Jungian Therapy & the Second Half of Life, 5: Freedom
The word freedom often appears in discussions about the second half of life, but often the particular depth of understanding that Jungian therapy would attach to the word is lacking.
Not long ago, people talked about “Freedom 55”, the idea that one would be able to retire and leave work behind at age 55. However, particularly since the economic contraction of 2008, this may seem much less possible. Yet, this type of fantasy retains its power: we often hear phrases like “imagine the freedom” associated with, say, winning the lottery.
However, another concept much more closely associated with what used to be called spirituality may have more relevance in the second half of life. Jungian analyst James Hillman once observed,
[W]e haven’t thought about… freedom enough. It needs to be internalized as an inner freedom from “demand” itself… that comes when you’re free from those compulsions to have and to own and to be someone…. [We need a concept] that broadens our current limited idea of freedom: that I can do any goddamn thing I want on my property; that I am my own boss and don’t want government interference; that I don’t want anybody telling me what I can and can’t do…
Externals and Freedom
We easily identify “externals” that keep us from being free, such as my boss, my job or my financial limitations. It’s true: my external circumstances always limit my freedom – just as they also create my possibilities. But in our time and culture, is being free from externals the freedom that we really most need?
Freedom from Inner Compulsion
Like Jungian therapy in general, Hillman suggests the greatest restrictions we face may actually be inner. Yearning for more self esteem, we may thirst for: respect and approval of others; ownership of house or car that says we’ve “made it”; or, status or qualifications that show that we “are somebody”. Or we feed addictions, thus avoiding dealing with shame or anxiety. Could release from inner compulsions make us free?
Free… For What?
We assume we need to be free “from” externals. But Hillman and Jungian therapy bid us consider what our freedom is actually for. What do we need to be free to find in the second half of life ?
Authenticity and Meaning
Jungian therapy emphasizes the self in the second half of life: what does freedom mean from this perspective? Surely letting the self live freely, and finding one’s life purpose in doing so. Perhaps the Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis summed it up best in his epitaph:
“I expect nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”