Do You Choose a Large or Small Life?

“The spirit of evil is in the negation of the life force by fear. Only boldness can overcome that fear. If the risk is not taken, the meaning of life is violated.”

~ C.G. Jung (1875-1961)
Swiss depth psychologist
as quoted by James Hollis
in What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life

 

On the first day of each psych 101 class he taught, Abraham Maslow, founder of humanistic psychology, would begin by asking his students such questions as, “Who here will write the next great American novel?” “Who will invent something that changes the world?” “Who of you will become the next president?”

After his students’ silence, giggling, and shifting in discomfort died down, Maslow then would ask, “If not you, then who?”

Maslow concluded that people feared their greatness. Such fear which suppresses the life force and its unfolding potential was considered by Jung to be the very spirit of evil. Fear causes too many of us to live lives smaller than our potential, smaller than our dreams. Why?

Perhaps the answer is that those of us who live in the shadow of fear lack a basic trust in the goodness of existence. They fear the life within themselves and without. The traumas, injuries, and misfortunes of their lives have taught them life is dangerous. Be vigilant! Don’t risk. Don’t trust.

Yet others who haven’t escaped life’s misfortunes (who does?) do have a basic trust in life. They trust what lies within them and without them. More often than not, they feel held by life’s basic goodness. Yes, bad things happen to them, but they trust that things work themselves out in the end. They trust the course of the unfolding of their lives. Life works. Trusting, not fearing, they are willing to risk in the service of their potential.

At least this is true: to whatever extent we let fear determine our lives and our choices, to that extent we make ourselves small. But it is not only the individual life that fear shackles, but also Life itself which lives through us. Each individual life is a front line in the battle between the exuberant potential of unfolding life and life-denying forces.

So that we not become ensnared by fear, Jungian analyst James Hollis asks us to reflect on whether the course of life we are living makes us larger or smaller. When faced with a decision, Hollis also asks us to consider which course will make us larger? Which smaller?

All of us can benefit from asking ourselves such questions. Moreover those of us who distrust life can rediscover a basic trust in life’s goodness. To do so requires the courage to turn our faces towards our pain, not away from it; the courage to experience our pain fully, and therein discover the Self’s inviolable wholeness.

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