Jane Wheelwright on Old Age

Sue Mehrtens is the author/editor of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members.  Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.


Jane Wheelwright on Old Age


“I now have something important to look forward to that draws me into the outside world. My impression is that the future event an old person looks forward to literally keeps that old one alive. Old people must need an incentive. For some, it is the birth of a grandchild or an upcoming birthday.”[1]


“Mistakes are also invaluable because they increase humility, which is important in old age. Knowledge of one’s shortcomings brings balance and evolution towards the ideal of individual completion. This kind of completion is different from the Christian concept of the perfect person. “Completion” is a feminine concept, perfection a masculine one.”


“I noticed in Allan Chinen’s manuscript there is no mention of death in fairytales for old people. In Chinen’s fairytales, the two big tasks for old age are reviewing the past in order to make corrections and giving the benefit of one’s wisdom to others who are probably younger and less experienced.”


“After insights, I feel stronger and more conscious and whole. I don’t know why psychic insights strengthen the body. Perhaps the psychosomatic life margin works both ways. It may be that psychic viability strengthens the body and possibly increases in old age. As the body ages and its viability is reduced, there is more room for psychic life.”


“For a woman, old age  is a great time for pioneering if she is sensitive to her unconscious and no longer hangs onto a man’s every word. Women, who are so often outliving men, are being afforded golden opportunities to speak of their discoveries. But, unfortunately, too few of them do.”


“For me, in my old age, the unconscious is my authority. I don’t give authority to Jung, any document, or religious book. In old age, only messages from the unconscious or, better yet, the collective unconscious impress me.”


“Old people could benefit by being able to identify the time of day and circumstance that nurtures their creativity. Routinely recording their thoughts gives old people a sense of themselves and their continuity. And old people may come up with something new and revealing. Slowly, if they honor their creative impulses, they will, in the end, have formulated their unique story.”


Jane Wheelwright started her first journal when she was 8 years old, and maintained this habit throughout her life. She began her last journal in 1986, when she was 81 and wrote in it for 14 years, until she became blind in 1995 and could no longer read her handwriting.[2] A major theme running through this last journal is aging, as Jane hoped to leave others advice about old age based on her personal experience and her observations of other aging people. In this essay, we discuss Jane’s thoughts on the nature, features and value of old age, including her techniques and suggestions for how to make our “golden years” a time of growth and fulfillment.


Jane on the Nature and Features of Old Age


Jane Wheelwright was no starry-eyed Pollyanna: She recognized that old age was “not an achievement” but rather “a big loss.” Aging comes with the loss of strength, energy, coordination, and opportunities for socializing, as friends die and travel becomes a hassle (requiring “a focus on bathrooms”). For Jane, perhaps the worst loss was her eyesight: macular degeneration eventually cost Jane her ability to read and write.

Because memory gets “shortened,” old age becomes, in Jane’s opinion, a full-time job. She noted on October 23, 1998, that

“You spend hours searching for things you put down somewhere when you had to tend to something else. At the time, you told yourself that you had put the item down in an obvious place that you would not forget. What happens is that your memory is so short that you do forget. Then you look so long for the “lost” object that other activities are no longer important.”

Such incidents called up repeated frustrations at being “inept,” restricted and inefficient.

With her dwindling sense of time and space, Jane found herself making more mistakes, like calling her daughter Lynda on Saturday, when they normally spoke on Sundays. With her hitherto reliable animus no longer “a useful tool,” Jane experienced “restrictions, uncertainties and unexpected, impossible situations,” as “what worked in the past no longer worked.”

Jane mentioned specific ways in which her body aged as she grew older. These were phenomena like balance becoming more of a problem as she grew more inept (a real annoyance for Jane who earlier in life had been so agile and adroit), and the wearing out of her reflexes, which meant that she now had “to calculate every step, every little thing,” lest she make “gross mistakes.” She hated living with “clumsiness” and the pain and limited movement caused by arthritis. Having been active and vigorous most of her life, Jane found it hard to “guard against” weakness.

Jane also noted how, as we age, our “bony structure becomes more evident,” giving us “more clearly defined facial and skeletal structures.” Joints became more evident with the pain and swelling of arthritis. The “pull-down of age” showed up for Jane in insomnia, discomforts, physical dependency and feelings of vulnerability. Vulnerability was an issue not only because Jane was aging: it was also due to their location high up above the coastal towns of central California.

As climate change began to affect the central California coast, summers grew hotter. Jane and Jo lived on their ranch without air-conditioning and temperatures of nearly 100 degrees reminded Jane that “old people don’t tolerate heat well.” Global warming also made storms more severe. Jane reported multiple times when the ranch road became impassable due to floods and mud slides. Repeated health crises eventually forced the Wheelwrights to relocate from Jane’s beloved Tepitates to a small house in Montecito that was closer to the hospital and emergency medical care.

Given Jane’s realistic assessment of the problematic aspects of aging, one would expect she would have nothing positive to say about aging. Quite the reverse: Jane has  more positive than negative things to say about our golden years, as she saw aging as a time full of potentials and opportunities.

Jane regarded old age as “the age and stage of one’s uniqueness, when an elder could “relive emotions,” and “write or talk about wholeness for oncoming generations.” Jane saw our elder years as a time for honesty, which she felt was “one of the assets that comes out of a long life.” The limitations that old age presents can “give old people the time, patience and receptivity necessary for new thoughts and feelings to emerge from their psychic depths.”

Old age can also be a “time for just living, without being useful, dutiful or full of ‘shoulds’ to be productive.” Going slowly, refusing to be pushed, taking the time to weigh courses of action–these are appropriate ways to act in late life.

Jane revealed her orientation as a Jungian analyst in multiple descriptions of old age as the time to live inwardly (i.e. to develop one’s Introversion), a time for individuation (i.e. “reaching or becoming one’s essence”), a time for “the increase of consciousness,” as “the stage in life when opposites emerge prominently” and projections get withdrawn from the material world (which no longer works as it once did) toward an increase in self-awareness. In multiple journal entries Jane notes how the ego diminishes as one ages, resulting in the older person “being less tied to the desires of the ego,” and more likely to “level with the Self,” leading to “a surprising amount of self-knowledge.” As this process continues, Jane felt that the older person could focus on completion (as opposed to perfection) and make contact with the collective unconscious as well as with collective attitudes.

The opportunities of old age filled pages of Jane’s journal. While physical expansion is unlikely, given the realities noted above, Jane was adamant that psychical expansion was possible regardless of the frailities of age. What did Jane mean by “psychical expansion”?

Basically this involves using “old-age physical restraints as incentives to concentrate on one’s psychic life,” and it includes such activities as:

  • discovering and attending to the archetypes (which could show up in dreams, reading, outer-life synchronicities, redundancies, repetitiousness and compulsions)
  • noticing “ruminations from the unconscious”
  • “following one’s moods and eliminating the ego focus caused by deadlines and social pressures”
  • “developing independence of thought and beliefs” by recognizing one’s “freedom to think one’s thoughts and spout them any old way” (in one’s journal)
  • using the leisure and privacy that old age offers to “fill in what one might have done earlier or wanted to do” before, when the demands of work and family life precluded such efforts
  • letting go of ego ambitions by shifting away from doing to being, so as to foster “psychic insights that strengthen the body”
  • regarding “denial and deprivation as aids toward the development of character as well as insights and ingenuity”
  • drawing on the manifold experiences of one’s long life to produce a broad perspective on life and living
  • allowing “small insights and startling realizations that emerge from one’s psychic depths” to “awaken a sense of new life” and
  • adding “to the overall cultural development of the family, the community, the nation or the world, through one’s creativity.”

In encouraging old folks’ “qualitative creative efforts,” Jane followed Jung’s inclusive definition of creativity. It is not “high” art or museum-level productions, but any endeavor that draws on one’s talents, interests, feelings and psychic promptings to produce something new. Baking a cake, building a bookcase, sewing a dress, writing a poem, arts and crafts activities–all types of endeavors can sweep us up into an engagement with life that fulfills our potentials and helps us “to feel positively alive in the face of death.”

Jane also reveals her Jungian orientation in regarding old age as a good time to

experience “the periodic and unexpected intrusion of the fourth function” in daily life. By “the fourth function” Jane is referring to the one of the four ways we handle life (Intuition, Sensation, Thinking and Feeling) which is the least developed or the closest (most inferior) to the unconscious. If a person went through life relying on his/her logic and reasoning (i.e. a Thinking type), Feeling would likely be his/her inferior, or fourth function. So old age would be a prime time to develop one’s feeling side. Likewise with the irrational functions, Intuition and Sensation. The Sensate type, who lived relying on his/her senses over the years, can discover how much Intuition can be helpful as the eyes, ears, smell and taste buds dim.

In several places in her journal Jane mentions how she hoped this, her late-life journal, would be published, because she felt many of her musings on old age, women and Nature would be useful to others. When I read the typed copy of the journal I agreed: Jane has left us with dozens of helpful pieces of advice. Herewith are some of Jane’s insights.


Jane’s Suggestions for Living Well in Our Elder Years (Plus One from Jung)


Keep a journal/tell your story. From her own 80+ years of experience, Jane knew how useful journals can be at any time in life as a private venue for freely giving voice to thoughts and feelings: “A journal that is meant for no other eyes can help a person to explore new inner frontiers, stretch psychic boundaries, and open up a new life.” These benefits of journal keeping are especially helpful for older people because, as Jane notes, “New life feels good in old age.”

Jane found journal keeping is a “life-giving exercise,” giving her “spurts of new life and greater insight…. Writing in a journal can start up thoughts for the second half of life,” and provides opportunities for the old person to “unload a lot of undigested life that has become a burden…”. This “unloading,” Jane thought, was especially important as we age, because journaling allows the opening up of  “thoughts and speculations of all sorts, especially about aging and death. Without keeping a journal, these thoughts would be unexpressed and festering like poison in one’s psyche.” The self-expression a private journal provides also helps old people gain “a sense of themselves and their continuity.”

If journaling becomes a habit “old people may come up with something new and revealing.” What might be revealed? “Their unique story” and their “creative impulses.” Jane was quite insistent that old people can be as creative as younger people, and they should honor their own voices and get their perspectives down on paper. This can be especially helpful for the “monologists” and those who live with them. Jane defined the “monologist” as the old person who insists on talking a lot. Such people

“need to write what they insist on talking about. Their compulsive talking is due to their unconscious desire to be heard from. Having the chance to talk on paper would improve their health if not prolong their lives.”

Jane never adds that their journaling might provide some peace and quiet for others, but we can imagine that would be true.

Keeping a journal can help old folks “feel themselves to be a going concern no matter how old they are.” Repeatedly Jane stressed the value of journaling, describing it as “inestimable” and “a ‘must’ for old people who ever had the wish to write or be heard from.”[3]


            Support your physical well-being/get exercise. All through life, we are told, exercise is essential for well-being. Jane recognized that this is true in old age, but must not be done to excess. Jane found that “gentle exercise in spite of pain can lessen aches and pains,” and can be helpful for old people in their “effort not to deteriorate.” Given the “pull-down” of aging, “deterioration” would occur unless old people make conscious and regular efforts to mitigate it.

So Jane suggested having a “daily routine” which put “first things first.” And one of the first things to do is to let go of “perfectionism,” which Jane regarded as “a killer” for old women. Perfectionism is a symptom of a negative animus (that inner voice which can show up as “shoulds,” “musts” or “oughts”). Jung defined the animus as the inner masculine of a woman, useful for its ambition, drive and ability to engage with the outer world, but in old age, it can be dangerous because “it wears down old women beyond their physical tolerance and their spiritual and mental capacities.” Jane recounted how she took a walk one day, walked too far, climbed too much, and that night she had insomnia. She reflected in her journal that the

“long walk I took a few days ago came out of the thought that it was about time for me to do it. When I felt the difficulty of climbing those steep places, I should have known that it was time to turn back. I would advise old women not to listen to their heads, but to do what feels right and good.”

She had listened to the animus, i.e. her head, rather than to her body, and the over-exertion led to poor sleep–a doleful result, because Jane regarded sleep as a key to rejuvenation

Nothing in excess is a good rule for old people. Jane urged old folks to “set the goal or attitude to attain a balance of the physical, psychic and religious” (which did not mean necessarily following any organized religion, but having a sense of connection to something greater than oneself). Jane was adamant that the “overuse of any faculty” made relaxation difficult, if not impossible.

Relaxation and rest are necessary for old people, but, “while the body needs to rest, the spirit need to soar,” so Jane recommended sedentary activities like reading during rest periods. Relaxation can be fostered by becoming aware when you are feeling tense and then “letting go deliberately” by relaxing the various muscle groups. We can also support relaxation by surrendering or submitting, which Jane defined as “making a positive acceptance of nature’s law and … overall plan.”

In her appreciation of the unconscious, Jane reveals her Jungian orientation. She urged old people to “connect with a pool of pent-up energy lodged in the unconscious.” Such a connection can provide “psychic insights [which] strengthen the body,” and these might also preserve mental functions to avoid senility. Jane thought that inner energies, if ignored, could “become a dead weight” which could be one factor leading to cognitive decline. How to access this pool of energy? Jane watched her dreams for archetypal images (figures, environments or scenarios) that held an emotional charge or special meaning) and she would then journal about them. We can also spot these opportunities for spiritual, emotional or psychic uplift in synchronicities, intuitions and creative activities.


            Value and express your creativity. Jane felt “longevity should have a creative aspect.” Old age can be a creative time, and “it is also a time for the increase of consciousness.” Jung knew that the unconscious has limitless creative potential, and Jane saw old age as a time in life when old folks can enjoy “solitude and look for it and indulge in it positively, creatively, until we live ourselves out of life.”

In her own old-old age (i.e. late 80s and 90s), Jane knew she had “less and less lifetime left to” her, so she tended “to put my creative thought processes ahead of everything.” She found that “life forces” came out of “creative efforts” and these, along with heightened awareness, were “the spice and the ingredients of life.” Jane urged old people to “honor their creative impulses” and write them down so that, eventually, they will have “formulated their unique story.”

In expressing our creativity, Jane felt old people “could benefit by being able to identify the time of day and circumstances that nurtures their creativity.” For Jane, this meant early in the day, rather than afternoon or evening. This preference might reflect Jane’s introversion. Extraverts tend to be more “night owls” than “larks.” Each old person has to determine the time and situation that best fans the creative flame. Journaling was Jane’s medium, but she recognizes that others might resonate more with “other artistic mediums such as painting, music, and dance.” She urged us to do whatever helps us to be creative.


            Give yourself time for solitude. Creativity often requires solitude. Jane knew this and regarded solitude “not only a preparation, but [as] the real stuff of old age.” Jane thought the old woman would “enjoy her solitude and look for it and indulge in it positively, creativity, until she lives herself out of life.” Jane was not ignoring old men, but recognized the actuarial statistics on men dying earlier than women. So we see more old women alone than old men.

Why put a premium on solitude? It was not just Jane’s introversion (the Introvert generally enjoying solitude more than the typical Extravert). Jane felt that “all old people need solitude in order to go inward. This need is as much a part of old age as lessening of energy and decreased efficiency are.”

We need solitude and inwardness to do the important work of “facing one’s inner self as honestly as one can.” This is part of “turning away from the world,” as “the ego wants to level with the Self in order to gain the increased insight that emerges from that confrontation.” The benefit of this “leveling” is that it “brings about a surprising amount of self-knowledge.”[4]

Jane was in her “old-old age” (90’s) when she stated that “the closer old people are to the ends of their lives, the more they need to be in contact with the Self as it manifests in each one of them.” This connection of ego and Self, Jane knew, “requires solitude and not socializing.” Solitude, in other words, helps the old person prepare for death.


            Recognize the uplift and value in the archetypes and spirit. Until she lost her vision, Jane was an avid reader, and she discovered in her “choice of books, the archetypes that have been the ground floor of my psychic and physical life. These archetypes have enriched my life. They are my sustenance.” Why could Jane call these universal patterns lying in the unconscious of each of us “sustenance”? Because they hold energy, and when Jane tapped into them, she got energized (and boosts of energy are very helpful for old people).

Then Jane offered us suggestions for how to spot archetypes: “… they would avail themselves of more energy if they watch their repetitiousness, their redundancies, their compulsions”–outer life events that can tip us off to complexes and other nodes within our inner landscape that are like pools of energy. As Jane noted, her reading also offered up archetypes, e.g. characters in fiction (as good writers tap into archetypes in crafting their stories).

Besides energy, archetypes also have numinosity, a certain quality of feeling that is recognizable. Without necessarily being able to identify it, a person usually senses an archetype when feeling there is something special about a figure, a situation or an environment that is out of the ordinary. Because they lie in our deepest depths, archetypes have a connection to the Self, our divine core, and tapping into them, or exploring our connection to them, can stimulate our creativity, provide us with more energy, and enhance our daily living. For old folks, whose energies are slowly fading, this can be revivifying.


            Be open to change/improvise and adapt. In their weekly conversation on May 24, 1998, Lynda (Jane’s daughter) asked her “What is the most important thing to tell anyone who is aging?” Jane didn’t need a second before replying: “Change. I feel that those who cannot change or adapt to changes die young. It is important for an old person to detect when it is necessary to change behaviors.”

As our energies lessen with the passing years, it is essential that we relax our standards. Jane offers an illustration of a typical situation:

“And only this morning when I was cleaning up the kitchen, I stopped and said to myself, ‘To hell with it. I can’t be bothered.’ This is another approach to lifelong demands or habits: ‘I can’t be bothered to do a lot of things nowadays.’ ‘I don’t need to’ is another way of putting it. It seems that my standards tend to change and reduce down to my strengths. It seems to me that any old person might naturally go this way if he or she is not too stuck in prejudices. Tolerance in old people might be nature’s way to discourage rigidities and outworn self-disciplines.”

So many women have been trained since childhood to high standards around housekeeping, serving others, and putting themselves last (or at least behind the needs and desires of others). As we age, this training does not serve us. We have to be willing, as Jane notes here, to reduce our standards down to meet our strengths, lest we wear ourselves out and even possibly shorten our lives.

Standards around daily chores are not the only venues where we need to adapt. Jane also notes that we may experience “change so unexpectedly in [our] new attitude.” By “new attitude” Jane is referring to “the periodic and unexpected intrusion of the fourth function.” Here Jane is reflecting her deep immersion in Jung’s theory of personality types.[5]

A I noted eartlier, Jung’s theory posits that every person has innate preferences for an orientation to life (Extraversion or Introversion) and for attitudes (Intuition/Sensation, Thinking/Feeling). We go through our early and middle years usually drawing on these preferences (unless, through early childhood experience, we are forced to “turn type”). So we get used to working with our “superior” functions, and neglect or even avoid using the function that is “inferior” (closest to the unconscious). We do this because we may feel inept or awkward when circumstances require acting in that unused way.

But Jane, through years of experience with patients, as well as from her own experience of aging, came to recognize that “unconscious or repressed type potentials insist on being heard from in old age, either negatively or positively.” Why? Perhaps because the Self (our divine core) wants us to become more whole, to broaden our self-awareness, by recognizing other, hitherto unfamiliar parts of ourselves. So, where once we went through life analyzing, thinking and relying on objective facts, now we might experience feeling more, become more aware of our emotions and begin to value subjective realities. Or a reliance on our senses (common in Sensate types) begins to weaken as taste, smell, hearing or sight diminishes, and we begin to discover our intuitive wisdom. In Jane’s words, “what worked in the past no longer works.” So we improvise and adapt to the “new experience” that is “extreme old age.”


Live as though you will live forever. Jane first heard this piece of advice from Carl Jung himself. She was skeptical at first, as she admits:

Over the years, Jung often advised us to live in old age as though we would live forever. That was good advice, but I could accept it only because he said so. I always thought it must be a gimmick of his. Now, having a great deal of additional experience, I can sense that there is truth in what he said.

Jane’s “additional experience,” i.e. her own aging, proved it was no “gimmick.” Of course no one lives forever, but by choosing this attitude, Jung knew that we can open ourselves to potentials and opportunities we might otherwise ignore or pass up.




In 110 pages of the printed version of her journal, Jane set out her assessment of old age and offered us a multitude of useful tips on how to navigate our golden years. To Jane these were golden years, alloyed with the lead of pain and loss, to be sure, but also a time for growth, self-discovery, creativity and opportunities that middle age did not provide. A High Sacred Place: Jane Wheelwright’s Tepitates Journal  (available in our Jungian Center store in both book and e-book form) provides more of Jane’s thoughts on aging, life, Nature, women’s role and what it was like to be an analysand of Jung.





Safronova, Valeriya (2021), “Feeling Anxious? Grab a Pen And Paper and Start Journaling,” The New York Times (October 10, 2021), ST 9.

Wheelwright, Jane (2021), A High Sacred Place: Jane Wheelwright’s Tepitates Journal. Waterbury VT: The Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from Jane’s journal, now available for sale, in hard copy and pdf form, on the Jungian Center web site.

[2] The computer technologies available to us today, e.g. Dragon Naturally Speaking and other assistive programs, were not available to her then.

[3] Jane was not alone in recognizing the value of journaling. A article in The New York Times noted the recent spate of journals as supports for mental health, as well as the creative stimulus and emotional outlet that Jane mentions. For more on Therapy Notebooks, The Anti-Anxiety Notebook, the Wellness Journal, the Human Being Journal, and The Life You Want journal, see Safronova (2021), ST 9.

[4] Jane capitalized Self, which was Jung’s term for the inner divine core that exists in each person. In CW 7 ¶399 Jung writes “…it [the Self] might equally be called the God within us.”

[5] Jane was one of the creators of the Gray-Wheelwrights type test.

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