…the story of a man who inadvertently got into the role of himself.
He saw it as a mistake.
That is what people say who fall into a hole. “Hell and damnation, I have fallen into a trap and the trap is myself.”
They always treat themselves as the greatest mistakes ever made.
Carl Jung, Visions Seminar, Pages 269-281
This quote strikes me as an entry into our present moment.
In a time of widespread collapse traps surround us. This is what collapse feels like: No exits. Every turn blocked.
Jung points out an aspect of traps I’ve not noticed before. His revelation leaves me feeling stupid, thinking, “Of course!”
There is so much packed into his simple statement. Let’s transpose the pronouns:
“(We) always treat (our) selves as the greatest mistakes ever made.”
It has the grandiloquence of Ego in it, “If I’m a mistake, I must be the greatest mistake!”
Let’s back up. We can spend years, decades in the first part, “I have fallen into a trap!”
Caught unawares we slowly begin to recognize that our sense of self is at the heart of the matter.
Traps work by inverting a situation, creating in us the illusion that we know enough to solve what bothers us. We don’t feel a need to look any further. We fight whatever we think binds us, “Against our Will.”
Jung is saying that we need to recognize that we are suffering under an error, but this is not sufficient. At the same time that we discover we have put our emphasis in the wrong place, we must also realize that we have come to the wrong conclusion.
There is so much here…. So many layers to experience. Not peel back. These layers are not in our way. Our passage through a series of realizations informs us. No conclusion can ever hold us.
I’ve been struggling with why it is so hard to understand, and to relate, how hard it is to dissolve our illusions concerning cause and effect. We take it as a simple mechanism. Follow it and we can act in ways that, “Get us what we want!”
Sitting with Jung’s puzzle seems a good way to feel our way into the paradox behind our delusion, giving it a certain solidity so often lacking when we fall back on clichés.
There is a dynamic…. There’s always a dynamic. How can we feel its complex interplay in our bones?
Let’s return to the beginning. Jung states that the man has taken on a role.
Not any role. The “role of himself.”
Now, there is a certain shimmering in this. We infer role-taking as a form of inauthenticity. Jung confounds our expectation by calling this attempt to be authentic, to be “himself,” as first a role, and then as a mistake.
We think, “What a fool!” Then realize, “Wait a minute!”
The role of myself. We see… no, we don’t actually perceive roles…, but we interpret what we see as an individual, whether our self or another, as an act of role-playing. One we judge as either more or less authentic. But we can’t seem to see past this notion of roles. Roles to act in, roles to interpret. Self-consciousness inserts itself between what we experience and how we read it. We…, and this kind of explanation doesn’t lead us anywhere.
All we can do is laugh. We’re at a fountainhead of humor, recognizing our selves in the pirouettes of a fool.
And then Jung takes the bottom completely out from under us! “They always treat themselves as the greatest mistake….”
Where is the mistake?
Is it all wrong? Is the intuition of error the real mistake? How…?
One aspect of this is that we tend to mistake our predicament for a problem. We see our error as a solution when all it can do is mire us deeper in error.
The urge to judge leaves us mired in confusion.