On the Merits of Walking in the Opposite Direction of Your Destination


By the time many Americans and other foreigners made the voyage to Switzerland to meet with the world renowned Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, his name had become synonymous with living a creative, artistic life. It is no wonder that many creative individuals flocked to Lake Zürich to ask Dr. Young to be their guide into their individual and collective unconscious.

In his middle years, Jung was often Conducting analysis from his sailboat. Along with using the I Ching, Jung used his sailboat and Lake Zürich as a teaching apparatus. He would direct the patient to the helm and ask them to navigate the course to the opposite shore.

Oftentimes there were distinct obstacles to sailing a boat across Lake Zürich. Most notably would be a headwind that would place the sailboat in irons. Irons is the expression used when sails have lost the wind that propels the boat across the waters. Jung’s patients were faced with a dilemma; how to manage to get to their goal despite the natural obstacles facing them.

Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 10.36.28 PMThose familiar with sailing know the trick is in something called tacking. This is a sailing technique in which one directs the sail to capture the wind, sailing in a zigzag pattern, back-and-forth, to the far destination. The lesson that Jung would draw from such an exercise is an analogical understanding to approaching one’s life. There is something to be said for going with the wind as well as for changing one’s self to harness an opposing force.

There is a greater lesson specific to this example. One that came to my attention earlier this week.

I decided to enjoy an ice cream cone on the main street of the town in which I live. Enjoying the ice cream I watched as a driver waited patiently to turn left, against traffic, on a rush-hour afternoon. The traffic was so heavy in both directions that her patience waned and an expression of frustration came across her face. Frustration turned to anger, anger into impatience, and finally she pulled out into traffic and was involved in a small fender bender.

Observing the situation through Jung’s example, we can understand that the driver intended to go northbound, to her destination. Logically speaking, this would mean the driver would turn left against oncoming traffic and Join the northbound flow across the road. However, due to the heavy traffic and frantic, rush hour pace, the flow of traffic was not in her favor. Relying on the logic that her destination was left so she should turn left, her patience quickly turned to frustration, and a risk was taken that ended badly.

Keeping in mind Carl Jung’s therapeutic exercise on Lake Zürich, we might consider that in the face of the rush-hour flow, when the natural forces of the environment are placing us in irons, it may be wiser to go in the opposite direction in order to arrive at our final destination. Had our driver turned right into the flow of traffic, going with the flow, and short distance later merging into the northbound flow, she could have avoided anger and frustration as well as the accident. The wisdom that we take from this is clearly a lesson that Jung and others have taught us. Sometimes the best way to arrive at our destination is to travel in the opposite direction.