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Image by Barbara Hermes Bach

Jung said that many of his patients were “not suffering from any clinically definable neurosis, but from the senselessness and aimlessness of their lives…the general neurosis of our age”. And Jung characterizes therapy in the same passage, as the process in which “we must follow nature as a guide, and what the doctor then does is less a question of treatment than of developing the creative possibilities latent in the patient himself.”
James Hillman
The Myth of Analysis

‘Sooner or later something seems to call us towards a particular path. You may remember the ‘something’ as a signal moment in childhood when an urge out of nowhere, a fascination, a peculiar turn of events struck like an annunciation. This is what I must do, this is what I have got to have. This is who I am. If not this vivid or sure, the call may have been more like gentle pushings in the stream in which you drifted unknowingly to a particular spot on the bank. Looking back you sense that fate had a hand in it’. — James Hillman

“It’s not enough to be nice in life. You’ve got to have nerve.”
Georgia O’Keeffe

It takes determination to find your real life. It’s not going to be handed to you usually, and if it is you have to recognize its value. O’Keeffe knew the temptations to diminish your natural tendencies could persuade you to talk yourself out of your passion, in which case you would lose your reason for living. I saw this with my father. He gave himself six kids to feed. If he had pursued writing anyway and let us starve, he couldn’t have lived with himself.

His pain and longing was obvious to me from my earliest days. When he finally had money and time it was too late. Even as he began to be a little senile, his talent took over his mind and produced endless waves of stories. He seemed unable not to pour them forth in formless streams, usurping all conversations wherever he was.

Watching this, I vowed to keep my life simple and to disregard the social requirements and norms. I knew my path would be a creative path and I needed to find it by trial and error. I threw myself at a lot of different creative disciplines, finding two that stuck with me, painting and writing. I tried everything from theater to singing to sculpture, all the time reading widely. My father never had time to do something like that. He was scrambling from his twenties on into his sixties to survive, an endeavor at which he overachieved.

Watching him, I took instruction at what I must avoid, how I must question the world and myself, how I should sidestep conventional wisdom, how I must examine my assumptions and impulses and how important it was to hold judgments in abeyance.

I think it’s a great misfortune to lose your path, your sense of creative mission. What Jung called the general neurosis of our age, that senselessness and aimlessness that tortures people who know they are not living with deep purpose is what I was intent upon avoiding. There were times when I did lose my way and it felt like tragedy had overtaken my life and that I absolutely had to find a way out.

I was lucky. I writhed and squirmed until I fell headfirst into another paradigm, something that could at least lead somewhere. There was a long period of trial and error. Adults watched in horror. Would I ever settle down and live a normal life?

At this point, I’m calmly living a very regular creative life. It’s the world itself that has gone crazy. As usual, I just try to sidestep the dangers, relying on luck and instincts to hack a passable trial through the jungle. I’ve already been given a longer, more indulgent stay on this planet than many friends and family members. I’m still working on my project of creating beauty and finding meaning. In some ways I feel I’m just getting started, but if I have to cycle off tomorrow at least I know I’ll leave behind some things of substance.

Finding and living a life from your core self is no small feat. There are challenges embedded in your mind. Your self-doubts present big hurdles. Society does try to distract and prevent you.

But the alternative is worse.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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