscious contents enhance the individual's personality in a unique and individual way. A transformation takes place. The individual transcends their emotional problems and become a larger personality better able to handle the trials and tribulations of everyday life. The message conveyed in the unconscious contents, the reason or purpose typically brings about an expression of meaning in the individual's life. This aspect of the unconscious involves the so-called teleological point of view. The unconscious has a purposive function. Like a seed becomes a tree. Psyche, conscious and unconscious, is also aiming for something. But it takes the ego to decode the purpose of its own unconscious. A partnership, an inner partnership between ego consciousness and the unconscious.
The idea of the unconscious occupied the minds of philosophers before Freud and Jung. The unconscious was previously seen in philosophical terms and was not as well developed prior to Freud and Jung. Many doubted and still doubt that the unconscious exists. Descartes famously said, 'I think, therefore, I am' and this Cartesian sense of oneself, that everything about me is what I think, blinds one to the existence or realities of the unconscious. However, if we question our minds deeply, we will notice things that suggest the existence of the unconscious. These things include dreams, memories, fantasies and imagination.
As I wrote this blog, my mind has wandered into other things. Part of me wanted to lie on the sofa and watch TV, another part of me was focused on getting my laundry done, another part of me was hungry and another part of me is thinking about what time I will finish work tomorrow to go off cycling and swimming. The human mind is full of internal contradictions. We have many sub components or sub personalities which compete for our ego's attention. Our inner world of dreams, memories, fantasies and imagination are not consciously thought of, they come to use from somewhere, fully or partially formed. Freud and Jung questioned the mind deeply and are among the prominent early psychologists who synthesized a coherent theory of the unconscious.
Freud and Jung founded psychoanalysis and analytical psychology respectively. Both are considered a type of depth psychology or dynamic psychiatry. Each approach has a clinical method for assessing and treating pathologies in the psyche through dialogue between a patient and a Freudian or Jungian psychoanalyst. Freud and Jung worked together for several years on a mutually agreeable theory of psychoanalysis. However, Jung began to have doubts about Freud's theory.
Jung’s book Symbols of Transformation [Jung's Collected Works 5] published in 1912 marked his theoretical break from Freud. In the foreword to the second edition of Symbols of Transformation, Jung explains how the book came to him with a sense of urgency and like a landslide that could not be stopped. The urgency that lay behind it became clear to him only many years later, 'it was the explosion of all those psychic contents which could find no room, no breathing space, in the constricting atmosphere of Freudian psychology and its narrow outlook’ [Collected Works 5: para. 5].
Jung’s break from Freud was partly over their theoretical differences about what is to be meant by ‘Symbol’, specifically, the concept, its purpose and content. Jung describes Freud’s conceptual framework for understanding dreams as unendurably narrow in that dreams are an expression of a repressed sexuality. Jung reached the conclusion that Freud’s approach to dreams is reductive and disregards what he saw as the teleological directedness or purposiveness of the psyche. However, Jung did not entirely disagree with the Freud’s approach to dream interpretation, but he felt that it ‘moved within the confines of rationalism and scientific materialism of the late 20th century’ [Jung's Collected Works 5: para. 5].
In Symbols of Transformation [CW 5] Jung describes two kinds of thinking; directed thinking and non-directed or fantasy thinking which form the basis of his argument that Freud’s conceptual framework for dream interpretation is concrete as a result of directed thinking. According to Jung, dreams are also to be taken symbolically which is a result of non-directed or fantasy thinking. He elaborates on this point saying dreams have a hidden meaning and therefore are capable of interpretation using both directed and non-directed or fantasy thinking. However, he considered the true psychological meaning of a dream can only be understood through non-directed or fantasy thinking.
Jung explains the conceptual difference as follows, ‘Those unconscious contents which give us a clue to the unconscious background are incorrectly called symbols by Freud. They are not true symbols, however, since according to his theory they have merely the role of signs of symptoms of the subliminal processes. The true symbol differs essentially from this and should be understood as an intuitive idea that cannot yet be formulated in any other or better way’ [Jung's Collected Works 15: para. 105].
Directed and Non-directed or Fantasy Thinking
Jung describes directed thinking as thinking in words, directed outwards to the outside world. It is also a form of scientific thinking focused on facts in the here and now, physical objects, and literal definitions. The term ‘concrete thinking’ is itself a metaphor [and a metaphor is a type of non-directed or fantasy thinking] for directed thinking. In analytical psychology terms, directed thinking is an adaptation to reality and logic. People engaged in directed thinking do so with directed attention and for short periods of time. It is fatiguing to think with directed attention for long periods of time. The material with which we think directly is language and verbal concepts. It has a single purpose i.e. communication, we think for others, speak for others, and think in words. Jung says it is also an instrument of culture and has its origins in education which has developed directed thinking from the subjective, individual sphere to the objective, social sphere and at the same time has readjusted our thinking in terms of empiricism and science, ‘Cultural development is the mobility and disposability of psychic energy. Directed thinking, as we know it today, is a more or less modern acquisition which earlier ages lacked’ [Collected Works 5: para. 17].
Non-directed or fantasy thinking on the other hand is spontaneous, it turns away from reality, it is unproductive and a form of abstract thinking which opens up the psyche to engage in symbolic expression and metaphor. The characteristics of the two kinds of thinking bring the distinction between the two sharply into focus enabling us to better understand what we mean by 'Symbol'. Whereas directed thinking is objective and literal, non-directed or fantasy thinking is subjective and metaphoric, driven by inner unconscious motives and the language of myth, symbol and dream. ‘Much of fantasy thinking belongs to the unconscious realm and brings conscious thinking into contact with the oldest layers of the human mind long buried beneath the threshold of consciousness’ [Jung's Collected Works 5: para. 39]. The contents or motives of the unconscious i.e. dreams, fantasies, complexes and archetypes are often the sources of mythology and are not to be taken concretely but must be interpreted according to their symbolic meaning, ‘A dream is a series of images which are apparently contradictory and meaningless but it contains material which yields a clear meaning when properly translated’ [Jung's Collected Works 5: para. 6].
Non-directed or fantasy thinking in contrast to directed thinking is a tireless endeavour which leads one away from reality and subjective tendencies to limitless fantasies. It is a form of dreaming which is both effortless and spontaneous. ‘All the creative power that modern man pours into science, the man of antiquity devoted to his myths’ [Jung's Collected Works 6: para. 24]. Here Jung observes that earlier mankind adapted the real world to meet his subjective fantasies. Controversially, Jung says fantasy thinking is a form of archaic thinking which he describes as a peculiarity of children and primitives, but he also says the same thinking appears in modern man as soon as directed thinking ceases.
So, there you have it. Two kinds of thinking. Directed thinking and non-directed or fantasy thinking. Most you working in the modern office probably used directed thinking all or most of the time. For those of you in perhaps less formal settings, working in the creative industry, probably use some fantasy thinking. Artists, painters, dancers come to mind when I think of non-directed or fantasy thinking. The language of the unconscious is symbolic. Therefore, in order to decode its message, it requires one to engage in metaphorical thinking. In the analytic setting, amplification to wider historical, cultural and mythological contexts gives a wider, universal understanding of the dream images. An individual understanding of the symbol requires the ego to reflect on personal experiences and to seek meaning from the associations that arise. The modern mind, also known as the Cartesian science and industrial technology mind, is arguably directed thinking. The emergence of AI, robotics and automation in the workplace reflects the steady march towards an even more technology driven workplace.
What can we do to engage non-directed or fantasy thinking in the workplace? I know many people are not big fans of personality questionnaires. There are a lot of myths, misunderstandings and even ethical concerns about their use. However, if they are used in a proper and ethical way, personality questionnaires which explore the psychological depth of an individual, both conscious and unconscious, can be very useful. They are particularly useful in coaching and mentoring discussions. They help people to better understand themselves and others and to find creative solutions to both personal and professional challenges. The main thing is to be open to the idea of the unconscious, to take it seriously and not be overly cynical about it, to engage non-directed and fantasy thinking and to take one's dreams, waking fantasies and imagination seriously. The latter is within the confines of analysis and that is a path you may wish to take. The use of personality questionnaires in recruitment and team building are also very helpful. Finding the right person for a job should not be taken lightly. Bad recruitment decisions can be costly and disappointing for both the hired and the hirer. Team conflict can be diffused by raising awareness and understanding of the different types of personality. The tricky bit is to raise awareness of the dynamics of an individual's unconscious with the workplace. Many of us have simply no idea that an unconscious part of their psyche is running the show. The ego, so to speak, is not in full control. The unconscious is a source of creativity but it is also a source of conflict, destruction and unpredictable behaviours which are damaging to workplace relationships. Bringing an awareness to one's unconscious lessens the risk of these types of behaviours emerging within the workplace without your conscious awareness.
My Symbol Paper, 'Rearing Cobra' will be published soon. If you would like to gain a more practical understanding about the unconscious and its dynamics with the conscious mind, you will have an opportunity to read about my experiences in the paper. Remember, there are two kinds of thinking, directed and fantasy thinking. Give yourself a few moments each day to dream, fantasize and imagine. You never know where it will take you.