Carl Jung on choice, struggle, and trust

Friday October 6, 2006

Friends, a great joy to receive an email from a man named Stuart Dean asking me to ask you questions about fascism – based on a prior conversation I had – and then receive another doing it himself. Wonderful. It makes me feel like people are listening. Then, when I get “protocol error,” whatever that is, in trying to send, I get a sense that I am communicating too much, depending too much upon personal email as opposed to writing books or essays. Ironic as hell, given that all my life I have been driven toward writing books. Now that I have time energy and attention for it, I have been having a problem doing it.

I think though that it would be worthwhile for me to ask the questions Dean suggests, or, no, time perhaps just to check in on this point.

Dr. Jung I feel motivated to contact you rather than any other possibility partly because the letter points that way. Dean got that the problem is the head working without the heart, that our fear-driven structures and drives are in their last days and feel it, and that this is as it should be. My fear is that they are not on their last legs – at least, not in my lifetime – and that the structures they are implementing are going to be permanent, or as permanent as Russia’s were, lasting two generations.

But at other times you know that trust is what is required. You must trust in life or distrust it, there is no third choice, only alternation or vacillation or compounding of elements that do not mix.

If you trust in life, you do not fear anything that may come, and you accept anything that does come. Trust has no need of fear or of anger. It leads neither to feelings of helplessness nor victimization. It is not seized with a passionate intensity to fix the world that was never broken.

Life by definition is struggle. This is not an unavoidable necessity – it is an unavoidable opportunity and gift. Struggle, you see, implies choice, as choice implies struggle. Choice is work, and therefore work is choice. Choice is also play, and is effortless often and essential and unavoidable always. That is what life is.

Why do you think people put artificial drama into their lives when times are “dull” or they are not connected to the mainspring? What is recreational sex and stimulation but artificial (unsatisfying) drama instilled in an effort to feel more alive?

But how can you have struggle, choice, aliveness, if there are not before you alternatives to be decided among? In contending alternatives is your possibility of useful freedom.

This may seem detached from your circumstances. It is not, because it applies in World War II, in the days after the Congress of Vienna, in the midst of the Italian politics of city-states, in the Holy Roman Empire, in farthest China and Peru, everywhere and always. What differs by time and place is that some situations concentrate the energies on “small” personal affairs and others on “larger” issues, seemingly more important, like war and the building of empires.

But yesterday you were reading Garry Wills saying that the “great men” of history were riding a tide of events that used them but used them for its purposes, not theirs. You saw that. Well, if you trust in life, you must trust that the sun will rise in the eastern sky each morning – and, if it doesn’t, that is well too. As your Guys Upstairs have been drilling into your head for half a dozen years now, all is well. All is always well.

You see? This is not quietism, thought there is nothing wrong with quietism any more than with activism. It is accepting the way things really are in the universe instead of imagining them as they are not. You have quoted the joke “I accept the universe,” “By God, she’d better!” But “she’d better!” is true whether you approve of the currents you are caught in or not.

The ideal situation for a certain temperament would be to have clear preferences, to do whatever seemed appropriate to forward these preferences – and often and for most people it will be nothing more than living their own beliefs, inadequate as that response may seem – while holding serenely to the knowledge that all is well regardless who wins whatever boxing match.

If you can watch serenely as everything falls apart – while still doing what is appropriate for you to weigh in for your own “side” – you will be least likely to lose yourself among a tide of psychic currents that come as justifiable indignation, or rage, or hatred.

Remember, I spent more than 15 years watching the rise and overwhelming power and then the decline and fall of fascism in Italy and Germany – and briefly of France. In other words, I saw it to the south, and to the north and for a while on all sides of my little isolated enclave of sanity. Far more than my somewhat psychologically ignorant age I knew what I was seeing. I knew its danger, I knew we might easily be overwhelmed and I knew what a Nazi occupation of Switzerland would likely mean to me and my biological family and my family of fellow seekers. Yet I watched from a position of serenity, one might say. Not because I was old, certainly not because I could approve, but because I trusted that life would bring what was needed. Hitler was part of the medicine prescribed by the great physician of life, just as everything else we meet with was. Should I accept the sun and repine against night or storm? I could do that, of course, but what wisdom would it show, to rail against the unavoidable?

I will repeat myself because of the great danger of people misunderstanding when trying to hear across great inner tension.

Trust life. What comes was not necessarily inevitable, but nothing will come to you that is not a valid legitimate part of your life, like it or not, accept it or not. The Jew dying in a concentration camp, the soldier getting killed in battle, the child dying under a collapsing wall of bricks did not consciously choose to experience these events, and might have experienced different ones had other things changed. But viewed from a perspective that sees the value of suffering and the value of sacrifice – that is, viewed from a perspective of all rather than the perspective of any one or any group, tragedy is not pointless and is not fruitless or meaningless. No one gets cheated. Life is always unfair when looked at from an individual viewpoint, because life never gives the individual primacy even in his own life, not in a way that could be recognized. But life is never unfair, from the point of view that sees widely enough in time and space and in inevitable interconnection. So – trust life.

Express what you are. Holding that trust in life, nonetheless you will struggle in one or another way. No one has things all his own way. No one, regardless how it may look to others. You in a body are and must be and should be and always will be a partial expression of the universe. You have values, you have goals, you have – you are – a point of view. This is your value to the world. Express it by what you are. Indeed, you can hardly help doing so, any more than you could help breathing. But do not think you must be this or that, must do this or that, to express and support your views. No one can legitimately tell you what to do. When you hear someone say something that reverberates within you, you know that this is what you are to do; but when someone convinces you, or tries to induce you to a certain course by means of any kind of pressure – guilt, anger, fellow-feeling, whatever it may be – you must beware unless your inner self assents. You will always know what to do and what not to do. But will you always be wise enough and strong enough to do, or not do?

Try not to judge other people so much. Understanding is so much more productive – and better for you – than judgment. You understand, I am not meaning discernment when I use the word judgment, but condemnation. Judge not, lest you be trapped in a somewhat artificial point of view that resembles you but is to a degree petrified.

3 thoughts on “Carl Jung on choice, struggle, and trust

  1. This is another session that is so dense with meaning that I ended up responding to it as I wrote pieces of it into my journal. “You must trust in life or distrust it, there is no third choice…” I am so impressed with the quality and clarity and depth of what you produce, Frank. Its really useful to my acceptance and understanding and application of things.

    I’ve got a question for The Guys, if that’s okay. I’m wondering what they would have to say on what’s being called the rise of the feminine–what they see happening, its significance, or whatever they’d like to say.

  2. On re-reading: yes, a very important post. Love it! It puts into context my experience of gradually becoming more me and less what is expected. And what a struggle it has felt, starting out really feeble but (a song playing in the background says get your a** in gear) getting into gear more and more. Trust – crashing into that again and again, building it up again and again. A life worth living.

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