The collective unconscious intuited and described by C. G. Jung is in fact an aspect of the story in which humanity is contained. The historical significance of this idea in psychology is that Jung disagreed with Freud who held that the unconscious was exclusively personal and was composed of repressed childhood traumas. Jung discovered the collective unconscious as a deeper layer beneath the personal unconscious.
The collective unconscious is not based on personal experience nor is it acquired. It is as if we are born into a pre-existing narrative common to all of humanity (P-B). The contents of this narrative consist of archetypes and patterns of instinctual behavior such as the seeking of security, sensation and power.
Ken Wilber helps flesh out our definition. “The content of the collective unconscious includes archetypes flowing from another source of that content, [namely] myths. These basic or primordial images represent very common, very typical experiences that humans everywhere are exposed to: the experience of birth, of the mother, the father, the shadow, the ego, the animus and anima, etc. Millions upon millions of past encounters with these typical situations have, so to speak, ingrained these basic images into the collective psyche of the human race. You find these basic and primordial images worldwide, and you find an especially rich fund of them in the world’s great myths.”[i]
Morphic resonance is another name for the collective unconscious. “Morphic resonance is a theory by Rupert Sheldrake that states that each member of a species draws on the collective memory of the species, tunes in to past members of the species, and may in turn contribute to the further development of the species. Sheldrake cites the inexplicable simultaneous development of habits in geographically separate species, and even points to the fact that after a particular kind of crystal is grown in one laboratory, it becomes easier to grow throughout the world. Each thing has a morphic field, an organizing, form-shaping field that brings its singular field into ‘resonance’ with the habits of the collective field. The more often an action is repeated, the more powerful and influential, and the easier to access, is its morphic resonance. The morphic field of the individual has the potential to influence the collective through creative acts.
“The difference between lunacy and time-honored religious rituals is a thick layer of morphic resonance built up over many generations of devotional repetition. Many of the most sacred rituals would appear to be the behavior of psychotics were it not for their use of phylacteries, genuflection, and numerous self-mortifications—all are strange to the uninitiated. When ritual becomes habitual and widespread, a tradition is born. The power of morphic resonance promotes the unquestioned or unconscious acceptance of traditional behavior.
“The creative spirit is in turbulent resonance with the collective morphic field. Part of the job of creative persons is to challenge traditional habits of thought and behavior and develop new expressions to surprise and reinvigorate the collective mind-set.”[ii]
The existence of the collective unconscious has been corroborated by the work of Joseph Campbell in his study of mythology. “Scholars have found Jung’s understandings of symbols of the collective unconscious compatible with symbols in the writings of the great Spanish mystics, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.”[iii]
In a religious context the psychologist Edward Edinger equates the collective unconscious and God. “For the collective unconscious we could use the word God. We cannot tell whether God and the unconscious are two different entities.”[iv]
There is also a collective identity determined by the collective unconscious that Seth helps to clarify: “The mass race consciousness, in its terms, possesses an identity. You are a portion of that identity while still being unique, individual and independent. You are confined only to the extent that you have chosen physical reality, and so placed yourself within its context of experience.”[v] One of Seth’s mantras is that we create our own reality and we most often do it by choosing continuous reactions within P-B.
Seth continues: “There is a constant interplay between yourself and others in the exchange of ideas, both telepathically and on a conscious level. You react only to those telepathic messages that fit in with your conscious ideas about yourself and your reality. Let me add that the conscious mind is itself spontaneous. It enjoys playing with its own contents, so I am not here recommending a type of stern mental discipline in which you examine yourself at every moment.”[vi] Here we must disagree with Seth in that we do need a discipline or practice and we do need to be continuously present to choose response over reaction using The Point of Power Practice from moment to moment.
The importance of having a healthy and receptive paradigm in supporting sustainable human behavior is stressed by Seth. P-A is friendly to healthy guidance from our interior wisdom. On the other hand, in P-B, “It [the mind] will often neglect any clairvoyant or precognitive material that comes into the conscious mind from the deeper portions of the self. On occasion, when the ego recognizes that such data can be highly practical, it then becomes more liberal in its recognition of it—but only when such information fits in with its concepts of what is possible and not possible.”[vii] In P-B transcendence is not possible and we are left at the mercy of our reactive identity determined by both the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious.
“On closer examination one is always astonished to see how much of our so-called individual psychology is really collective. So much, indeed, that the individual traits are completely overshadowed by it.”[viii] Jung has identified a serious problem in P-B and that is that humanity behaves more like sleepwalkers than healthy, serene, and consciously aware individuals.
Most of humanity is choosing to conform to life within P-B and thereby losing contact with the inner wisdom from which we would derive our uniqueness and our ability to respond rather than react to life’s experiences. “This sequence of events is inevitable once the individual combines with the mass and suppresses the development of selfhood or individual uniqueness.”[ix]
Jung continues to describe the influence of the collective unconscious and human behavior that resembles that of automatons or zombies rather than self-realized human beings. “Society is organized, indeed, less by law than by the propensity to imitation, implying equally suggestibility, suggestion, and mental contagion. They are content to ape some eminent personality, some striking characteristic or mode of behavior, thereby achieving an outward distinction from the circle in which they move. We could almost say that as a punishment for this conformity of their minds with those of their neighbors, already real enough, is intensified into an unconscious, compulsive bondage to the environment. As a rule these specious attempts at individual differentiation stiffen into a pose, and the imitator remains at the same level as he always was, only several degrees more sterile than before.”[x]
And in closing Jung reminds us of the importance of self-reliance and non-conformity that was advocated by the American transcendentalists Thoreau and Emerson. “A form of transformation experience is described which occurs when an individual identifies with a group of people who have a collective experience of transformation. This type of experience is distinguished from participation in a transformation rite, which does not necessarily depend upon, or give rise to, a group identity. Transformation as a group experience is described as taking place on a lower level of consciousness than transformation as an individual, because the total psyche emerging from a group is more like the animal psyche than the human. Although the group experience is easier to achieve, it does not cause a permanent change once the individual is removed from the group. Events in prewar Germany are cited as typifying the results of inevitable psychological regression which takes place in a group when ritual is not introduced to counteract unconscious instinctuality. Although this evaluation of mass psychology is conceded to be essentially negative, it is pointed out that the mass can also have positive effects by fostering courage and dignity; however, these gifts are considered to become dangerous if they are taken for granted and stifle personal efforts to achieve them.”[xi]
There is no need to seek or depend on any group, savior or guru. We are equipped with all that is necessary for self-reliant transformation or transcendence. Indeed, if we wait for a general or communal awakening or paradigm shift to begin we might be waiting for a long time indeed. The mass of humanity is mesmerized by a very powerful false self immersed in a collective unconscious that has a compelling negative influence on the human story. Don’t wait within P-B for a change to begin, take the initiative and begin your practice today.
[i] Wilber, Ken. A Brief History of Everything. Boston: Shambhala, 1996, p. 213.
[ii] Grey, Alex. The Mission of Art. Boston: Shambhala, 1998, pp. 130-131.
[iii] Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience. San Francisco: Harper, 1991, p. 114.
[iv] Edinger, Edward. The Creation of Consciousness: Jung’s Myth for Modern Man. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books, 1984, pp. 66-67.
[v] Roberts, Jane. The Nature of Personal Reality. New York: Bantam, 1974, pp. 13-14.
[vi] Ibid., p. 41.
[vii] Ibid., p. 45.
[viii] Jung, C. G. The Portable Jung. New York: Penguin Books, 1971, p. 102.
[ix] Jung, C. G. Abstracts of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung. Rockville, Maryland: NIMH, 1978, p. 65.
[x] Jung, Portable Jung, op. cit., p. 103.
[xi] Jung, Abstracts of the Collected Works, op. cit., p. 51.