Jung At Heart blog

Psychotherapy: In the darkness

I think often of this powerful quote from Jung on therapy:

"The principle aim of psychotherapy is not to transport one to an impossible state of happiness, but to help (the client) acquire steadfastness and patience in the face of suffering. " -C.G. Jung

How very different this view of therapy is from what most people seek. Jung understood that suffering is a part of life, that it has meaning and that to live fully is to know that suffering will be a factor in one's life throughout life. If I look back on my own life, I know that I have learned most from those times which were difficult and often painful, not because I wanted to but because of the choices and consequences i faced at those times. The good times, the times of great happiness are wonderful and I have celebrated and cherished them and look forward to more. But it has been in those dark times when I have had to face myself and look deeply into my life and my actions that I have grown most.

Reflecting on consolations and desolations, joys and sorrows, is a part of many spiritual practices. Matthew Fox wrote in modern terms in Original Blessings about the Via Negativa, the path that takes us into darkness. So much of post-Enlightenment culture has been about the flight from darkness that many of us have lost sight of the meaning and value of darkness. New life begins in the dark. Seeds germinate in the dark.


In addition to the new look for Jung At Heart, it is now also mobile-friendly. So those of you who like to read on your phone will now be able to more easily read it.

Please let me know what you think in the Comments.

Aging: Does “Old” Mean No Longer Fully Alive?

As one born at the beginning of the Baby Boom, I am used to having the preoccupations of my generation becoming fodder for media preoccupations with us, much as the Millennials are experiencing now. And now that we  are in or approaching later life, this focus on us emerges again.

70 million of us Baby Boomers are facing what it means to be in later life. And many of us begin to fret about how old is old? Am I old? What does it mean to be old? How is it that so many of us recoil from knowing ourselves as old?

One researcher, Serge Scherbov, says in a recent NYTimes article 

for Americans, it’s roughly 70 to 71 for men and 73 to 74 for women, though, as he has written, “your true age is not just the number of years you have lived.”

“The main idea of the project,” he told me, “is that an old age threshold should not be fixed but depend on the characteristics of people.” Factors such as life expectancy, personal health, cognitive function and disability rates all play a role, he said, and today’s 65-year-old is more like a 55-year-old from 45 years ago.

So according to Dr. Scherbov, I am not yet  old, though I have been contentedly referring to myself as a “little old lady” for at least 5 years now, shamelessly taking advantage of whatever courtesies or benefits that accrue to me because of so labeling myself. And maybe because I am told that I look younger than my age, I am comfortable identifying myself as old.

For his book “Healthy Aging,” Dr. Andrew Weil, now 76, asked people to list attributes associated with “old.” Among those most frequently cited: ancient, antiquated, dated, dried up, frail, passé, shriveled, used up, useless and withered, worthless and wrinkled. NYTimes

Clearly, on the whole culturally we associate “old” with very negative qualities. What happened to the Wise Old Man or Woman? Is she/he only seen now in dreams and myth and fairy tales?

Psychotherapy: When not doing is doing it best

It’s hard to sit with someone who is crying or angry or yearning or silent for long periods and not want to do something to make them feel better, to break the tension in the room. But most of the time if that desire to do something is acted upon, the outcome is not what we hope. For me, this is a lesson I have had to learn again and again.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. What comes to me is the image of an infant in the throes of colic. You try everything to make them stop because that cry is distressing, because it makes you feel impotent and frustrated and even angry. Rock the baby. Pat the baby. Sing. Take her for a ride in the car. Anything and everything that you hope will soothe her and end that crying. Really none of those things is magic — she stops when she stops. Eventually, as a parent,  you just have to be able to be with the baby, to be a steady presence without acting out your own distress. You have to be with her, hold her and hold the feelings. I remember coming to that place with my babies and then recognize that really that is what I need to do with my distressed patients. I can’t make the hurt go away. I can’t give them the magic interpretation that will solve everything. I can’t make it all better. I have to sit with them in their feelings, be with them in those feelings.

Fridays are for reflection

Back in the early 80s, Jungian analyst Jane Wheelwright wrote about the tasks of late life —

To live fully as we age, we must meet and acknowledge if not master at least seven specific tasks. These tasks are more evident, more urgent and perhaps more possible in the autumn of life. But it must be remembered that these tasks of aging are also tasks of living, for old age is not separate from life. Old age is rather, the time for finding one’s essence. This is material for life and we will work with these tasks until our last breath.

I will take  one of these seven tasks on each of 7 Fridays starting next week.  I hope you will take time for yourself in a journal or in whatever medium suits you to explore these tasks and your life.

To start today, a question: How old is old? When do you feel old age starts? And are you there?

What is your bear?

Bear In Mind  by John Martin

A bear is chasing me through a meadow

and I’m running as fast as I can but

he’s gaining on me—it seems

he’s always gaining on me.

I’m running and running but also

thinking I should just

turn around and say,

“Stop it! Stop chasing me. We both

know you aren’t going to catch me.

All you can ever do is chase me. So,

think about it—why bother?”

The bear does stop,

and he sits on his haunches and thinks,

or seems to think. And then

the bear says to me,

“I have to chase you, you know

that. Or you should. And, sure,

we both know I’ll never catch you.

So, why not give us both a break and

just stop thinking about me?”

But, with that said, he gets back on four feet,

sticks his long pink tongue out, licks down

both sides of his snout. Then he sighs, looks

behind himself, then at me and says, “Okay,

ready when you are.”


A couple of years ago I read The Last Asylum, by Barbara Thomas. It’s one of those books that has stayed with me and leads me to think more deeply about the things she writes about — madness, analysis, healing. Today I am thinking about surrender.

Thomas came to analysis wanting her analyst to take care of her, much as she wanted and got friends to take care of her. She wanted him to give her answers, to tell her what to do to feel better. It took a number of years for her to come to the place of accepting that he could not and would not tell her what to do or give her answers or take care of her. What he could do was help her to find her own answers but in order to do that she had to surrender.

This brings to mind a day when my daughter was 4 and had an epic tantrum. The kind of tantrum where I sat on the floor holding her, careful to keep my head out of the way of her flailing and hurling of her own head and let her be in that state, let her cry and yell and flail and just lovingly hold her so that she did not hurt herself or me. Finally she stopped yelling and the storm subsided into tears and then calm. I let go of her and she turned and said ”Mommy, why did I do that?” Just as Thomas railed at her analyst until she finally let go, my little girl had to do the same. Though of course there were many times in her childhood that she got angry with me or her father or brother, many times she felt us thwarting her desires, she found words to express those feelings and there were no more epic tantrums. In a way this is what Thomas describes. She had to go through that long struggle to get her way, to get what she wanted in order to get what she actually needed. She had to reach the point of surrender in order for her to get that.

I promised I’d post on things other than aging...



I say, ‘I am fat.’

He says ‘No, you are beautiful.’

I wonder why I cannot be both.

He kisses me 



My college theater professor once told me

that despite my talent,

I would never be cast as a romantic lead.

We do plays that involve singing animals

and children with the ability to fly,

but apparently no one

has enough willing suspension of disbelief

to go with anyone loving a fat girl.

I daydream regularly

about fucking my boyfriend vigorously on his front lawn.


On the mornings I do not feel pretty,

while he is still asleep,

I sit on the floor and check the pockets of his skinny jeans for motive,

for a punchline,

for other girls’ phone numbers.


When we hold hands in public, 

I wonder if he notices the looks —

like he is handling a parade balloon on a crowded sidewalk;

if he notices that my hands are now made of rope. 


Dear Cosmo: Fuck you.

I will not take sex tips from you

on how to please a man you think I do not deserve.

In the Third Act

Almost 12 years ago I taught a course I called Conversations in the Third Act at the local branch of the University of Maine’s life-long learning center. If life is a drama in three acts, then all of us over 50 are in the third act and dealing with a whole new set of issues, questions, and challenges.

In the secret hour of life's midday the parabola is reversed, death is born. The second half of life does not signify ascent, unfolding, increase, exuberance, but death, since the end is its goal. The negation of life's fulfillment is synonymous with the refusal to accept its ending. Both mean not wanting to live, and not wanting to live is identical with not wanting to die. Waxing and Waning make one curve. ~ C.G. Jung

Coming to terms with the loss of youth and the dawning realization that life is finite is intrinsic to later life. Much has been written about the passage into midlife and we have no doubt all heard of the Mid-Life Crisis. One person may experience the fear of losing control and the sense of self that once worked. Another may feel the fear of further losing areas of self-expression. Frequently, there is the existential fear of mortality and diminishing time, the realization that half of life is gone. And for those of us in our 60s and 70s and beyond, an even deeper recognition of the finiteness of our lives.

It is common  to experience anger or depression in response to lost time and opportunity for more authentic experience. Depression and underlying regret may reflect an emerging sense of emptiness and the superficial relationship to life of the “adapted self.”

Pointing to the end

I love the extravagance of  the amaryllis - that phallic flower stalk that then bursts into big beautiful flowers. One year, I photographed an especially lovely red one through all the stages of its bloom period, from the just beginning to open


to the full deep red of the open flower


to  the poignant fading of the once glorious flower.


The bright red has faded to this muted purple, the petals curling, the prominent veins. In its own way, this fading flower is every bit as beautiful as the brilliant red flower it was before.

Tonight, as we say goodbye to 2018 and look ahead to 2019, even as we look back over this year and years prior, and  ponder where we want to take  life going forward, we must be aware that like the amaryllis, we are gradually fading. And there is still life to be lived zestfully and with purpose. That is much of what I want to explore with you in the year ahead.

© Cheryl Fuller, 2018. All  rights reserved.