I will be co-teaching a short course at Schumacher College this coming May on Psyche & Climate with my colleague Stephan Harding. It will be a unique opportunity and environment to explore the relationship between Psyche and Earth as it manifests in terms of climate. Here is a brief description of the course:

Explore the connections between the inner dynamics of the psyche and how these manifest outwardly as climate change. More specifically, we’ll explore the ways in which insights from Jungian depth psychology can help us to explore the roots of the climate crisis and to therefore act more effectively to do something about it.

You can find our more about the course by clicking here.

I was recently interviewed by Bonnie Bright founder of Depth Psychology Alliance concerning my upcoming participation in C.G. Jung Psychology & Spirituality Conference  being held in Santa Fe, New Mexico from June 9 – 16, 2017. I will be teaching for a day on the topic of “Reclaiming a Sense of Wholeness Amidst Our Current Environmental Crisis.”

Please listen to the interview in which Bonnie and I explore this topic. I also encourage you to sign up for the conference. It provides a unique opportunity to build community and share experiences around wholeness.


Please check out the exciting upcoming symposium on Earth, Climate, Dreams, which is sponsored by the Depth Psychology Alliance. For more information please click here.

Looking for Caesar

Rome, Arch of Constantine. Address of emperor to soldiers (adlocutio). Relief on south side. Marble. A.D. 175—196.

“If we are stumbling into an era of dictators, Caesars, and incarnated States, we have accomplished a cycle of two thousand years and the serpent has again met with its own tail. Then our era will be a near replica of the first centuries A.D., when Caesar was the State and a god, and divine sacrifices were made to Caesar while the temples of the gods crumbled away. You know that thousands in those days turned their eyes away from this visible world, filled with horror and disgust, and adopted a philosophy which healed their souls.”

C.G. Jung CW (18, par. 1342)

The recent outcome of the US presidential election has resulted in a mood of tremendous worldwide anxiety. Many wonder how we got to this point in history. Many question how we will survive the coming days of political, social and environmental upheaval.

Jung wrote the above quoted words in 1936, a time when many Caesars were appearing in the world, a time when nationalism was on the rise in Germany, Russia, and Italy. Here he observes that the appearance of dictators occurred in the past and a common response for some in such times was a turning away to find a way to heal the soul. Such soul-based philosophy requires a turning within in order to transcend the materialistic poverty of the outer world. In reaction to the outcome of the US election there is a call for immediate action. I do not deny action is essential, but of equal importance is taking the time to look quietly within, which opens us to healing our wounded souls. At such pivotal points we need to balance ‘doing’ with ‘being’ so that our actions come from a deeper place within us, a place rooted in consciousness, connectedness and caring. At this pivotal point in our history we are in need of soulful approaches for working with our highly fragmented world. Depth psychology roots us in the varied dimensions of psyche and provides us with skillful means for exploring shadow and light in imaginative ways.

How did we get here? Earlier in his 1936 essay Jung (CW 18, par. 1330) says that,

“Nations in a condition of collective misery behave like neurotic or even psychotic individuals. First they get dissociated or disintegrated, then they pass into a state of confusion and disorientation.”

Here in the US we have felt this state of confusion and disorientation for a while. There is dis-ease in financial markets, growing inequity in monetary wealth, rising housing costs, lack of proper health care, and dislocation from place. Post election analysts describe a yearning among many Americans for radical change. Consciously and unconsciously there is a recognition that the old paradigm does not work anymore. There is a desire for a new way, even if we do not know what that way is resulting in a state of confusion.

Jung goes on to say that at first,

“… the confusion affects mainly the conscious and subconscious layers but does not touch the fundamental instinctual structure of the mind, the collective unconscious. On the contrary, the confusion in the top layers produces a compensatory reaction in the collective unconscious, consisting of a peculiar personality surrogate, an archaic personality equipped with superior instinctive forces. This new constellation is at first completely unconscious, but as it is activated it becomes perceptible in the form of a projection.”

The collective psychological sense of confusion and loss touches the part of psyche most associated with personal and social complexes. We can recognize the complex-ed state of the collective psyche through the highly emotional outbursts plaguing the nation during the election process. The unconscious reaction to the outer sense of confusion with its associated emotional outbursts creates an ‘archaic personality’ possessing tremendous power. Since this personality is unconscious it is projected on to some outer form.

In terms of the individual and even the collective, Jung explains that

“It is usually the doctor treating a patient who unwittingly assumes the role of the projected figure. The mechanism of this projection is the transference. By transference the doctor appears in the guise of the father, for instance, as that personality who symbolizes superior power and intelligence, a guarantee of security and a protection against overwhelming dangers.”

Perhaps here is the key to what has happened in the recent election for in a state of mass confusion many search for an individual who presents as powerful, who offers ‘a guarantee of security and a protection against overwhelming dangers.’ Donald Trump has promised to make “America great again” and to protect us from varied threats real and imagined. Out of a sense of insecurity people look for the protector and they believe they have found their protector.

Is this where the process of projection ends? Jung proceeds by saying,

“So long as the disintegration has not reached the deeper layers, the transference will not produce more than the projection of the father-image. But once the confusion has stirred up these unknown depths, the projection becomes more collective and takes on mythological forms. In this case the doctor appears as a sort of sorcerer or saviour.”

The collective emotional intensity during the US election indicates that we dropped down into the deeper archetypal layers of psyche and excited more than just a need for a paternal protector. A father figure was no longer sufficient to allay the fear in people. The current rise in nationalism indicates that people yearn more for a ‘sorcerer or savior.’ Of course the sorcerer often appears in his darkest of forms and we find ourselves now facing a great illusionist, rather than a savior.

What to do? Have we returned to a time when many will turn their “eyes away from the visible world” and search for a philosophy to heal the soul? I would argue that this is exactly what is needed. Before we act, we need to do some soul healing. We need to look within our hearts and, in stillness, discover the darkness within ourselves that has created this world of confusion.

Jung (CW 9ii, par. 255) writes that,

“Only ruthless self-knowledge on the widest scale, which sees good and evil in correct perspective and can weigh up the motives of human action, offers some guarantee that the end-result will not turn out too badly.”

Self-knowledge comes from looking inward, but this does not mean we flee from the outer world. Essentially we need both inner reflection and engagement with the world to bring about healing. Jung felt very strongly that the healing process was not one of retreating from the world, he says (Visions Seminar, p. 1367) that,

“… we are only complete in a community or in a relationship. There is no possibility of individuation on the top of Mount Everest where you are sure that nobody will ever bother you. Individuation always means relationship.”

Depth psychology tells us that we need to balance our search for self-knowledge with worldly engagement. The result of such a balanced approach is to discover an inner sorcerer that provides the wisdom and compassion required for creating a fear-less world. Through such a process we need look no further for a Caesar…


On November 2nd a forum will be held on climate change messaging at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. The forum is open to the public with talks given by leaders in the fields of climate science, psychology, economics and neuroscience. I would like to thank Dr. Jerry Schubel, the director of the aquarium, for organizing this forum after being inspired by my book Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future. Please come and join us for an exciting day of presentations and interactions.



I invite you to listen to my interview with Laura London creator of the Speaking of Jung podcast series. Please click here to find the interview. Thanks to Laura London for providing me the opportunity to speak on Jungian psychology and climate change.

I will be discussing, reading and signing my book “Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future” at the Trident Bookstore & Cafe, Boulder, CO on April 16th from 2-4pm. Please stop by…


I will be in Boulder, Colorado next week to present with my friend Marda Kirn on the dance of science & art. If you are around the area and are interested please click on the announcement below…


The Care of Nature


“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

John Muir, 1890

I have just returned from a walk through a small part of Muir Woods. I was captivated by the immense beauty and wonder of the Woods. The silence there penetrated deeply into my soul. I left those Woods transformed. Driving up the winding road, I reflected on the precariousness of Nature’s beauty for this valley and forest were threatened by the building of a dam. The care of just a few, including Theodore Roosevelt, saved the forest from ultimate submersion. Psychologically, this act of submersion is repression of a thing feared. I was reminded of Freud’s view of our relationship to nature, summarized in these words, “The principle task of civilization, its actual raison d’etre, is to defend us against nature.” For Freud civilization was under constant assault from nature and it was our task to conquer or, at least, subdue nature, lest it overwhelm us. The feeling that nature must be subdued is actually quite old and represents an innate fear of the natural world.

Of course, Jung viewed our relationship with Nature in a completely different way for he saw a direct connection between psyche’s archetypes and Nature, he succinctly reflected that, “…the archetypes are as it were hidden foundations of the conscious mind, or, to use another comparison, the roots which the psyche has sunk not only in the earth in the narrower sense but in the world in general, …[archetypes are that portion of the psyche] through which the psyche is attached to nature.” So, to the extent we explore archetypes we approach Nature and, of course, the opposite is equally true to the extent we explore Nature we approach the archetypes of psyche, which is the sentiment exactly expressed in the words of John Muir.

I find it difficult to fathom people who choose to submerse the beauty of a forest with a dam, or to cut down a forest for a housing development or a shopping mall. Are these destructive acts toward Nature a reflection of Freud’s fear of the natural world? Are we so unconscious of our innate archetypal rootedness to Nature? What do we truly value?

Leaving Muir Woods, I was thankful for those few special people, so long ago, whose care afforded me a glimpse of the Universe while walking through the forest.





Green Man 1 copy

I will be doing a webinar on March 24th for the Depth Psychology Alliance. The webinar will be based on my book, Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future. Please join me on the 24th to explore the psychological dimensions of climate change. Just click on this CLIMATE to go the web page to sign up.

Here is a description of what I plan to cover during the event:

The purpose of this webinar will be to explore how a Jungian perspective on the climate crisis can not only shed light on why we are so reluctant to engage with the issue, but how we can use Jungian psychology to break through these barriers and actively engage in creating a more flourishing world. It will cover four dimensions of climate change:a look at the affective reactions associated with the news of climate change and the complexes connected to these affective reactions; an archetypal view of the climate change issue and how an understanding of the power of archetypes can help us address this issue; a reflection on how we can relate to our world in a deeper way, which allows us to see the sacredness in our everyday world; and the role of the religious function in providing us with a deeper ground from which we can create a flourishing future for all beings. I use personal story and myth to relate these concepts.

The lecture part of the event will use images and text to amplify the four dimensions of dealing with climate change. After the lecture I would like to engage the participants in a conversation around Jungian psychology and climate change.

Webinar participants will discover:

• How to view our current climate process as a manifestation of inner psychic processes

• How to use phenomenological processes to experience the sacred nature of the world

• How a transpersonal dimension is essential to fully addressing the climate crisis.

Big Sur

“Anxiety has an unmistakable relation to expectation.”

Sigmund Freud

Our reliance on fossil fuels as the main source to address our energy needs is untenable. The burning of these fuels is causing carbon dioxide levels to rapidly increase and thus warm the planet via the greenhouse effect. The burning of coal is destroying local air quality and placing many thousands at direct health risk. We are experiencing human caused climate change now. If we continue on our current path, planetary warming will reach unprecedented levels within decades. We can no longer afford to deny, ignore or diminish the problem of climate change. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence for climate change we continue to burn these fuels and in the United States we continue to turn away from the warnings of what is happening to our world.

Denial is a classic way to avoid dealing with a disturbing issue. You can probably remember either consciously or unconsciously using this strategy to avoid or postpone action on a pressing problem. Disturbing information or situations evoke a sense of anxious dread within us. We feel overwhelmed by facing the situation and procrastinate. We all do this. Often when we actually do face the problem it turns out that addressing it was less painful than imagined. Our expectation of loss created a deep sense of fear that amplified the actual situation. Understanding the psychological processes that occur in situations of denial can actually help us penetrate the barriers preventing us from moving beyond the problem. This is why it is so important to explore the psychological dimensions of climate change. We can learn much from the experiences of clinical psychology, social psychology and neuroscience. These fields have delved into the many ways we make decisions and avoid making decisions. They shine a light of understanding on the darker shadow regions of denial, ignorance and diminishment. For example, the emotional reactions experienced around the issue of climate change mirror those of a physical or psychological trauma. Thus, the vast knowledge of trauma and its treatment can aid in dealing with the resistance to addressing the state of our climate system.

The physical, chemical and biological sciences have provided us with a comprehensive picture of climate change and our integral role in this problem. The manifold dimensions of psychology can provide ways to actually address the problem. By combining the studies of climate and psyche we not only see what is happening to our world and why, but also, how we can move beyond the problem to create a more flourishing world for future generations.

Find more here.

Facing Climate Change


“Any change must begin somewhere, it is the single individual who will experience it and carry it through. … Nobody can afford to look around and to wait for somebody else to do what he is loath to do himself.”

C.G. Jung

Many have awakened to what we are called to do. The evidence of our impact on planet Earth, our home, is unmistakable. We can no longer afford to turn away from the disturbing news about what we are doing to Earth. Each of us, in our own way, can help heal the deep wounds we have created in our relationship to Earth and to one another.

This coming March my book “Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future” will appear. The book, published by Columbia University Press, explores the psychological dimensions of our current climate crisis. More importantly, the book explores how we can, with a deeper understanding of these psychological dimensions, actually create a flourishing future for all life on the planet. The book reflects my personal journey with regard to climate change. As such, it integrates my life as a climate scientist and a Jungian analyst.

I hope you will find something of value in reading the book.

Seeing the Unseen


Nobody can afford to look round and to wait for somebody else to do what he is loath to do himself. But since nobody seems to know what to do, it might be worthwhile for each of us to ask himself whether by any chance his or her unconscious may know something that will help us.

C.G. Jung (CW 18, par. 599)

As a scientist I recognize how difficult it can be to communicate our current scientific understanding on climate change to the general public. As a Jungian analyst I recognize the essential role the unconscious plays in our ability to take in disturbing information associated with climate change. Being both a climate scientist and a Jungian analyst has helped me in finding more effective ways to communicate the science of climate to the public.

The field of depth psychology was born in the consulting rooms of Freud and Jung over a century ago. These two pioneers recognized the importance of unconscious processes in determining human thought, feeling and behavior. Each developed methods to make the unseen world of the unconscious seen. Jung carried out pioneering scientific work on identifying complexes that take center stage in our lives. They are the actors that cause us to say after the fact, “Why did I say that?” or “Why did I behave that way towards that person?” Freud explored how we unconsciously defend ourselves to insure that we are not overwhelmed by a disturbing reality. Complexes and associated defenses are core parts of who we are and how we react to the world.

Over the past decade many scientific studies have confirmed the importance of unconscious processes in human behavior. These studies have led to a plethora of popular books reporting on the important role of the unconscious in our daily lives, see for example: Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior; Thinking Fast and Slow; Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain; and Strangers to Ourselves. A number of scientific studies have argued these unconscious processes are rooted in evolutionary strategies. Thus, many of the early observations by depth psychologists are being confirmed with current research.

Despite the recognition of the importance of unconscious processes in human behavior most discussions on issues like climate change assume these problems are solely rooted in the conscious realm. Most plans to address the issue of climate change ignore unconscious processes. Given all that we have learned about the role of the unconscious, it is important that we begin to look social issues from a more comprehensive psychological perspective. We need to include our understanding of the unconscious in communicating and addressing the critical issue of climate change.

Jungian psychology has much to offer towards moving forward on the problem of climate change. Although many in this field focus their attention on the interior world of psyche, it would be of great benefit for members of this community to turn their gaze on the outer world and consider how a Jungian perspective can help the world at large. Likewise it would be of great value for the public policy community to recognize the research that shows how important the unseen world of the unconscious is to addressing many of societies problems.




I was honored to be interviewed for Gaia Field Radio today by Lisa Maroski. Lisa and I discussed how Jungian psychology can shed light on the issue of global warming.

I encourage you to listen to the interview by clicking here.




“The heart would like to explore the phenomenal world; it is open to relating with others. That heart contains tremendous strength and confidence in itself, which is called fearlessness.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

It is a wonderful experience to open ourselves to the world. Unfortunately, this is something we are conditioned not to do so often. As young children we are open to exploring our world, but in growing up we are encouraged to close ourselves off from the world. Traumatic experiences teach us to be fearful of the world around us. Even in the absence of such experiences, we learn that the world is to be feared more than trusted. By the time we reach adulthood our natural way of relating to the world is with a closed heart. We have closed the windows of the senses to the wondrous waking world surrounding us.

Whenever we open our hearts to the world a clarity of experience is born. This is a clarity that connects us to something deeper within ourselves and to the outer phenomenal world in a completely fresh way. Colors, smells, tastes and sounds become richer and more profound. I am not describing something that is too difficult. The next time you go for a walk try to slow down and open to what is present before you. Take a little time to dwell with whatever you see or hear in the moment. You may become aware of some fear. You may want to quickly move on to the next scene or experience, but just stay where you are. Just stay with it and see if some clarity arises.

So many problems in the world arise from our conditioned habit of seeing the phenomenal world from a place of fear rather than fearlessness. The heart yearns to open to the world. Today, for just a brief moment allow your heart to openly explore the phenomenal world before you.


“In what follows we shall be questioning concerning technology.”

M. Heidegger

I have begun to notice something about the tenor of conferences and publications on solutions to the important issue of climate change. A particular word keeps appearing more and more regarding this problem. The word with such staying power is: TECHNOLOGY. The message is clear that technology will ultimately solve our problem of global warming. Given enough time, ingenuity, and stimulus (direct or via free markets), solutions will arise and save us from the worst consequences of global warming. These technologies will usher in a fossil fuel free age and perhaps even allow us to remove existing atmospheric carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to insure a sustainable, stable future.

Let me first state that I am not opposed to technologies important role in addressing the issue of global warming. Our warming world due to our use of fossil fuels is truly the greatest threat facing humanity. Many will dismiss this statement as hyperbole, but when you realize that in a mere 90 years our continued fossil fuel use will result in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels not seen for 30 to 40 million years then you begin to realize the immensity of this issue. When carbon dioxide reaches such levels Earth’s climate will be vastly different from anything known to the human species. So, avoiding this pathway back to the extremely warm past is paramount. If we are to continue to meet humanities growing need for energy, then a sustainable, safe replacement for fossil fuels is necessary and technology will clearly play a central role in meeting this need.

What I find alarming is the blind trust placed in this approach. At times it seems people are possessed by the presence of a holy ghost of technology. All we have to do is wait for the next generation of geniuses to find the solutions to our energy needs (of course we can’t wait too long!). I keep sensing the presence of belief. Believe and we shall be saved! The mood is what one finds so often in TED talks, in which technology is the panacea for all problems.

Belief leaves little room for reflection, which is what I find missing in these messages about technology. Yes, some do recognize that technology often creates new problems while solving old ones. But there is little time spent on turning a careful, reflective gaze on how potential new technologies may affect the world. I am speaking of the ethical questions surrounding our approach to solving problem like global warming, questions that account for the many complex interdependencies within the Earth system. It seems to me that we need to develop a different kind of understanding and relationship with technology than our old one of blind trust.

Often these ethical questions are paid lip service, “Yes, of course we need to consider the downsides to this particular approach, but let’s develop the technology first and then discuss such issues.” However, once the technology exists the temptation to implement it to ‘solve’ problems is often too great. It is only later that we look back with our ‘20-20 hindsight’ and see how new problems arose from the new technological fix. Why not hold reflective conversations about solutions at the same time we are developing them? I receive many announcements about upcoming conferences on sustainability. None that I have attended or see advertised reserve time for careful discussions regarding the ethical issues associated with proposed solutions for a sustainable future.

I guess we will figure that out after we get to the future…

The Great Mystery


“Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing. The synchronicity phenomena point, it seems to me, in this direction, for they show that the nonpsychic can behave like the psychic, and vice versa, without there being any causal connection between them. Our present knowledge does not allow us to do much more than compare the relation of the psychic to the material world with two cones, whose apices, meeting in a point without extension – a real zero-point – touch and do not touch.”

C.G. Jung (CW 8, par. 418)

One of the most challenging problems to understand is the connection between psyche and matter. Psyche as realm of mind, thought, perception, idea, emotion, soul and spirit seems most un-matter like. Matter as realm of the solid, substantial, measurable, quantifiable seems far more predictable than psyche. Yet, here I sit at my laptop using my hands to type thoughts, ideas, and playful imaginings for you to read. In this act I become an embodied form of psyche. Psyche and matter, as seemingly disparate entities, unite into a visible whole. Of course, materialists will see no problem with this picture. For does not psyche arise as a complex emergent property from our bodily vat of biochemical substances? Is it truly possible that my humble ramblings are a result of solely a series of chemical reactions? I don’t deny that these reactions are taking place. What I do seriously question is that they are sufficient to explain ‘me,’ or any one else for that matter.

As I write, I am listening to a concerto by Bach. I find it astounding that one could describe this work of genius as merely the result of complex biochemical reactions. I believe that the interplay between psyche and matter is far more subtle than we recognize. There is still mystery here…

The psyche/matter, or mind/matter, puzzle has interested people for centuries. Jung witnessed connections between psyche and matter in his own life and the lives of his clients. His years of accumulated empirical observations led him to postulate the synchronicity principle as the interaction between events that have no seeming causal connection. Since our psyche is involved in experiencing meaning in these so-called ‘acausal’ events in the material world, we are immediately thrust into the realm of psyche and matter. Jung spent the latter part of his life thinking about this subject. He worked with the renowned quantum physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, on his ideas. He asked that we keep an open mind about synchronicity and that serious investigations be made on this topic.

There is richness in opening ourselves to questions about psyche and matter. Perhaps a deeper sense of meaning for our lives lies at the ground of this issue. The fact that the question of psyche and matter has entranced us for so long points to its archetypal nature. How does psyche arise from matter? Can psyche affect matter in some way? Is there something beyond psyche and matter? During these dark winter days, I encourage you to contemplate these intriguing mysterious questions. What will arise from within when you do?

milky way monument valley

“The world used to be, in its various forms, a world of sacred, shining things. The shining things now seem far away.”

Dreyfus and Kelly (2011)

Recently I gave a presentation on finding meaning in our current world. The talk wove together ideas from Carl Jung and Martin Heidegger and considered how our sense of being and meaning evolved through Western history. Starting with the ancient Greeks and their view of the cosmos (universal order) up to our post-modern world of fragmentation and little meaning. We now live in world where it is easy to slip into meaninglessness. Few believe in any absolutes with tremendous cost to our psyche. In an interview near the end of his life, Jung stated that, “man cannot stand a meaningless life.” Meaning provides us with some sense of order within our lived-world. It informs and guides us, especially in difficult times. The result of such meaninglessness is a sense that something is missing in life, a richness or depth to life seems far from our reach.

One source for my talk is a book by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly called, All Things Shining. Dreyfus is a professor of philosophy at UC Berkeley and an expert on Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. Kelly is the chair of the philosophy department at Harvard and an expert on phenomenology. The book is based on their classes combining philosophy and literature. I heartily recommend this book for any of you who love literature and are seeking deeper meaning in life. Ultimately, Dreyfus and Kelly argue for a way of living that they call meta-poietic, in which we experience the shining sacred nature of the things in life. From a Jungian perspective, this is a way of life that allows us to bring a particular form of consciousness to our everyday experiences, a consciousness that sees into the interiority and value of the things in the world. This is a consciousness that opens us to seeing the archetypal forces at play in psyche and opens us to the synchronicities constantly occurring in our lives. Heidegger called such consciousness, “meditative thinking,” which opens us to the mystery of the world.

We have not lost our ability to see the shining nature of the world. We can overcome the forces that constantly pull us away from this way of seeing and experiencing, forces that create dullness in the world. Dreyfus and Kelly argue that by living the meta-poeitic life, we “live a life attuned to the shining things and so will have opened a place to which all gods may return,” clearly, words that resonate with Jung’s life work. Finally, let me also recommend the film Being-in-the-World, which explores the ideas of Dreyfus and many of his colleagues through the lives of living crafts people. You will not be disappointed by what you see.

May we all see the shining things of the world this week!

cat's eye nebula

I will be giving a presentation at the Boulder Friends of Jung on November 15th!


For those interested please click here: BFJ

I hope some of you can make it to the talk.


Treasuring Risks


“Life is a laboratory, an experiment of nature, and many things fail. … We must be able to say of certain things, “I will try it even with the conviction that it might be an error.” Only when you live in this way can you make something of life, perhaps today one way, tomorrow another.”

C.G. Jung (1929)

I recently came upon these words and something stirred within me. As I look back on my life I realize that so much of my development was linked to a willingness to take risks. I remember my analyst once saying to me, “Jeff, sometimes you just have to step off into the abyss.” How true this was for me at that time in my life. I was reluctantly holding back from what I was being called to become, because it did not seem rational. Therein lies the problem, for Jung states that for the, “… [rationalist] things must be safe, ‘no risks please.’” Our culture is one obsessed with success. Every decision we make, every action we take must be successful for ‘failure is not an option.’ This attitude instills tremendous fear and anxiety in us. I see this especially in young people who would rather not try for fear of failing. They want to get the ‘right’ answer with their very first attempt, rather than feel humiliation for having failed. It is terrible that we instill within our young such beliefs. Many carry this fear into adulthood and end up living a ‘provisional life,’ a life of just getting by. Most who live this safe life know that something is missing, but cannot figure out what.

Avoiding risks may keep us from our greatest passions and personal discoveries. As a scientist I learned so much from trying and failing. I found that my failures truly were my greatest teachers. I just needed to listen to what they were saying to me. Edison once said regarding his discovery of the light bulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” When we hear the voice of reason saying, ‘no risks please.’ We need to step back and look at where this is coming from. Certainly this may be excellent advice that we need to heed. But, if our fear of taking risks is keeping us from living a fully engaged life, then we must question our fears. My becoming an analyst began with stepping off into the abyss. At that time in my science career, it certainly was not the rational thing to do, but definitely the right thing to do for my soul. Now, I sit with people who are facing their own fears, while they ask, “Is it time to take a risk?”