Jung or Old?
“It seems to me that the basic facts of the psyche undergo a very marked alteration in the course of life, so much so that we could almost speak of a psychology of life’s morning and a psychology of its afternoon."
"As a rule, the life of a young person is characterized by a general expansion and a striving towards concrete ends; and his neurosis seems mainly to rest on his hesitation or shrinking back from this necessity. But the life of an older person is characterized by a contraction of forces, by the affirmation of what has been achieved, and by the curtailment of further growth. His neurosis comes mainly from his clinging to a youthful attitude which is now out of season…”
On the outskirts of old age, I’m fascinated by how our internal perspectives on aging evolve as we get into our 60s and 70s. We have so few schools, tools, or rituals to help people make these developmental transitions later in life. If we’re experiencing healthy aging, we’re constantly evolving, yet society seems to want us to stay static, which is almost like being dead.
I wish I’d gotten the chance to meet psychologist Carl Jung as his writing on the topic of aging is so illuminating and hopeful. At the Jungian Center website, I found these ruminations from Jung and his followers:
- The late liminal stage of life is a time when part of the ego sinks deeply into the unconscious. Our psychic energy turns inward, making this a difficult interval for the strong Extravert, for this is a time calling us to introversion, a turning inward of the libido (life energy), as the inner world demands our attention. Outer activities lose their glamor, and we begin to see a streamlining of daily schedules. Former interests fade away; personal enthusiasms peter out; outgrown attitudes are dismantled and long-held values come up for review, often to be discarded or changed.
- When one gets older, one often feels more and more how much of our daily life is all shit—the dreary round of duties, the trivialities we have to attend to, the ever-recurring shadow-nonsense we have to look at in ourselves (what Kierkegaard called the “tranquilization of the trivial” if we’re not careful).
- Often late liminality sees a “late blooming,” as Jung experienced after his heart attack in 1944. The years following his recovery were the most creative of his life, when he got deeply immersed in alchemy and wrote some of his masterpiece works. Given this experience, it is perhaps understandable that Jung could look back, in his old age, and say that, while it has its “not so nice” aspects, the later years were in some respects “more beautiful than childhood.”
Finally, author Stephen Levine’s beautiful quote below captures this shift in life perspective. The quote was taken from his wonderful book, “A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last:”
“Aging teaches us to follow our life force inward. It is an object lesson in how awareness is gradually drawn toward the center, as in death, leaving the extremities (including the outer senses) to fend for themselves. Perhaps that’s why so many people of advanced years speak of feeling like youngsters in their heart.”