This summer, I read Carl Gustav Jung’s book Memories, Dreams, Reflections in which the famous Swiss psychiatrist, who at the time was 83 years old, recounts his inner life, his soul’s journey from early childhood up to the time he wrote this book. It is a wonderfully written book and I strongly advise you to read it. I would now like to share with you some thoughts that came to my mind as I unveiled this great man’s soul.
Jung’s Extraordinary Capacity to Understand His Soul
Jung opens the door to his thoughts, his dreams and memories which he describes with an amazing precision as if they had occurred the day before. His vivid description of a dream he had when he was a child makes us wonder how he could remember such an abundance of details at his ripe old age! It is true that he recorded all his dreams in a diary, but I doubt that he started his diary when he was three years old. As he reminisces about his journeys, describing with a profusion of details his feelings, moods, and thoughts, he reminds us of an impressionist painter with his multitude of sceneries and colors.
I asked myself: how did he do it? What are the factors that contributed to this capacity to explore and describe his soul?
Spending Time With Oneself
Jung was an avid reader with an exceptional memory. He had a library built in his house on the shores of Lake Zurich which became his thinking, reading and writing retreat.
By reading his book I understood that he took time to be with himself. Our soul is not a computer that we can turn on by pressing a key. Exploring our soul takes time and requires freeing ourselves from the “noise” of daily life, our manifold activities, our commitments, our race forward to meet personal and work deadlines. Only then, after calming down, can we begin our journey within ourselves. Yet soul searching, analyzing our feelings and our thoughts is by no means a spontaneous process: it is a time-consuming exercise that requires constant practice. Self-analysis is something we learn: it is not a given. It is comparable to a sporting activity: we start by learning the different movements, but we need time and patience to master them, enjoy them and move on. Many believe that the first thoughts or feelings that come to us are the right ones. It is a mistake since it is only after an in-depth exploration that we grasp our many-faceted selves.
A Personal Experience
A few days ago I went to see a client who had expressed criticism of a work I had handed in. Although on the whole he was satisfied, his criticism hurt because I had spent a lot of time writing a very detailed report. I could have thought: “this client doesn’t understand anything of what I do”, or adopt a wild generalization: “he no longer wants to work with me”, or, “I am hopeless”. I admit that my first reaction was not pleasant, but I decided to take a deep breath and give myself time to allow other facets of my inner self to surface. I thought back to the time I had started working on the report: I was tired, worried about not being able to do the work properly. In other words, I was carried away by immediate feelings and I reacted impulsively. Hence my mistake. This reminded me of my usual behavioral traps: impulsiveness and rapidity, two qualities which can sometimes (but not always!) be very useful. This realization enabled me to prepare myself to accept the client’s criticism in the presence of his entire team (I knew this would happen!) and to adopt a positive attitude, which enabled me to find a solution together with my client.
The Trap of Time
“Finding time to…” is my clients’ main complaint: how can we deal with the myriad of emails, meetings, engagements? Let’s stop kidding ourselves: Jung was one of the most remarkable psychiatrists of our era, he was an avid reader, he studied, he treated his patients, he was the head of a psychiatric hospital, he was the president of the international psychoanalysis association, he filled a diary with his dreams and thoughts, he was a prolific writer (letters and books), he took numerous long trips throughout Europe, America, Africa…and in spite of these countless activities he found time to look into his soul, to analyze his inner self, to accept and come to terms with his flaws, to be the guinea pig of his own experiments.
Granted, we are not Jung, but great men should be an inspiration, don’t you agree? Even if we can’t reach such heights, and live in a different epoch, I am convinced that we can find time to… All it takes is the will to do it.
In my job as an executive coach I often meet senior executives who do find the time to think about themselves. A client recently said: “If I were to look at my agenda, I would never find time for this coaching, but I have decided to give it priority. If I don’t improve myself how can I improve my company?”
Cause and Effect Relationship Between Manager’s and Company’s Development
When an executive reaches a high level of responsibility, personal development has a direct impact on the way he manages his co-workers, faces change, introduces an organizational change in his company. It is often difficult to convey the importance of the direct and fundamental relationship between personal and organizational development. If company executives resolved to look into their inner selves, they would understand that their contradictions, their ambivalence, their capacity or incapacity to decide have an enormous impact on their co-workers and therefore on the entire company.
In fact, employees usually imitate, consciously or unconsciously, what happens on the executive floor. Inspiring and transforming an enterprise often depend not only on personal qualities but also on learning how to look into one’s inner self and on accepting and overcoming one’s flaws. This exercise may at times seem difficult and may require help from outside, but sometimes we can train ourselves to do it.
The Key to Success and an Invitation
The key to success, that I learned by reading Jung’s book, is humility vis-à-vis ourselves, which means accepting our humanity and therefore our inadequacy. As a consequence I invite you to take time to start your spiritual exercises right away, adapting them to the rhythm and the methods suitable to your character. In my case, I know that in order to think properly, I need to engage in many activities and then either take a break or write.
Just five minutes a day can make a real difference, even when we lead busy lives…
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