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  • Our Inner Wise Old Person: Can We Access Him or Her?

    The wise old person is an image or symbol found deep within human culture. Does this represent something real in the human psyche? Can we access it?

    Can we access our inner wise old person? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

    Nearly every culture has some version of the symbol of the wise old person. These figures appear in myth, folk tale and art, and throughout the holy texts of the human race. We can conclude that , down through the millennia, humans have regarded this image of the wise old person as pointing to something real in the human psyche. Whether it’s called the voice of the ancestors or inner divine wisdom or the voice of the Self, humans until very recently in human history did not question the existence of this inner wisdom.

    But does it really exist? Is the “wise old person” something that speaks to us or that we can draw upon or rely upon? This is not just an academic question , but a matter of great importance for self-aware people. When we face important decisions, or when we have to find our way through difficult, ambiguous and confusing times, is there some kind of resource of inner wisdom that will help us to cope or to find a path?

    A question of equal or greater importance is, if it does exist, how do I access it? It’s all well and fine to say that this inner wise person exists, but, if it does, we still need to know how to hear from it! Our ego, that “nervous Nellie” in James Hollis‘ famous phrase, is always trying to manage the circumstances of our lives. It exerts itself continuously to map out a way through the sticky, ambiguous and formidable situations that we find ourselves in. Sometimes, its resources seem exhausted and unequal to the task. Is there any other wisdom in us that can help us find the way?

    An Inner Inherited Wisdom?

    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 age-old unforgotten wisdom stored up in us.

    C. G. Jung

    Where wisdom reigns, there is no conflict between thinking and feeling.

    C.G. Jung

    We live in an age that highly values rationality, science and education. It’s understandable why we do: the rational scientific outlook has brought us so many good things that are part of our current day life. Without science and our rational problem-solving approach, our quality of life would be greatly diminished. Yet it may be very important for us to realize that not all of life’s problems can be solved by scientific rationality.

    Long before the scientific revolution, our forebears lived lives of complexity and challenge. When they met difficulties, or when they were looking for guidance, they would turn to an inner wisdom that was often described as “the voice of the ancestors”. We can think of this as an inner instinctively-based wisdom. This is what Jung was alluding to in his reference to the two million year old person within each of us.

    It’s easy for our modern minds to balk at such an idea. After all, it might not seem quite “rational”! Yet, if we look at the rest of the animal kingdom, the power of instinct is quite awe-inspiring. Snakes, not raised by mothers or fathers, know how to hunt instinctively. Monarch butterflies migrate unbelievably vast distances guided by instinct. Dolphins are imbued with an instinctive curiosity and a predisposition to help others—dolphins, whales and sometimes humans.

    When we see these examples of instinctual “wisdom” in other species, it might make us curious about our own instincts. Human instincts exist, even though they may not be as immediately apparent as they are in other species. A /a-midlife-transition perspective is open to the ways our deepest instincts, as symbolized by our inner wise old person, seek to manifest in our lives.

    Often, it’s in situations of crisis or major life transition where we most clearly meet our instinctual wise old person. Our rational, problem-solving intellect is very capable, but there are situations in life where that intellect hits a dead end. Sometimes our usual way of dealing with life runs out of answers. It may be then that our inner wise old person steps in to assist, through dreams, hunches or intuitions, or in other ways.

    Denial of the Wise Old Person

    It’s possible to live in a way that denies the existence of any inner wisdom. We can choose to try and problem solve in our usual “common sense” way, and circle around a problem or life situation endlessly, trying to “figure it out”. For instance, an individual may be deeply frustrated by her or his work situation. He or she may be endlessly trying to figure out how to get to that next right job, with its promise of fulfillment and balance, and may be mired in anxiety or depression. The individual may strive for years, with some element or perspective on the situation that is just out of reach.

    [inner wisdom] comes from quieting the mind, setting aside the ego, setting aside one’s ideas of how things should be, and listening and feeling for what feels truly right.

    Brian Leaf

    We can be so rational in approaching our lives that we miss out on the possibility of connection with the wise old person who resides in our psyche. This can lead us to miss out on the inherent wisdom that we carry, inherited from the sum total of our ancestors. How can we avoid this, and make this inherited wisdom a part of our journey to wholeness?

    Open Listening to the Inner Wise Person

    Connecting with our inner wisdom can sometimes bring a different, and even life-altering perspective. Finding ways to effectively listen to what the inner “wise old person” has to say about our lives, through our dreams, hunches and intuitions can be a very healing endeavour. Often, work with a supportive Jungian can be of great help in this process.

    With every good wish for your personal journey,

    © 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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