Salvation V Wellness : Who Wins?

So the £1000 k mattress has been bought and you still feel not great...

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According to the now dead Swiss Jungian Analyst, Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig, the reason for this is that the purpose of life is NOT wellness.  In fact, it has very little to do with wellness at all.  In his now rather old-fashioned sounding language, which has echoes of hell and fire, it is about salvation. He argued that the most important work in life is to develop, struggle and wrestle with life on life's terms. This is very big ask.  It's something unpalatable, and something we would like to shrink away from. It is extremely disagreeable work.  It's the last thing on our to-do list.  But we must do it, and it must be central to our lives, according to AGC.  A large part of this endeavour is therefore about how to suffer.  According to this more ancient view life is more about suffering than being well.  If you think about it like this, then you don't expect to feel "well", "happy" or "contented".  These may be fleeting experiences, but you are oriented towards a deeper existential reality.  Trivialities such as "wellness" don't really figure very high in terms of importance.  Here are some words that come to mind when thinking of the two different paths

Wellness:  Happy, Easy, Simple, Surface, Comfort, Joyful, Good, Calm, Ego, Pleasureful, Avoidant, Luxurious, Peaceful, Short-lived, Consumerist, Thoughtless, Conventional.

Salvation:  Painful, Relentless, Suffering, Creative, Counter-intuitive, Deep thought, Hard Work, Soul Searching, Truthful, Other-related, Mysterious, Dark, Philosophical, Tragic, Personal, Unpopular.               

Thinking in more concrete terms I would say that Wellness is like going for a walk on a smooth tarmac path with handrails and a very gentle gradient.  It is not too hard, nor disruptive.  It provides a comfortable and well-tested path.  There is a lot to be said for it.  Perhaps we should stick to such paths most of the time.  However, the other option is to seek out challenges; go off-piste, and try and find steep gradients that use neglected and forgotten parts of our minds and bodies.  This is very tough.  It is ill-advised unless you have a very experienced guide who can read the weather and look out for danger.  It often ends in tragedy and death, even for the most experienced guides and travellers.  But this path is closer to Salvation, in the psychological sense, as referred to by Guggenbuhl-Craig.  It takes you to heaven and hell, to high and low places, both internally and externally.  A life lived on conventional terms, following the handrails, is ok to remain well, but it doesn't touch the depths.

So, what should you do?  Well, if you've already ordered the mattress, make sure to luxuriate in it.  But just remember, however good your mattress, life is tragic.  We lose our sight, our hearing, and eventually of loved ones, our bodies and our minds.  We have plans that go catastrophically wrong, due to our own sabotage, or through external forces bigger than us.  You work for Deutsche Bank today, and you are sacked tomorrow.   Your home is destroyed by fire or flood.  Of course, the rich have always had more resources to withstand such difficulties.  But even those of us living in the affluent West would do well not to be seduced by the philosophy of the wellness industry.  My experience is that "wellness" can be of help for a short burst of time, but that isn't enough to sustain our thinking and approach to life in the long term.  Yet AGC argued, that wrestling with life, with all its gradients, and falling rocks, wasn't all gloom and doom.  For those who can weather the storms, and keep their footing most of the time, it provides incredibly deep and long-lasting satisfactions and a rock-solid foundation.

Ajay Khandelwal PhD

Ajay Khandelwal is an experienced psychotherapist and consultant. He welcomes contact and enquiries and is accepting new clients via zoom during the shut down.