The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved but only outgrown.– CG Jung
What are the greatest and most important problems of life? It may be the universal existential ones of living this life, death, loss, finding a sense of meaning, and so on.
What does it mean to outgrow them? I don’t know what Jung meant, but as we find more of the wholeness of who are as a human being – the wholeness psyche and body are parts of – we may find more peace with these questions. They become less troublesome.
Jung didn’t go beyond who he was and into what he was, although it seems he was on the verge. (For instance, he had a dream where he encountered himself sleeping in meditation posture in a cave, and he knew that if the sleeping and meditating version of himself would wake up, he – as the dreamer – would die. The one taking himself as fundamentally a separate self would die.)
If he had gone into what we are, what would he have found? Mainly, that those questions – of death, loss, uncertainty, aloneness, finding meaning, and so on – happen within and as what we are. We find that the true nature of these questions and what they refer to is the same as our own true nature. And we see more clearly that they are created by our thoughts and the questions or dilemmas are not inherent in life. We outgrow these questions in a different way.
We can also inquire into these questions and see what we find. What we discover may surprise us and open our mind in ways we couldn’t have predicted. (The Work, Living Inquiries.)
And we can use the question to enrich our life.
Death reminds us of living life here and now, and notice and find appreciation for our life here and now, as it is. Our fundamental aloneness reminds us to seek out connections and community, and notice and appreciate the connections and community that’s here. An apparent lack of meaning in life reminds us to find what’s meaningful for us and make room for doing more of it, and also notice and appreciate the meaningfulness that’s already here. Uncertainty reminds us that it’s OK that we don’t know anything for certain, and of the richness in the receptivity and curiosity that’s in embracing that inherent uncertainty in life. Loss reminds us to find what’s essential – in our life and what we are – and to notice and find appreciation for what’s here. Fear of living this life invites us to investigate and befriend our fear and live our life whether the fear is here or not.
This is another way to “outgrow” the questions. We make them into fuel for a richer life.
So we can explore these great problems of life in several different ways. We can find what we are and see that they and what they refer to happen within and as what we are. We can notice that their true nature is the same as our true nature. We can see that these questions are only found in thoughts and are not inherent in life. We can use them to enrich and enliven our life in the world.
Each of these are, in a sense, a way to outgrow them. We outgrow the mindset they initially came from.
In Zen, the big problems in our life are called life koans. And they come with the invitation Jung talked about, to examine and perhaps wrestle with them and then outgrow them.