I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success or money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking. Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. If they are enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears.
Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections
I wonder how many of us find ourselves living lives too small for our own souls. In the words of Jung, we "seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success or money, and remain unhappy." We live up to the expectations of our families, our bosses, our communities and still find an emptiness gnawing at us from within.
When I went back to graduate school to study counseling, I set very high academic standards for myself. I worked extremely hard, made significant sacrifices in my personal life and ultimately exceeded my goals. I was proud of my accomplishments, but I was not at peace with myself. No matter how well I performed, it never felt like enough.
Jung knew that each of our psyches has a particular rhythm, a set of longings that we now know are formed through the interplay between our genetic inheritance and our environmental influences. If we fail to take note of the unique patterns and cycles of these rhythms, then we may miss what is most authentically meaningful for us. My own pursuit of excellence in grad school was a problem not in and of itself, but because it convinced me that it could satisfy needs that no achievement could fulfill for me. It was not surrounded by other soul nurturing, rhythm pounding aspects of life for which my soul longed.
This is why he, and many of the early pioneers of psychotherapy, invested so much time in the exploration of the unconscious, particularly through the use of dreams and fantasies. He believed that careful observation of our dreaming lives could offer us clues as to the necessary direction of development and growth for our conscious lives. Unlike the caricatures of analytic psychology and psychoanalysis that many modern critics present, Jung did not believe that the unconscious could be mastered. He warns against such hubris at every turn. He did believe that it could be meaningfully encountered, that it could inform and compensate our one-sided conscious standpoint, and perhaps most importantly, that it could link us to that which is most vital in us, that for which life is worth living.
Do you pay attention to your dreams and fantasies? Or do you dismiss them out of hand? Do you notice when you are acting in ways contrary to your conscious desires or when your motivation seems to disappear at precisely the time you most want to have it? Is there a still small voice that lingers in the back of your mind despite your avoidance of it over the years? Does is still speak: write the book, start the business, take the risk, go back to school?
It is never too late to start listening. Maybe you can set a pad and pencil next to your bed in case you remember a dream. Maybe you can set aside 10 minutes to write out the fantasy you've never shared with anyone. Maybe you can risk living a life that is big enough for your own soul. Our world desperately needs men and women whose lives are expansive, creative and unencumbered by the limits of their predecessors.
Of course, I still find myself waylaid by my own shallow goals and unimaginative visions. Who will ever care about my transcript from graduate school? But tonight, my own notebook will be open again, awaiting the messengers from the depths to renew my hope for a life spacious enough for soul.