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The Two Halves of Life

Monday, October 12, 2015

Jung: Week 2

The Two Halves of Life
Monday, October 12, 2015

One cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening become a lie. —C. G. Jung [1]

It was Carl Jung who first popularized the phrase “the two halves of life” to describe the two major tangents and tasks of any human life. [2] The first half of life is spent building our sense of identity, importance, and security—what I would call the false self and Freud might call the ego self. Jung emphasizes the importance and value of a healthy ego structure. But inevitably you discover, often through failure or a significant loss, that your conscious self is not all of you, but only the acceptable you. You will find your real purpose and identity at a much deeper level than the positive image you present to the world.

In the second half of life, the ego still has a place, but now in the service of the True Self or soul, your inner and inherent identity. Your ego is the container that holds you all together, so now its strength is an advantage. Someone who can see their ego in this way is probably what we mean by a “grounded” person.

Jung writes of his own experience: “It was only after the illness that I understood how important it is to affirm one’s own destiny. In this way we forge an ego that does not break down when incomprehensible things happen; an ego that endures, that endures the truth, and that is capable of coping with the world and with fate. Then, to experience defeat is also to experience victory.” [3]

In the second half of life we discover that it is no longer sufficient to find meaning in being successful or healthy. We need a deeper source of purpose. According to Jung, “Meaning makes a great many things endurable—perhaps everything. No science will ever replace myth [the communicator of meaning], and a myth cannot be made out of any science. . . . [Myth] is the revelation of a divine life in man. It is not we who invent myth, rather it speaks to us as a Word of God.” [4] Science gives us explanations, and that is a good start, but myth and religion give us meaning which alone satisfies the soul.

Jung says that during the second half of life our various problems are not solved so much by psychotherapy as by authentic religious experience. Jung had a significant influence on Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Thus, Wilson also emphasizes that a “vital spiritual experience” is the best therapy of all. A vital spiritual experience, according to Wilson, is the foundational healing of addiction, much more than mere “recovery”—which is just getting you started. In the classical three stages of spiritual life, recovery of itself is purgation, but not yet true illumination or divine union.

The unitive encounter with a Power greater than you resituates the self inside of a safe universe where you don’t need to be special, rich, or famous to feel alive. Those questions are resolved once and for all. The hall of mirrors that most people live in becomes unhelpful and even bothersome. Now aliveness comes from the inside out. This is what we mean when we say “God saves you.”

Jung believes we can do damage, therefore, by “petrifying” our spiritual experience when we try to name it, to express God as an abstract idea. Before you explain your encounter with the Divine as an idea or a name that then must be defended, proven, or believed, simply stay with the naked experience itself—the numinous, transcendent experience of allurement, longing, and intimacy within you. This is the inner God image breaking through! No idea of God is God of itself, but the experience of God’s action in you is what grounds you and breaks you wide open at the same time. Hear a few of our mystics in this regard:

God is more intimate to me than I am to myself. —Augustine

Between God and the soul there is no distance. —Meister Eckhart

My deepest me is God. —Catherine of Genoa

This is both a transcendent God and also my deepest me at the same time. To discover one is to discover the other. This is why good theology and good psychology work together so well. You have touched upon the soul, the unshakable reality of my True Self, where “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). The second half of life is about learning to recognize, honor, and love this voice and this indwelling Presence, which feels like your own voice too. All love is now one. [5]

Gateway to Silence:
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” —C. G. Jung

[1] C. G. Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (Routledge and Kegan Paul: 1960), 399.
[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 8.
[3] C. G. Jung, recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe, translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Vintage Books: 1989), 297.[4] Ibid., 340.
[5] Adapted from Richard Rohr, unpublished “Rhine” talks (2015).

Image credit: Charing Cross Bridge (detail), 1903, by Claude Monet (1840-1926), Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri, USA.
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