Carl Jung’s The Stages of Life (notes by illixaxis)

To discuss the problems connected with the stages of human
development is an exacting task, for it means nothing
less than unfolding a picture of psychic life in its entirety
from the cradle to the grave. Within the framework of a
lecture such a task can be carried out only on the broadest
lines, and it must be well understood that no attempt will
be made to describe the normal psychic occurrences within
the various stages. We shall restrict ourselves, rather, to
certain “problems,” that is, to things that are difficult,
questionable, or ambiguous; in a word, to questions which
allow of more than one answer — and, moreover, answers
that are always open to doubt. For this reason there will
be much to which we must add a question-mark in our
thoughts. Worse still, there will be some things we must
accept on faith, while now and then we must even indulge
in speculations.

(first paragraph completed)

If psychic life consisted only of self-evident matters of
fact — which on a primitive level is still the case — we could
content ourselves with a sturdy empiricism. The psychic
life of civilized man, however, is full of problems; we cannot
even think of it except in terms of problems. Our
psychic processes are made up to a large extent of reflections,
doubts, experiments, all of which are almost completely
foreign to the unconscious, instinctive mind of
primitive man. It is the growth of consciousness which we
must thank for the existence of problems; they are the
Danaan gift of civilization. It is just man’s turning away
from instinct — his opposing himself to instinct — that creates
consciousness. Instinct is nature and seeks to
perpetuate nature, whereas consciousness can only seek culture
ture or its denial. Even when we turn back to nature, in-
by a Rousseauesque longing, we “cultivate” nature.
As long as we are still submerged in nature we are
unconscious, and we live in the security of instinct which
knows no problems. Everything in us that still belongs to
nature shrinks away from a problem, for its name is doubt,
and wherever doubt holds sway there, is uncertainty and
the possibility of divergent ways. And where several ways
seem possible, there we have turned away from the certain
guidance of instinct and are handed over to fear. For
consciousness is now called upon to do that which nature has
always done for her children — namely, to give a certain,
unquestionable, and unequivocal decision. And here we
are beset by an all-too-human fear that consciousness —
our Promethean conquest — may in the end not be able to
serve us as well as nature.

Problems thus draw us into an orphaned and isolated
state where we are abandoned by nature and are driven to
consciousness. There is no other way open to us; we are
forced to resort to conscious decisions and solutions where
formerly we trusted ourselves to natural happenings. Every
problem, therefore, brings the possibility of a widening of
consciousness, but also the necessity of saying goodbye to
childlike unconsciousness and trust in nature. This necessity
is a psychic fact of such importance that it constitutes
one of the most essential symbolic teachings of the Christian
religion. It is the sacrifice of the merely natural man,
of the unconscious, ingenuous being whose tragic career
beg.- n with the eating of the apple in Paradise. The biblical
fall of man presents the dawn of consciousness as a curse.
And as a matter of fact it is in this light that we first look
upon every problem that forces us to greater consciousness
and separates us even further from the paradise of
unconscious childhood. Every one of us gladly turns away
from his problems; if possible, they must not be mentioned,
or, better still, their existence is denied. We wish to make
our lives simple, certain, and smooth, and for that reason
problems are taboo. We want to have certainties and no
doubts — results and no experiments — without even seeing
that certainties can arise only through doubt and results
only through experiment. The artful denial of a problem
will not produce conviction; on the contrary, a wider and
higher consciousness is required to give us the certainty
and clarity we need.

This introduction, long as it is, seemed to me necessary
in order to make clear the nature of our subject. When we
must deal with problems, we instinctively resist trying the
way that leads through obscurity and darkness. We wish
to hear only of unequivocal results, and completely forget
that these results can only be brought about when we have
ventured into and emerged again from the darkness. But
to penetrate the darkness we must summon all the powers
of enlightenment that consciousness can offer; as I have
already said, we must even indulge in speculations. For
in treating the problems of psychic life we perpetually
stumble upon questions of principle belonging to the private
domains of the most heterogeneous branches of
knowledge. We disturb and anger the theologian no less
than the philosopher, the physician no less than the educator;
we even grope about in the field of the biologist and
of the historian. This extravagant behaviour is due not to
arrogance but to the circumstance that man’s psyche is a
unique combination of factors which are at the same time
the special subjects of far-reaching lines of research. For
it is out of himself and out of his peculiar constitution
that man has produced his sciences. They are symptoms
of his psyche.

If, therefore, we ask ourselves the unavoidable question,
“Why does man, in obvious contrast to the animal world,
have problems at all?” we run into that inextricable tangle
of thoughts which many thousands of incisive minds have
woven in the course of the centuries. I shall not perform
the labours of a Sisyphus upon this masterpiece of con-
fusion, but will try to present quite simply my contribution
toward man’s attempt to answer this basic question.

There are no problems without consciousness. We must
therefore put the question in another way and ask, “How
does consciousness arise in the first place?” Nobody can
say with certainty; but we can observe small children in
the process of becoming conscious. Every parent can see it
if he pays attention. And what we see is this: when the
child recognizes someone or something — when he “knows”
a person or a thing — then we feel that the child has
consciousness, That, no doubt, is also why in Paradise it was
the tree of knowledge which bore such fateful fruit.

But what is recognition or “knowledge” in this sense?
We speak of “knowing” something when we succeed in
linking a new perception to an already existing context, in
such a way that we hold in consciousness not only the
perception but parts of this context as well. “Knowing” is
based, therefore, upon the perceived connection between
psychic contents. We can have no knowledge of a content
that is not connected with anything, and we cannot even
be conscious of it should our consciousness still be on this
low initial level. Accordingly the first stage of conscious-
ness which we can observe consists in the mere connection
between two or more psychic contents. At this level,
consciousness is merely sporadic, being limited to the perception
of a few connections, and the content is not remembered
later on. It is a fact that in the early years of life
there is no continuous memory; at most there are islands
of consciousness which are like single lamps or lighted
objects in the far-flung darkness. But these islands of
memory are not the same as those earliest connections which
are merely perceived; they contain a new, very important
series of contents belonging to the perceiving subject him-
self, the so-called ego. This series, like the initial series of
contents, is at first merely perceived, and for this reason
the child logically begins by speaking of itself objectively,
in the third person. Only later, when the ego-contents —
the so-called ego-complex — have acquired an energy of
their own (very likely as a result of training and practice)
does the feeling of subjectivity or “I-ness” arise. This may
well be the moment when the child begins to speak of it-
self in the first person. The continuity of memory prob-
ably begins at this stage. Essentially, therefore, it would
be a continuity of ego-memories.

In the childish stage of consciousness there are as yet no
problems; nothing depends upon the subject, for the child
itself is still wholly dependent on its parents. It is as
though it were not yet completely born, but were still en-
closed in the psychic atmosphere of its parents. Psychic
birth, and with it the conscious differentiation from the
parents, normally takes place only at puberty, with the
eruption of sexuality. The physiological change is attended
by a psychic revolution. For the various bodily manifestations
give such an emphasis to the ego that it often asserts
itself without stint or moderation. This is sometimes called
“the unbearable ace.”

(I remember these changes)

Until this period is reached the psychic life of the individual
is governed largely by instinct, and few or no
problems arise. Even when external limitations oppose his
subjective impulses, these restraints do not put the individual
at variance with himself. He submits to them or
circumvents them, remaining quite at one with himself. He
does not yet know the state of inner tension induced by
a problem. This state only arises when what was an
external limitation becomes an inner one; when one impulse
is opposed by another. In psychological language we would
say: the problematical state, the inner division with one-
self, arises when, side by side with the series of ego-con-
tents, a second series of equal intensity comes into being.
This second series, because of its energy value, has a func-
tional significance equal to that of the ego-complex; we
might call it another, second ego which can on occasion
even wrest the leadership from the first. This produces the
division with oneself, the state that betokens a problem.

To recapitulate what wc have said: the first stage of
consciousness, consisting in merely recognizing or “know-
ing/’ is an anarchic or chaotic state. The second, that of
the developed ego-complex, is monarchic or monistic. The
third brings another step forward in consciousness, and
consists in an awareness of the divided, or dualistic, state.

And here we come to our real theme — the problem of
the stages of life. First of all we must deal with the period
of youth. It extends roughly from the years just after
puberty to middle life, which itself begins between the thirty-
fifth and fortieth year.

I might well be asked why I begin with the second stage,
as though there were no problems connected with childhood.
The complex psychic life of the child is, of course,
a problem of the first magnitude to parents, educators, and
doctors, but when normal the child has no real problems of
its own. It is only the adult human being who can have
doubts about himself and be at variance with himself.

(yes, childhood was free of these concerns – until I turned 14)

Problems thus draw us into an orphaned and isolated
state where we are abandoned by nature and are driven to
consciousness. There is no other way open to us; we are
forced to resort to conscious decisions and solutions where
formerly we trusted ourselves to natural happenings. Every
problem, therefore, brings the possibility of a widening of
consciousness, but also the necessity of saying goodbye to
childlike unconsciousness and trust in nature. This necessity
is a psychic fact of such importance that it constitutes
one of the most essential symbolic teachings of the Christian
religion. It is the sacrifice of the merely natural man,
of the unconscious, ingenuous being whose tragic career
beginning with the eating of the apple in Paradise. The biblical
fall of man presents the dawn of consciousness as a curse.
And as a matter of fact it is in this light that we first look
upon every problem that forces us to greater consciousness
and separates us even further from the paradise of
unconscious childhood. Every one of us gladly turns away
from his problems; if possible, they must not be mentioned,
or, better still, their existence is denied. We wish to make
our lives simple, certain, and smooth, and for that reason
problems are taboo. We want to have certainties and no
doubts — results and no experiments — without even seeing
that certainties can arise only through doubt and results
only through experiment. The artful denial of a problem
will not produce conviction; on the contrary, a wider and
higher consciousness is required to give us the certainty
and clarity we need.

(A few paragraphs above, Jung points out that feeling certain can only come from doubt. That point keeps spinning around in my head. It is 3:56 AM on a late Monday? Actually, it’s 3:56 on an early Wednesday, May 2, 2017.)

This introduction, long as it is, seemed to me necessary
in order to make clear the nature of our subject. When we
must deal with problems, we instinctively resist trying the
way that leads through obscurity and darkness. We wish
to hear only of unequivocal results, and completely forget
that these results can only be brought about when we have
ventured into and emerged again from the darkness. But
to penetrate the darkness we must summon all the powers
of enlightenment that consciousness can offer; as I have
already said, we must even indulge in speculations. For
in treating the problems of psychic life we perpetually
stumble upon questions of principle belonging to the private
domains of the most heterogeneous branches of
knowledge. We disturb and anger the theologian no less
than the philosopher, the physician no less than the educator;
we even grope about in the field of the biologist and
of the historian. This extravagant behaviour is due not to
arrogance but to the circumstance that man’s psyche is a
unique combination of factors which are at the same time
the special subjects of far-reaching lines of research. For
it is out of himself and out of his peculiar constitution
that man has produced his sciences. They are symptoms
of his psyche.

If, therefore, we ask ourselves the unavoidable question,
“Why does man, in obvious contrast to the animal world,
have problems at all?” we run into that inextricable tangle
of thoughts which many thousands of incisive minds have
woven in the course of the centuries. I shall not perform
the labours of a Sisyphus upon this masterpiece of
confusion, but will try to present quite simply my contribution
toward man’s attempt to answer this basic question.

There are no problems without consciousness. We must
therefore put the question in another way and ask, “How
does consciousness arise in the first place?” Nobody can
say with certainty; but we can observe small children in
the process of becoming conscious. Every parent can see it
if he pays attention. And what we see is this: when the
child recognizes someone or something — when he “knows”
a person or a thing — then we feel that the child has
consciousness, That, no doubt, is also why in Paradise it was
the tree of knowledge which bore such fateful fruit.

But what is recognition or “knowledge” in this sense?
We speak of “knowing” something when we succeed in
linking a new perception to an already existing context, in
such a way that we hold in consciousness not only the
perception but parts of this context as well. “Knowing” is
based, therefore, upon the perceived connection between
psychic contents. We can have no knowledge of a content
that is not connected with anything, and we cannot even
be conscious of it should our consciousness still be on this
low initial level. Accordingly the first stage of consciousness
which we can observe consists in the mere connection
between two or more psychic contents. At this level,
consciousness is merely sporadic, being limited to the perception
of a few connections, and the content is not rememebered
later on. It is a fact that in the early years of life
there is no continuous memory; at most there are islands
of consciousness which are like single lamps or lighted
objects in the far-flung darkness. But these islands of memory
are not the same as those earliest connections which
are merely perceived; they contain a new, very important
series of contents belonging to the perceiving subject him-
self, the so-called ego. This series, like the initial series of
contents, is at first merely perceived, and for this reason
the child logically begins by speaking of itself objectively,
in the third person. Only later, when the ego-contents —
the so-called ego-complex — have acquired an energy of
their own (very likely as a result of training and practice)
does the feeling of subjectivity or ^-ness” arise. This may
well be the moment when the child begins to speak of it-
self in the first person. The continuity of memory probably
begins at this stage. Essentially, therefore, it would
be a continuity of ego-memories.

In the childish stage of consciousness there are as yet no
problems; nothing depends upon the subject, for the child
itself is still wholly dependent on its parents. It is as
though it were not yet completely born, but were still enclosed
in the psychic atmosphere of its parents. Psychic
birth, and with it the conscious differentiation from the
parents, normally takes place only at puberty, with the
eruption of sexuality. The physiological change is attended
by a psychic revolution. For the various bodily manifestations
give such an emphasis to the ego that it often asserts
itself without stint or moderation. This is sometimes called
“the unbearable ace.”

Until this period is reached the psychic life of the
individual is governed largely by instinct, and few or no
problems arise. Even when external limitations oppose his
subjective impulses, these restraints do not put the individual
at variance with himself. He submits to them or circumvents
them, remaining quite at one with himself. He
does not yet know the state of inner tension induced by
a problem. This state only arises when what was an external
limitation becomes an inner one; when one impulse
is opposed by another. In psychological language we would
say: the problematical state, the inner division with oneself,
arises when, side by side with the series of ego-contents,
a second series of equal intensity comes into being.
This second series, because of its energy value, has a functional
significance equal to that of the ego-complex; we
might call it another, second ego which can on occasion
even wrest the leadership from the first. This produces the
division with oneself, the state that betokens a problem.

To recapitulate what we have said: the first stage of
consciousness, consisting in merely recognizing or “knowing”
is an anarchic or chaotic state. The second, that of
the developed ego-complex, is monarchic or monistic. The
third brings another step forward in consciousness, and
consists in an awareness of the divided, or dualistic, state.

And here we come to our real theme — the problem of
the stages of life. First of all we must deal with the period
of youth. It extends roughly from the years just after pubery
to middle life, which itself begins between the thirty-

fifth and fortieth year.

I might well be asked why I begin with the second stage,
as though there were no problems connected with childhood.
The complex psychic life of the child is, of course,
a problem of the first magnitude to parents, educators, and
doctors, but when normal the child has no real problems of
its own. It is only the adult human being who can have
doubts about himself and be at variance with himself.

We are all familiar with the sources of the problems
that arise in the period of youth. For most people it is the
demands of life which harshly put an end to the dream of
childhood. If the individual is sufficiently well prepared,
the transition to a profession or career can take place
smoothly. But if he clings to illusions that are contrary to
reality, then problems will surely arise. No one can take
the step into life without making certain assumptions, and
occasionally these assumptions are false — that is, they do
not fit the conditions into which one is thrown. Often it
is a question of exaggerated expectations, underestimation
of difficulties, unjustified optimism, or a negative attitude.
One could compile quite a list of the false assumptions
that give rise to the first conscious problems.

But it is not always the contradiction between subjective
assumptions and external facts that gives rise to problems;
it may just as often be inner, psychic difficulties. They
may exist even when things run smoothly in the outside
world. Very often it is the disturbance of psychic equilib-
rium caused by the sexual instinct; equally often it is the
feeling of inferiority which springs from an unbearable
sensitivity. These inner conflicts may exist even when
adaptation to the outer world has been achieved without
apparent effort. It even seems as if young people who have
had a hard struggle for existence are spared inner problems,
while those who for some reason or other have no difficulty
with adaptation run into problems of sex or conflicts arising
from a sense of inferiority.

People whose own temperaments offer problems are often
neurotic, but it would be a serious misunderstanding to
confuse the existence of problems with neurosis. There is
a marked difference between the two in that the neurotic
is ill because he is unconscious of his problems, while the
person with a difficult temperament suffers from his conscious
problems without being ill.

If we try to extract the common and essential factors
from the almost inexhaustible variety of individual problems
found in the period of youth, we meet in all cases
with one particular feature: a more or less patent clinging
to the childhood level of consciousness, a resistance to the
fateful forces in and around us which would involve us in
– the world. Something in us wishes to remain a child, to be
unconscious or, at most, conscious only of the ego; to
reject everything strange, or else subject it to our will; to
do nothing, or else indulge our own craving for pleasure
or power. In all this there is something of the inertia of
matter; it is a persistence in the previous state whose range
of consciousness is smaller, narrower, and more egoistic
than that of the dualistic phase. For here the individual is
faced with the necessity of recognizing and accepting what
is different and strange as a part of his own life, as a kind
of “also-I.”

The essential feature of the dualistic phase is the widen-
ing of the horizon of life, and it is this that is so vigorously
resisted. To be sure, this expansion — or diastole, as Goethe
called it — had started long before this. It begins at birth,
when the child abandons the narrow confinement of the
mother’s body; and from then on it steadily increases until
it reaches a climax in the problematical state, when the
individual begins to struggle against it.

What would happen to him if he simply changed himself
into that foreign-seeming “also-I” and allowed the
earlier ego to vanish into the past? We might suppose this
to be a quite practical course. The very aim of religious
education, from the exhortation to put off the old Adam
right back to the rebirth rituals of primitive races, is to
transform the human being into the new, future man, and
to allow the old to die away.

Psychology teaches us that, in a certain sense, there is
nothing in the psyche that is old; nothing that can really,
finally die away. Even Paul was left with a thorn in the
flesh. Whoever protects himself against what is new and
strange and regresses to the past falls into the same neurotic
condition as the man who identifies himself with the new
and runs away from the past. The only difference is that
the one has estranged himself from the past and the other
from the future. In principle both are doing the same thing;
they are reinforcing their narrow range of consciousness
instead of shattering it in the tension of opposites and
building up a state of wider and higher consciousness.

This outcome would be ideal if it could be brought about
in the second stage of life — but there’s the rub. For one
thing, nature cares nothing whatsoever about a higher level
of consciousness; quite the contrary. And then society
does not value these feats of the psyche very highly; its
prizes are always given for achievement and not for
personality, the latter being rewarded for the most part
posthumously. These facts compel us towards a particular
solution: we are forced to limit ourselves to the attainable,
and to differentiate particular aptitudes in which the so-
cially effective individual discovers his true self.

Achievement, usefulness and so forth are the ideals that
seem to point the way out of the confusions of the
problematical state. They are the lodestars that guide us in the
adventure of broadening and consolidating our physical
existence; they help us to strike our roots in the world,
but they cannot guide us in the development of that wider
consciousness to which we give the name of culture. In
the period of youth, however, this course is the normal one
and in all circumstances preferable to merely tossing about
in a welter of problems.

The dilemma is often solved, therefore, in this way:
whatever is given to us by the past is adapted to the possibilitites
and demands of the future. We limit ourselves to
the attainable, and this means renouncing all our other
psychic potentialities. One man loses a valuable piece of
his past, another a valuable piece of his future. Everyone
can call to mind friends or schoolmates who were promising
and idealistic youngsters, but who, when we meet them
again years later, seem to have grown dry and cramped in
a narrow mould. These are examples of the solution men-
tioned above.

The serious problems in life, however, are never fully
solved. If ever they should appear to be so it is a sure
sign that something has been lost. The meaning and purpose
of a problem seem to lie not in its solution but in our
working at it incessantly. This alone preserves us from
stultification and petrifaction. So also the solution ‘of the
problems of youth by restricting ourselves to the attainable
is only temporarily valid and not lasting in a deeper sense.
Of course, to win for oneself a place in society and to
transform one’s nature so that it is more or less fitted to
this kind of existence is in all cases a considerable achievement
It is a fight waged within oneself as well as outside,
comparable to the struggle of the child for an ego. That
struggle is for the most part unobserved because it happens
in the dark; but when we see how stubbornly childish
illusions and assumptions and egoistic habits are still clung
to in later years we can gain some idea of the energies that
were needed to form them. And so it is with the ideals,
convictions, guiding ideas and attitudes which in the period
of youth lead us out into life, for which we struggle, suffer,
and win victories: they grow together with our own being,
we apparently change into them, we seek to perpetuate
them indefinitely and as a matter of course, just as the
young person asserts his ego in spite of the world and
often in spite of himself.

The nearer we approach to the middle of life, and the
better we have succeeded in entrenching ourselves in our
personal attitudes and social positions, the more it appears
as if we had discovered the right course and the right
ideals and principles of behaviour. For this reason we
suppose them to be eternally valid, and make a virtue of
unchangeably clinging to them. We overlook the essential
fact that the social goal is attained only at the cost of a
diminution of personality. Many — far too many — aspects
of life which should also have been experienced lie in the
lumber-room among dusty memories; but sometimes, too,
they are glowing coals under grey ashes.

Statistics show a rise in the frequency of mental depressions
sions in men about forty. In women the neurotic difficulties
generally begin somewhat earlier. We see that in this phase
of life — between thirty-five and forty — an important change
in the human psyche is in preparation. At first it is not a
conscious and striking change; it is rather a matter of
indirect signs of a change which seems to take its rise in
the unconscious. Often it is something like a slow change
in a person’s character; in another case certain traits may
come to light which had disappeared since childhood;
or again, one’s previous inclinations and interests begin
to weaken and others take their place. Conversely — and
this happens very frequently — one’s cherished convictions
and principles, especially the moral ones, begin to harden
and to grow increasingly rigid until, somewhere around
the age of fifty, a period of intolerance and fanaticism is
reached. It is as if the existence of these principles were
endangered and it were therefore necessary to emphasize
them all the more.

(A RISE IN DEPRESSION IN MEN WHEN YOU ARE ABOUT 40)

The wine of youth does not always clear with advancing
years; sometimes it grows turbid. All the phenomena men-
tioned above can best be seen in rather one-sided people,
turning up sometimes sooner and sometimes later. Their
appearance, it seems to me, is often delayed by the fact
that the parents of the person in question are still alive.
It is then as if the period of youth were being unduly
drawn out. I have seen this especially in the case of men
whose fathers were long-lived. The death of the father then
has the effect of a precipitate and almost catastrophic
ripening.

I know of a pious man who was a churchwarden and
who, from the age of forty onward, showed a growing and
finally unbearable intolerance in matters of morality and religion.
At the same time his moods grew visibly worse.
At last he was nothing more than a darkly lowering pillar
of the Church. In this way he got along until the age of
fifty-five, when suddenly, sitting up in bed in the middle
of the night, he said to his wife: “Now at last I’ve got it!
I’m just a plain rascal.” Nor did this realization remain
without results. He spent his declining years in riotous
living and squandered a goodly part of his fortune. Obviously
quite a likable fellow, capable of both extremes!

(Paragraph above is great)

The very frequent neurotic disturbances of adult years
all have one thing in common: they want to carry the
psychology of the youthful phase over the threshold of
the so-called years of discretion. Who does not know those
touching old gentlemen who must always warm up the dish
of their student days, who can fan the flame of life only
by reminiscences of their heroic youth, but who, for the
rest, are stuck in a hopelessly wooden Philistinism? As a
rule, to be sure, they have this one merit which it would
be wrong to undervalue: they are not neurotic, but only
boring and stereotyped. The neurotic is rather a person
who can never have things as he would like them in the
present, and who can therefore never enjoy the past either.

As formerly the neurotic could not escape from child-
hood, so now he cannot part with his youth. He shrinks
from the grey thoughts of approaching age, and, feeling
the prospect before him unbearable, is always straining
to look behind him. Just as the childish person shrinks
back from the unknown in the world and in human existence,
so the grown man shrinks back from the second
half of life. It is as if unknown and dangerous tasks awaited
him, or as if he were threatened with sacrifices and losses
which he does not wish to accept, or as if his life up to
now seemed to him so fair and precious that he could not
relinquish it.

Is it perhaps at bottom the fear of death? That does
not seem to me very probable, because as a rule death is
still far in the distance and therefore somewhat abstract.
Experience shows us, rather, that the basic cause of all the
difficulties of this transition is to be found in a deep-seated
and peculiar change within the psyche. In order to char-
acterize it I must take for comparison the daily course of
the sun— but a sun that is endowed with human feeling
and man’s limited consciousness. In the morning it rises
from the nocturnal sea of unconsciousness and looks upon
the wide, bright world which lies before it in an expanse
that steadily widens the higher it climbs in the firmament. In
this extension of its field of action caused by its own
rising, the sun will discover its significance; it will see the
attainment of the greatest possible height, and the widest
possible dissemination of its blessings, as its goal. In this
conviction the sun pursues its course to the unforeseen
zenith — unforeseen, because its career is unique and in-
dividual, and the culminating point could not be calculated
in advance. At the stroke of noon the descent begins. And
the descent means the reversal of all the ideals and values
that were cherished in the morning. The sun falls into
contradiction with itself. It is as though it should draw in
its rays instead of emitting them. Light and warmth decline
and are at last extinguished.

All comparisons are lame, but this simile is at least not
lamer than others. A French aphorism sums it up with
cynical resignation: Si jcunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait.

Fortunately we are not rising and setting suns, for then
it would fare badly with our cultural values. But there is
something sunlike within us, and to speak of the morning
and spring, of the evening and autumn of life is not mere
sentimental jargon. We thus give expression to psychologi-
cal truths and, even more, to physiological facts, for the
reversal of the sun at noon changes even bodily character-
istics. Especially among southern races one can observe
that older women develop deep, rough voices, incipient
moustaches, rather hard features and other masculine
traits. On the other hand the masculine physique is toned
down by feminine features, such as adiposity and softer
facial expressions.

There is an interesting report in the ethnological litera-
ture about an Indian warrior chief to whom in middle life
the Great Spirit appeared in a dream. The spirit announced
to him that from then on he must sit among the women
and children, wear women’s clothes, and eat the food of
women. He obeyed the dream without suffering a loss of
prestige. This vision is a true expression of the psychic
revolution of life’s noon, of the beginning of life’s
decline. Man’s values, and even his body, do tend to change
into their opposites.

We might compare masculinity and femininity and their
psychic components to a definite store of substances of
which, in the first half of life, unequal use is made. A man
consumes his large supply of masculine substance and has
left over only the smaller amount of feminine substance,
which must now be put to use. Conversely, the woman
allows her hitherto unused supply of masculinity to be-
come active.

This change is even more noticeable in the psychic realm
than in the physical. How often it happens that a man of
forty-five or fifty winds up his business, and the wife then
dons the trousers and opens a little shop where he perhaps
performs the duties of a handyman. There are many women
who only awaken to social responsibility and to social
consciousness after their fortieth year. In modern business
life, especially in America, nervous breakdowns in the
forties are a very common occurrence. If one examines
the victims one finds that what has broken down is the
masculine style of life which held the field up to now,
and that what is left over is an effeminate man. Con-
trariwise, one can observe women in these selfsame business
spheres who have developed in the second half of
life an uncommonly masculine tough-mindedness which
thrusts the feelings and the heart aside. Very often these
changes are accompanied by all sorts of catastrophes in
marriage, for it is not hard to imagine what will happen
When the husband discovers his tender feelings and the wife
her sharpness of mind.

The worst of it all is that intelligent and cultivated peo-
ple live their lives without even knowing of the possibility
of such transformations. Wholly unprepared, they embark
upon the second half of life. Or are there perhaps colleges
for forty-year-olds which prepare them for their coming
life and its demands as the ordinary colleges introduce
our young people to a knowledge of the world? No,
thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of
life; worse still, we take this step with the false assumption
that our truths and ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we
cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme
of life’s morning; for what was great in the
morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning
was true will at evening have become a lie. I have given
psychological treatment to too many people of advancing
years, and have looked too often into the secret chambers
of their souls, not to be moved by this fundamental truth.

Ageing people should know that their lives are not
mounting and expanding, but that an inexorable inner
process enforces the contraction of life. For a young per-
son it is almost a sin, or at least a danger, to be too
preoccupied with himself; but for the ageing person it is
a duty and a necessity to devote serious attention to him-
self. After having lavished its light upon the world, the
sun withdraws its rays in order to illuminate its?lf. Instead
of doing likewise, many old people prefer to be hypochon-
driacs, niggards, pedants, applauders of the past or else
eternal adolescents — all lamentable substitutes for the
illumination of the self, but inevitable consequences of the
delusion that the second half of life must be governed by
the principles of the first.

I said just now that we have no schools for forty-year-
olds. That is not quite true. Our religions were always
such schools in the past, but how many people regard
them as such today? How many of us older ones have been
brought up in such a school and really prepared for the
second half of life, for old age, death and eternity?

A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy
or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for
the species. The afternoon of human life must also have
a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful
appendage to life’s morning. The significance of the morn-
ing undoubtedly lies in the development of the individual,
our entrenchment in the outer world, the propagation of
our kind, and the care of our children. This is the obvious
purpose of nature. But when this purpose has been attained
— and more than attained — shall the earning of money,
the extension of conquests, and the expansion of life go
steadily on beyond the bounds of all reason and sense?
Whoever carries over into the afternoon the law of the
morning, or the natural aim, must pay for it with damage
to his soul, just as surely as a growing youth who tries
to carry over his childish egoism into adult life must pay
for this mistake with social failure. Money-making, social
achievement, family and posterity are nothing but plain
nature, not culture. Culture lies outside the purpose of
nature. Could by any chance culture be the meaning and
purpose of the second half of life?

In primitive tribes we observe that the old people are
almost always the guardians of the mysteries and the laws,
and it is in these that the cultural heritage of the tribe is
expressed. How does the matter stand with us? Where is
the wisdom of our old people, where are their precious
secrets and their visions? For the most part our old people
try to compete with the young. In the United States it is
almost an ideal for a father to be the brother of his sons,
and for the mother to be if possible the younger sister of
her daughter.

I do not know how much of this confusion is a reaction
against an earlier exaggeration of the dignity of age, and
how much is to be charged to false ideals. These undoubt-
edly exist, and the goal of those who hold them lies behind,
and not ahead. Therefore they are always striving to turn
back. We have to grant these people that it is hard to see
what other goal the second half of life can offer than the
well-known aims of the first. Expansion of life, usefulness,
efficiency, the cutting of a figure in society, the shrewd
steering of offspring into suitable marriages and good
positions— are not these purposes enough? Unfortunately
not enough meaning and purpose for those who see in
the approach of old age a mere diminution of life and can
feel their earlier ideals only as something faded and worn
out. Of course, if these persons had filled up the beaker
of life earlier and emptied it to the lees, they would feel
quite difTerently about everything now; they would have
kept nothing back, everything that wanted to catch fire
would have been consumed, and the quiet of old age would
be very welcome to them. But we must not forget that only
a very few people are artists in life; that the art of life is
the most distinguished and rarest of all the arts. Who ever
succeeded in draining the whole cup with grace? So for
many people all too much unlived life remains over —
sometimes potentialities which they could never have lived
with the best of wills, so that they approach the threshold
of old age with unsatisfied demands which inevitably turn
their glances backwards.

It is particularly fatal for such people to look back.
For them a prospect and a goal in the future are absolutely
necessary. That is why all great religions hold out the
promise of a life beyond, of a supramundane goal which
makes it possible for mortal man to live the second half
of life with as much purpose and aim as the first. For the
man of today the expansion of life and its culmination are
plausible goals, but the idea of life after death seems to
him questionable or beyond belief. Life’s cessation, that
is, death, can only be accepted as a reasonable goal cither
when existence is so wretched that we are only too glad
for it to end, or when we are convinced that the sun strives
to its setting “to illuminate distant races” with the same
logical consistency it showed in rising to the zenith. But
to believe has become such a difficult art today that it is
beyond the capacity of most people, particularly the edu-
cated part of humanity. They have become too accustomed
to the thought that, with regard to immortality and such
questions, there are innumerable contradictory opinions
and no convincing proofs. And since “science” is the
catchword that seems to carry the weight of absolute con-
viction in the contemporary world, we ask for ”scientific”
proofs. But educated people who can think know very well
that proof of this kind is a philosophical impossibility.
We simply cannot know anything whatever about such
things.

May I remark that for the same reasons we cannot know,
cither, whether something does happen to a person after
death? No answer of any kind is permissible, either for
or against. We simply have no definite scientific knowledge
about it one way or the other, and are therefore in the
same position as when we ask whether the planet Mars is
inhabited or not. And the inhabitants of Mars, if there are
any, are certainly not concerned whether we affirm or
deny their existence. They may exist or they may not.
And that is how it stands with so-called immortality —
with which we may shelve the problem.

But here my medical conscience awakens and urges
me to say a word which has an important bearing on this
question. 1 have observed that a life directed to an aim
is in general better, richer, and healthier than an aimless
one, and that it is better to <;o forwards with the stream
of time than backwards against it. To the psychotherapist
an old man who cannot bid farewell to life appears as
feeble and sickly as a young man who is unable to embrace
it. And as a matter of fact, it is in many cases a question
of the selfsame childish greediness, the same fear, the
same defiance and wilfulness, in the one as in the other. As
a doctor I am convinced that it is hygienic — if I may use
the word— to discover in death a goal towards which one
can strive, and that shrinking away from it is something
unhealthy and abnormal which robs the second half of life
of its purpose 1 therefore consider that all religions with a
supramundane goal are eminently reasonable from the
point of view of psychic hygiene. When I live in a house
which I know will fall about my head within, the next two
weeks, all my vital functions will be impaired by this
thought; but if on the contrary 1 feel myself to be safe, I
can dwell there in a normal and comfortable way. From
the standpoint of psychotherapy it would therefore be
desirable to think of death as only a transition, as part of a
life process whose extent and duration arc beyond our
knowledge.

In spite of the fact that the majority of people do not
know why the body needs salt, everyone demands it none-
theless because of an instinctive need. It is the same with
the things of the psyche. By far the greater portion of
mankind have from time immemorial felt the need of
believing in a continuance of life. The demands of therapy,
therefore, do not lead us into any bypaths but down the
middle of the highway trodden by humanity. For this
reason we are thinking correctly, and in harmony with
life, even though we do not understand what we think.

Do we ever understand what we think? We only under-
stand that kind of thinking which is a mere equation,
from which nothing comes out but what we have put in.
That is the working of the intellect. But besides that there
is a thinking in primordial images, in symbols which are
older than the historical man, which are inborn in him
from the earliest times, and, eternally living, outlasting all
generations, still make up the groundwork of the human
psyche. It is only possible to live the fullest life when we
are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return
to them. It is a question neither of belief nor of knowl-
edge, but of the agreement of our thinking with the pri-
mordial images of the unconscious. They are the unthink-
able matrices of all our thoughts, no matter what our
conscious mind may cogitate. One of these primordial
thoughts is the idea of life after death. Science and these
primordial images are incommcnsurablcs. They are irra-
tional data, a priori conditions of the imagination which
are simply there, and whose purpose and justification
science can only investigate a posteriori, much as it in-
vestigates a function like that of the thyroid gland. Before
the nineteenth century the thyroid was regarded as a
meaningless organ merely because it was not understood.

It would be equally shortsighted of us today to call the
primordial images senseless. For me these images are
something like psychic organs, and I treat them with the
very greatest respect. It happens sometimes that I must say
to an older patient: "Your picture of God or your idea of
immortality is atrophied, consequently your psychic metabolism
is out of gear." The ancient athanasias pharmakon,
the medicine of immortality, is more profound and mean-
ingful than we supposed.

In conclusion I would like to come back for a moment
to the comparison with the sun. The one hundred and
eighty degrees of the arc of life are divisible into four
parts. The first quarter, lying to the east, is childhood,
that state in which we are a problem for others but are
not yet conscious of any problems of our own. Conscious
problems fill out the second and third quarters; while in
the last, in extreme old age, we descend again into that
condition where, regardless of our state of consciousness,
we once more become something of a problem for others.
Childhood and extreme old age are, of course, utterly
dilTerent, and yet they have one thing in common: sub-
mersion in unconscious psychic happenings. Since the mind
ot a child grows out of the unconscious its psychic proc-
esses, though not easily accessible, are not as difficult to
discern as those of a very old person who is sinking again
into the unconscious, and who progressively vanishes within
it. Childhood and old age are the stages of life without any
conscious problems, for which reason I have not taken
them into consideration here.

2 thoughts on “Carl Jung’s The Stages of Life (notes by illixaxis)

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