But the truth is the truth, and as Jung pointed out, we seldom solve problems, but we can outgrow them. That is what this book is about, not solutions, but attitudes, behaviors, and disciplines that move us toward enlargement, toward enfolding our debilitating history into a journey more productive, more clearly our own.
The most common socializing sentence my contemporaries and I heard was, “What would people think?” A familiar proverb in Japan declares, “It is the protruding nail that gets hammered.” In the face of such sanctioning power, what child does not begin to adopt the prejudices of his family and tribe, fear the alien values of others, and stick close to home in almost every way?
The powers of the unconscious cannot be underestimated. Our ego consciousness — namely, who we think we are, or what we believe real — is at best a thin wafer floating on an iridescent sea.
How haunting is Carl Jung’s observation that whatever is denied within us is likely to come to us in the outer world as fate?
We are rather called to a discernment process. We are summoned to ask such questions as: Does this align with or make sense of my experience? If not, it may be well intended and right for someone else, but it is not right for me. Does this value, practice, or expectation take me deeper into life, open new possibilities of relationship, and accord with the deepest movements of my own soul? If not, then it is toxic, no matter how benign its claim.
Jung said in a letter once that life is a short pause between two great mysteries. Beware of those who offer answers. They may be sincere, but their answers are not necessarily yours.
So, then the task of this carbonized bit of matter we call our bodies, this tungsten spark we call our soul, is waiting upon us to realize that we serve life when we step forth and begin to take on that responsibility, that accountability, and choose a life that makes sense to us.
When we have had our lives reframed and see them as they often are — fear driven, petty, repetitive — we either anesthetize ourselves, distract ourselves, or realize that something has to change.
If we are to show up, we must make choices and stop whining. In those moments, something shifts inside. We experience our life as more fully alive than it has been at any other hour. We realize that we cannot remain bound by fear, convention, or adaptation.
All passages provide a transition from something that has played out, died, or ceased to be productive. That is what psychotherapy seeks to do in so many cases.
Life’s two biggest threats we carry within: fear and lethargy. Every morning we rise to find two gremlins at the foot of the bed. The one named Fear says, “The world is too big for you, too much. You are not up to it. Find a way to slip-slide away again today.” And the one named Lethargy says, “Hey, chill out. You’ve had a hard day. Turn on the telly, surf the Internet, have some chocolate. Tomorrow’s another day.” Those perverse twins munch on our souls every day.
I call that question heroic because it embodies a shift in our center of gravity from the other “out there” to the other “within.” In other words, something in each of us always knows when we are shirking, avoiding, procrastinating, rationalizing. Sometimes we are obliged to face these uncomfortable facts when our plans, relationships, expectations of others collapse, and we are left holding the bag of consequences.
The moment we say, “I am responsible, I am accountable, I have to deal with this,” is the day we grow up, at least until the next time, the next regression, the next evasion.
The motives for avoidance rise from our existential proclivities to fear and lethargy, and both nemeses win more battles than they lose. All the while, the soul is roiling beneath, sending up protests, distress calls, SOS messages, bills of indictment, and so on.
The hero archetype is an energy we have lauded for millennia: a person who addresses a task, overcomes a fear, acts where needed, and provides an exemplum for others.
The task of the hero within is to overthrow the powers of darkness, namely, fear and lethargy. All those tales of defeating the dragon are mythopoetic versions of overthrowing the power of that which would swallow us, as both fear and lethargy do on a daily basis.
So there is within the lives of all of us the frequent choice to remain within the predictable, the safe, the familiar, even the miserable, thinking it preferable to the uncertainty of the unknown.
Freud identified what he called “the repetition compulsion,” the drive within us to replicate the old, even if it is painful and leads us to predictable but familiar dead ends.
The nature of our psyche is based on change, growth, curiosity, and imagination. But there are very conservative elements within us that retain a commitment to the known, the familiar, even when it is based on constrictive perspectives.
Attachment and loss, attachment and loss — this is the human story. We lose parts of ourselves as we adapt to the demands of the world.
Those for whom we care are often lost through death, divorce, or dysfunction. Whether we absorb those losses into our system and soldier on or remain stuck at the level of the loss is the question.
And the man who feels dependent upon the woman but distances himself from her because he fears the magnitude of his own need reads her reactions to his distancing as a confirmation of her ill intentions toward him from the beginning.
But the psyche has a much larger perspective on our lives. It imagines much more for us than the ordinary ego can comprehend.
But the soul protests and registers its protest through our body, our troubling dreams, our affective invasions, such as depression or our addictive, anesthetizing self-treatment. While most of modern psychiatry and psychotherapy prefer to work around these protests and thereby drive the internal conflict deeper, the psychodynamic understanding of symptoms, dreams, and behavioral patterns is rather to ask: Why have you come?
As Saint Paul writes in his Letter to the Corinthians, when we become adults, it is time to put away childish things.
“(T)hat this is the definition of bravery: not being afraid of yourself.”
Jung asserted that all our difficulties derive from the fact that we become separated from our instincts, those internal energies, drives, and feeling states that move us toward greater wholeness.
Too much instinct constricts us to an animal existence, but too much consciousness separates us from our natural sources.
The second half of life is not a chronological moment but a psychological moment that some people, however old, however accomplished, however self-satisfied in life, never reach.
And yet, every time someone avers, “I haven’t lived my mother’s life,” or “I won’t repeat my father’s path,” they are still responding to someone else’s life, some de facto external authority.
In a letter in the 1950s, Jung observed that the work of being an evolved human being consists of three parts. Psychology can bring us insight, but then, he insisted, come the moral qualities of the individual: courage and endurance. So, having potentially come to consciousness, to have embraced insight as to what a dilemma is really about, one then has to find the courage to live it in the real world, with all its punitive powers, and to do so over time in the face of opposition both external and internal.
The other person may have learned helplessness in early childhood, where a reticulated overpowering environment said, “You have no rights here; you have no choices here.” Such an individual will remain in bondage to a narcissistic partner, an abusive other, who simply repeats the pathologizing messages of history.
It is not the other, but our relationship to history, to the disabling messages of our dependent past, that is imprisoning.
Ironically, we are abetted in this process by something called psychopathology. This is a rather ugly word, but etymologically it translates as “an expression of the suffering of a soul.” That translation puts a different spin on things surely. It could be argued that life is actually rather simple. If you do what is right for you, it is right for you; if you do what is wrong for you, it is wrong for you. But it is not so simple, is it?
How do we know what is right for us? Well, the body knows, our deepest feeling knows, and the psyche knows, and each expresses its opinion, even as we learned early in life to evade these continuous messages from our own depths.
Whatever health and wholeness is, it surely involves aligning our outer choices with our inner reality. When the path we are on is right for our souls, the energy is there. When what we are doing is wrong for us, we can temporarily mobilize energy in service to goals, and often we must, but in time such forced mobilization leads to irritability, anger, burnout, and symptoms of all kinds. When what we are doing is right for us, the feeling function supports us. That is, our autonomous feeling system supports rather than opposes our choices. The support of this autonomous evaluative process confirms the rightness of our choices, even when those around us do not endorse them. When we are doing what is right for us, we will feel a sense of purpose, meaning, and satisfaction, and that communicates itself to others also.
Sometimes we have to act as if we are not afraid simply not to be governed by fear. In those moments, we move from creatures of adaptation to creatures whose lives testify to the unfolding possibilities of being.
Insight, courage, and endurance — not a bad litany of which to be mindful every day.
The days we remember and do our best — all that is ever asked of us — are the days in which we reclaim personal authority from the vaults of history. Then we may know we have truly moved into the second half of life, the part where we get our life back.
Jung’s comment that the largest burden the child must bear is the unlived life of the parent is a stunning reminder of the silent cost these generations bore. Jung’s own father was chronically depressed and unable to question the premises of his belief, his conditioning, or his tribe; his mother was chronically unstable.
When we violate our psyches, our souls, the moment does not go unrecognized by something within. So often the task of the therapist is to receive these reports, dilemmas, and recast them into another perspective.
The one thing parents can do for their children is live their lives as fully as they can, for this will open the children’s imagination, grant permission to them to have their own journey, and open the doors of possibility for them. Wherever we are stuck, they will have a tendency to be stuck also or will spend their life trying to overcompensate.
To that end then, two principles: It’s not about what it’s about. What you see is a compensation for what you don’t see.
Food becomes love, continuity, ready presence. No matter how miserable the day, we can come home, open the fridge, and “lights on, and welcome home!” And why is it we have so many eating disorders — anorexia, bulimia, obesity? These disorders are hypermanagement efforts in a world elsewhere beyond our control or a plaintive cry that there is never enough love, security, or reassurance.
When the life of the spirit is compromised by the decline of the mediatorial institutions and connective imagery to the transcendent, one transfers the search for the numinous — that which speaks to the soul, engages the spirit — to some surrogate such as power, business, sex, satiety, or a palliative substance.
I recall a woman in a bad relationship saying to me that she would not let go of that hand until there was another hand in the darkness for her. So we cling to that which in the end offers only a modicum of nurturance and leaves behind its traces in the corpulent body.
Similarly, the opposite existential threat, abandonment, means the person is driven to achievement in order to attain the reassuring accolades of the other, or transfers the need for nurturance, constancy, or reassurance to some promising surrogate yet estranges the other through coercive behaviors.
Jung observed that in virtually every case he attended, the person knew from the beginning what his or her task was. The presenting neurosis, the blockage, the obstacles that obscure the task are only the surface distractions from the implicit intimidation of really knowing what is right for us.
But something within always does know what is right for us and what is wrong. We know as children, and what we know then gets overruled by the powers and principalities of the world and the need to fit in somehow.
Jung nailed it: “A psychoneurosis must be understood, ultimately, as the suffering of a soul which has not yet discovered its meaning.”1 Notice that he does not rule out suffering, for suffering, as the medieval adage had it, “is the fastest horse to completion.”
I cannot count the times someone has said in the midst of analysis or a workshop, “I know I should . . . (fill in the blank).” How is it we can know and not carry through? This dilemma goes back to the chapter on stuckness for sure, and we need to remember that in those blockages, we are succumbing to an archaic anxiety of some sort: we fear we will be ridiculed, left alone, fall on our face, and so on. We all have those fears, yet deep within is that call again, that summons. How many talents have been neglected, opportunities aborted, risks rationalized away? Each one of those moments of postponement, rationalization, and deflection was when we turned our back on our own soul.
Individuation is a religious summons, the flight from which leads to pathologies of all sorts — distorted relationships, anesthetizing or distracting behaviors that lead to a narrowing path, or a chronic dis-ease, the cure to which is never found in medications, new relationships, or new pursuits.
When I was writing my book What Matters Most, the first thing that came to my mind, apart from the conventional answers of family, friends, and good work, was that one’s life not be governed by fear. Fear is unavoidable, but a life in which fear calls the shots is one that results in terrible malformations of the soul.
Looking back on our lives, we may recognize many critical choices were driven by fears — fear of disappointing others, fear of embarrassment, fear of loss of family consensus, and so on. And often such fears made decisions for us, often to be unraveled over years of conflict, depression, anger, and further dithering.
To counter the fear of stepping into the world as ourselves, I have often invoked that old chestnut: “How will you feel if conscious on your deathbed that you had not been here as yourself?” No one yet has suggested that they would feel okay about that dismal prospect.
Our soul can manage a great deal: suffering, loss, isolation, and much more if it feels that there is purpose to the suffering. It cannot long tolerate suffering without meaning nor abide our compromises with ourselves. As Jung pointed out, the smallest of things with meaning is infinitely greater than things without meaning. And meaning is defined by our souls, not our culture.
A very effective instrument when in the face of blockages and difficult choices is to ask the very pragmatic question: “Does this choice enlarge me or diminish me?” I submit that usually we know the answer to that question immediately.
As a counterpoise, we must recall that we do not choose feelings. Feelings are autonomous responses of the organism to how things are going from its perspective. We can choose to ignore feelings, project them onto others, anesthetize them, and so on, but we do not choose them. It took me quite a while, as a thinking type, to realize this elemental truth.
To reiterate, the choice of the large is not in service to grandiosity or to inflation; it is quite the contrary. It is in service to our growing recognition that something else besides security, fitting in, and protection asks our recognition.
We grow less fearful, less suspicious, less needy, because we know that we have a calling to something else. It is natural to have fears of the world. Only a psychotic person would not. But it is a violation of our souls if we live our lives governed by our fears.
Ultimately, to step into the larger, we have to go through our fears. I have to emphasize go through. There is no magic, no set of five steps to dissolve the obstacles, no pill, no narcotic to make it all possible.
All those whom we admire in history had to go through something, and when they did, they learned on the other side that they were still there, though the world was different.
Jung observed that usually behind the wound lies the genius of the person. That is to say, where we are hurt often quickens consciousness and resolve and abundant energy to persist, even prevail. The key is not what happens to us but how it is internalized and whether those messages expand or diminish our resilience.
In the end, we are not here to fit in, to be well adjusted, acceptable to all, or to make our parents proud of us. We are here to be ourselves. Often that is not pretty, but it is honest. And our gift to the great mosaic of the world is our uniqueness.
To be eccentric, not to fit in, to hear our own drummer, these are the signs of our bringing our gift, our personhood, to the table of life. It sounds so simple, but it is so difficult, not only because of all the disabling messages of the past but also because to be that gift asks us to let go and trust that something within us is good enough, wise enough, strong enough to belong in this world.
Jung once observed the only unforgivable sin is to choose to remain unconscious.
Without the autonomy of the unconscious, the larger part of our being, without its registrations, evaluations, and critiques, we would never know what was right for us. Hardly anyone deliberately sets out on a false course, a life-denying aversion to the spirit’s summons, yet many have done this, over and over.
Jung observed that a neurosis is always found in the flight from authentic suffering. Naturally, no one wants to suffer, but Jung’s observation suggests that there is a distinction between authentic and inauthentic suffering.
There is no going forward without a death of some kind: a death of who we thought we were and were supposed to be; a death of a map of the world we thought worthy of our trust and investment; a death of expectations that by choosing rightly we could avoid suffering, experience the love and approval of those around us, and achieve a sense of peace, satisfaction, arrival home.
For example, for most of our parents, the power and role of the collective was much more influential than in our time. For them, exclusion from collective expectations was a form of hell. So whatever our parents thought, longed for, and suffered, most of them carried on in daily silence.
I grieve, more than judge, the world of our parents, because for them their world was so circumscribed by socialized roles, categories, scripts, and expectations — and the sanctions for those who did not conform quite severe.
On the front we have traditionally called religion, I agree that we are religious creatures at heart, no matter what our preoccupations, addictions, distractions, or confessions. In his Systematic Theology, theologian Paul Tillich asserted that religion is where one expresses one’s “ultimate concern.”
An authentic journey will ask us to embrace contradictions, suffer ambiguity, and not fall into either-or thinking, which is so characteristic of the immature or the frightened mind.
F. Scott Fitzgerald has a character in one of his short stories who defines the first-rate mind as one that can hold opposites in tension without having to fall on one side of the ledger or the other. And Jung added that ordinary ideas are easily contradicted by other ideas, but for profoundly truthful ideas, their opposites are also true. Therefore, only paradox can begin to approach the magnitude of the universe in which we float.
A mature spirituality does not offer certainty; it offers mystery. It offers depth, it obliges reframing our understandings, and it requires growing up psychospiritually.
Individuation means submission, not ego triumph or transcendence of the ordinary. It means surrendering the life we wanted or expected, for that which the gods or the soul (whatever metaphor you prefer) calls for.
We are alive because we are serving life more than security, serving growth more than comforting stasis, serving the soul more than the anxious, distracted, and fugitive crowd.
While I have been blessed more than most souls on this planet and am daily mindful of that gift, I learned early that achieving one’s goals always leaves one hungry for the next level.
The philosopher concluded that the most sustained pleasure available is not of the senses but philosophy itself. He may not be far off. While philosophy is not everyone’s first choice for pleasure, one suspects Epicurus concluded that the state of one’s mind is perhaps the key to this question.
I am moved when I see the resilience of the human spirit in people who have been battered by life. To see them survive, move through suffering, and reach a different place makes me happy, for the while, because it floods me with meaning. To work with people in their traumas, disappointments, even despair, is so meaningful I cannot describe it.
What we find, if we pay attention to the expressions of the psyche — our symptoms, our sudden insights, our compensatory dreams, our insurgent feeling states — is that our souls are constantly registering an opinion. This opinion is very little like public opinion, for it is the vote of one against the many.
To ignore this expression, which we all learn to do early on, means that we become strangers to ourselves. But the repressed returns in moments of sudden impulse, uncontrolled outbursts, troubling dreams, and most of all, in the erosion of meaning from our lives.
In the experience of meaning, we are asked to trust something deep within. We all know that. We all knew that as children, but given our powerlessness and lack of overt alternatives, we all learned to brush aside these internal promptings.
Have we not all learned that the violation of that which lies so deeply within us, this inner voice, this inner certainty, this inner support, keeps showing up, despite our disdain, collusion, cowardice, and flights from the large?
Rousseau began his powerful Confessions with the sentence, “Man is born free, and everywhere is in chains.” We might add a sentence to that: “We are born whole, and everywhere are fractured.”
Many of us left behind joy, spontaneity, creativity, and enthusiasm, given the battering that so many acquire along this journey we call our life. For some, they are very specific talents, callings, curiosities, but the “permission” to pursue them seems abridged at best and missing at worst.
Similarly, joy and spontaneity were suspect because they threatened the predictable. And what was predictable? Hardship, disappointment, and disillusionment. Even worse, revealing emotions publicly made one vulnerable.
I was blessed by having both parents in my life, yet from each I learned to leave my feelings behind — spontaneity, anger, joy, and hope as well. Only in later years, when the psyche rebelled, did I begin to come back to these personal treasures left behind.
Accordingly, the greatest obstacle to a satisfying life remains the risky permission to live our lives as the soul desires.
But when we examine our own inhibitions, our hedging of bets, or our various compromises with the world, we also find such wiring reaching into our emotional basements. Sadly, that wiring will never go away, given its deep programming in the most vulnerable, impressionable stage of our formation. On the other hand, a natural growth process occurs in each of us, and sometimes we just outgrow these old fears, inhibitions, and constrictions. Other times it takes a depression or a series of disturbing dreams to get our attention and demand a larger life.
Through the years I have found no matter how accomplished the life, as measured by the often superficial parameters of popular culture, most people lack elemental permission to be who they are or to give voice to the magnitude of soul that exists within them.
One must become conscious of one’s capacity for “evil,” for the expression of those values contrary to our desire for ourselves, what Jung called the shadow.
Latin playwright Terence noted two millennia ago, really part of who we are: “nothing human is alien to me.”
Permission is something that can be given if the parents not only affirm the child in his or her struggles, but also, even more importantly, live rich, full lives themselves.
For most of us, however, for the great majority of the gifted, accomplished persons I have known, permission is not something given but something to be seized.
Many in the context of therapy discover that what has depressed them, what they sought to distract, or anesthetize, or flee, is actually the larger life that wishes expression through them. The moment we realize that our life is really in our own hands, that it is a spiritual summons to be honored, and that we deprive others by not bringing our more developed selves to share, then we realize permission is not something given — but something to be seized.
When we are in the grip of a powerful complex, we are a possessed city-state, experience its occupation through our bodies, and serve its program by repetitive enactment of its instructions.
We all learned that our survival at worst and our acceptance at best depended on acclimation to whatever the environment dictates.
Only when the distress reaches a certain proportion are we likely to look within, to reexamine the principles and perceptions that govern our lives, or to enter a serious self-examination. Yet it is in those moments that the opening to a larger life begins.
It appears that it is not what happens to us, but how we internalize what happens to us, how we message it. What breaks some souls seems to energize others with resolve and determination.
While learned helplessness is one of the functional definitions of depression, we all learned helplessness in our childhood experience.
Rather, these childhood experiences, containing considerable energy as they do, may fuel resolve to confront, push through, persist in the face of the obstacles life presents. Few things will outlast the truly resolved, persistent person. I know this for a fact, not only personally but also in the lives of decades of clients. We cannot give this strength to another, but we can mirror it in ourselves and remind others, stimulate and reinforce the inherent powers granted us by the life force. We learn by going though these fears, not by running from them and thereby ratifying their preemptive powers.
In the end, we are haunted by the examples of the past, the denied permission to live a free journey. We are haunted by the partial examples of those in our purview, taking their pusillanimity or oppression as predictive of our own.
And even more, we are haunted by the small lives we live in the face of our immense possibilities. Haunting is individual, generic, cultural, and extremely hard to challenge because it so often seems bound by generations of practice, ancestral fears, and archaic defenses of privilege.
The biggest haunting of all, the biggest shadow that occludes our sense of sovereignty in the outer world, is the specter of our unlived life. Something within each of us suffers, longs, despairs, persists, and even goes underground to reemerge as fantasy, as projections onto surrogate objects of desire, or as anesthetizing self-soothing. When the soul is not honored, when our possibility is denied by an outer oppressor, a social proscription, or worse, our own pusillanimity, our pathology intensifies.
In the context of such hauntings, the greatest ghost for us is the apparition of what was possible but that we shunned.
Perhaps the key measure of successful parenting, despite whatever mistakes we have made, is whether our children really understand that we love them as they are, not as we wish them to be. This rather simple test is much harder to meet than it first appears. To be able to pull back our expectations of them — that they make us proud of ourselves, that they ratify our religious, political, and cultural values — first requires that we are really addressing the task of our own individuation and not imposing our unfinished business on them.
I have seen many a man recall remarks, criticisms, expectations from decades ago, and carry those shaming moments into much that he does or fails to do today. Those shaming moments show up in aversion to legitimate risk, overcompensation through risky behaviors, or pain-numbing addictions.
I wrote in The Eden Project of what I call the heroic summons — namely, to lift off the intimate other the unfinished business of my own life. This I call heroic because it asks me to assume a burden much larger than feels comfortable. It asks that we outgrow the dependent part that is covertly eager to have someone take care of us. So we seek, unconsciously, to convert our partners into the good parent, the one who takes the task of self-esteem, of personal accountability, the responsibility for meeting most of our own needs, off our shoulders.
If we are ever going to free our children, as we wished to be freed from the web our parents may have spun for us, we have to generate our own lives. And if we really do love our children, as we profess, then we have to free them of our expectations that they live like us.
Rather, I would define the shadow as those parts of us, or of our groups and organizations, that, when brought to consciousness, are troubling to our concept of ourselves, contradictory to our professed values, or intimidating in what they might ask of our timid souls.
I have always been moved by the two-millennia-old observation of Philo of Alexandria that we should be kind because everyone we meet has a really big problem.
Still, is it not the beginning of wisdom to recognize that what is wrong in the world is also wrong in me and that what must be righted in the world begins with me, rather than preaching to my neighbor?
Possibly the largest of the shadow issues still lies ahead. I find that the biggest shadow issue, that which people most resist, most rationalize away, most avoid, is the magnitude of the unlived life.
I suspect equally that the greatest burden our souls must bear is the unlived life.
The daimon, as the ancients understood it, was a tutelary spirit, an agency linking the microcosm with the macrocosm.
Theologian Paul Tillich expressed it best when he defined grace as accepting the fact that we are accepted, despite the fact that we are unacceptable.
Jung observed that most of our neuroses, our deeply painful internal splits, arise because we experience the push-pull of legitimate duties.
Sooner or later most of us encounter tough choices and suffer greatly. Again, Jung commented on this kind of dilemma. To choose either A or B casually is to violate the legitimate claim of the other. His advice is to suffer the tension of opposites within ourselves as long as we can bear it and to wait upon the appearance of the “third.” And what is the third?
Contrary to public perception, it is not the therapist’s job to “save the marriage.” It is the therapist’s duty to help each party identify through honest suffering and difficult discernment what the third is for them. When both parties faithfully pursue this process, I have found that most can agree on the resolution: to continue in an evolved way or to dissolve with understanding and good faith on both sides.
Part of what it means to be an emergent adult is to realize both the tiny place our ego holds, like a fragile cork floating on a tenebrous sea, and the immense summons to which it is accountable.
Jung’s concept of individuation is meant to be seen in this light — namely, as a duty to the soul. One is not thereby granted permission to narcissistic self-indulgence or spared brokenness of spirit by flight from the norms of one’s time and space, but rather to the sacrifice that genuine vocation so typically requires.
Who we really are is not meant to fit in, be normal, imitate someone else’s life. After all, that has already been done, so why repeat it? Individuation is the summons to grow up, to achieve personhood, to be a mensch.
Or as Joseph Campbell wryly observed: myth is other people’s religion.
In the end, “the modern” is a person who understands that, for good or ill, the responsibility for spirituality has shifted from tribal religion to the shoulders of the individual.
As writer Anne Lamott sagely observes, we can conclude we have made our god in our own image when it turns out that our god hates the same people we do.
When we try on someone else’s coat, it may or may not fit, may or not accord with who we are, and so we readily change coats but do not accept anyone else’s coat without it feeling right to us. If something is right for us, it resonates. If it is not right, it does not resonate. We can will it to do so, and even convince ourselves, but it won’t pass the test of time. Often what seemed to resonate in the past ceases to do so presently, which is why so many have turned to the superficial and seductive images of secular society.
But if something truly resonates within us, it is right for us, at least for now. Tomorrow will answer to tomorrow. Thus it is not with guilt or fear that we let go of yesterday’s conviction, but with honesty about whether or not resonance occurs. We do not choose that; the soul makes that decision for us.
In 1937, Jung gave the Terry Lectures at Yale University, and he concluded his three presentations by saying, “No one can know what the ultimate things are. We must take them as we experience them. And if such experience helps make life healthier, more beautiful, more complete, and more satisfactory to yourself and to those you love, you may safely say, ‘This was the grace of God.’”
Of course, we know his terrible secret: he is terrified of self-examination because, as a narcissist, he already suspects there is no real core identity within. Such persons survive by control, domination, manipulation, passive-aggressive strategies, and the like, and cannot bear the strong light of consciousness upon themselves.
Even though this woman’s psyche has already spoken to her, already made the judgment that the marriage is not healthy for her, and registered its disapproval through her psychopathology, she prefers to retreat from the abyss of choice.
But psychopathology, again “the expression of the suffering of the soul,” is a powerful contradiction to our adaptations to the world.
This theme of powerlessness shows up time and time again as the inordinate influence of early models of self and world, self and other, and it shapes our inner paradigms. Even though the great religions endorse the notion of the soul, the preciousness of the human being, and even though the government of enlightened nations ratify the pursuit of life, liberty, and satisfaction, this issue of permission is critical. Many of us, most of us, were raised to be nice, to fit in, not to promote ourselves, and this somehow got translated into self-abnegation, self-criticism, and self-avoidance. It is not narcissistic to become — it is a duty. But who has ever heard that in his or her childhood? Very few, if any.
Growing up requires that we accept that no one out there knows what is going on, that they are as much at the mercy of their complexes and unconscious mechanisms as the least of us, and so now we must figure it out for ourselves.
As Chögyam Trungpa puts it to us: “Self-deception often arises because you are afraid of your own intelligence and afraid you won’t be able to deal properly with your life. You are unable to acknowledge your innate wisdom. Instead, you see wisdom as a monumental thing outside yourself. That attitude has to be overcome.”
This human animal is a creature of desire, and what it most desires is meaning, and what it most suffers is the loss of meaning.
But mobilization that does not attend the needs of the soul inevitably leads to burnout, ennui, depression, and finally a deadening life. Such a life is sadly more the norm than we wish to acknowledge. Such a life is generally filling time until the guy with the scythe shows up at the door, as he invariably does.
There are only answers that make sense to you at this moment in your life, and they will fail you later in your journey. What is seemingly true today will be outgrown tomorrow, when life or our own soul brings us a larger frame through which to view them.
The plans, models, and expectations of yesterday are the prisons of today. And as Shakespeare noted, no prisons are more confining than those we know not we inhabit. Thus, good souls continue to assiduously apply old understandings to the new terrain of their lives with increasingly diminishing results. And the symptoms intensify.
What was most troubling to me as a child and as a young adult — namely, the presence of ambiguity and uncertainty — is today almost comfortable. This is because I have learned whatever makes sense today will be insufficient tomorrow when I have larger questions, larger contexts, and more consciousness to bring to the table. I also know, wherever there is “certainty,” there either is naiveté, unconsciousness, or defense against doubt.
Many, perhaps the great majority, never keep the appointment, never show up, and thus lead lives of quiet desperation, suffer anesthetized souls, and have to continuously palliate distracted consciousness.