What's All This Then?

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Man and His Symbols
by Carl Jung

Field-Tested by Matthew Linderman

in La Paz, Bolivia

I was backpacking through Bolivia when I read Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung. During the days, I would do things like stroll through the streets of La Paz, trek through the salt desert at Uyuni, and bike down the world's most dangerous road. (It's the size of an alley and runs alongside a cliff...guard rails? Not so much.)

Nights and bus rides were just as much of a trip, via Jung's thoughts on psychology, science, archetypes, culture, etc. An excerpt:

As scientific understanding has grown, so our world has become dehumanized. Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos, because he is no longer involved in nature, and has lost his emotional 'unconscious identity' with natural phenomena. These have slowly lost their symbolic implications. Thunder is no longer the voice of an angry god, nor is lightning his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree is the life principle of a man, no snake the embodiment of wisdom, no mountain cave the home of a great demon. No voices now speak to man from stones, plants, and animals, nor does he speak to them believing they can hear. His contact with nature has gone, and with it has gone the profound emotional energy that this symbolic connection supplied.

The book and place melted together. I felt like I couldn't be farther from America. Not just geographically, but spiritually. Jung's ideas helped articulate something unspeakable. Something strange, yet beautiful. I sensed that connection to nature. I heard the whispers of those voices. I felt those primitive, subconscious ideas that connect us all despite chasms of geography or language.

In the middle of the desert, I saw more stars than I'd ever seen before. Man and His Symbols helped me get a little bit closer to connecting the dots.

Matthew Linderman works at 37signals.

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