Saturday, February 13, 2010

Facing Problems

When we are faced with problems, life altering events or catastrophes that make us question life and its purpose, Jung suggests that we are struggling with "our Promethean conquest" (1933, p. 96): the growth of consciousness. In his essay entitled "The Stages of Growth," Jung wrote that problems, and perhaps decisions which feel gut-wrenching and impossible to make, ultimately lead us from pain into the birth of something greater.
Problems thus draw us into an orphaned and isolated state where we are abandoned by nature and are driven to consciousness. There is no other way open to us; we are forced to resort to decisions and solutions where we formerly trusted ourselves to natural happenings. Every problem, therefore, brings the possibility of a widening of consciousness--but also the necessity of saying goodbye to childlike unconsciousness and trust in nature. . . . Every one of us gladly turns away from his problems; if possible, they must not be mentioned, or, better still, their existence is denied. We wish to make our lives simple, certain and smooth--and for that reason problems are tabu. . . .[But] the artful denial of a problem will not produce conviction; on the contrary, a wider and higher consciousness is called for to give us the certainty and clarity we need. (1933, pp. 96-97)
In what I call "the myth of vertical growth" inherent in our culture, we are often captivated by the notion that as we age, life will proceed in a manner of general growth and success and that problems are either avoidable or, when they occur, are only catastrophic impediments. It's a pervasive perspective on life that it is an affair of stair-stepped acheivement from childhood to adulthood, like the path of school where a lower grade naturally moves to a higher one. This view on the path of life might be diagrammed as a line beginning at the corner of the axis and progressing with a steady grade upwards. Vertical growth.

Jung, however, suggested that life is in fact more of a spiral path from birth to death. That we are, in fact, constantly moving towards the center, towards Self, and therefore passing new deaths and new births constantly. Problems in life lead us towards initiations, which lead us towards gestations of new perspectives, new identities, and then a rebirth of new parts of ourselves. We may circle the same problems, the same confusions; problems may not be dramatic drops but turns as we move further inward toward the center. The old adage "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" might apply: whatever doesn't kill you, ultimately births a widening of consciousness, our Promethean task. When problems arise, our work is not simply to "get back on top," but to stay on our path as it will inherently lead back towards rebirth again as we spiral further and further towards the center, the core of ourselves.

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