I keep coming back to the below passage from the essay "The Child and the Shadow" in Ursula Le Guin's book, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. The essay is an exploration of how fantasy uses symbols and archetypes to communicate with our unconscious: "The great fantasies, myths, and tales are indeed like dreams: they speak from the unconscious to the unconscious in the language of unconscious—symbols and archetype." In the passage below, Le Guin is introducing the reader to Carl Jung's ideas, whom she describes as "the psychologist whose ideas on art are the most meaningful to artists."
Jung's terminology is notoriously difficult, as he kept changing meanings the way a growing tree changes leaves. I will try to define a few of the key terms in an amateurish way without totally misrepresenting them. Very roughly, then, Jung saw the ego, what we usually call the self, as only a part of the Self, the part of it which we are consciously aware of. The ego "revolves around the Self as the earth around the Sun," he says. The Self is transcendent, much larger than the ego; it is not a private possession, but collective—that is, we share it with all other human beings, and perhaps with all beings. It may indeed be our link with what is called God. Now this sounds mystical, and it is, but it's also exact and practical. All Jung is saying is that we are fundamentally alike; we all have the same general tendencies and configurations in our psyche, just as we all have the same general kind of lungs and bones in our body. Human being all look roughly alike; they also think and feel alike. And they are all part of the universe.
The ego, the little private individual consciousness, knows this, and it knows that if it's not to be trapped in the hopeless silence of autism it must identify with something outside itself, beyond itself, larger than itself. If it's weak, or if it's offered nothing better, what it does is identify with the "collective consciousness." That is Jung's term for the lowest common denominator of all the little egos added together, the mass mind, which consists of such things as cults, creeds, fads, fashions, status-seeking, conventions, received beliefs, advertising, popcult, all the isms, all the ideologies, all the hollow forms of communication and "togetherness" that lack real communion or real sharing. The ego, accepting these empty forms, becomes a member of the "lonely crowd." To avoid this, to attain real community, it must turn inward, away from the crowd, to the source: it must identify with its own deeper regions, the great unexplored regions of the Self. These regions of the psyche Jung calls the "collective unconscious," and it is in them, where we all meet, that he sees the source of true community; of felt religion; of art, grace, spontaneity, and love.
This element of turning inward to connect with humanity rather than outward is compelling. Frankly, I don't know if it's true yet, but I find it fascinating, and I'm curious to learn more. So I ordered Carl Jung's book The Undiscovered Self.