Carl Jung on old age part 2

In a letter to Michael Fordham one of the founders of the Society of Analytical Psychology Jung wrote in June 1954 in his eightieth year:

‘Well, after all you are approaching the age when one has to become acquainted with the difficult experience of being superseded. Times go on and inexorably one is left behind, sometimes more, sometimes less, and one has to realize that there are things beyond our reach one shouldn’t grieve for, as such grieving is still a remnant of too youthful an ambition.’

He continues to say that while our libido certainly would go on ‘reaching for the stars’ fate steps in to make it clear that there needs to be a change where we move from seeking completion without and if we can read the signs we turn to our inner life.

Jung says that ‘alas! One becomes aware that there is so much to improve’ in the field of the inner person that instead we can even be grateful to the adversity of old age that helps us to have the necessary amount of free energy to deal with what he calls the ‘defects of our development, i.e. with that which has been “spoiled by the father and the mother”. In this respect, loss of such kind is pure gain’. Jung’s reference to what has been spoilt he takes from the I Ching hexagram 18 which reads: ‘Work on what has been spoilt’.

It’s of interest that here Jung is less concerned with spiritual growth but rather with the repairing of old psychological wounds which is also of course a spiritual activity.

In turning down an invitation to research a German poet Jung demonstrates his ability to let go of what might offer some interest and also some narcissistic gratification but at too great a cost; someone else will need to do this work:

‘A person carries the torch only a stretch of the way and must then lay it down, not because he has reached a goal but because his strength is at an end.’

For Jung the first part of life is the going out into the world to see

‘what the self wants you to do in the world, where – we are located, presumably for a certain purpose… As long as I am on the first part of the road I have to forget the self in order to get properly into the mill of the opposites, otherwise I live only fragmentarily and conditionally’.

The self is discovered through actions in the world, whereas on the second half of the road the goal and quest is the self so the earlier experiences are so to speak reassembled and put back together into the self, so, this second half of life then becomes the time for religious and spiritual searching for meaning and truth about oneself and about God.