William Alex: A Personal Assessment of Carl Jung
It is not often in the course of a lifetime that one is privileged to stand in the presence of greatness, nor is one likely to remain unaffected by the encounter.
My first meeting with Jung, while I was a student at the Jung Institute in Zurich, affirmed for me what I had experienced through his writings and in personal analysis: his deep and enduring conviction, and sense of purpose, and the singularly human qualities of warmth and humor that accompanied them.
I caught glimpses of the trickster in him, of the shaman-like, even at moments of the diabolical we felt harmonious interplay of his immense experience, wisdom, and dignified humility; the rare quality of his greatness.
The occasion was an Institute-sponsored tea held at one of the ancient guild houses in the Altstadt of Zurich.
A newcomer at the Institute, I found myself, quite unexpectedly, seated next to the man whose insight and Weltanschauung had prompted me to relinquish an established medical practice and become, once again, a student.
Jung introduced himself to me and continued his previous conversation.
It had all happened too quickly. I felt overwhelmed and at a loss for words, in spite of a great eagerness to join in the conversation to convey to Jung that I had studied his books and knew quite a bit about his psychology.
After several awkward attempts to introject something I was not ready for, it occurred to me that it would be best to tell him how I felt.
I proceeded to explain my surprise at our unexpected meeting and he laughed, reached over, patted my knee and said simply, ‘My boy, take things as they come.’
The incident and Jung’s response have come back to me many times in the intervening years, and I am grateful for the opportunity to relive them in attempting to formulate the extent and meaning of their impact upon me.
‘Take things as they come’ is a well-known expression, on everyone’s lips, and quite familiar when one hears it, like: ‘You can’t fight City Hall,’ or ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.’
The message of these sayings is as commonplace as the situations which evoke them.
What was it, then, that, through Jung, transformed a popular cliche into a moving and abiding memory? Projection? Undoubtedly-but not entirely.
To take things as they come was certainly not an invitation to passive compliance in the face of stress.
Nor did it mean simple adaptation or conformity to existing conditions.
I seem to find it easier to relate what I think Jung’s response does not mean than what it does.
At the time of the incident, I understood it as saying, in effect: ‘You are a newcomer in analytical psychology and to this part of the world.
There is no need to propel yourself beyond your present level and depth. Relax ! You are among friends.’
I feel that the passing years have enlarged and enriched Jung’s admonition.
It has amplified itself and led me to discern in it overtones reminiscent of Eastern philosophies and religions; of its close relationship to existential thought.
The moment of time becomes the focal point of experience, and harmony in the moment requires the proper interplay of time, of place, and of attitude.
Failure of any of these elements or of their coordination results in disharmony and in the distress of not being at one with oneself.
Besides being fatherly and relieving my momentary discomfort, Jung was telling me that I was not in harmony with myself or my situation, implying that in human affairs, as in nature, a natural or optimal order exists.
Implicit also is the existence of a proper relationship between novice and master, with its established limitations upon the behavior of both; limits as valid in principle in the future as they have been in the past.
Really to take things as they come, in Jung’s meaning as I perceive it, requires a relinquishment of the egocentric need, indigenous in us all, to impose wish, will, and volition upon life in an effort contrary to its natural flow.
How familiar in my experience is the patient, new in analysis, who has the urgent need to grasp at once the substance and meaning of the whole process.
He demands immediate answers to questions and problems that have been taking shape for the better part of his lifetime.
The realization that genuine insight comes its own way and in its own time will impress itself upon him as it will upon the analyst, when he is tempted to impose interpretations and conclusions on the patient before the time is ripe for proper integration of the experience.
If he is fortunate, the rejected lover will learn that the way back to harmony with himself in time and place requires a sacrifice of his possessiveness, of his narcissistic demands projected upon the relationship.
So, too, the aspiring artist who discovers that his vividly perceived images of perfection correspond to distant goals to be approximated only after years of intensive effort; not with his present capacities.
It does little good to storm the gates of heaven with loud cries and laments, demanding fulfillment.
The psychological conditions regulating orderly relationship in regard to time, place, and attitude must be given full recognition.
What Jung conveyed to me in so few words is at once rich and profound and commonplace.
In it, as in all his work, Jung, speaking out of the depth of his own center, reveals his reverence for the life process as a carrier of meaning, direction, and purpose, if none other than the genetic urge to biological and spiritual fulfillment of each in accord with his kind.
Like the J Ching, which states that human life was not meant to be unlimited, Jung seemed to say that acceptance of one’s own natural limits in time and place constitutes one of the cardinal virtues.
It runs as a leitmotif through his writings, accompanied by the conviction that the limited human drama unfolds against the unlimited and the divine.
To think of the complex in Jung’s psychology stripped of its autonomy is as impossible as it is to conceive of the archetype without its numinosity.
Although the former is closer to personal consciousness, both partake of the same invisible spirit evident in his discussion of the self, of the compensatory function of dreams, or of the psyche’s self-regulatory tendency.
The natural inner movement toward a goal is also evident in his discussion of psychological types.
The exact descriptions of types, interesting and helpful as they may be, are, to my mind, of less importance than the dynamics of relationship between them and the inferior function. Integration of the latter points the way to completion or wholeness of the personality.
Throughout Jung’s teachings, one feels the presence of the transcendent spirit so well expressed in the inscription above the door of his residence-to the effect that, invited or not, God will be present.
Jung lived and worked to make people realize and experience the timeless reality of the soul.
Seen from academic and psychiatric viewpoints, he stood alone.
He was out of step with his time or, better, his time was neither ripe nor ready for him.
He shared the fate of all pioneers whose insights and perceptions precede the world’s readiness to receive them.
I believe that it is too early to attempt a comprehensive evaluation of Jung’s psychology.
It is probable that the full impact of his contributions may not be generally appreciated for decades to come.
Yet Jung spoke directly to the central and immediate problems of our time, in response to urgent but unformulated questions: Where is new meaning to be sought when current meanings have lost their validity?
Where are the new symbols, the new God values, to be found when ancient, ancestral gods appear moribund; stricken by the fatal virus of modern scientific enlightenment?
And where shall we seek the new morality when knowledge of good and evil, of right and wrong, no longer thunders from the mouths of the wrathful or loving Jahweh, Jesus, Mary pantheon?
Jung’s answer: the new gods and values will spring from the same sources that gave rise to the departing ones.
They will emerge in their own time and place from the archetypal depths of man’s soul, in response to new conditions and in accord with the eternal pattern of life’s movement from the beginning, that of birth, procreation, death, and rebirth. ~William Alex, Contact with Jung, Pages 168-171