Carl Jung on growing old, part 1

I am very slowly and intermittently reading volume 2 of C. G. Jung Letters 1951-1961 – correspondence from the last ten years of Jung’s life and from time to time he writes letters about old age.

In March 1951 at the age of 76 Carl Jung wrote to a colleague how age gradually pushes one out of time and the world ‘into wider and uninhabited spaces where one feels at first rather lonely and strange’. He was commenting on the death of his last close friend. Yet Jung still saw the goal of life at any age as the realization of the self and wrote that everything living dreams of individuation, for everything strives towards its own wholeness.

At the time he was continuing to deal with the fallout from his controversial work Answer to Job and answering many letters from theologians concerned by Jung’s understanding of God and Christ. For Jung, God was always an inner experience. He wrote:

‘God is not a statistical truth, hence it is just as stupid to try to prove the existence of God as to deny him. If a person feels happy, he needs neither proof nor counterproof.’

In another letter in February 1952 he wrote about developing what he called ‘islands of peace’. Places where he could be contented and true to himself:

‘Some of the main islands are: my garden, the view of distant mountains, my country place where I withdraw from the noise of city life, my library. Also small things I like books, pictures, and stones’.

A couple of years later Jung wrote to his colleague Aniela Jaffe begging forgiveness for ‘senile egoism’ and talking only of himself. He continues:

‘The 79th year is 80-1, and that is a terminus a quo which you can’t help taking seriously. The provisionalism of life is indescribable. Everything you do, whether watching a cloud or cooking soup, is done on the edge of eternity and is followed by the suffix of infinity. It is meaningful and futile at once. And so is oneself, a wondrously living centre and at the same time an instant already sped. One is and is not. This frame of mind encompasses me and hems me in. Only with an effort can I look beyond into a semi-selfsubsistent world I can barely reach, or which leaves me behind. Everything is right, for I lack the power to alter it. This is the debacle of old age: “Je sais bien qu’à la fin vous me mettrez à bas”’ [which translated is: ‘I know well that at the end you will put me down’].