“I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success of money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking. Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. If they are enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears.” ~ Carl Jung
“That’s a concise rendition you’ve given in your last blog post of the distinction between horizontal and vertical personal development. How do you see the balance or interactiveness between these two? And could you explain in more detail what the vertical is made up of and how it plays out in practical ways in life?”
The idea of “horizontal and vertical” is just one way to describe or look at this dynamic. Almost everything on this blog has been an attempt to do that already; the components that comprise what we could call the vertical in personal and communal development are generally the themes in motion here. Any one of those components — intuition, qualities and virtues, presence, compassion, beauty and wisdom — opens into an expansive dimension of work and play with unending space to explore. I would add that it’s in the exploration and practice that discovery and evolution happen, beyond the reading, analysis and understanding of the ideas. This is partly what I meant recently by my comment about getting out of school.
The vertical starts with intent born from the recognition of larger context. This gives meaning and direction to engagements, including those on the horizontal platform. Application or practice generally falls under the auspices of the wisdom arts, which specifically seek wellness, integrity, and resolution, balance, for and between all related parts in any given dynamic, endeavor, conversation, etc.
Key to this is one’s release from self-obsession on the horizontal; that is, someone or something else becomes more compelling than your own issues and desires (recently discussed here by Viktor Frankl). This is largely why qualities and virtues are so essential, because they offer clear pathways toward a calling or engagement beyond oneself. The result is grander freedom and functionality, recognizable as effective harmony. This is also what makes forms of alchemy, such as creative brilliance, healing, and real intimacy possible.
An example of this, and one of the primary skills of wisdom, is the ability to pivot toward resolution in conflict as quickly as possible, instead of adding to or waiting for accumulating pathology and circumstantial destruction to demand it. This is the crucial difference between a well-read, experienced, or even learned person and a wise one — how clearly and efficiently one recognizes larger context, what’s at risk and what’s to be gained, and acts accordingly. Meaning that qualities such as kindness, attentive presence, or generosity are not just abstract or cozy things to display in nice ways at one’s convenience, but the stronger, adult-in-the-room constancy even when it’s completely inconvenient. That’s part of getting out of school, too, and taking skills into real life.
Concerning the contrasts and relationship between the vertical and horizontal, some simple symbolic imagery might help in looking at this. The symbol of the cross has been around since prehistoric times. In various ancient and current interpretations, the vertical bar represents the mysteries of life’s ultimate meaning, both upward toward the cosmos and downward into the here-and-now experience. The horizontal bar represents the common attractions and demands of existence in the world. The individual is at the axis mundi, the pivot point connecting the earth and the heavens. The dynamics and associated questions that emerge from this symbol are as old as humanity itself, which, simplified, look something like, “How much time, focus and energy do we direct toward vertical development and how much toward the horizontal?”
That is, of course, a question for each of us to determine, but it is my contention that the disproportionate obsession over the horizontal has thrown way out of balance our individual and communal existence, and consequently, our personal experience and wellbeing (as well as social and environmental equivalents). I’m not the first to suggest this and it isn’t rocket science. I’ve placed here on this blog numerous explanations of this phenomenon from a wide range of experts on the subject, as well as their encouraging suggestions for resolution.
But we all know already, both intuitively and from direct experience, that it is through the vertical engagement of life that we come to our greatest experiences, deepest relief and joy, and create our most effective accomplishments. Not only but most blatantly obvious in our relationships of love; and when we don’t attend to the vertical, these are what suffer the most immediately and profoundly. We also lose, to at least some degree, access to our intuitive sensibilities, underlying subtle faith, sincere appreciation for beauty of all kinds, and our deeper self-trust…and get caught up manically looking for substitutes for these on the horizontal plane.
“I don’t have time for wisdom or deeper meaning because I’m locked into the horizontal game of life and it demands too much,” or any similar me-against-the-world, take-all-I-can, slash-and-burn rationale is missing basic contextual discernment. I certainly understand, experience, and empathize with the personal dynamics of living at a time in history when the pace and number of horizontal interactions and associated demands we have to juggle (and sometimes defend from) are often overwhelming. These can lead to dangerous depletion, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. This is exactly why attending to the vertical perspectives of life in their simplest forms through daily rituals, contemplation, conversation, and practice is so essential. Even if we prioritize these for only a portion of each day, the difference they make can be enormous.