A Quotation from Carl Jung on Midlife Transition
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m planning to add some posts to this blog that are built around quotations from Carl Jung, in addition to the posts that are my own reflections.
This is because I think that Jung’s own thoughts and language often have some very good things to say to us directly about what life is now.
A good example of this is the following quotation, taken from C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, a book which compiles many of Jung’s public addresses and the experiences that other had in in encountering him. This quotation expresses in its own way a kind of experience associated with mid-life transition and “the unlived life” that I recognize in many of my clients. Perhaps you will recognize it, too.
“Take the example of a businessman — successful, rich, not yet old. He is perhaps forty-five. He says, ‘I have made my fortune; I have sons that are old enough to carry on the business which I founded. I will retire. I will build a fine house in the country and live there without any cares or worries.’ So he retires. He builds his house and goes to live in it. He says to himself, ‘Now my life will begin.’
But nothing happens.
One morning he is in his bath. He is conscious of a pain in his side. All day he worries about it; wonders what it can be. When he goes to the table he does not eat. In a few days his digestion is out of order. In a fortnight he is very ill. The doctors he has called in do not know what is the matter with him. Finally, one of them says to him, ‘Your life lacks interest. Go back to your business. Take it up again.”
The man is intelligent, and this advice seems to him sound. He decides to follow it. He goes back to his office and sits down at his old desk and declares that now he will help his sons in the management. But when the first business letter is brought to him, he cannot concentrate on it. He cannot make the decisions it calls for. Now he is terribly frightened about his condition.
This man comes to me with his problem. I say to him: ‘You were quite right to retire from business. But not into nothingness.[Italics mine] You must have something you can stand on. In all the years in which you devoted your energy to building up your business you never built up any interests outside of it. You had nothing to retire on.’
This is a picture of the condition of man today. This is why we feel that there issomething wrong with the world. All the material interests, the automobiles and radios and skyscrapers we have don’t fill the hungry soul. We try to retire from the world, but to what? ….They are like the businessman who tried to go back to his desk.
….I say to him, “My dear man, I don’t know any more than you do the meaning of the world or the meaning of your life. But you — all men — were born with a brain ready made. It took millions of years to build the brain and body we now have. Your brain embodies all the experience of life.”
‘….Now suppose that I am in need of advice about living, and I know of a man who is already thousands of years old. I go to him and say, ‘You have seen many changes; you have observed and experienced life under many aspects. My life is short — perhaps seventy years, perhaps less — and you have lived for thousands of years….
When I say this to my patient he cocks his ears and looks at me.
The psyche is much older than our personal existence. The Self is a present reality if we are prepared to look for its manifestations in our own life. Carl Jung knew it, and we can, too.
I wish each of you every good thing on your personal journey to wholeness,
Brian Collinson, www.briancollinson.ca