The authentic self is constant. This means that, at the more fundamental level of our being, we never change. There is much truth in the old English adage that “a leopard does not change its spots.” Yet there appear to be many cases of people who went through enormous transformations. I want to look at two notable examples and show that the shifts these famous men experienced are not what they seem.
The first of these men is the Oxford don, C. S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, books that filmmakers are even now turning into magnificent movies. The other is Carl Jung, the renowned Swiss psychiatrist who gave us the concepts “extravert” and “introvert,” the unconscious, and Analytical Psychology. Both men appear to have suffered engulfing unconscious events or to have deliberately “let go” in the face of relentless unconscious pressures. Because of their experiences, radical changes became evident in their personalities. Lewis abandoned atheism and underwent a “sudden” religious conversion to Anglicanism. Jung “let go” and allowed his unconscious to overwhelm his ego. After a years-long individuation process, he became much more mystical and intuitive.
Yet a closer look at the evidence reveals that both men did not change one whit.
Lewis’ atheism was a thin smokescreen easily seen through when one considers his very Christian outlook on life. During World War I, he made a pact with a fellow soldier that, should one of them fall in battle, the survivor would look after the other’s family. Lewis’ friend was killed. After the war, Lewis, who, as a student at Oxford, could ill afford to do so, dutifully took on the responsibility for the mother and sister of his slain comrade-in-arms. Furthermore, one cannot ignore Lewis’ long-standing admiration for Christian writers such as George MacDonald. One must also look at his fascination with religious texts and questions of morality.
With all of this in mind, we see that his claim of “melting like a snowman” and the admission that “God was God” were not really descriptions of a sudden religious conversion. They were declarations of his abrupt decision to drop his atheistic false persona and openly admit that he was, and always had been, a God-fearing Christian.
Prior to his conversion, Lewis had been toying half-heartedly with the idea of becoming a poet. He made scant progress there, but read copiously. Above all, he badly wanted the security of a teaching position at Oxford. It is revealing that, at the time of his “conversion,” Lewis also stopped calling himself a poet. Instead, he took to describing himself as a natural-born pedagogue. Once again, we see that the new way of describing himself is not just different but also more accurate than the old. Thus, the atheist epic poet “changed” into the orthodox Anglican Oxford don.
Carl Jung’s situation is a similar story. The famous “letting go” which precipitated a several-year-long “confrontation with the unconscious” followed rather than preceded some strange events. He had had a vision of God defecating on Basil Cathedral, and séances and the occult had always fascinated him. He writes of a wooden table mysteriously splitting in half in the dining room and a knife blade inexplicably shattering in a kitchen drawer. His very choice of career was the result of an abrupt intuitive decision to study psychiatry, then a new and somewhat dubious field.
Again, what we see is not genuine transformation. The new, more-mystical intuitive Jung had always been there behind the rational persona of the professional psychiatrist. He was just openly admitting and accepting his authentic inner reality.