My theoretical orientation is primarily based on my experience and insights gained as a therapy patient, seeking to answer the question ‘What Nourishes?’ I am most drawn to the pyscho-spiritual approach of Carl Jung, founder of Analytical Psychology, centered around personality development, particularly during middle age.
Carl Jung once said, “Life really does begin at forty. Up until then, you are just doing research.”
Midlife is a critical juncture in life that usually necessitates a confrontation with the conscious and unconscious aspects of oneself. Jung himself went through his midlife crisis between the ages of 39 and 45. It’s a time when we might be asked to let go of many of the values and behaviors that guided the first half of our lives such as pursuing careers, fame, fortune, etc. and confront our unconscious. It’s a time when I got very sick. I was chronically fatigued and I couldn’t keep riding on the achievement train. I felt I was pleading with a deeper part of myself “There has to be more to my life.” My life was very unbalanced and I could no longer just fulfill my duties and obligations without feeling intense bouts of overwhelm from within. The old model of being a high achiever no longer fulfilled me. I was yearning for a meaningful existence and I was beginning to feel homesick, not for my family in Hong Kong, but homesick for a part deep within myself that seemed inaccessible to me. I was marooned from what nourished me which set me on a quest to explore the meaning of true nourishment.
I started therapy in 2012, at age 39. The work that has helped me the most in achieving a sense of balance and experiencing a deep source of nourishment was integrating my shadow and surrendering to the process of individuation. My ego put up some very tough fights which were very painful, but I soon learned that the more I was fighting to get rid of my ego, the worse it got. What helped me through these tough times with my ego was to more actively engage in self-care of different forms (foods, baths, massages, etc.), to recruit the empathy of people who cared about me (someone who had walked in my shoes and knew how to help me navigate this deep area) and to accept what comes up and have the utmost compassion for myself.
One of the most beautiful things about this journey is that it has necessitated the need for the blinders to come off (ego conditioning) which in turn has freed up so much energy in my body. Much less now is my psychic and physical energy locked and frozen away. I used to be so puritanical about food and supplements as a way to be healthy and now, I eat well generally and barely take any supplements because the body can naturally heal itself when we free it to do so, by not keeping it burdened with so much of our psychic pain which fuels a sense of starvation, stress and disconnection. I do believe eating and living well creates a wonderful ‘container’ within our body for the work of realizing our true nature. I just don’t think that alone is enough and certainly, when the desire to eat well is fuelled by the tension of wanting to be perfect, it can create more harm than good.
Longing for true nourishment, turned inward, is a longing for our true nature and to know ourselves at the core. What’s beautiful in that space is the Divine is not something that we just get a glimpse of in a meditation class here and there (though that can be very nice and offer much inspiration). The Divine’s presence in our life can feel like an ocean on which we float, so there is a feeling that we are loved and supported no matter what may be happening. What has also been beautiful has been that my relationships and the flow of my life in terms of experiences I have and people I see are also much more nurturing and nourishing. My outer life is increasingly a reflection of my inner world and resonance. And like attracts like. The desire for true nourishment, for me, has taken me on an inward journey after years of searching outside of me.
This approach of turning within for the fountain of true nourishment has at its foundation Jung’s theory of individuation. The process of individuation brings with it a deep knowledge of one’s essential nature.
Jung said, “Our main task is to discover and fulfill our deep innate potential, much as the acorn contains the potential to become the oak, or the caterpillar to become the butterfly.”
Central to the process of individuation is Jung’s concept of the shadow, the parts of us which we reject unconsciously. These are parts we judge as ugly or dangerous such as jealousy or anger. But, they are often formed as a result of our conditioning and childhood experiences. Making the unconscious conscious and accepting and transforming what’s there is the key to integration and wholeness.
In advising therapist and doctors, Jung said, “We cannot change anything unless we accept it…it is only when you have seen and accepted your own capacity for fear, shame and judgment that you can truly see the other for who she or he is. Without this acceptance, we avoid parts of the other, simply because we are reminded of these in ourselves. And thus, no true connection, nor genuine compassion, can arise.”
The conscious path of individuation is to, as Jung put it “divest the self of the false wrappings of the persona.” The persona is the social mask we wear to fit into society. Its formation begins early in life as the pull of conformity causes us to identify most strongly with elements of our personality which are in harmony with the social values of our day, while rejecting those that clash with social norms. The problem, however, is that many people reach a point where they believe they are the social mask they wear and in so doing they cut themselves off from the deeper realms of the psyche. It is imperative, therefore, for anyone who wishes to take the conscious path of individuation to accept that their social mask represents only a sliver of their total personality. To overcome neurosis, we must learn to accept the darkness within. Otherwise, we remain split while an unconscious war rages within, not unlike Robert Louis Stevenson’s characters Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
In the process of overidentifying with the persona, often people reject personality traits not because they are harmful, but because they don’t fit with the dominant social attitudes of the day such as assertiveness or sensuality. Therefore, when integrating the shadow into consciousness, one is also exposed to positive traits and creative energies that can bring about a renewed sense of vitality to life.
Most of us either repress or project our shadow. When we repress our shadow, it eats away at us and can lead us down the path of self-destruction and addiction – we drink or numb ourselves to not feel the internal rumblings that haunt us. Drinking, for example, in this case becomes a coping mechanism to discharge the tension from the shadow repeatedly trying to make itself known. Or we project our shadow and judge others for the characteristics that are actually within us. In either instance, we disown our shadow which robs us of a wholeness of personality. Only by accepting the shadow does it transform. As Jung explained, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.” (Carl Jung)
Jung, C.G. (2006). The Undiscovered Self. New American Library.
Jung, C.G. (2017). Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Martino Fine Books.