Memory of Emma Jung and Toni Wolff by Sallie Nichols

I worked in analysis with Miss Wolff over a year in 1951- 52.

My visual image of her is of a true aristocrat-a woman of great dignity and reserve.

Although I’m on a first-name basis with every other analyst with whom I’ve worked, it would never have occurred to me to call her by her first name-or even to think of her as “Toni.”

This not because she was European, nor because she was so much older than I, but I felt in her a special quality of depth, commitment and reserve which I would never have knowingly transgressed.

It might be said of her that she was “Virg in” as defined for us by Esther Harding, meaning simply an unmarried woman who, since she belonged to no man, belonged to herself and to God in a special way.

Although she was not a tall woman, she gave me that impression, sitting ramrod straight behind her desk in what I remember as a rather high-backed chair.

Sometimes she wore a dress with a standup collar which added a queenly touch to her bearing.

At these times she seemed almost a portrait of one of her ancestors.

But despite her aristocratic bearing and her impeccably tailored clothes, Miss Wolff was one of the most down-to-earth practical human beings I’ve ever known.

Her quiet empathy with the most common human dilemmas and her no-nonsense reactions were strictly contemporary.

Sometimes the dress mentioned above seemed to me like a vase from which Miss Wolff’s neck and face emerged like a flower on its stem. What flower? Not a rose-too sweet. Not an orchid-too obvious . What, then? A tiger lily!

I experienced Miss Wolff as a woman of rare passion, compassion and wisdom.

Two stories come to mind which seem best to illustrate these qualities. The first is rather personal , but worth sharing, I believe, because the problem dealt with is one so often encountered in this vale of crocodile tears.

I had learned that my husband had embarked upon a romance with a European woman. Like most of us at the Institute who were undergoing intensive and prolonged analysis, I had already experienced the mysterious, magic, and even devilish ways that “the Zurich experience” can (and perhaps must) temporarily upset what we used to call “normalcy” and “sanity.”

Way down deep I didn’t honestly believe that I and my three “innocent” progeny were about to be tossed out into the snow forever.

But the role of Wounded Wife is a tempting one. This especially so for someone reared in the USA, where we genuflect at the mere mention of Mom and Apple Pie.

So, of course, I went blubbering to Miss Wolff with my woes.

She listened attentively and sympathetically to my interminable trials, but when I at last came up for breath, she made a suggestion that still startles me.

“Why don’t you ask this other woman to lunch tomorrow?”

“You mean, a wee drop of arsenic in the teal” I asked, hope of deliverance shining through my tears.

“By no means,” replied Miss Wolff sternly. “But, you would then get to know her a bit, you might even like her.”

Then after a pause, Miss Wolff added this: “You know, sometimes if a man’s wife is big enough to leap over the hurdle of self-pity, she may find that her supposed rival has even helped her marriage! This ‘other woman’ can sometimes help a man live out certain aspects of himself that his wife either can’t fulfill, or else doesn’t especially want to. As a result, some of the wife’s energies are now freed for her own creative interests and development , often with the result that the marriage not only survives, but emerges even stronger than before!”

But I did not follow Miss Wolff’s advice . I was too self-centered and too encumbered with false images to make it over the hurdle of self-pity.

I preferred nursing my fantasy of my rival as a “wicked witch” to facing her human reality.

Since then, I’ve often wished I had found the courage to ask her to lunch!

Then maybe I might have freed my energies for more interesting activities than skulking about in corners, licking my wounds and glaring accusingly at the world around me!

I might, for instance, have accepted the very kind invitation of a young Dutch student to spend the Easter recess at his parental home in Holland .

He was much younger than I, so our relationship had few, if any, sexual overtones. But just think what I might have learned about tulips!

To drop the final shoe on my first story.

About twenty-five years later on a return trip to Zurich, I did meet “the mystery woman” that “wicked home breaker.”

She and my husband and I all had lunch together. By this time, of course, we were three “old parties”-all greying at the temples and beginning to be a bit unsteady on our pins.

I liked her fine , and we had a pleasant hour together.

But we all seemed a little puzzled as to just what we were doing there!

Although I didn’t follow Miss Wolff’s advice when it was proffered I did learn one valuable thing from this experience: Philosophizing is all well and good.

But time is the fourth dimension of our earthly reality. Carpe Diem-or forget it!

The second example of Miss Wolff’s practical advice and of her direct almost abrupt manner is short and sweet.

One day, just at the end of our hour together, I read her an active imagination which had come to me, as these things do, over my left shoulder.

The characters in this dramatic dialogue had surprised and delighted both of us by expressing wisdom and humor far beyond my ego-awareness.

I had risen to leave and had already opened the door to do so, when I heard Miss Wolff’s voice call my name almost imperiously.

“Mrs. Nichols!”

“Yes?” with my hand still on the doorknob , I turned back to face her.

“DON’T THINK YOU DID IT!” she said .

Each word was spoken in capital letters and has remained with me, as if carved in stone. In recent years, I have found (thank God) more use for this admonishment than occasions where “inviting the other woman to lunch” seemed appropriate! (Although I have invited a couple of ladies to tea-just as a precautionary measure!)

But the words: “Don’t think you did it!” I find very useful.

When things go well, I remember that I didn’t do it, and also when things don’t go well, I no longer feel obligated to assume all the responsibility.

It has helped cut my hubris and guilt both down to human dimensions.

There are times when I wish we could abolish entirely from our vocabularies such dichotomies, as praise/blame; pride/shame and the like.

All of which leads me to conclude with a very short recollection about Mrs. Jung, because it seems so aptly to illustrate this point.

I didn’t work analytically with Mrs. Jung, and I didn’t know her personally but I did attend her excellent course on the Grail Legend.

Each class ended with a brief question period, and I had always observed and admired the simple yet knowledgeable way Mrs. Jung fielded all questions from the most erudite and challenging ones to those that were more pedantic, or even naive.

But, one day something very unusual happened.

Someone raised what appeared to be a very elementary question of fact, to which I assumed Mrs. Jung would respond briefly, but courteously as always.

However, on this occasion she did not answer the question at all! There was a silence. Then she said quite simply, “I don’t know
the answer to that. I just never thought of this question before!”

I was absolutely dumbfounded!

Here sat one of the greatest living authorities on the Grail Legend, the wife of “the” C. G. Jung, if you please, reaching a course at the august C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich
and she was perfectly willing to sit there and admit that she not only didn’t know the answer to this relatively simple question, but that the question itself had never occurred to her!

I wondered why she didn’t avoid this embarrassment by one of the many subterfuges often used by speakers on such occasions (e.g., ”I’m so glad you raised this question! But, alas, there’s no time today to do it justice. We will begin with your question next week.”)

In the midst of my concern for Mrs. Jung’s supposed embarrassment, I suddenly realized that the “embarrassment” was entirely my own!

Mrs. Jung, far from feeling embarrassed, humiliated, chagrined, guilty, ignorant, or anything of the sort, was enjoying the situation immensely!

She was laughing in the most spontaneous and free way imaginable.

Oh, how I wish I could find the words to convey the essence of that laugh! Its quality was so unusual, that I can perhaps more readily define it in terms of what it was not.

It was nor “apologetic,” “self-depreciatory” or ” ingratiating.” It wasn’t “disarming,” because Mrs. Jung obviously didn’t feel threatened or on the defensive.

I Can’t even call it “charming” because to do so would imply that her laughter was, at least partly, intended as a form of communication (i .e., to “charm” us).

But the fact is it wasn’t intended for us at all.

That never-to-be-forgotten laugh was quite simply Mrs. Jung’s spontaneous reaction to the outer situation which she accepted as a humorous “just-so-story”-involving no moral judgments, no guilt feeling , and no broken images of perfectionism or omniscience.

It was the musical laughter of a young girl-or, rather, of a carefree and wise woman, an individual human being, stripped of the tremendous burden of false notions that most of us carry about and arrived full circle to recapture the spontaneity of youth, the innocence of those golden days before om natural humanity got buried under tons of garbage.

The seminar ended that day with all of us joining Mrs. Jung in her laughter and sharing, if only for one brief moment, the unique quality of this experience. ~ C. G. Jung, Emma Jung and Toni Wolff – A Collection of Remembrances, Pages 47-51