The Two Million-Year-Old Man
Together the patient and I address ourselves to the two million-year-old man that is in all of us. In the last analysis most of our difficulties come from losing contact with our instincts, with the ago-old unforgotten wisdom stored up in us. – C.G. Jung, Psychological Reflections
I have always been interested in Carl Jung’s ideas of the collective unconscious and the lifestyles of Native Americans. Something deep inside me told me that they were on the right track, and had something to teach me. Even when I was a boy, I studied the ways of Native Americans and longed to emulate them. So when I found this book, Dancing Between Two Worlds; Jung and the Native American Soul by Fred R Gustafson (see review at end of post), I had to read it. I’m glad I did. As a vandweller who spends all his time on public land, I had found such peace and joy by spending time in nature that I completely related to the idea of a 2,000,000 year-old man inside me. From my earliest childhood, I felt a deep, inner need to be in nature, and as a young man I had, but life got in the way, and I virtually stopped as an adult. The result was I always felt restless and discontent. After I became a vandweller and reconnected with nature, I made peace with my own inner indigenous ancestor (his phrase for the 2,000,000 year-old man). The result was my discontent was replaced with genuine peace and joy. Gustafson explains it this way (emphasis added):
Throughout these chapters, I refer to the “Indigenous One” as a reference point to the antiquity of the human soul. We came from somewhere. We have emerged with the rest of creation along an evolutionary path that is integral with the earth itself. For some reason there is a fear of these roots and making a connection with the whole of creation. Our own Indigenous Ancestor has been pushed aside and all but forgotten. If the entire book can be put into one thought it is this: not only have we lost a connection to our own indigenous root, but alongside this there exists a profound sadness and longing for its return. – Fred R. Gustafson, Dancing Between Two Worlds: Jung and the Native American Soul
I believe we are lonesome for the earth–lonesome because we have become more separated from it than we know or our souls can stand. Ibid. Page 109
That exactly parallels the main idea to this site which is that modern life alienates us from nature, and that is very bad for our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. In this article I want to explore that idea, and give you some background showing why it is true.
Today, Darwin’s theory of evolution is accepted by virtually everyone in the West. And yet somehow, we ignore that humans are influenced by evolution just like every other animal. For the last 2,000,000 years, humans have been evolving from the other primates to the fully self-aware, conscious beings we are today. Just like every other species, we are products of our environment. We adapted to live within a certain ecosystem, which for 99.9% of human history was in wild nature. Then, suddenly, 6,000 years ago, we left nature and began to live on farms and cities. Everything we had evolved to become was suddenly worthless, but it wasn’t gone. You can’t just wipe out 2,000,000 years of evolution. The instincts and training of the whole human history are biologically encoded in our central nervous system and are just as strong inside us today as they were way back in primordial times, but we live in a totally different environment. The problem is that those urges, instincts, and needs still drive us, but they go completely unused and unfulfilled leaving us feeling lost and confused. You can take the man out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the man.
We each and all of us, contain within us the entire history of the world, and just as our body records Man’s genealogy as far back as the fish and then some, so our soul encompasses everything that has ever existed in human souls. All gods and devils that have ever existed are within us as possibilities, as desires, as solutions. – Herman Hess, Reflections
The famous psychiatrist Carl Jung developed a theory based on these truths, that the biologically encoded history of the human race was present in every person at the unconscious level. He called that ancient, primitive mind our collective unconscious. Our conscious mind is a fairly recent development and is just a part of our whole psyche. The larger, unconscious part, he called either the archaic man, or the 2,000,000 year old self. (It’s exactly the same as what Gustafson calls the “Indigenous Ancestor”)
... every civilized human being, however high his conscious development, is still an archaic man at the deeper level of his psyche. Just as the human body connects us with the mammals and displays numerous vestiges of earlier evolutionary stages going back even to the reptilian age, so the human psyche is a product of evolution which, when followed back to its origins, shows countless archaic traits – C.G. Jung Collected Works Vol 10
Aren’t we the carriers of the entire history of mankind? When a man is fifty years old, only one part of his being has existed for half a century. The other part, which also lives in his psyche, may be millions of years old … Contemporary man is but the latest ripe fruit on the tree of the human race. None of us knows what we know. – C.G. Jung
In Jung’s work as a psychiatrist, he concluded that nearly all mental and emotional disorders could be traced back to the numerous ways that modern life frustrates the archaic, two million-year-old, Indigenous Ancestor that lives inside each and every one of us. In the following quotes we see his belief that by losing connection to the earth, we give up our roots which results in a restlessness of the soul that leads to many forms of mental and emotional problems, the worst of which is meaninglessness. Jung believed that humans must have meaning in order to be healthy mentally, emotionally and spiritually (emphasis added):
For it is the body, the feelings, the instincts, which connect us to the soil. If you give up the past you naturally detach from the past: you lose your roots in the soil, your connection with the totem ancestors that dwell in your soil. You turn outward and drift away and try to conquer other lands because you are exiled from your own soil. – C.G Jung at the Zarathustra Seminar
Body and soul have an intensely historical character and find no proper place in what is new, in things that have just come into being…. it is precisely the loss of connection with the past, our uprootedness, which has given rise to the “discontents” of civilization and to such a flurry and haste that we live more in the future and its chimerical promises of a golden age than in the present, with which our whole evolutionary background has not yet caught up. We rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness. – C.G. Jung Memories, Dreams, Reflections
One of the most fatal of the …psychological errors in which our time is so fruitful is the supposition that something can become entirely different all in a moment; for instance that man can radically change his nature….Deviation from the truths of the blood begets neurotic restlessness, and we have had about enough of that these days. Rootlessness begets meaninglessness, and the lack of meaning in life is a soul-sickness whose full import our age has not yet begun to comprehend. – C.G. Jung Collected Works (vol. 8)
Our modern world has become so scientifically oriented, that we have lost all sight of everything that can’t be seen and proven. Our inner, deeper, unconscious life can’t be measured, touched, or even explained so we pretend it isn’t real or important. Instead, we place all our focus on the outward life of our thinking mind and physical body. So we’ve gained an amazing amount of knowledge and facts, and our technological advances have made us tremendously more comfortable. And yet as a society we are unhappier than ever.
Consider all these symptoms that are rampant in our society:
- Domestic Violence
- Child Abuse
- Teen Pregnancy
- Road Rage
- Stress related disease
- Addiction, both chemical (drugs and alcohol) and behavioral (obesity, sex, gambling)
Jung believed that it would be far better to step back and live a more natural, simple, even uncomfortable life, than a life with all the neuroses that have come with the soulless technology of modern civilization. Instead of putting 99% of our energy into the outward things of life, we need to put an equal amount of time and devotion into our inner well- being.
Misery is relative. When many people possess cars the man with only one car is a proletarian deprived of the goods of this world and therefore entitled to overthrow the social order. We all think in terms of social welfare, and that is a big mistake because the more you economize on the vulgar forms of misery (minor discomforts), the more you are ensnared by new, unexpected…variants of unhappiness such as you have never dreamt before. Think of the almost uncanny increase of divorces and neuroses! I must say I prefer a modest poverty or any tangible discomfort (i.e., no bathroom, no electricity, no car, etc.) to those pests…. Why not “spiritual welfare”? There is no government on earth bothering much about it. Yet spiritual adjustment is the problem. – C.G. Jung Letters I and II
The quote above makes it sound very much like Jung would have endorsed vandwelling as a way to better mental and emotional health!! By giving up minor comforts like a bathroom or electricity we enter a way of life that satisfies the archaic man in each of us. We live closer to nature and become free of the worst elements of modern life like technology, the media, and consumerism. The more you take full advantage of vandwelling and spend time in nature, the higher your quality of life will be, and as a happy coincidence, the earth is much better off!
If you want to learn more about Jung’s teachings about the human soul’s connection to and need for nature, I recommend these books, in this order:
Dancing Between Two Worlds; Jung and the Native American Soul – by Fred R Gustafson
This is a terrific book I think every modern person should read. It offers a simple explanation that modern man is restless and unhappy because of his loss of connection to nature. He offers simple and practical steps we can take to live in greater harmony with the indigenous ancestor who lives inside us all. 5 Stars Highly Recommended
Of these three books, this is by far the most readable. The writing style is much more “friendly” and moving. He isn’t trying to teach you or persuade you he is right. He simply presents the basic ideas of Jung and makes the obvious connection between Jung’s teachings and the lifestyles of Native Americans who live very closely to the 2,000,000 year-old self. If you read this book and want to learn more, read Stevens book next:
The Two Million-Year-Old Self. By Anthony Stevens
The problem with most books on psychology is that they are written by academics for other academicians and often the writing is very difficult for the lay person to understand. Stevens has taken Jung’s ideas about the 2,000,000-year-old man and made them accessible by nearly everyone. The writing is somewhat technical, but most of us can get through it. He’s spent a lifetime studying the writings of Jung and others in related fields, so that we don’t have to. In this book he brings them all together and presents it in a way that is clear and persuasive. 5 Stars, Highly recommended
THE EARTH HAS A SOUL: C.G Jung on Nature, Technology & Modern Life. Edited by Meredith Sabini
Carl Jung was a prolific writer, and sifting through his writings to find the ones about this topic would be beyond most of us. And not just because of how long it would take, but equally because Jung wrote in a very precise and scientific way that can be difficult to read. This book is selections of Jung’s writings on this topic with an introduction to every chapter to help explain them. All the Jung quotes I used here are from this book and I find it invaluable to anyone with an interest in the writings of Jung. 5 Stars, Highly Recommended