Sunday, August 8, 2010

Essays - Jung on Adult Education, or Why the Jungian Center?

Jung on Adult Education, or Why the Jungian Center?

“…when I speak of the goal which marks the end of the second half of life, you get an idea how far the treatment in the first half of life, and the second half of life must needs be different…. Therefore I strongly advocate schools for adult people…. for people who are 40, 45, about the second part of life….” C.G. Jung, 1938

“For a long time I have advocated schools for the adult…” C.G. Jung, 1960

A series of dreams in July 2005 led to the creation of the Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences. Dozens of dreams since then have supported it, added to its curriculum and widened its scope. I have always intuitively felt that Jung would approve of this endeavor but it is only recently, in reading Jung’s works to prepare a course on Jungian parenting that I came across his explicit statements—like those quoted above—in support of the Center’s type of educational organization.

In this essay we will consider Jung’s thoughts and preferences about how education should be conducted, and the distinction between “instruction” and “education.” Then we will examine what Jung regarded as the two halves of life and their different concerns, followed by discussions of the tasks, components and goals of adult education in a Jungian framework, and what the consequences or results of such an education might be. Lastly, we’ll discuss some of the ways the Jungian Center serves the adult learner and his/her needs.

“Instruction,” “Education” and Jung’s Thoughts on the Proper Form of Education

It is common in American society to use “instruction” and “education” interchangeably to refer to what goes on in those buildings we identify as “schools.” But in etymology, practice and their image of the learner, the two terms could not be more different. “Instruction” comes from the Latin verb instruere, meaning “to pile on.”[1] When we “instruct” students we “pile on” them the facts, figures, techniques, and information that we feel they need to have to cope with the demands of modern life. This is essentially a one-way, teacher- or subject-centered process. It is, to some degree at least, unavoidable, since no one is born able to do sums, parse sentences, read, write, or find France on a map.

Jung recognized the necessity of instruction when he wrote that “youth… must find outside”[2] those things it needs to acquire in order to function and flourish in contemporary society. While he admitted that modern life demanded some technical training (a trend that has intensified in a major way in the 50 years since his death), he preferred a school system oriented more to the historical and humanistic subjects, rather than the “scientific worldview, with its statistical truths….”[3] In general, he was quite critical of most forms of education, because teachers lacked self-knowledge, the children sensed this and the result was that they came away from their studies lacking “a sense of authority, robbed of their individual nature and halted in the development of their personality.”[4] So, while Jung knew instruction had its place, he also knew it must not be the sole form of learning, and this is especially true for the adult learner. For adults—persons at or after mid-life—a much more suitable form of learning is education.

Our English word “education” derives from the Latin exducere, meaning “to draw forth.”[5] When we “educate” we draw out of the student what is within. This is a student-centered, dialectical process, requiring one-on-one dialog and interaction between student and teacher. It is student motivated and self-directed and reflects the shift in focus that Jung felt was a key feature of mid-life—a shift away from a preoccupation with outer reality toward a focus on one’s inner life. Jung described it in these words: “What youth found and must find outside, the man of life’s afternoon must find within himself.”[6] As a process of recognizing and then drawing forth that which is within, education can do this; instruction cannot. So when we speak of “adult education” we are speaking about education, rather than instruction.

The Two Halves of Life and Their Different Concerns

As we noted above, Jung felt that people in the first half of life were concerned with externals: training for work and parenthood, making a living, raising a family, acquiring the material wherewithal that would support a decent life. Jung termed all these things of the “biological sphere.”[7]

By contrast, Jung felt people in mid-life (c. age 40, usually timed when transiting Uranus comes to oppose one’s natal Uranus) and beyond were to shift their focus away from the biological to the “cultural sphere.” This shift came with a host of different concerns from earlier life: the biological instincts were subordinated to cultural goals; mental and emotional energies had to be expended to making a successful mid-life transition (a transition that is not always an easy passage);[8] and the adult had to navigate a reorientation from regarding life as a series of ascents to recognizing the reality of descending and diminishing energies and capacities.[9]

Jung recognized that a variety of questions commonly characterized the mid-life passage. These include such queries as:

“Where am I standing today?”

“Have my dreams come true?”

“Have I fulfilled my expectations of a happy and successful life as I imagined them 20 years ago?”

“Have I been … intelligent, reliable and enduring enough to seize my opportunities or to make the right choice at the crossroads and produce the proper answer to the problems which fate or fortune put before me?”

“What is the chance that I shall fail again in fulfilling that which I obviously have been unable to accomplish in the first 40 years?”[10]

Some people who spend their first 4 decades striving for material success find mid-life full of confusion, disillusionment or loss of meaning. They wonder “Is this all there is?” “With all that I’ve got, why don’t I feel satisfied?” “Why does my life feel so flat, blah, empty?” “Where’s the ‘juice,’ the excitement I used to feel?” “What’s it all mean?” Helping adult learners deal with questions like these is one of the tasks of adult education.

The Tasks of Adult Education

Providing venues within which adults can grapple with the common questions that arise at mid-life is just one of the tasks of adult education. Others include encouragement: Adults need to be encouraged to look within, so as to discover their true self and the Self (Jung’s term for the Divine within).[11] By looking within, the adult learner can see all that he or she is meant to be and what he or she is living from and living for. Adults also need to be encouraged to fantasize, since fantasy and imagination hold the germs of new goals and can open up new possibilities.[12] Adults need encouragement, also, to play with these new possibilities[13] and a variety of forms of creativity that they may, in earlier life, have regarded as “frivolous” or “fun, but not a way to make money.”

Support is another task of adult education. In Jung’s schema, adult education should support people in developing “new eyes which see them [i.e. new goals] and a new heart which desires them [new goals].”[14] Adults need support to gain “an ever-deepening self-knowledge,”[15] and to live their unique life,[16] independent of (and sometimes in direct contradiction to) a host of scripts and rules laid down by parents, teachers and other authority figures back in childhood.

Adult education has other tasks: To foster life renewal,[17] to provide “spiritual nutrition”[18] and “spiritual guidance,”[19] and to provide companionship and a sense of belonging to a community of like-minded individuals in the face of the isolation that is an inevitable consequence of a person’s developing his/her personality.[20]

Components of Adult Education

Jung felt that adult education had to be individualized, indirect and self-directed.[21] That is, it should avoid the collective form found in conventional public elementary, secondary and college settings.[22] It should be “indirect” in that it would set out the range of learning opportunities but rest on the motivation of the adult learner to pick and choose what he or she feels drawn toward. And it was to be self-directed, self-paced and centered on the learner, rather than the teacher or the subject.[23]

Student-centeredness is part of another component of adult education: participatory methodology. I have taken this term from Henryk Skolimowski, who used it in the context of scientific experimentation, to refer to a more subjective, personal involvement with the object of one’s research,[24] à la scientists like Barbara McClintock, who won the Nobel Prize in 1983 for her research on corn genes that she conducted by having “a feeling for the organism.”[25] Like Skolimowski, Jung would challenge the objectivist viewpoint of modern science in his insistence that analysts, and teachers, recognize their basic identity with the client or student.[26] We are all “in the soup together,” jointly learning, sharing and growing.

Independent thinking is another component of adult education. Unlike children, adults can and must think for themselves. By mid-life, Jung felt adults should have developed inner loci of control and authority, and should have acquired a capacity for critical thinking and the ability to discern what is appropriate for themselves.[27] Jung was adamant that an adult learner must listen to his or her own nature.[28] This is possible due to another key component of adult education: attention to the inner life.

Adult learning, in a Jungian model, must include the unconscious. Jung was explicit about this.[29] How was this to be done? Jung felt one of the best methods was through the study of one’s dreams. Jung was convinced that people can be taught to work with their dreams, that one need not become a professional, certified Jungian analyst to be able to figure out the meaning of dreams.[30] Our dream classes at the Jungian Center bear this out: our students learn the language of the soul, learn how to decipher their dreams. You too can come to know the truth about yourself through study of your dreams.

Goals of Adult Education

Why undertake adult education? Some people get into it out of desperation, when their mid-life passage has become so fraught with confusion and disorientation that the need for greater self-awareness cannot be gainsaid.[31] Others have an easier time making the transition into mid-life. For them the goal might be to educate the personality so as to produce “a well-rounded psychic whole that is capable of resistance and abounding in energy.”[32]

Jung recognized that adult education could also satisfy the “eternal child within” all of us, that part of us “that is always becoming, is never completed, and calls for unceasing care, attention and education…”.[33] If properly crafted and presented, adult education also allows the inner child to play, re-create, relax and let go, perhaps in ways the adult has never felt able to do before in his or her life.

A fourth goal for adult learning is to create that self-knowledge that permits a person to “walk his talk” and move into his authentic being, with true authority. Such a process produces a “fuller consciousness.”[34]

A final goal is spiritual. Jung described this goal as “conveying the archetype of the God-image, or its emanations and effects to the conscious mind,”[35] thus helping to root the adult learner in a larger spiritual matrix. This process brings a greater sense of meaning, purpose and direction to life.

Consequences of Adult Education in the Jungian Framework

What results when adults undertake Jungian-oriented education? As noted above, one result is self-knowledge:[36] awareness of one’s shadow side, persona, animus/anima, and the Self, along with the recognition of one’s creative inner daimon, and an understanding of what has purchase on one’s soul.

Another consequence is the ability to live authentically.[37] Actions align with rhetoric, and the individual radiates a genuineness that others find compelling, attractive and inspiring.

As the adult learner wises up to his/her inner “tapes” and scripts and sets aside those that are inappropriate, he or she moves more deeply into his/her authority.[38] True authority flows from an inner awareness of the ego-Self relation and from the alignment of the ego will with the intentions of the Self.

All the above are positive results. There is another, mentioned earlier, which is not so positive: isolation.[39] Jung recognized that only a “leading minority”[40] are likely to achieve self-knowledge. Lots of adults take classes; few undertake the soul journey that leads to deep transformation. Given the materialism and unconsciousness of modern culture (especially in the United States)—two features of modern reality that have only gotten worse in the 5 decades since Jung died—few people will understand or appreciate those who take up Jung’s path of adult education. Those who do take this path face the fate of being isolated, acutely aware of the gulf that separates them from family, friends and associates. As was noted in an earlier essay on this blog site,[41] this is one reason why educational organizations like the Jungian Center are so essential: so the “awake” few have a place to go to find others who understand and share their interests, focus, awareness and concerns.

How the Jungian Center Serves the Adult Learner

Providing social opportunities through classes, workshops, and the Psychology Club is just one way the Jungian Center serves adult learners. Another way is through the variety of classes that encourage and require introspection, e.g. Introduction to Dream Work, Jungian Dream Theory, Shadow Work, Meeting Your Inner Partner, Finding Your Mission in Life, The Path of Individuation, Developing Your Intuition, Developing Spiritual Literacy, and The Creation of Consciousness.[42]

The Center also supports personal growth through independent studies, in a one-on-one format with a faculty member, tailored to individual interests and needs. Such independent studies can be taken on-site or via our Distance Learning option, which brings most of our courses to the far-off adult learner in an individualized format.

Finally, the Center is responsive to our students who have suggested many of the courses now being taught. Their needs and interests are now driving the curriculum, as we strive to measure up to Jung’s vision of a school of Self-directed study.


Brewi, Janice & Anne Brennan (1988), Celebrate Mid-Life: Jungian Archetypes and Mid-Life Spirituality. New York: Crossroad Press.

Hollis, James (1993), The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife. Toronto: Inner City Books

________ (1996), Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places. Toronto: Inner City Books

Jung, C.G. (1977), C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, ed. William McGuire & R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Development of Personality,” CW 17. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Keller, Evelyn Fox (1983), A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock. New York: W.H. Freeman.

Prétat, Jane (1994), Coming to Age: The Croning Years and Late-Life Transformation. Toronto: Inner City Books

Qualls-Corbet, Nancy (1988), The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspect of the Feminine. Toronto: Inner City Books

Sharp, Daryl (1988), The Survival Papers: Anatomy of the Midlife Crisis. Toronto: Inner City Books

________ (1989), Dear Gladys: The Survival Papers, Book 2. Toronto: Inner City Books

________ (1992), Getting to Know You: The Inside Out of Relationship. Toronto: Inner City Books

Skolimowski, Henryk (1996), “The Methodology of Participation,” Revisioning Science:Essays Toward a New Knowledge Base for Our Culture, ed. S. Mehrtens. Waterbury VT: The Potlatch Press.

Stein, Murray (1983), In Midlife: A Jungian Perspective. Dallas TX: Spring Publications.

[1] World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary, I, 1021.

[2] Collected Works 7, ¶114. As has been the convention throughout these blog essays, Collected Works will hereafter be abbreviated CW.

[3] CW 10, ¶523.

[4] CW 10, ¶897.

[5] World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary I, 626.

[6] CW 7, ¶114.

[7] CW 8, ¶113.

[8] For in-depth treatment of the mid-life passage in a Jungian context, see Brewi & Brennan (1988), Hollis (1993), Hollis (1996), Prétat (1994), Qualls-Corbet (1988), Sharp (1988), Sharp (1989), Sharp (1992) and Stein (1983).

[9] CW 7, ¶114; CW 8, ¶113.

[10]This quote is from an interview Jung gave to English journalist Gordon Young in 1960; see Jung (1977), 445-6.

[11] Ibid., 448.

[12] Ibid., 446-7.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 447.

[16] Ibid., 448.

[17] Ibid., 446.

[18] Ibid., 448.

[19] CW 10, ¶1045.

[20] CW 17, ¶294.

[21] CW 16, ¶174; CW 17, ¶109.

[22] Jung recognized that “Collective education is indeed a necessity and cannot be replaced by anything else.” (CW 17, ¶256), but adult education should not be founded on the collective model, but on that of analytical psychology (CW 16, ¶174).

[23] As analytical psychology is client-centered.

[24] Skolimowski (1996), 160-9.

[25] This is the title of Evelyn Fox Keller’s biography of McClintock, which offers a very readable account of the opprobrium and isolation McClintock experienced from the mainstream scientific community for years before her work was recognized.

[26] CW 16, ¶2.

[27] CW 17, ¶109-110.

[28] CW 17, ¶125.

[29] CW 17, ¶113.

[30] CW 17, ¶125.

[31] Jung recognized that not everyone survives the mid-life crisis; CW 8, ¶113.

[32] CW 17, ¶286.

[33] Ibid.

[34] CW 18, ¶1386-7.

[35] CW 12, ¶14.

[36] CW 10, ¶896.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] CW 17, ¶294.

[40] CW 18, ¶1393.

[41] See “Jung and the Social Implications of Individuation” for a fuller treatment of the phenomenon of isolation.

[42] New classes are created all the time, in part from dreams I am given, in part from students’ suggestions. If you have an idea for a course, let us know: send us an email to

- Sue Mehrtens

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