I observe myself in the stillness of Bollingen and with all my experience of nearly eight decades must admit that I have found no rounded answer to myself. I am just as much in doubt about myself as before, the more so the more I try to say something definite. It is as though familiarity with oneself alienated one from oneself still further. ~C.G.Jung, Letter to Aniela Jaffe, Bollingen, 6 April 1954, Letters, Vol II, p. 163.
[L]et no day pass without humbly remembering that everything still has to be learned. ~C.G.Jung The psychology of the transference (1946), CW 16, par. 464.
Several of my recent posts have been about going through a troubling phase of uncertainty. Let me reassure you. I am the most fortunate of women. My health is good, I’ve lived in the same town for 50 years, the same house for 40 years, and traveled the world. I’m married to the same man I married at the age of 21. I still love him and he loves me. My children and grandchildren are well and happy. I’ve had challenging and infinitely rewarding work for 30 years now with some satisfying success, and there’s still no end in sight.
But I have a problem. My problem is that I’m hopelessly introspective and scrupulous. I’m sensitive to the slightest change in my inner world. I also observe my thoughts and behavior in the outer world closely and subject myself to relentless scrutiny, criticism, judgment, and self-doubt. I am a problem to myself. I always have been.
Every interaction with another person, everything I say, write, do, and even think goes under my mind’s microscope. And with every new insight or lowering of my defenses, my attitudes toward myself and others change. My feelings and emotions change. My understanding of myself changes. There’s no consistency. I can’t even be counted on to have the same opinions or the same reaction to you tomorrow as I have today!
I keep thinking that if I live long enough and work hard enough, one day I’ll know who I am, come to terms with myself, and be at peace. But despite all my inner work, it hasn’t happened. So I keep wondering, what on earth is wrong with me? Why this recurring discomfort? When will it stop? When will I arrive?
Arrive? Ha! I remember with great embarrassment a conversation I had with a dear friend about 25 years ago. We were talking about how much psychological and spiritual growth we’d both undergone. By that time I had experienced two life-changing spiritual epiphanies and earned my doctorate degree. I’d studied Jungian psychology and worked on my dreams for about five years, meditated and practiced yoga for about three of those years, and written two books.
I was feeling so much better about myself and my life than I had ever felt before that I believed I probably knew about as much about myself as there was to know. Surely I must be getting close to being “enlightened.” When I naively said as much to Ann, she smiled fondly and said something noncommittal like, “Oh, do you? Hmm,” and nodded understandingly.
Something in me felt like a child being patted on the head reassuringly by an older and infinitely wiser loving relative after saying something incredibly silly. Did she doubt me? I wondered why. What did she know that I didn’t? I think this is what she knew:
The goal is important only as an idea: the essential thing is the opus which leads to the goal: that is the goal of a lifetime. ~C.G. Jung The Psychology of the Transference (1946), CW 16 par. 400
Ann was a therapist who worked with a Jungian analyst for 20 years, and the wisest woman I knew. She had been working on her opus a lot longer than I had on mine, and she knew we both had a long road ahead of us. She knew it isn’t over until it’s over.
Last night I had a simple dream in which I’m walking hand-in-hand with a special, unknown man who has returned home after being away for a very long time. We’re heading for a vast grassy field dotted with fallen, rusted out planes, toward his plane. He’s a pilot and he’s going to take me up for a ride. I know that people died in those crashed planes. But I also know that he has taken excellent care of his plane and I can trust him. So I do.
My dream says I trust my animus, my spiritual guide, to lead me safely into an unknown future. I trust my dreams for sure, so I guess this means maybe I’m finally learning to trust myself too. I’ll never fully understand myself, never fully arrive, and probably always be a problem to myself. But I can trust my opus, no matter how different it may be from anyone else’s, without worrying that somehow I have failed.
Image Credit: Art by Jake Baddeley
Paper and E-book versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. The Wilbur Award-winning Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.com. Jean’s new Nautilus Award-winning The Soul’s Twins, is at Amazon and Schiffer’s Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit. Subscribe to her newsletter at www.jeanbenedictraffa.com.