Wisdom of Life

Carl Jung: On the Wisdom and the Meaning of Life

741b339ccc8a0d711715628728749732As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being. The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life.

The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls. We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life. Real liberation comes not from glossing over or repressing painful states of feeling, but only from experiencing them to the full.

Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are. Every human life contains a potential, if that potential is not fulfilled, then that life was wasted. Sometimes you have to do something unforgivable just to be able to go on living. We only gain merit and psychological development by accepting ourselves as we are and by being serious enough to live the lives we are entrusted with. Our sins and errors and mistakes are necessary to us, otherwise we are deprived of the most precious incentives to development.

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. There’s no coming to consciousness without pain. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular. You open the gates of the soul to let the dark flood of chaos flow into your order and meaning. If you marry the ordered to the chaos you produce the divine child, the supreme meaning beyond meaning and meaninglessness. Faith, hope, love, and insight are the highest achievements of human effort. They are found and given by experience.

The only meaningful life is a life that strives for the individual realization — absolute and unconditional — of its own particular law. To the extent that a man is untrue to the law of his being, he has failed to realize his own life’s meaning. Everybody will cry. “You are no different from anybody else,” they will chorus or, “there’s no such thing.” But he knows better: it is the law. He has resolved to obey the law that commands him from within. “His own law!”

Man cannot stand a meaningless life. The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it. It is only the things we don’t understand that have any meaning. Man woke up in a world he did not understand, and that is why he tries to interpret it. About a third of my cases are suffering from no clinically definable neurosis, but from the senselessness and emptiness of their lives. This can be defined as the general neurosis of our times.

The sad truth is that man’s real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites — day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil. We are not even sure that one will prevail against the other, that good will overcome evil, or joy defeat pain. Life is a battleground. It always has been and always will be; and if it were not so, existence would come to an end.

Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge. To find out what is truly individual in ourselves, profound reflection is needed; and suddenly we realize how uncommonly difficult the discovery of individuality is. Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people. It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going.

Somewhere, right at the bottom of one’s own being, one generally does know where one should go and what one should do. But there are times when the clown we call “I” behaves in such a distracting fashion that the inner voice cannot make its presence felt.

The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interests upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance. Thus we demand that the world grant us recognition for qualities which we regard as personal possessions: our talent or our beauty. The more a man lays stress on false possessions, and the less sensitivity he has for what is essential, the less satisfying is his life. He feels limited because he has limited aims, and the result is envy and jealousy. If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change.

Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away—an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.

If you can live in fantasy, then you don’t need religion, since with fantasy you can understand that after death, man is reincorporated in the Universe. Once again I will say that it is not important to know whether there is something beyond this life. What counts is having done the right sort of work; if that is right, then everything else will be all right. The Universe, or Nature, is for me what God is for others. It is wrong to think that Nature is the enemy of man, something to be conquered. Rather, we should look upon Nature as a mother, and should peaceably surrender ourselves to it. If we take that attitude, we will simply feel that we are returning to the Universe as all other things do, all animals and plants. We are all just infinitesimal parts of the Whole. It is absurd to rebel; we must deliver ourselves up to the great current.

Excerpts from:

  • Carl Gustav Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections
  • Carl Gustav Jung, Psychology and Alchemy
  • Carl Gustav Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul

***

~Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology. Jung’s work was influential in the fields of psychiatry, anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy, and religious studies.

Excellence Reporter 2020

Categories: Wisdom of Life

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