Todays answer to aging of medicine, psychology and sociology (or the happy union of postmodern and materialistic society) is contrary to common sense and spiritual void: Accept to be incomplete and fragmentary and the own life – regardless of the question how incomplete, unsuccessful void it has been. Consume if you have money, don’t bother us if you don’t.
To the contrary C. G. Jung was of one of the first who explored the development and spiritual maturing of the second half of life and described life as a continuum. Jung called this process of lifelong learning and striving for wholeness “become what you are” as individuation.
Basic factors of happiness
Jung answered on the question during a Sunday Times interview on the occasion of his 85th birthday: “What do you consider to be more or less basic factors making for happiness in the human mind?”:
- Good physical and mental health.
- Good personal and intimate relationships, such as those of marriage, the family, and friendships.
- The faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature.
- Reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work.
- A philosophic or religious point of view capable of coping successfully with the vicissitudes of life.
He added that the list to define unhappiness would be much longer and under certain circumstances some factors of happiness can even cause the opposite. In the same interview Jung noted somewhat amused his contempt for intellectuals who do not read his books. “Recently I had an intellectual as visitor who I lectured 30 minutes without any response from him. Finally he got enlightened, and muttered surprised: What you say Dr. Jung, is common sense”.
So it is. C.G. Jung is not a doctor without medicine but a doctor who does not need pharmacy. Despite his mystic tendencies, the basics in his writings – especially in regards to individuation - are fairly easy to understand. No need for shrinks, experts and new age prophets. Without meaning it cynical, I found a supplement of roman-catholic belief with monastic a Jungian influence helpful. It can clearly be seen, that striving for those five key factors can and should be lifelong.
The crisis which needs to be
One conclusion, which I derived from the interview, was that a crisis is a perquisite for progress in one’s life, as the instinct will tell the solution – within the so-called “important dreams. While I phase gradually out of my job, I definitely experience aging as crisis as well as an opportunity. The question I like to discuss therefore in this essay: can I keep up these five success factors during this transition – or do they turn against me?
Aging comes in a variety of very different shades: the relieved faces of the well-off generation of 60-plus, enjoying life and the independence associated with it ; fearful faces of old people in nursing homes, which I saw while caring for my mother before death; There’s also the melancholy face of the age, which needs to acknowledge limitations and the injuries to an inflated ego, correct narcissism, often behind a self-deprecating attitude; This new phase of life beyond 60 is not always an adventure awaited eagerly, but – according to the culturally mediated age stereotype – a dreaded lifetime expected as a period of degradation, loss of attractiveness, health and mental ability with fright and burden to society or, if the elderly target consumer is affluent, shallow and pampered pseudo youth. The age itself is a sociopolitical issue, because society in Europe as a whole experiences serious demographic changes. Its macroeconomic implications raise additional issues for those who are aging.
The above statement of C.G Jung contradicts todays point of view, which defines ages as imbalance between our physical capabilities and problem-solving requirements. The Chinese character crisis means: risk, decision, peak, and turning point as well as chance.
But to Jung there is even more to it. Crises are the needed worsening of a situation where people are seized by panic and fear and see no way out and no longer can use their previous patterns to cope with the situation. According to Jung such cross-border and transit situations are needed to break the pattern in order to follow ones instinct. Crisis is the time in which the human being as a whole is in question and undergoes a change from which it emerges as a new energetic other with a spiritual outlook, i.e. religiosity. To C.G. Jung Personal growth is:
- Increase in awareness,
- Increase in behavior options
- Gain in ego-strength,
- Increase in permeability,
- Ultimately a mystery.
He also suggested that finding the Self is like a marriage which becomes rarely or perhaps never smoothly and without crises a personal relationship; “There is no consciousness without pain”. The first step to the individuality is the break off with the unconsciousness of the herd. “It is the loneliness of mature man, who no longer ´depends on the value judgements of his environment, but in his relationship to the Self is firmly established.”
All the wrong answers
Todays psychology is not helpful in that respect, almost destructive by focussing on the bad news, by pointing out that almost a third of all suicides are carried out by people over 60 years of age being only a fifth of the population. The retirement, the loss of employment, experience of being “too old” on the labour market, the physical changes are fear factors during transition from middle adulthood to the age. Indeed, with noticing the seemingly ever faster rushing time by, a lot of questions come up: “This should have it been now? Was that my life worth? Have I fulfilled its meaning? Can I and I will I survive my relationship?” . Not addressing the development and maturing tasks of age together may indeed result in aggressive-destructive and sometimes vicious behaviors. But todays media cacophony encourages older people to hide their hardships and problems not to face them.
Even if age researcher Gene D. Cohen speaks vehemently against the relativistic stereotype of aging as a foreclosure process, he misses individuation. Cohen’s theories are supported by results of recent brain research, but again his theses are purely neurological. being deaf towards spiritual potentials.
- Remodeling is continually the human brain through learning and experience.
- Through new brain cells are formed through the whole life.
- The emotional connectivity patterns in the brain become more complex with age.
- In older adults, the interplay between of the two halves of the brain is more balanced than in younger people. This allows more holistic, balanced reactions, DIS-embodied behavior than in recent years.
- A mature brain has learned more as a junior. It can capture better therefore diverse aspects of life.
- The complex neural structure of the older brain, which consists in decades of experience and everyday coping is a fundamental strength of older adults, the wisdom of their age.
- Challenging mental activities stimulate the growth of neurons, as well as physical activity. And better networking and connectivity can make up a certain extent taking place gradually slowing down of the signal transmission and loss of nerve cells.
Age as living and aging opportunity
All life transitions are per definition phases of increased instability. Jungian Verena Kast says: “you are associated with anxiety, tension, and self-doubt. Conflicts that habitually are part of our lives, be difficulties that we have always had reactivated [...]. It is a phase where it is vulnerable, which harbors the opportunity in itself but to old issues again, again himself and his creation to deal with.” She criticizes the gerontological medicine system with its predominantly arrested viewpoints of Pathology, describing age almost exclusively as a foreclosure, loss and descent to death.
Individuation is the centerpiece of Jungian analytical psychology. It involves an archetypical specific differentiation process in the dispute between Ego and Self as a conscious and unconscious search for spiritual wholeness and completeness. In the above mentioned Interview, the journalist Gordon Young asked him also how he sees people after crossing the boundary to the second half of life. Jung’s reply: “an ever-deepening self-awareness seems to me as probably essential for the continuation of a truly meaningful life in the age, how uncomfortable this self-knowledge may be. Nothing is more ridiculous or unsuitable as older people who act as if they were still young — they lose even their dignity, the only privilege of age. The watch must be the introspection. Everything is revealed in self-knowledge, what is it, what it is intended to and about what and what for one lives. The wholeness of ourselves is certainly a rational not to complete something, but we are just so, and that must be lived as a unique, repetitive experience.”
Where this wholeness is lacking, where people can find no transcendence of ay kind, no relationship in their life, we are often demoralized, blunt and atrophy in the age. Who can understand individuation without discarding postmodernism first? It is so important and necessary to seek his wholeness, which cannot been done without to accept one’s own life imperfectness. So one has to strive for wholeness and to learn, on the other hand but even more for transcendence and the death of the Ego.
The answer of today’s to the art of aging and mental health is common sense – read C.G Jung and ignore today’s social science and todays mechanistic medicine :
- To learn even more and understand and even reconcile with the Self
- Be at peace.
- To learn yourself well to ensure the appropriate forms to find us.
- In diverse forms of intellectual and other exchanges with others to stay.
- To confront the fundamental spiritual questions, and to be able to give the own life meaning and importance.
- Accept the different experiences of aging.
- Death and dying need not to be hidden but included.
- To recognize that human life is embedded in a larger context of transcendent.