Forever Jung

Just this week I read a quote from Carl Jung that shifted my way of understanding him—and brought fresh clarity to understanding people.

First, a little context: Jung’s central commitment was to the development of people and not to their individual happiness. He thought each person was called to a particular destiny, and he did his best to have clients step into that and not be caught up in anything else. In fact, he considered neurosis to be what we distract ourselves with instead of facing into our destiny and all the accompanying existential questions around death, meaning and belonging. (You can read more about this in James Hollis’s Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places [Studies in Jungian Psychology By Jungian Analysts]).

Jung didn’t feel that he could best understand people by looking into their past, but instead asked this question: “what is the necessary task which the patient will not accomplish?” He discovered that if he could find out what the patient was avoiding, he could understand all their suffering and dysfunctional actions.

So, I now have a new way of listening into the life of a client. Listening for the undone/avoided task lets me organize all that s/he brings to early conversations around a central topic. It provides a through line—a powerful undergirding of meaning. Much more important than knowing specific details (e.g. “exactly what city in Iowa where you in when you where 10?”) is uncovering—discovering—the client’s central life task, calling, destiny.

And let’s keep asking ourselves Jung’s penetrating question. In big ways (my whole life) and in small ways (this morning), what necessary task am I avoiding?