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What qualifies as personal development writing? April 20, 2007

Posted by Dennis Mellersh in Personal Growth Books.
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Many books and teachings not necessarily considered part of the traditional personal development writing canon could be of great benefit in a personal growth program

One of the questions I have been thinking about lately concerns how broad a net we can cast when considering literature in the genre of personal growth and development. Does a book have to be an obvious self-help publication to qualify as being able to assist us in the area of self-improvement?

A lot of self-help literature claims to have an “answer” or formula that will enable us to achieve our objectives in personal growth and development if we simply apply the principles of “the answer” to whatever areas we want to improve. We might call this approach the one-size-fits-all or “pattern” approach to personal growth. Apply the pattern to your problems and they will vanish.

Sometimes, the formula concept arises because of misinterpretation by the reader. Such is the case I believe, with the Law of Attraction (LOA). Some readers of books such as The Secret are oversimplifying the concept to the point whereby they think that simply by asking the Universe for something, it will happen. Applying the LOA actually takes a lot of discipline and hard work, as is noted well by Steve Pavlina.

I’m sort of getting of the track here, because what I really want to look at is this: does a book or collection of teachings actually have to use the words personal development, personal growth, self improvement, how to improve this or how to improve that, or other self-help jargon, to be of help to us in our efforts to improve the way we live in this world?

It interesting to see some of the trends in personal development literature that is easy to recognize as such. Just like advice on proper eating habits, some elements of the universe of self-development program material have come full circle in a cycle of opposing polarities.

Not that long ago, for example, it was assumed that we all felt we had something intrinsically wrong with us and had to be told that we are OK and that everybody else is OK. Then it seems we eventually collectively decided that we were not OK after all, and sought solutions to better our lives. The result was a group of personal development books with specific programs of personal betterment – the how-to approach. Now we are seeing a lot of books and teachings telling us that if we simply apply a few principles religiously, such as The Law of Attraction we can bring whatever we want into our lives.

What I’m leading up to is whether a lot of literature that is normally considered in the “wisdom writing” category might also provide a lot of benefit in the personal development genre for those of us making a conscious effort to improve ourselves or manage our lives more effectively.  There are religious texts, for example, that could be of great benefit to people whether they are religiously inclined or not.

Some of the advice in the New Testament, for example, as Eckhart Tolle points out, if viewed as practical advice for living a more conscious life, is excellent. I’m sure you can think of other examples of books, that while not likely to be found in the personal development section of your local bookstore, would, nevertheless, be of great value to many people seeking guidance to construct a better life for themselves.

Personal development and the creative process: a virtual visit with Carl Jung April 17, 2007

Posted by Dennis Mellersh in Leaders in Personal Development, Personal Growth Books.
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Reading Gerhard Wehr’s  excellent illustrated biography of C.G. Jung is like being virtually present with Jung throughout the various stages of his life and participating in his intellectual development as one of the world’s seminal thinkers

We each have our own unique approaches to our personal development program; that’s one of the reasons the concept is called personal development instead of “people” development. It’s individual. This book provides insights into the mental, emotional, and spiritual development of one individual who was also of the world’s greatest writers on the subject of personal growth

To me one of the most interesting journeys in personal growth and the creative process that accompanies such growth is Carl Jung, one of the foundational figures of modern psychiatry.

If you are interested in influential personalities in your study of self-improvement, and also would like to witness a great example of the creative process in action, this is an insightful  biography.  Gerhard Wehr, also wrote a more lengthy and detailed e biography of Jung titled, Jung: A Biography.

For sheer interest however, I find the shorter illustrated version easier to access, both in getting to know Carl Jung a personality, but also I find the Illustrated Biography does an excellent job of getting down to the essence of Jung’s ideas and the processes he went through in developing his intellectual concepts of how the human mind works.

The book is copiously illustrated with photographs, drawings, and paintings relating to the various stages in the life of Carl Jung and the development of his ideas. It starts with his early childhood and education and ends with his final years, when he had a very high output in writing. We discover, for example, how a great portion of the period of Jung’s middle years was devoted to extensive research, which is one of the reasons he was able to be so productive in his later life.

Wehr’s book is smoothly written and translated, and is presented in terminology that the majority of us can easily understand. Through this book I found I really got a “feel” for what Carl Jung was about as a person, what factors were involved in the development of his creative process and how some of the controversies surrounding his career affected him. I had read other material on Jung, but this well-paced narrative of Wehr, coupled with the many photographs of various stages of Jung’s life, really brought the man to life.

Particularly fascinating is the amount of pages the writer devotes to Jung’s life at Bollingen, a lakeside retreat in Switzerland, consisting of some rustic land and a stone house resembling a small castle that Jung designed and built largely by himself. At Bollingen, which did not have electricity or running water, Jung said he felt truly himself.

Here he chopped wood for his fireplace and stove and did his own cooking. Here he also made numerous stone carvings to express his ideas of the subconscious and other psychological concepts. Of Bollingen, he said, “In Bollingen I am at home in a way that corresponds to my innermost nature.” Here he carved a large block of stone, and chiseled into it: “Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit” – “Called or not called, God is present.”

Jung spent years in the study of ancient texts about alchemy written in the original Latin and Greek – study which helped to form a number of his ideas, based on the alchemical concept of transmutation. A chapter in Wehr’s book is devoted to this period, titled “The Encounter with Alchemy.”

Structure of the book

Wehr does a nice job of structuring the book with a combination of the chronological events of Jung’s life mixed in with sections having a conceptual emphasis on the origins and evolution of Jung’s thinking.

Following are the main sections with the accompanying subsections:

The Early Years
Early life: The Psyche is not of the Present”
Preparation for a career
The young psychiatrist

First Experience in Depth Psychology
Meeting and break with Sigmund Freud
Personal crisis and the emergence of his work

Laying the Foundations of Analytical Psychology
A fresh burst of creativity
Investigation of psychological types
The psychologist goes travelling
Tower-building on Lake Zurich
The encounter with alchemy
Jung’s relationship with Eastern spirituality
Confrontation with National Socialism
Psychology and religion

Later Work and Further Perspectives
Maturation and later work
Last years
Jung’s influence on the intellectual life of today
Voices and testimonies

Some interesting comments from the sub-section on Tower-building on Lake Zurich:

Wehr:
“It could be said that this was a place he needed for his ongoing self-development.”

Wehr:
“It was…clear to him that he had to build the new house with his own hands…The construction of the house was for Jung expression of his self-development.”

Wehr:
“This need of his for contact with the primal level of things was understood by only a few people. One of them was the Africa expert Laurens van de Post.”

Jung:
“From the beginning I felt the Tower as a place of maturation—a maternal womb or maternal figure in which I could become what I was, what I am, and what I will be.”

Jung:
“At Bollingen I am in the midst of my true life. I am most deeply myself.”

If you are interested in Jung, do yourself a favor and try to find a copy of this book. It’s a virtual visit to one man’s journey of personal, professional, and intellectual growth and development.

Gerhard Wehr, An Illustrated Biography of C.G. Jung, Translated by Michael H. Kohn, Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston Massachusetts, 1989.

Further Reading: Jung’s Autobiography

Considerable detail, in Carl Jung’s own words, on various aspects of the human personality, conscious awareness, the unconscious, and many more components of Jung’s personal growth and development, can be found in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. [for publishing information see bottom of this post] *

In the prologue to the book, Jung gets right to the central theme of this work:

“My life is a story of the self-realization of the unconscious. Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too seeks to evolve out of its unconscious conditions and to experience itself as a whole…What we are to our inward vision, and what man appears to be sub specie aeternitatis, can only be expressed by way of myth…Thus it is that I have now undertaken in my eighty-third year, to tell my personal myth.”

The book reveals a lot about Jung’s views on the overall human condition as well as providing, in his own words, insights about the sources, inspirations, and evolution of his main ideas. Here are the titles of some of the chapters:

School Years

Student Years

Psychiatric Activities

Sigmund Freud

Confrontation with the Unconscious

The Work

The Tower

Travels

Visions On Life After death

* Memories, Dream, Reflections by C. G. Jung; recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe, translated from the German by Richard and Clara Winston, Revised Edition, Vintage Books; a Division of Random House Inc., New York, 1989