And so they are. Carl Jung wrote:
“The serious problems in life, however, are never fully solved. If ever they should appear to be so it is a sure sign that something has been lost. The meaning and purpose of a problem seem to lie not in its solution but in our working at it incessantly…"
Wise words indeed and the rest of the essay (titled “The Stages of Life”) is well worth reading. Years later, James Hillman, for many years the director of the Jung Insitute in Zurich and then the naughty bad boy of psychology for daring to keep the thinking moving beyond the accepted dogma, tackles the same subject (p. 181 Inter Views):
“Problems are secret blessings, not so much problems as emblems, like Renaissance emblemata showing a terrible impossible group of intertwined images that don’t make sense and yet are the motto, the coat of arms, the basic family raised to the dignity of an emblem which sustains…Problems sustain us—maybe that’s why they don’t go away. What would a life be without them? Complete tranquilized and loveless, too. There is a secret love hiding in each problem…”
This is comforting news when hit over the head yet again with the same doubts/hurts/ confusions you had when you were ten, twenty or fifty. I liked the idea of a Coat of Arms and began to try to draw and name my own in my secret language: The Cazadero Syndrome, The Pole Vault Announcement, The Faker Musician, The Mr. Nice Guy, The I-Should- Be-on- TED, and more, that “terrible impossible group of interwined images” that keep driving me crazy and send me into a spin of self-doubt and low self-esteem. I can modify them, move them from foreground to background, briefly accept them, imagine I’ve moved beyond them, but invariably they come back to haunt me. Ain’t no escape. Jung and Hillman are suggesting that’s just the way it is. And maybe even a good thing.
When all is said and done, it does appear that our particular problems are necessary to everything that is of value in the way we’re put together. Not to get overly confessional, but I can give one example. The Cazadero Syndrome refers to Cazadero Music Camp where I worked with kids for six glorious summers back in the ‘80’s. I loved it, it used a lot of what I had to offer, I felt part of the community and my classes with kids were fun and engaging. But I noticed that at the end of each session, when the buses were idling and the kids saying goodbye to their teachers, that virtually no one came personally to me to say goodbye. It’s not that they disliked me, just that I had connected to the group as a whole, but not made any deep personal connection with individual kids. All these years later, I still feel the shadow of the Cazadero Syndrome steal over me when it’s the last day of school and the middle schoolers are running around getting kids and teachers to sign their yearbooks. Suddenly I’m the boy in the corner and no one is asking me to dance. Do you hear the violins playing here?
So I have to admit that I’m more of a forest than a trees kind-of-guy, that I have good skills with moving whole groups, but don’t tend to hang out with individual kids and just shoot the breeze. It’s not quite “I love humanity, it’s just people I can’t stand,” but I tend to focus on the larger issues, a more abstract love and appreciation than talking baseball averages with a fan. And yes, I can try to do better and modify it and I have, but it takes an effort. Why? I don’t really get to ask or answer. My job is just keep it in the conversation and enjoy the forest even as I try to notice each tree just a little bit more.
So next time your own recurring problems plans a sneak attack, place it on your Coat of Arms and welcome it back. “So nice to see you again. Can’t say I missed you, but hey, here you are on my family crest, so I know you belong. Let’s have a cup of tea, shall we?”