Jungian Psychology and the Razor’s Edge

He had made that last stride, he had stepped over the edge, while I had been permitted to draw back my hesitating foot. And perhaps in this is the whole difference; perhaps all the wisdom, and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible. (Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness)

The “threshold of the invisible,” as Conrad put it, is the gate to your razor’s edge. Both excitement and fear often accompany people at this threshold at the “razor’s edge.” Jungian psychology and the path of individuation can lead people to this edge where the linked, yet opposing feelings of excitement and fear lay waiting as harbingers to a more meaningful and exciting life.

I recently read in a local newspaper about an inspiring 17 year old, named Tess Dunn. She is an up and coming Santa Cruz singer/songwriter named one of the top 11 Bay Area artists of 2011. She was also born with cystic fibrosis and her management of this illness plays a large role in her daily life. Despite these challenges, however, she appears to be living at her “razor’s edge.” She said, “I read that if you’re not scared of your dreams, they’re not big enough. You can either live on your knees or die on your feet. You have to take a risk at some point.” Living at her edge appears to help Ms. Dunn live both a meaningful and rewarding life in spite of the significant health challenges that often lead others into despair.

The psyche will guide you to your edge. The psyche seems to be interested in helping each individual become all that they are capable of becoming. Or put another way, just like nature’s blueprint helps the acorn become the oak tree, your soul’s blueprint has a similar goal in mind. A path through life close to your edge and one in which you often take the opportunities presented to you from within, will require much risk.  The choice to approach and step over the “threshold of the invisible” is ultimately up to you, and like Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” philosophy, your step over your edge will require you to take the leap.

Below is an example of an “edge” dream from a client from some years ago. This dream from this young man further illustrates how the psyche can point someone in the direction of an edge and brought the idea of living life close to the “razor’s edge” to his awareness:

I saw an attractive female, dressed seductively. She came toward me with her boyfriend, sister and child. She told me that she occasionally swallowed razor blades because it was the only thing that made her feel.

If taken literally, the above dream imagery seems destructive. If taken symbolically, which is the more common way of working with dreams in Jungian psychotherapy, the dream illustrates the importance for this man of ingesting symbolic “razor blades” to feel more. He quickly made the connection from this dream that the razor blades were related to living his life “on the edge.”  In the psychotherapy, the young man worked with this idea of his “edge” and as he took steps in this direction, he found his life more interesting and meaningful, and his anxiety that he had been experiencing dissipated.

It is also fairly common for dreams to use the actual image of an edge or a cliff when guiding people to their edge. The psyche seems to want us to be there at certain points in our life. At times, that edge is an inner one. An inner edge may mean dealing with a particularly difficult loss for you, laden with sadness and tears, that you have been putting off.  By dealing with this sadness, you may enter into a place of feeling that helps bring you into the next phase of your life. On an outer level, your edge may mean beginning those guitar lessons that you have been thinking about for some time now but for one reason or another you have resisted.  For some people, a dream about being on a cliff’s edge could be taken in another direction and best be actualized by actually going rock climbing. Moving toward your edge often brings a life of both more meaning and feeling.

Being at the “razor’s edge” of your life can be a scary place at times. Make no doubt about this. Many people prefer a path of safety and comfort. Sometimes, the path of perceived safety, routine and comfort is the right path, at least for a time, similar to how the river’s course continues running in a straight line for a time anticipating the next bend or fork.

Like the above dream of the young man, sometimes individuals with psychological symptoms like anxiety, when looked at deeper, can point toward an edge waiting to be discovered. Oftentimes, however, people don’t view their anxiety in such a way. They prefer to make it go away quickly, and not look into what its deeper purpose may be. If you are experiencing highly anxious states, it is worthwhile to look at this more closely by exploring dreams and fantasies to look for an indication of an edge.

In the process of Jungian psychotherapy, your “edge” can be explored thoroughly in the container of the therapeutic relationship. This container is the perfect place to probe the mysteries of your “razor’s edge,” and to discover its deeper meaning. You may find that stepping over your edge and into the “threshold of the invisible” can actually be one of the first steps into the beginning of your life.

© 2012, Dr. Jeff Howlin. All rights reserved.

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