When reading Deep Work I was struck by the opening anecdote about Carl Jung. In short, Jung deeply and publicly disagreed with Sigmund Freud in 1921. Given Freud’s stature and renown this didn’t exactly make life easy for Jung. And yet amidst that professional chaos, Jung did the reasonable thing and built himself a tower.
Cal Newport goes on to describe how:
[Jung] began regular retreats to a rustic stone house he built in the woods outside the small town of Bollingen. When there, Jung would lock himself every morning into a minimally appointed room to write without interruption. He would then meditate and walk in the woods to clarify his thinking in preparation for the next day’s writing. 1
That, of course, fits with much of Newport’s thesis in Deep Work. It was interesting enough, though, that I dug into the book’s bibliography. That anecdote came from Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, which is an autobiography of sorts.
The book itself is good. While written in the first person much of it stems from interviews and conversations with Aniela Jaffé starting in 1957. If you’re interested in biographies I’d recommend picking it up. Otherwise it’s the bit about the tower that I wanted to pull out in my notes.
Jung started building the tower two months after his mother’s death in 1923. At first it was just a one-room structure. Shortly after constructing that he added a second room. A room just for him. He kept the key to this with him at all times and he describes the room as becoming a place of spiritual concentration. That’s the minimally appointed room Newport writes of above.
From the beginning he writes about the tower as a place of maturation. Somewhere within which he could be his true self.
There’s no electricity nor running water (Jung pumped water himself from the well). And he describes the space as surrounding him, almost audibly, in silence.
In closing the chapter about his tower, Jung writes a long almost ranting description of society’s drive toward progress. It stuck with me as it’s easy to think the pressure of information flows, media, and speed of everyday life is a modern phenomenon. And yet here’s a man born in 1875 writing in the 1950s about the very same.
We rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness. We no longer live on what we have, but on promises, no longer in the light of the present day, but in the darkness of the future, which, we expect, will at last bring the proper sunrise. We refuse to recognize that everything better is purchased at the price of something worse…
Reforms by advances, that is by new methods or gadgets, are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for. They by no means increase the contentment or happiness of people on the whole. Mostly, they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than ever before. 2
- Cal Newport. Deep Work. pg. 107
- Carl Jung. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. pg. 236