death, that unproblematical ending of individual existence
“I have often been asked what I believe about death, that unproblematical ending of individual existence. Death is known to us simply as the end. It is the period, often placed before the close of the sentence and followed only by memories of aftereffects in others. For the person concerned, however, the sand has run out of the glass; the rolling stone has come to rest. When death confronts us, life always seems like a downward flow or like a clock that has been wound up and whose eventual “running down” is taken for granted. We are never more convinced of this “running down” than when a human life comes to its end before our eyes, and the question of the meaning and worth of life never becomes more urgent or more agonizing than when we see the final breath leave a body which a moment before was living.
How different does the meaning of life seem to us when we see a young person striving for distant goals and shaping the future, and compare this with an incurable invalid, or with an old man who is sinking reluctantly and without strength to resist into the grave! Youth — we should like to think — has purpose, future, meaning, and value, whereas the coming to an end is only a meaningless cessation.
If a young man is afraid of the world, of life and the future, then everyone finds it regrettable, senseless, neurotic; he is considered a cowardly shirker. But when an aging person secretly shudders and is even mortally afraid at the thought that his reasonable expectation of life now amounts to only so many years, then we are painfully reminded of certain feelings within our own breast; we look away and turn the conversation to some other topic.
The optimism with which we judge the young man fails us here. Naturally we have on hand for every eventuality one or two suitable banalities about life which we occasionally hand out to the other fellow, such as “everyone must die sometime,” “one doesn’t live forever,” etc. But when one is alone and it is night and so dark and still that one hears nothing and sees nothing but the thoughts which add and subtract the years, and the long row of disagreeable facts which remorselessly indicate how far the hand of the clock has moved forward, and the slow, irresistible approach of the wall of darkness which will eventually engulf everything you love, possess, wish, strive, and hope for — then all our profundities about life slink off to some undiscoverable hiding place, and fear envelops the sleepless one like a smothering blanket.”
Bron: Fragment of Carl C.G. Jung – The Soul and Death (in: The Meaning of Death, Herman Feifel, editor)
How Jung Suggests We View Death
“First, as noted above, Jung admits death is a mystery, something we cannot completely understand, describe, explain or image. Death throws up a question that we cannot answer. But, for all the frustration that implies, we must try to grapple with it. Why? Jung replies: “Not to have done so is a vital loss. For the question … is the age-old heritage of humanity: an archetype, rich in secret life, which seeks to add itself to our own individual life in order to make it whole.”
Death is an archetype, one of the experiences we all have, like birth, growing, creating, aging. As an archetype it has intent, i.e. it wants something from us. It seeks to generate behaviors. Like what? Reflection, introspection, a turning within, tending to our soul, appreciating things psychic, like dreams and intuitions, and a deepening of our love of mystery. Death asks us to integrate within ourselves more of reality, including that aspect of ourselves that exists outside space and time. In this way it strives to enrich individual life and make it more whole.
Death also prompts us to become more self-aware, to create more consciousness. Death wants us to use it as a goad to developing more of our potential. Jung experienced this in his near-death experience, when he saw what he had been and what he had lived, and it all was a fait accompli. And he had no regrets.
As the essay on the concept of the enantiodromia )1 noted, Jung stressed the need to hold the tension of opposites. Opposites are found everywhere, in both consciousness and in the unconscious. So, if we have life, we must also have its opposite, death. One of the criticisms Jung would have about our contemporary American culture is its one-sidedness about this pair of opposites, with our almost complete focus on life, and denial of death. We must evolve a culture that can view death as one half of the soul’s experience, every bit as much a part of living as physical existence is.
In undertaking this cultural evolution, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can draw on the millennia-long experience of focusing on the soul that occurred during the Middle Ages (c. 500-1500 CE), when society was attuned more to things intangible than to the world of matter. A premium was put on soul-tending and, as one part of this process, a whole body of literature arose describing how to prepare for death.”
Bron: “How Jung Suggests We View Death, published by ‘ Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences, full article : http://jungiancenter.org/“
1) Enantiodromia (Greek: enantios, opposite and dromos, running course) is a principle introduced by psychiatrist Carl Jung that the superabundance of any force inevitably produces its opposite. It is similar to the principle of equilibrium in the natural world, in that any extreme is opposed by the system in order to restore balance. When things get to their extreme, they turn into their opposite. However, in Jungian terms, a thing psychically transmogrifies into its shadow opposite, in the repression of psychic forces that are thereby cathected into something powerful and threatening. This can be anticipated as well in the principles of traditional Chinese religion – as in Taoism and yin-yang.