Unlearning and climbing down ladders
When C. G. Jung was an old man, one of his students read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and he asked Jung, “What has your pilgrimage really been?” Jung answered: “In my case Pilgrim’s Progress consisted in my having to climb down a thousand ladders until I could reach out my hand to the little clod of earth that I am.”
C. G. Jung Letters, Volume 1, selected and edited by Gerhard Adler in collaboration with Aniela Jaffe (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), footnote 8, p. 19.
Richard Rohr describes this unlearning and climbing down as “The way down is the way up.” We do spend our lives learning and unlearning, climbing up and climbing down. Thomas Merton said, “ People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, when they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong building.”
When three spiritual leaders share this secret, I listen. My experience is that people who try to stay at the top of the ladder soon are run over by younger and smarter people in their profession. This is a frequent reason many people come for spiritual direction. They realize the old life no longer has the answers. Their soul cries out to be heard. The climb down can be gentle with the help of our friends who care for us because they love us not because of what we have accomplished. They see the face of Christ in us and try to describe it to us. We meet some facinating people on the way down whom we never would have paid attention to before. The outer life becomes less important. The inner life speaks more clearly and is heard. The descent is an ascent.
Richard Rohr, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go, The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003, 168-169, 172-173.