Why we live…
Carl Jung in a letter to an anonymous man written in July 1946 writes that we live ‘in order to attain the greatest possible amount of spiritual development and self-awareness.’
The letter is to someone who is seriously unhappy and Jung reminds the recipient that unjustified influences from childhood, as in this man’s case, are apt to take root in the unconscious. For even once the influence has long gone in the external world, it still continues working in the unconscious and as Jung explains in a straightforward and simple way ‘then one treats oneself as badly as one was treated earlier.’
He urges this person to cultivate his work especially if it gives joy and satisfaction, and in fact to cultivate anything that gives pleasure in being alive. As long as life is possible, ‘even if only in a minimal degree, you should hang on to it, in order to scoop it up for the purpose of conscious development.’ In response to what must have been a statement about suicide Jung says that while the idea of suicide is understandable he can’t commend it, because to interrupt life before its time is to ‘bring to a standstill an experiment which we have not set up. We have found ourselves in the midst of it and must carry it through to the end.’
Jung is sympathetic to the man’s physical and mental state but feels that if he can he will not regret clinging on to being alive. One way of helping is to read a good book, as he adds one reads the Bible, because in the very act of reading we are being drawn inwards. He sees the books as a bridge along which good things may flow even if that seems unimaginable in the present state of mind.
Jung, the empirical psychologist, maintains that our lives are not made entirely by ourselves; there are influences that belong in the collective unconscious in sources that are entirely hidden to us. The best we can do is to live what he calls ‘just ordinary life’ and to become as conscious and self-aware as we can.
Earlier in a dedication note to a collection of some of his offprints Jung writes about the changes that take place over our lives and how in his own life these are marked in his books and articles. He looks back on them rather as ‘moultings’ things that one has sloughed off that conceal as much as they reveal. They are like steps. Jung ends up saying:
‘He who mounts a flight of steps does not linger on them, nor look back at them, even though age invites him to linger or slow his pace. The great wind of the peaks roars ever more loudly in his ears. His gaze sweeps distances that flee into the infinite. The last steps are the loveliest and most precious, for they lead to that fullness to reach which the innermost essence of man is born.’
That’s why we live…