Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

A Quotation from Carl Jung on Midlife Transition

February 24th, 2009 · Anxiety, Carl Jung, depression, depth psychology, dreams, Individuation, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, life passages, Meaning, midlife, Psychotherapy, soul, unlived life

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm planning to add some posts to this Path in Garden for Vibrant Jung Thing Blog 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.

You see what has happened.  He couldn't go back.  It was already too late.  But his energyThinking Man for Vibrant Jung Thingis still there, and it must be used.

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.

'No,' I say, I am not that man.  But that man speaks to you every night.  How?  In your dreams.'Aborigine Rock Art for Vibrant Jung Thing (2)

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.

In my next post, I'll be continuing my series "Therapy: Pain Killer or Path to Myself", of which I've already published PART ONE and PART TWO.

I wish each of you every good thing on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson,


© Beata Becla| ; © Riekefoto| ; © Jurgen Kleykamp|



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Please Tell Who I Am!

January 7th, 2009 · depth psychology, Individuation, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, soul, unlived life, wholeness

Those of us of a certain age will remember The Logical Song by Supertramp with its striking lyrics:


When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh, it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily,
Joyfully, playfully watching me.
But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

There are times when all the world’s asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd…
Please tell me who I am.

Now watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical,
Liberal, fanatical, criminal.
Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re
Acceptable, respectable, presentable — a vegetable!

At night, when all the worlds asleep,
The questions run so deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd…
Please tell me who I am.

It seems to me that this song resonates with me more in my middle-aged life than it did when I was young.  We do indeed go to school, and we get socialized in such a way that we learn everything that we need to learn to grow up to become responsible, productive citizens, good spouses, good parents, good providers.  That was my experience at least.  But around about mid-life, or sometimes even before, we begin to get the sense that something is missing.

In the course of our lives, we make choices, and we go down one road at the fork, leaving the other road with all its possibilities unexplored.  But the thing is, those possibilities don’t go away, no matter how logical or responsible we try to be.  And at some point or other, as I know well from my own experience, all those other possibilities come calling.  It is not about returning to childhood, but it is about returning to the sense of life that children often have, of being vibrantly full of awareness in the midst of this miracle that is the world and the self.

In the course of the song, the singer pleads with his teachers, “Please tell me what we’ve learned… Please tell me who I am.”  This is not at all an absurd question, but it is the one thing that the teachers cannot give him.  They may teach all kinds of fine knowledge and skills, and they may teach how to be responsible, how to be a good citizen, even how to be ethical. 

But no teacher can tell you who you most fundamentally are.  They can test your aptitudes, make suggestions about career — any number of things.  However, the secret of your real identity is something that is locked inside you, and inside me.  We can “stand for” this or that, but that is not identity.  The whole complete, complex reality of who we are only comes from encountering all the many complex people we are, and the huge range of feelings thoughts and attitudes that we have, deep inside of us.  And as Carl Jung tells us, “Only that which is truly oneself heals”.  What we are is a reality beyond logic, and beyond conventional wisdom.  Only as I journey into my own interior, do I encounter the incredible reality of the person who is there waiting to meet me — my own Self.

My own journey has taught me that this isn’t an easy road to walk.  Sometimes I have flinched from it, and sometimes I have outright run from it.  However, I’ve come to believe that it is the single most important journey that anyone can go upon…beyond the conventional image of myself and into the mystery and indescribable fullness of who I really am.



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Individual Therapy & the Unlived Life

September 1st, 2008 · individual, individual therapy, the unlived life, unlived life

 Doindividual therapyAs individual therapy shows, we all live our lives, and in the course of just “getting through” our lives, we all have to make decisions.  With each major decision that we make, we open a door and walk through it.  We also close at least one door, perhaps several.  Sometimes that closing is forever, and we cannot go back and make the choice again.  The river of life moves: we can’t reverse the flow, and head back upstream.

Whatever choices we make, we are closing off options that we could have taken.  Sometimes these options call to us, beckon to us, despite our having left them behind.  Sometimes we leave them behind, and don’t think of them.

But we can reach a point at which our unlived life comes back to us.  Consciously, or sometimes unconsciously, weDoor_unlived_life_vibrant_jung_thin can begin to feel the weight of what might have been if only we had made different choices, if our luck had gone slightly differently, if we had seen things just a little bit more clearly.  When I was at the Art Institute of Chicago, I saw a painting, which seemed to me to capture this feeling with a great deal of eloquence,  American artist Ivan Wright’s That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door).  For me it evoked all the “doors” that we do not open, and all the feelings — hopeful, melancholy, grieving — that are associated with Unlived_life_vibrant_jung_thing_blo them.  As clients remind me constantly, there are so many choices that could have been made, each with the seductive aura of possibility surrounding it.

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