To begin the new year, and to continue our ruminations on aging and mortality, we have a post from Mary Barnes. As a kind of preface, and to set the context, I would just like to provide a few pertinent excerpts from the Collected Works.
In an important essay from 1916 entitled “The Transcendent Function,” Jung gives a wonderful introduction to his method for approaching the unconscious in a waking state which he later called “active imagination.” He explains how consciousness, through its directional or goal‑oriented processes, excludes all material which may be at odds with its direction or goal. Here Jung says:
“The definiteness and directedness of the conscious mind are extremely important acquisitions which humanity has bought at a very heavy sacrifice, and which in turn have rendered humanity the highest service. Without them science, technology, and civilization would be impossible, for they all presuppose the reliable continuity and directedness of the conscious process.” (par. 135)
He continues, then, to characterize this great sacrifice:
“But this involves a certain disadvantage: the quality of directedness makes for the inhibition or exclusion of all those psychic elements which appear to be, or really are, incompatible with it, i.e., likely to bias the intended direction to suit their purpose and so lead to an undesired goal. But how do we know that the concurrent psychic material is "incompatible"? We know it by an act of judgment which determines the direction of the path that is chosen and desired. This judgment is partial and prejudiced, since it chooses one particular possibility at the cost of all the others.” (par. 136)
A few years later, in an essay called “The Stages of Life,” Jung describes youth, and the first half of life, as ruled by this overriding quality of directedness. He uses the daily course of the sun as a model for the stages of life:
“In the morning, it rises from the nocturnal sea of unconsciousness and looks upon the wide, bright world which lies before it in an expanse that steadily widens the higher it climbs in the firmament. In this extension of its field of action caused by its own rising, the sun will discover its significance; it will see the attainment of the greatest possible height, and the widest possible dissemination of its blessings, as its goal.”
“At the stroke of noon the descent begins. And the descent means the reversal of all the ideals and values that were cherished in the morning. The sun falls into contradiction with itself. It is as though it should draw in its rays instead of emitting them,” (par 778)
A little farther on in the essay, Jung moves out of the metaphorical:
“Aging people should know that their lives are not mounting and expanding, but that an inexorable inner process enforces the contraction of life. For a young person it is almost a sin, or at least a danger, to be too preoccupied with himself; but for the aging person it is a duty and a necessity to devote serious attention to himself. After having lavished its light upon the world, the sun withdraws its rays in order to illuminate itself.” (par. 785)
I would like to thank Mary for her reflections below which are exemplify so well, I think, this process of bringing oneself back to appreciate once again, and on a deepened level through gained experience, all these memorable moments.
(Re)Tuning the Radio
If we can no longer write off evil, can we tune in, like a faulty radio receiver searching for a signal, and find the moment when good can be furthered by the smallest touch of the dial. I catch that moment and make a small step toward good...the moment when I can "love beyond this meat and bone". In our stories we remember a glance across and meeting a stranger's eyes and smile; each moves on in their life but a small change has happened and ripples out, a sound wave across the universe. Why does this memory still bloom 50 years later like tendrils of the pasque flower. The answer springs up. In Jung’s sometimes mysterious terminology I understand it was a coniunctio—meeting of two universes, of two unknowns in a moment of wholeness, an expression of cosmogonic love in a simple affirmation of each other’s being across a grocery aisle—our simplest offering of our presence to another and ourself.
Jungian psychology offered me a model of how to think about and respond to a world. I was deep in my exploration of “the nature or reality” through chemistry—with its own esoteric language. At the time I didn’t understand that exploration included this expansion of feeling, the experience of being present to another and ourself.
I find the experience of Age is that it brings me back to those moments when Presence, like Grace, happened.
This weekend I visited at Gage gallery Joanne Thomson’s 300 Mason Jars: an installation of watercolour Paintings…on the theme of legacy and heritage.” I was back in my Grandmother’s canning room; her images brought back the crunch of pickles, the taste of fruit in winter; then the sharp red of paint brush blossom swept me to backpacking in the Rockies. My experience of her Mason Jar series is that I am invited to join individuation processes — how we explore our roots, learn to fly, and find our way home. This is the process through which we become ourself, find what we can share, and dream-on what it means to become human.