‘Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often a torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.’
This lovely quote by Carl Jung would be echoed by so many spiritually minded people. The space, the breadth and depth of silent time … Jung saw solitude and silence as unavoidable for everyone who seeks the essential experience – what Jung called the primordial religious experience. The true foundation for belief and faith.
The quote comes from a letter to an old acquaintance of Jung’s who was asking to stay for a few days with him to talk over ideas, But Jung citing that he was 82 and appreciated the tiredness that this brings, also explained an even stronger need which was to live in harmony with the inner demands of his old age. The journey of life at this stage is a great adventure in itself, but not one that can be talked about at great length. Jung continues:
‘What you think of as a few days of spiritual communion would be unendurable for me with anyone, even my closest friends. The rest is silence! This realization comes clearer every day, as the need to communicate dwindles.’
What is so clear to Jung is to live according to his needs and capability – and in his clarity he is able to assert himself even if disappointing the friend. No polite response or feelings of ‘should’ or ‘ought’ here – rather an authentic sense of being in tune with his inner state of mind and body. Jung offers instead a time to meet for two hours.
Aware of the difficulty of staying with silence and solitude, Jung later writes about how we endlessly need to talk about our experiences and inevitably have to fall back on making use of language that can be understandable to others and using systems of religious thought. In trying to understand experiences in deep silence, Jung reaches the same insight as did Thomas Merton about how quickly we reach a frontier. This is from Merton:
‘Inside me, I quickly come to the barrier, the limit of what I am, beyond which I cannot go by myself. It is such a narrow limit and yet for years I thought it was the universe. Now I see it is nothing. Shall I go on being content with this restriction? … Desire always what is beyond and all around you, you poor sap! Want to progress and escape and expand and be emptied and vanish into God.’
Jung experienced silence as a series of frontiers which recede one behind another presumably up to the point of death. The experience of these frontiers gradually brings the conviction that what is experienced is an endless approximation and:
‘With increasing approximation to the centre there is a corresponding depotentiation of the ego in favour of the influence of the “empty” centre …we can describe the “emptiness” of the centre as “God”. Emptiness in this sense doesn’t mean “absence” or “vacancy”, but something unknowable which is endowed with the highest intensity.’