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Soul and Nature (Meredith Sabini)

Soul and Nature

Meredith Sabini


For C. G. Jung, mind, nature and humanity are part of a seamless continuum.

“Nature life is the nourishing soil of the soul.”   – C.G. Jung

“Matter in the wrong place is dirt. People got dirty through too much civilization. Whenever we touch nature, we get clean.” You may not associate such sentiments with Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung, but they do appear throughout his writings, speeches, letters and interviews. So central to him was a living connection with Nature that he claimed, “Without my piece of earth, my life’s work would not have come into being.”

Jung’s image of life was organic: “Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible… Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures.”

Jung grew up in the Swiss countryside and attributed his close connection with Nature to this background. “True to my nature-loving bias, I have followed the call of the wild, the age-old trail through secluded wilderness, where a primitive human community may be found.” His autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections describes his early experiences: “Nature seemed to me full of wonders, and I wanted to steep myself in them. Every stone, every plant, every single thing seemed alive and indescribably marvelous. I immersed myself in nature, crawled as it were, into the very essence of nature.” Jung described his mother as being rooted in “deep, invisible ground”, and somehow connected with animals, trees, mountains, meadows and running water. Plants, as one of “God’s thoughts”, had a hidden, secret meaning. He was attracted to them for a reason he could not understand, feeling they were “to be regarded with awe and contemplated with wonderment.” Since they partook of a divine innocence, they should not be disturbed. Medical school courses involving vivisection Jung found repellent, and he skipped class whenever he could. He commented that this was based on “the deeper foundation of a primal identity with animals.”

When Jung left the countryside to attend university, he was shocked to find that city-dwellers had quite a different attitude toward natural phenomena. “In the world of my childhood… animals were known to sense storms and earthquakes… And now apparently I was the only person who had ever heard of them.” The youthful Jung concluded that the urban world knew nothing of the “real world of mountains, woods, rivers… God’s thoughts”, and he believed that this loss was evident in the “resigned eyes of the horses, the sorrowful look of the cows, and devotion of the dogs.” People did not see that they “dwelt in a unified cosmos… ”

His background in the rural countryside provided a foundation that served Jung well later, as he explored the far reaches of the human psyche. An active connection with a natural life flowered again when Jung built by hand a stone cottage beside Lake Zurich, which he used as a retreat throughout his professional life. Photos show him in a workman’s apron carving on huge stone blocks or holding a stick, moving pebbles from a stream so it could flow more freely. This, he said, is what his work was all about—helping to move aside obstacles to life’s natural flow.

At the Bollingen cottage, Jung lived without electricity, pumped his own water, chopped wood for cooking and tended the fires. “These acts make a person simple; and how difficult it is to be simple!… At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons.”

Jung considered consciousness, as it had developed in the West, to be a Janus-faced achievement, a blessing and a curse.


In his autobiography and other places, Jung writes about interconnectedness. About his being at Bollingen, he said, “my self is not confined to my body; it extends into all the things that I have made and all the things around me… ” The word “individuation”, commonly associated with Jung’s psychology, means, “an at-one-ment with oneself at the same time with humanity… No man lives within his own psychic sphere like a snail in its shell, separated from everybody else, but is connected with his unconscious humanity.” In describing his great idea of “the collective unconscious is simply Nature.”

As early as 1912, Jung pointed out the price that was being paid for the loss of our connection with Nature: “There is no question that in America you have sacrificed many beautiful things to achieve your great cities and the domination of your wilderness. To build so great a mechanism you must have smothered many growing things.” Jung considered consciousness, as it had developed in the West, to be a Janus-faced achievement, a blessing and a curse, since the type of consciousness we’ve achieved seems bent on repressing Nature. In earlier times Jung reminds us, Nature was “fully as much spirit as matter.” Now, we approach Nature only from the material side; as if Nature is solely the external physical world. Jung emphasized that the repression of Nature has occurred in both directions: “In the course of the millennia, we have succeeded not only in conquering the wild nature all around us, but in subduing our own wildness, at least temporarily and up to a point.”

After traveling in various tribal countries, Jung remarked that tribal people did not glorify human powers or place themselves above other animals, and were still able to converse with a bush-soul. In a poetic voice, Jung lamented that “modern man” has lost his emotional participation in natural events and thus feels isolated in the cosmos: “Thunder is no longer the voice of a god… no river contains a spirit, no tree a man’s life, no smoke is the embodiment of wisdom, and no mountain still harbours a great demon. Neither do things speak to him (modern man) nor can he speak to things like stones, springs, plants, animals.”

Jung’s concern reached a high point in the 1950’s and 1960’s. When he was interviewed for the Houston Films in 1957, he said, “Look at the rebellion of modern youth… The real, natural man is just in open rebellion against the utterly inhuman form of life. You are absolutely divorced from nature, and that accounts for the drug problem.” He also had empathy for our plight, and recognized that “we are beset with an all-too-human fear that consciousness—our Promethean conquest—may not in the end be able to serve us in the place of Nature.” So what did he recommend? Was a re-connection with Nature possible? Jung noted that often, when we make the effort, we merely “cultivate” Nature in a domesticated way. “Nature is an incomparable guide if you know how to follow her… Modern man needs to return to Nature, not to Nature in the manner of Rousseau, but to his own nature. His task is to find the natural man again.” In an excellent essay, “Analytical Psychology and Weltanschauung”, Jung outlines how a dialogue with the deep unconscious could contribute to a new paradigm, or Weltanschauung (“Worldview”). His prescription was that we hold onto the level of reason we have achieved and then enrich it “with a knowledge of man’s psychic foundation”, that is, through experience of those lower stories of our “species’ house”. This would constitute a new attempt to “approach the spirit of Nature in a conscious way.” Jung believed that by bringing our “original mind” to consciousness, we would know it for the first time. To experience both the modern mind and the primal, or original mind will entail a conflict of major proportions. Jung encouraged us not to shake off or avoid conflict, but to hold it in consciousness so that a new synthesis could emerge. “We should test the two possibilities against each other… the life we live and the one we have forgotten.” Establishing a living bridge between the primal and the modern may be the evolutionary task of our time. Any new development cannot, according to Jung, be conjured into existence or consciously willed, but will emerge naturally from below, borne along on the stream of time. A new relationship with Nature may arise from the interior or exterior world: “Walking in the woods, lying on the grass, taking a bathe in the sea, are from the outside; entering the unconscious, entering yourself through dreams, is touching nature from the inside and this is the same thing; things are put right again.” Whichever way it comes, each will affect the other.

To help the instincts come back to life, Jung recommended that we work a four-hour day and have a small plot of land where the rest of the time could be spent. He recommended the sparest use of radio, television, newspapers, and all supposed time-saving devices, “which do not, paradoxically, save time but merely cram our time so full we have no time for anything.” And he advocated reforms “by retrogression”, which are less expensive and return to the simpler, tried and tested ways of the past. An example of this might be the use of a rake instead of the leaf-blower or a hand-saw instead of the chainsaw. To adopt such retrogressive reforms, we would have to sacrifice the collective fantasy of “saving time” via the use of power tools, and recognize that any time saved is paid for by accidents and insurance against accidents.

In an interview with Hans Carol, Jung said, “I am fully committed to the idea that human existence should be rooted in the earth . . . Nature, the psyche and life appear to me like divinity unfolded—what more could I wish for?”

Further reading:
Modern Man in Search of a Soul and Man and His Symbols by C. G. Jung (Princeton University Press).
Jung and the Story of Our Time, by Laurens van der Post (Penguin Books).

Meredith Sabini is the Director of Depth Psychology Programmes in Berkeley, CA. She is the author of Jung: on Nature, Technology and Modern Life.


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