Creating a Life

I’ve been reading Creating a Life by Jungian analyst James Hollis and Jung’s Symbols of Transformation at the same time. Hollis is the head of the Jungian studies program I’ll undertake over the next two years. Creating a Life is the book a person should read after reading about (and hopefully undertaking) the developmental tasks of middle age (40+ years), for it points you in the right direction after the razed earth policy mid-life seems to demand.

I appreciate Hollis’s honesty about the work of a therapist, because it made me feel much better about having quit my work as one. He writes:

“Were therapists required by “truth in advertising” legislation to tell their reality, then virtually no one would ever enter therapy. The therapist would be obliged to say at least three things in return to the suffering supplicant:

First, you will have to deal with this core issue the rest of your life, and at best you will manage to win a few skirmishes in your long uncivil war with yourself. Decades from now you will be fighting on these familiar fronts, though the terrain may have shifted so much that you may have difficulty recognizing the same old, same old.

Second, you will be obliged to disassemble the many forces you have gathered to defend against your wound. At this late date it is your defenses, not your wound, that cause the problem and arrest your journey. But removing those defenses will oblige you to feel all the pain of that wound again.

And third, you will not be spared pain, vouchsafed wisdom or granted exemption from future suffering. In fact, genuine disclosure would require a therapist to reveal the shabby sham of managed care as a fraud, and make a much more modest claim for long-term depth therapy or analysis. “

Hollis concludes this topic by suggesting that depth therapy or analysis will not cure anyone, but will, at least, make life more interesting by helping one discover the “complex riddles wrapped within” and thus, hopefully, bring them and other inner contents into consciousness.

A Bloody Blundering

My 12-year-old daughter asked me the other day whether I’d choose to go back in time if I could, if I’d want a “do-over” for any part of my life. I imagined being 12 or 16 or 28 or 36 again, mulling over the mistakes and blunders I’ve made, the people I’ve hurt, those I’ve mistakenly trusted, the stupid decisions I’ve made. Did I want to go back and change something, anything? After awhile I told her that I wouldn’t want to go back under any circumstance, for in spite of these mistakes and regrets, the first half of my life was, as Hollis writes, “a great and inevitable mistake, a bloody blundering.” An inevitable mistake, a mistake that had to be made.

To be young is to be a fool living among fools, no matter how wise we imagine ourselves to be. The wisest old folks you know (if you can find any) will tell you they were fools when they were younger; the trick is to learn from having been one and to press on toward wisdom and clarity. This is how it is with me; I’m pressing on, creating a life for myself. As it says in Proverbs, “if you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you are foolish, you alone will bear it.” Having carried the results of my own follies for all the years since I did them, I’m wiser for having carried them. I’m lingering in a place where I am happy and miserable, content and full of yearning, clear-eyed but stumbling blindly, sane in the craziest way possible, grateful to be where I am at this moment in time, this ripe moment, this beautiful, pregnant moment.

23 responses

  1. I love this poem..who wrote it?
    Neurosis

    I want to feel
    sick without
    regret
    others too
    sell-e-berate
    me
    my (lai) dysfunction—
    it’s not me
    you know.

    He had know
    where
    to hang his hat—
    no matter
    how many doors he walked
    through
    hat in hand
    how sincerely he
    smiled
    hat in hand
    or loudly he silently screamed
    hat in hand
    there simply wasn’t ever
    a place to hang
    his hat.
    One night though
    the sick, dark, foreboding
    and dis-ease of that
    was completely
    forgotten
    when he realized he had
    no head
    to put his hat
    back onto—
    what was he going
    to do, now,
    carry the fucking thing
    everywhere!?

    • Carla, I loved the poem too. The author is “The Librarian in Purgatory,” a fellow blogger and wonderful writer. You can click his name above and go to his blog. His literary gifts are sprinkled across Third Eve and never fail to bless.

  2. Sounds nice as I seem to find myself homeless these days- finished Kegan’s “The Evolving Self” and “lost in transition” would seem to explain a lot.

    Blasphemy

    What kind of God
    created
    something without
    use
    and set it alone
    in the world?

    Ariadne’s Shame

    When I cry
    in the deepest dark
    of my dark
    it is not for Theseus
    but for the Minotaur.

    Rampart 51

    He is
    the emergency
    I have
    become.

  3. Monicajane, actually I will blog about it, because I’m learning a lot about psychological development among adults. Jung said outright that a person isn’t really an adult (if ever) until after his/her mid-life crisis, and had good reason for saying so.

    Theoretically (and religiously, if one wants to go there), each person is an individual, eh? “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” as the song goes. How do you let your own particular light shine? Is yours like everyone else’s? No, for your DNA is unique, which is a sort of biological clue about the nature of being in our universe. We’re meant to be different, unique in some way. Each person has his/her destiny.

    During the first half of life, we are herd animals and live as herd animals. The successful adaptation to reality and to the collective is the job of the person in his/her 20s and 30s. Around the end of our 30s, if we have successfully adapted, a crisis occurs. It occurs because we aren’t designed to live collective lives for our entire lives. It takes about 15-20 years to get sick of ourselves and the world that’s “too much with us,” as Wordsworth wrote.

    We get sick of it and we need our real Selves. That Self contains our destiny, vocation, what we’re here to do or be. If we don’t do it, we die without ever having lived our lives–our own lives. We’ve lived the collective life, we’ve lived out someone else’s agenda, etc etc. Thus, as Jung said, success is one of the greatest hindrances to individuation. Success at adaptation and getting the stuff and status of the ego-driven, first half of life is enough to drag a person to the bottom and keep him/her there. So Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. What kingdom? The kingdom of heaven that’s within you.

    So. Flight from destiny is the flight from the inner kingdom in which the Self, archetype of wholeness, of containment of all our bits and pieces, along with ego, personas, archetypes, and complexes… that’s our destiny. Jesus set his face to the cross; Gandhi and Buddha sat; Cinderella went to the ball.

    I should note that fleeing from destiny does no good, as the tale of Jonah and the whale illustrates. Jonah still was spat up exactly where he was supposed to be, anyway. We can flee ourselves, but because the Self is always with us, we can’t elude it forever. It is very much like God; as the Psalmist said, “Wherever I go, Thou art there.”

  4. “…when he realized he had no head to put his hat back onto…”. So good to see you again. You would have found yourself entirely at home, I think, among our group of mid-life learners this weekend, shell-shocked and home from the wars.

  5. “…At this late date it is your defenses, not your wound, that cause the problem and arrest your journey. But removing those defenses will oblige you to feel all the pain of that wound again.”

    Ah, the horrible, horrible truth of it…

    Neurosis

    I want to feel
    sick without
    regret
    others too
    sell-e-berate
    me
    my (lai) dysfunction—
    it’s not me
    you know.

    He had know
    where
    to hang his hat—
    no matter
    how many doors he walked
    through
    hat in hand
    how sincerely he
    smiled
    hat in hand
    or loudly he silently screamed
    hat in hand
    there simply wasn’t ever
    a place to hang
    his hat.
    One night though
    the sick, dark, foreboding
    and dis-ease of that
    was completely
    forgotten
    when he realized he had
    no head
    to put his hat
    back onto—
    what was he going
    to do, now,
    carry the fucking thing
    everywhere!?

  6. Apparently a big part of the developmental task of the 40s is to do what Dante did: go off into the dark wood of the unconscious, or at the very least, get off the beaten path of habit we’ve beat down during the previous 20 years.

    well, that’s reassuring, I seem to be right on task in a very dark wood. I’m 44 and I’ve been on a descent into the wood for a good 2 to 3 years….when might I expect to find my way out??

    and Deb, you gave me a good laugh too.

    • Monica, great question. I wish I had a “one size fits all” answer. As best I can tell, it takes about as long to grow into one’s mature Self as it took to grow a mature ego. One depends on the other, actually, and energizes a person to fight for her life. How long does the fight take? That depends on whether there is a flight from destiny as well. It could take 3-5 years, or it could take decades.

      I learned this weekend that most people never grow up; they stay stuck in ego development their entire lives. So good for you, even having a mid-life crisis! ;o)

      • That depends on whether there is a flight from destiny as well.

        what does that mean? and how do we know whether we are doing it or not? I don’t expect you to answer that here, but if you ever need a subject for a post…go for it.

        or if you have a suggestion for reading that would be good to.

  7. Eve: I started the intelligent underachieving early — seventh grade, I think! In some ways I regret not working harder in college so that I could have considered grad school sooner, but then I see so clearly that it’s taken 16 years of maturation to even develop proper motivation and organization to study, no less mature as a human being. Which leads me to…

    MommaRuth: The “everyday duties of being a mom and wife” are a rich field for inner development! Where else are you so constantly confronted by your foibles, your unconscious behaviors, your inner wounds?

    It’s based in anthroposophy, which is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I wrote a series of blog posts on a fascinating book called The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker. I’ve found this book to be very enriching and encouraging over the years and a mother and homemaker.

    • Heni, well put to Ruth. I agree entirely that there’s hardly anything better for showing us our unconsciousness, wounds, complexes, knots (whatever we want to call them all) than intimate relations with husband, children, relatives. But, lacking these, the unconscious is still bound to get us by the ‘nads, according to Jungian thought.

  8. I’ve been wondering about my journey as a thirty something. What am I suppose to be doing as I work toward wholeness? I feel lost in the everyday duties of being a mom and wife. But I eventually come to the answer that I am doing what I am suppose to be doing, being the best mom and wife that I can be. Does that continue one toward wholeness? What do you think?

    • Ruth, this is exactly where one is ‘supposed to be’ in the 30s. It’s inevitable. Though Hollis calls life before middle age an “inevitable blunder,” I think our tendency is to give more weight to “blunder” than we do to “inevitable.” We simply must do the tasks of the 20s and 30s, particularly (in my way of thinking) of the 30s.
      Why must we do all the ego-based, commonplace, predictable activity that we will later find so useless? Because to do otherwise is to imperil our mental health later, when the scales fall from our eyes and we suddenly start hearing the tick-tick-tick of the biological clock, ticking us along toward death.

      I’m supposed to be writing my 10-page paper (cough, cough), so during my reading this morning I ran across something in Jung’s memoir that appears to answer your question (which I share). Jung said that when the inevitable departure into the dark wood (remember Dante?) comes upon a person around age 37-40, it’s entirely possible that insanity, breakdown, etc. (or our modern-day versions manifested in rampant divorce, ruined parent-child relations, affairs, bankruptcies, and other forms of ruin) will occur if not for our grounding with family members and career or work. That’s right: they are our anchors.

      This is why, I think, that many great thinkers went insane as they activated the transcendent function (or cooperated with it): they didn’t have sufficient grounding in this world. This is what Jung said made him able to cooperate fully with the unconscious and produce his Red Book (no, he did not “go crazy” or have a “psychotic break” as some want to say these days; he himself said that though he feared a psychotic break, he KNEW he was living in reality, and his family and colleagues–and patients!–kept his feet on terra firma).

      Anyway… to answer your last question, I think that doing one’s duty in life first, and mastering all the nuances of the dutiful and meaningful life during youth will help ground a person later. The sad part that can’t be avoided is that they will, however, come to feel like terrible anchors dragging one to the bottom of the ocean and will many times be bitterly regretted even while they serve as anchors to us during the typhoons the unconscious unleashes during middle age. Just a sad fact of psyche, I guess.

  9. I think I would do-over my college years. I spent a lot of time relatively unconscious (not from beer; emotionally unconscious) and certainly underachieving. I wasted a chance to get good grades and do an honors thesis because I couldn’t get my act together.

    Now, I know there was something to learn from that time, some reason why I needed to be in that state of mind. But right now I’m kicking myself for wasting the opportunities I had.

    • Heni, haha! I’m so glad you clarified the beer part! Sooo funny. I would never peg you as the sort to lie under a table unconscious, anyway. ;o)

      I think that underachieving in college is common. If we’re lucky we get that wakeup call early rather than late, and it keeps us humble and aware of our limits. I did rather poorly as an undergrad, too, but it certainly motivated me to excel in all my subsequent work. Many of the intelligent people I know complain of a similar lack of motivation in college; I don’t think it’s uncommon.

      Having said that, I think you’re brave to consider even an imaginary journey back in time for a do-over. The idea of being able to go back to my college years absolutely horrifies me. I think I’d rather be pursued by zombies.

  10. OK, I’m curious — what developmental tasks is one to undertake in the 40s.

    Next March I turn 50, so if I haven’t been doing them, I’d best start — I have less than five months to finish! Actually, I find I like getting older. Not the aches and pains, especially in the lower back, or the fact that if I don’t moisturize my face it starts looking much older very quickly. But teaching at a university its fun to be part of the lives of young people ready to set out on their lives. I think the Italy trips keep me feeling young 🙂

    (Watched “Under a Tuscan Sun” last night — May 2011, there will be a side trip to Cortona).

    • Scott, your comment made me chuckle. Apparently a big part of the developmental task of the 40s is to do what Dante did: go off into the dark wood of the unconscious, or at the very least, get off the beaten path of habit we’ve beat down during the previous 20 years. My observation is that people who did the needed tasks of the 20s and 30s well, which are ego-based, tend to do the tasks that come later rather well, too, if they have the character to be able to let go of ambition and pride. If not, well, from what I can tell, they just build bigger barns (to borrow from that New Testament parable).

      I don’t think you’re the latter sort.

      I’m glad you said that you like getting older. I’ve liked it, too, for the most part. What I haven’t liked is having enough real-life role models who are what people in their 50s, 60s and 70s could be, which is mentors for wiser, gentler living.

    • P.S. to Scott: Your mentioning the Italy trips reminds me. I dreamed of a fantastic Italian landscape the other night. Though I’ve never been there, I recognized what I was seeing from numerous movies, including Under a Tuscan Sun (I love that movie!).

      Very strangely and synchronistically, the next day I was idly thumbing through a Traditional Home magazine my daughter gave me, and came across a painting of an Italian landscape that looked very nearly identical to the one I dreamed. It took my breath away, both because of the beauty of the landscape (and the artist’s skill) and the fact that this image presented itself twice to me in 24 hours.

      Jung always said that what isn’t acknowledged by the conscious mind is insisted upon by the unconscious and appears in dreams, symptoms, and synchronous circumstances. I think I need to go to Italy. ;o)

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