Listen to this masterful description and diagnosis by Comedian Louis CK
I engaged in therapy on and off for five years with a Jungian psychotherapist who, in retrospect, probably saved my life as I now know it. I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic but I was seriously depressed and, like a frog that doesn’t know to leap out of water being heated from cold to boiling, I was not fully cognizant of what was happening to me. As the result of working with “Karl,” I did some significant changing.
Jungian psychology is broad and deep and has minions of adherents, many of whom are ardent and even dogmatic. I know just enough to be dangerous. Because I also lack the purity-gene and am not a faithful soldier for any single idea, my meandering on this topic will likely wander into heresy as far as Jungian zealots are concerned. If so, I apologize ahead of time.
Karl would sometimes tag something I struggled with as one of four universal concerns with which every person must contend. It has been five years since his very sudden and devastating illness ended our sessions, and I feel such reverence for his memory that I fear misrepresenting his words and wisdom. Nonetheless, it is a risk he would have encouraged. The concerns he tagged were Aloneness, Death, Meaning, and Freedom and they have no organic order. We come to them or they come to us as our lives unfold.
We also resist them. If we can stay asleep to their presence and power instead of being awake and actively interacting with them, we will. We stay asleep to these powerful elements of our psyche to our own detriment.
I allowed grief over my father’s death to interrupt therapy with Karl, rationalizing that I was too raw and it was just too painful so I needed a break. Learning to feel and to live in the presence of pain was exactly what I needed more of, while its avoidance was precisely what had been leading me down the rat hole of depression. Eventually I returned to therapy but in an even deeper crisis than when I started.
Meaning and death were old familiar friends of mine. I had been conversing with both of them since my early twenties, well before I even entered into recovery. None of these four concerns is ever finally resolved, by the way. Like the proverbial onion, we can peel and peel and peel and each layer offers us something new. In the aftermath of my father’s death I unexpectedly encountered the issue of freedom in a new way, but it was aloneness that had been molding within me from neglect for decades.
The reality that we are in a solitary free-fall in Deep Space without a tether is a gruesome encounter. Still, it is a fact of existence.
Some people, when exposed to this truth, conclude as a result that there is no God or there is no meaning or purpose. Neither has been the conclusion I drew, although I have visited both possibilities often. Instead, I have come to imagine our aloneness as a space bubble to climb into and ride now and again for a unique if terrifying perspective on the universe. God is still present, and all the people I love and have ever loved are still present. It is just that there is an element of Self that is a free-floating radical forever doomed to separateness – at least until death. Whether death is a release from our radical aloneness or not can only ever be a matter of speculation.
Any of these four continuing concerns can create a world of hurt for us when we leave them utterly unattended and fall asleep to their presence within us. The task of adult life, spiritual maturity in other words, is to regularly visit and contend with each of the four elements that haunt and feed us if we allow them to; or debilitate and sour us when we neglect them.
I miss Karl and am forever grateful to him. Ironically, my bubble of aloneness has his name written on it as graffiti from heaven.