“When C. G. Jung was an old man, one of his students read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and asked Jung, ‘What has your pilgrimage been?’ Jung answered: ‘ 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, Vol. 1, Gerhard Adler and Aniela Jaffé, eds. (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972), p. 19, footnote 8.
Richard Rohr describes the spiritual path of 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 overtaken by younger and smarter people in their profession. Attempting to contend with this paradox leads many people to seek spiritual direction. They realize that their old life no longer holds 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 due to what we have accomplished. They see the face of Christ in us and try to describe it to us. We meet some fascinating people on the way down whom we never would have paid attention to before. The outer life becomes less important. Our inner life speaks more clearly and becomes heard. The descent is an ascent.
[See: Richard Rohr, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go (Crossroad Publishing, 2003), pp. 168-169, 172-173.]
Just in time for the holidays
A Spiritual Rx for Advent Christmas, and Epiphany
The Sequel to A Spiritual Rx for Lent and Easter
Both are $18
All Money from sale of the books goes either to Camp Mitchel Camp and Conference Center in Arkansas or Hurricane Relief in the Diocese of Central Gulf Coast