Carl Jung Walks into a Crossfit Gym

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We’re going deep with this one sons, so brace yourselves.

Carl Jung was a Swiss psychotherapist and a founder of the field of analytical psychology. He argued that any single individuals behavior and subconscious thought patterns can be better understood by categorizing them into four main metaphorical descriptions or as he called them, Archetypes. They are: The King, The Warrior, The Magician, and The Lover or Artist. These archetypes are derived from examples from the myths and stories humans have told themselves since as far back as we can remember, and contain important insights into how we define ourselves in terms of our behavior. To describe them in detail would require a much longer post than this and a much better informed writer than I, but I’ll briefly outline them here and attempt to establish a relationship between Jungs Archetypes and Crossfit, or strength and fitness training in general.

Firstly, it’s important to remember that we are never under the influence of any single archetype for any long period of time. We make use of all of them to achieve our goals though we often fall under the influence of one more so than the rest. There’s nothing mystical about them, it’s simply a system Jung used to classify human behavioral patterns in terms that we can easily understand. We have been given an education in the different aspects of the individual archetypes since we have been children, in songs and stories and myths and fairy tales and movies and TV shows. The archetypes are re-occurring throughout human art forms and throughout human history. The King brings order and a clear strategy and a sense of personal lordship. We embody Kings when we organize the various aspects of any project or endeavor in order to get something done. When we make a plan of how to get what we want, we are kings. Sometimes you feel like a king but don’t know exactly why. There’s a huge sense of satisfaction to be had in just taking care of your business like a badass. But just planning won’t get us what we want. We need to put our heads down and do the work. Sometimes the work is overwhelming and other-times it takes very little effort at all to achieve success, but the process of doing the work is the realm of the Warrior. When we attack that to-do list or the jobs we’ve been putting off but need to get done, we are embodying Warrior energy. Warriors in the Jungian sense don’t necessarily go to war, but they approach their tasks as if they were. They go to battle on the simple things. Many of us wage internal wars on our own battlefield, the gym floor. When you hit that WOD like a beast, you’re a straight up relentless warrior son. Magicians then are masters of secret knowledge. In the old days our ancestors were ignorant of the forces of nature and had to explain the things they experienced in mystical terms. The Magician was able to manipulate the universe in order to achieve tangible results. He could light fires, build machines, heal the sick and advise his peers in what was the best course of action. Magicians are scientists, engineers, doctors, technicians, tradesmen, advisors, consultants, trainers, coaches, or indeed anyone who has experience or knowledge or skills that are useful for achieving some end. We’ve all got some kind of magic-like skills or insights. Whenever we’re interested in or passionate about something, we soak up whatever info we can get on it. We can all think of someone we’d go to for advice on snatch technique, or for diet tips, or for mobility issues. These are our gurus, we value their opinions because they’ve got knowledge and experience that we would wish to have ourselves. Magician sons. The Lover then is a slightly different archetype in that his main role is not to control or order, but only to add meaning and joy to our lives. My opinion is that The Lover is better described as the Artist as it is through the various art forms that we savor the experience of living. The Lover appreciates good music, movies, books and any art form that adds meaning and flavor to existence. We embody the Lover or Artist in such acts as listening to a song we enjoy, consuming stories on the screen or page, dancing, or even in such small ways as savoring the taste of good coffee or a cheeky non-paleo treat. The Lover is found anywhere that we are happy or where we feel alive.

The four archetypes are mainly used by Jung and his students to describe the masculine qualities of a mature balanced man and you will often find them quoted in mens psychology books and lectures. But inevitably they apply to women in many of the same ways. Just because you’re a lady-son doesn’t mean you can’t take care of business like a crafty King/Queen or a beastly Amazon Warrior etc. All that being said, the question naturally arises: who embodies the archetypes in our gym?

That’s the great thing about the gym, especially with the structure of a typical Crossfit session: people show you who they really are in there. All the bullshit gets dropped and all the stories we use to project an agreeable front to others count for nothing once that timer starts ticking and measuring your character. You see what people are made of in the way they attack a WOD or they way they approach a potential PR attempt. But more importantly than sneaking a glimpse at the mettle of our peers, we get to put ourselves to the test in there and scratch beneath the surface of our constructed self-image. People in general find it easier to fool themselves into ignoring their weaknesses and playing up their strengths. We all do it on a daily basis just to get by, we can’t help it. But if we want to achieve personal balance and hammer out our weakness in order to grow, then we have to face up to the things we suck at. In the heat of battle we come to know ourselves and our companions.

It’s natural then that in times of exhaustion and pure fatigue we glimpse the nature of the archetypes that both we and others are embodying. I won’t name names, but we can all think of someone I’m sure, who fits the description of one of the four characters more so than others. Someone who just grits their teeth and attacks their workout like a savage beast. No mercy, no surrender. Like warriors. Someone who can pick apart every position of a movement and correct improper form. Or give reliable diet and health advice. Magicians. Someone who just shows up for the sheer elation and ecstasy they feel by completing the workout or just by being around their peers doing something they all love. Lovers. Crossfit Junkies. And of course there are the ones that steer the ship, so to speak. Those people who lord over the gym and fall into the place of leadership or mentorship naturally. It’s not just the coaches who are “Kings” in the gym. Some people are natural Kings and maybe only are given a chance to express their inner royalty within a WOD.

The thing about these psychological archetypes is that in life, a healthy balance of all four is required in order to lead a wholesome self-actualized existence. We need to embody the King to find our strategy, our life-plan and goals. Our warriors must attack the workload that is required to put us where we want to be, to drag us there if necessary. Our inner magicians manipulate our skills and our environment to gain mastery or at least proficiency in the necessary fields. All the while the Lover within us has the noble task of giving us some reason for it all. The Lover adds meaning and value to an otherwise meaningless and nihilistic existence of sheer accident.

In a workout however, we can often simply channel one of the archetypes to get us through the training. We may need to embody one at a time or several simultaneously, but what’s important is that we recognize which ones we are channeling and that we realize where our strengths and weaknesses lie. Let’s face up to it, we do what we do in that gym because we have some vision in our minds of a stronger, healthier, happier version of ourselves, otherwise we’d stay at home and not put ourselves through the pain of a Fran or a Samson. People that don’t understand why we do it probably think we’re all a bit sick. So strength and weakness are an undeniably integral part of our life and goals then. A gym full of sadists. We want to hammer out the latter and gain more of the former. I find that there is much more to training than just developing physical proficiency or “muscle-virtue”. We have the unique opportunity to develop character virtues and integral strength every time we step onto the matt and plunge ourselves into battle.

It’s an unfashionable thing these days to speak of character virtue and developing the self and all these fancy philosophical ideals, but that doesn’t make them any less true. I know that many people train simply for the enjoyment of it and give no thought to who they are becoming as a result of the training. This is a perfectly fine attitude to bring to a gym environment, some of us just want an hour to get away from the pressures and responsibilities of our lives, to get out of our heads and back into our bodies. Great, I say. But personally I find that my experience of physical training is all the more enriched by at least taking note of the higher, more philosophical aspects of working out in the manner that we do. When I check the program for the days training I don’t just think about what muscle groups I’m going to hit or what “gains” I’m going to make, I take a moment to think about what kind of internal strength I’ll need to call on for the WOD. Fran? Hard and unrelenting sprint to the end? Better dig deep, shut the bullshit self pity out and just drive hard and fast to the finish. There’s perseverance and discipline involved, not just thrusters and pull-ups. So it goes with any other WOD that comes our way. Being the reflective sort that I am, thinking about these intangible ideals occurs naturally and presents me with an opportunity to unify my thoughts or “philosophy” with my body when it trains. I personally enjoy a tough slog of a session when I can work more than just my heart and muscles.

May 15, 2014. Central Bank.

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