Making Meaning
Over the last few months I’ve struggled in different ways with the ideas of meaning and purpose. I found this struggle described quite often in Jung’s writings, for example in Man and His Symbols Jung writes:

Man positively needs general ideas and convictions that will give meaning to his life and enable to find a place for himself in the universe. He can stand the most incredible hardships when he is convinced that they make sense; he is crushed when, on top of all his misfortunes, he has to admit that he is taking part in a ‘tale told by an idiot.’ (Man and His Symbols, p. 76)

At first I understood Jung as saying that that answer to modernity’s illness is reconnecting to a containing myth and I grappled with the idea of myth in a modern age. But on reading Jung’s Is analytical psychology a religion? I learned differently: “… life has gone out of the churches, and it will never go back. The gods will not reinvest dwellings that once they have left.” It appears that Jung does not believe that going back to blind faith in myth is the solution.

Another avenue of exploration came up through reading Victor Frankl:

In attempting to answer the question of the meaning of life – that most human of all questions – man is thrown back upon himself, must realize that he is questioned by life and has to answer and be answerable with his life. That is, he is thrown back upon the primal elements of human existence – being conscious and being responsible. (The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy, p. 63)

It is our responsibility, says Frankl, to find meaning in each and every moment. I find his call for personal responsibility inspiring but not completely convincing. If meaning is created and destroyed with each moment, man’s life becomes, indeed, a search for meaning. A search that may never be satisfied.

Throughout my life I’ve occasionally found meaning and satisfaction through intellectual understanding of the world. I also found glimpses of truth on my spiritual path. In both ways, I found connection to what Jung calls the Numinous. But as the months and years went by even those moments of shining truth faded away and all that is left for me, are memories. Even the clarity of faith I had is now mostly gone, often replaced by gnawing doubts. Can I truly say that those moments truly had meaning?

After struggling to understand and failing, after searching and finding and losing, I feel that I have no choice – I have to admit that I don’t know. I don’t know if anything I do has lasting meaning. I cannot point to any purpose – high or low – that has guided me through life. Yet, I am still here. There is no denying that despite all that I’ve said so far, despite a lack of any convincing reason why, I am still here and I’m still moving. This leads me to one conclusion that appears inescapable – that there is something other than me, something greater than myself that has kept me going so far for reasons that are unknown to me and that possibly will continue to be unknown to me.

This realization is accompanied by a feeling of openness and settledness in the body. It is a knowing accompanied by a sense of truth that goes beyond logic and reason. I’ve encountered this way of knowing before. It is often referred to as a feeling of authenticity but it can also be called truth, a deep inner truth. I call it that because it appears to be unshakeable and undeniable. In places where my reason ends up running around in circles, this is the truth that cuts right to the center.

Like the sense of an unknown mover, I do not know what the origin of this truth is. I know that it often points at what would be called wisdom. I also know that often this is not the direction I would have chosen myself because it seems too hard or demanding. At times when I find myself aligned with this truth, it seems that my decisions are completely natural, as if there was never even a decision to be made. When I cannot find this truth or when I try (usually not quite consciously) to avoid it, I end up feeling confused, conflicted or disappointed in myself.

I conclude then, that there is no point in struggling. Struggling is only likely to bring harm, I think. There is no point in trying to understand, either. The most I can do, it seems, is come to terms with whatever these forces are. All that is left to do, therefore, is trust. I can trust that what has moved me so far, will continue to move me until there is no longer any further purpose to moving. I can trust that as long as I align myself with truth, I will be moving toward greater openness and acceptance.

I cannot know if I am moving towards any particular purpose. I can try and guess or somehow divine the final goal but to what avail? I can only assume that this thing which moves me and whatever it is I’m moving towards both come from the same source therefore both are beyond me and beyond my knowing. Even if there is no purpose and no goal, the strategy is the same – try to align myself to the best of my ability with that which is beyond me simply because it is.

What little glimpses I got of spiritual realization appear to confirm this newfound understanding. With greater freedom there appears to be even less choice, although, this lack of choice is not the result of limitation, rather, it comes from clarity. With increased clarity, it becomes easier to align oneself with truth, at times this may seem to happen on its own as all other choices simply fall away.

At this point it may be asked, isn’t this process of alignment with truth a purpose in and of itself? It is tempting to call it purpose, thereby creating solidity and comfort but I do not think this is quite true. This process is no more a purpose than checking a map for directions is the purpose of a trip. I could say that like the trip, life isn’t about the individual turns and it isn’t about the destination either. It may be simply be about living to the fullest of one’s ability.

So far in my studies of Jung, the unconscious and the self have been the most difficult ideas for my mind to accept. Since I couldn’t quite accept that there was something there, the idea of letting go of control seemed scary: If I (that is, ego) am not in control, then who is?

As I was trying to outline my original ideas for this paper (about myth and meaning-making) I felt that there was something deeply unsatisfying about writing a purely conceptual paper and instead started to wonder how do those ideas apply to me personally. In that process I came to the realization described above and through that I began to accept those same ideas of the reality of the unconscious and the Self. I came to see that the ego is not the center of the psyche and that it definitely is not in complete control. I find the symmetry of this process satisfying, in that the way this paper emerged mirrors its contents.