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One of Carl Jung’s most interesting areas of thought is that of individuation. In a nutshell the word refers to the processes involved in becoming a self aware and independent human being. The area of our being we refer to when we say ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘myself’, is our conscious self awareness, our sense of self, which Jung calls the ego. In recent years a few of Jung’s followers have begun to study the events occurring as an individual ego grows from infancy through childhood. This changing growth is described as never becoming final without a major break with the person’s original wholeness. This is why the person must constantly strive to re-establish its relation to the Self (ones wholeness, often represented by a holy figure such as Christ) in order to maintain a condition of psychic health.
From Animal to Human
The autobiography of Helen Keller has helped in understanding what may be the difference between an animal and a human being with self-awareness. Helen, made blind and deaf through illness prior to learning to speak, lived in a dark unconscious world lacking any self-awareness until the age of six when she was taught the deaf and dumb language. At first her teacher’s fingers touching hers were simply a tactile but meaningless experience. Then, perhaps because she had learned one word prior to her illness, meaning flooded her darkness. She tells us that ‘Nothingness was blotted out.’ Through language she became a person and developed a sense of self, whereas before there had been – nothing.
The journey of individuation is not only that of becoming a person, but also expanding the boundaries of what we can allow ourselves to experience as an ego. As we can see from an observation of our dreams, but mostly from an extensive exploration of their feeling content, our ego is conscious of only a small area of experience. The fundamental life processes in our being may be barely felt. In many contemporary women, the reproductive drive is talked about as something that has few connections with their personality. Few people have a living feeling contact with their early childhood, in fact many people doubt that such can exist. Because of these factors the ego can be said to exist as an encapsulated small area of consciousness, surrounded by huge areas of experience it is unaware of. These unconscious areas of their being direct their life to an extraordinary degree. Individuation means to emerge from unconscious dependence on this hidden side of self. It means to become functionally independent of the archetypes that dominate human life. In many ways it is similar to, and includes, becoming functionally independent of ones mother.
We Grow Like a Tree
In a different degree, there exists in each of us a drive toward the growth of our personal awareness, towards greater power, greater inclusion of the areas of our being which remain unconscious. A paradox exists here because the urge is toward integration, yet individuation is also the process of greater self-differentiation. Another paradox is that this is a spontaneous process, just as the growth of a tree from a seed is – the tree in dreams often represents this process of self-becoming. But our personal responsibility for our process of growth is necessary at a certain point, to make conscious what is unconscious.
Because dreams are constantly expressing aspects of individuation it is worth knowing the main areas of the process. Without sticking rigidly to Jungian concepts – which see individuation as occurring from mid life onwards in a few individuals – an aspect of some of the main stages are as follows.
Early babyhood – The emergence of self consciousness through the deeply biological, sensual and gestural levels of experience, all deeply felt. The felt responses to emerging from a non changing world in the womb. Also the emergence from a feeling of deep unity with the mother, and of being undifferentiated life awareness. The need to reach out for food and make other needs known. Learning how to deal with changing environment, and otherness in terms of relationship. But particularly, the experience of needing another person for survival, and the process of love-bonding with that person, leaves deep impressions on the developing identity.
Levels of Growth
Childhood – Learning the basics of motor, verbal and social skills. The following dream shows the enormity of what is learned in this stage, and what great changes take place in the psyche through the learning of language. Language itself is like installing a massive computer type program into the developing consciousness. Like any such program, it enables functions and processes to take place that would be impossible without it.
Example: From flying at a great height in the sky I glided down and approached the field to land. It was near where council houses backed right onto the open hillside above two old elm trees – a place I knew well from my childhood. A young girl of about three or four was playing in the field. As I came in to land she saw me and ran away very frightened. I was gliding in the same direction she was running and I called out to her not be frightened. She stopped and I landed. In amazement she looked at me and said, “How did you get to be up there?” Steve M.
Steve explored this dream, and in the role of the young girl came across insights he describes as follows:
As the young girl I had walked from the back door of my house, along the garden path, across a footpath behind the houses, into the field. As I looked through her eyes and feelings, I realised what a long journey it was for me to get into the field. Not a long journey physically in distance, but an enormous journey within myself. To be able to go from the door to the field, I had gone through the long process of learning to walk; I had learned the confidence to be alone; through language and understanding what my parents had passed to me, I had found out how to avoid stinging nettles, and how not to be overcome by my fears of them and of the huge creatures that I knew as cows. This had all taken ages, and so walking into the field was an enormous achievement, especially as I was doing it by myself. Learning to walk itself had taken tremendous practice and perseverance. Learning to be independent of my mother was also something I had had to learn. I had made the inner journey of acquiring an immense stock of information and conditioning regarding the external environment I was facing too. I had slowly learned survival responses to stinging nettles, walking alone, nests, birds, the sun, trees, spiders, stones, the wind, children, adults, worms, leaves on the trees, cars, etc, etc, etc, etc, and so on.
I had never realised before what an amazing education a child has, before ever it goes to school.
At this stage we are learning the basics of physical and emotional independence. We face here the attempt to find strength to escape the domination, or felt domination, of mother/carer – difficult because one is dependent upon the parent in a very real way – and develop in the psyche a satisfying sexual connection. In dream imagery this means, for the male, an easy sexual relationship with female dream figures, and a means of dealing with male figures such as father in competition. See: sex in dreams. The dream of the mystic beautiful woman precedes this – a female figure one blends with in a idealistic sense, but is never sexual. The conflict with father – really the internal struggle with ones image of father as more potent than self – when resolved becomes an acceptance of the power of ones own manhood. Thi struggle also takes place in the female, in regard to her male dream images.
Women are Different
Women face a slightly different situation. The woman’s first deeply sensual and sexual love object – in a bonded parent child relationship – was her mother. So beneath any love she may develop for a man lies the love for a woman. Whereas a man, in sexual love that takes him deeply into his psyche, may realise he is making love to his mother, a woman in the same situation may find her father or her mother as the love object. In the unconscious motivations that lead one to choose a mate, a man is influenced by the relationship he developed, or failed to develop with his mother – both mother and father influence a woman in her choice.
At these deep levels of fantasy and desire, one has to recognise that the first sexual experience is – hopefully – at mothers breast. This can be transformed into later fantasies / dreams / desires of penis in the mouth; or penis in vagina; or penis as breast, mouth as vagina.
Example: I have recently gained a new girlfriend. We used to look forward to going out together and going to bed. Since she moved in with me my feelings have changed. I dreamt about her with real hatred. I woke up shouting ‘I hate you!’ Just before I woke her face and hair changed to look like my mother. John – Teletext.
For most of us however, growth toward maturity does not present itself in such primitively sexual ways, simply because we are largely unconscious of such factors. In general we face the task of building a self-image out of the influences, rich or traumatic, of our experience. We learn to stand, as well as we may, amidst the welter of impressions, ideas, influences and urges, which constitute our life and body. What we inherit, what we experience, and what we do with these, create who we are.
Puberty – In a real sense, one has already undergone radical transformations before reaching puberty. The loss of the womb, the death of babyhood with it delicious or terrible dependence, the learning of language, the falling away of early childhood, have all been journeyed through. But now there is greater self-awareness, self-consciousness than ever before, and this makes puberty a transition and a death with many more difficulties. The major changes here are the meeting of sexual drive that urges one toward the opposite sex; the finding of a sense of self that enables one to meet other adults in a world of action and interaction; the success or failure to let the flame of ones life forge action in the world sufficient to satisfy ones urge to power, to creativity, toward recognition and acknowledgment by ones fellows. Failure to achieve these may lead to some level of remaining dependence upon parents for money, emotional support an even housing – lack of full heterosexual adaptation, and so a remaining in adolescent homosexuality – a partial passivity in the world or a difficulty in initiating change.
Learning to Love a Stranger
One of the great areas of learning for this period connects with how to meet other adults outside our family. We begin to turn toward strangers for important reasons such as intimate attention and appreciation; looking for a mate; finding others to work with or acknowledge our own ideas such as music, writing , etc. We try to make things happen in human society, and so meet the co-operation and antagonism of others more fully than protected childhood and its groupings allowed.
During the change from adolescent to adult, one of the greatest of our childhood needs becomes apparent in the way we meet situations, and the choices we make. The need is for parental enthusiastic love and recognition of oneself as a unique person. If we have not received this love we carry in us such pain and need, it influences all our decisions. Even without any maltreatment, the lack of love traumatises us. There are so few of us who have actually received this love to the degree we needed, that the dealing with this inner lack is one of the major tasks before us if we are to reach our full potential. This is often worked out in our relationships and the tribulations that arise out of our desperate need for, or pain regarding, intimacy.
Example: I am a 16-year-old girl. In my dream I wake up in bed with the boy I am in love with beside me. He wakes and we start kissing. My parents come in and throw us out. I am pregnant and he stands by me. When the baby arrives another boy, who is a close friend, says it is his. Jordan – Teletext.
Example: I’m an eleven-year-old girl, and have fancied this boy for ages. I dream I meet him in a town, and he tells me he loves me. Then we are in school uniform and older boys from my school beat him up. I dream this often and wake crying. Now I’m frightened to tell him I love him in case he gets hurt. H.M.J. – Teletext.
Example: I have had this dream for about 3 months now. It is about a bus driver I really like. I am only 15 1/2, and I see him and me making love. He is about 23. The other day he asked me when my 16th birthday was. I wonder if that meant anything. Could you let me know if anything serious could happen between us. Debbie. – Teletext.
Our further process of maturing includes some of the major themes of individuation such as: The journey from attachment and dependence toward independence. This is experienced as an involved detachment with the possibility of loving independence within a relationship. Independence is an overall theme we mature in all our life. In its widest sense, it pertains to the fact that the origins of our consciousness lie in a non-differentiated state of being in which no sense of ‘I’ exists. Out of this womb condition we gradually develop an ego and personal choice. In fact we may swing to an extreme of egotism and materialistic feelings of independence from others and nature. The observable beginnings of this move to independence are seen in our attempt to become independent of mother and father; but dependence has many faces. We may have a dependent relationship with husband or wife. We may depend upon our work or social status for our self-confidence. Our youth and good looks may be the things we depend upon for our sense of who we are – our self-image. With the approach of middle and old age we will then face a crisis in which an independence from these factors is necessary for our psychological equilibrium. The Hindu practice of becoming a sanyassin, leaving behind family, name, social standing, possessions, is one way of meeting the need for inner independence from these to meet old age and death in a positive manner. Most people face it in a quieter, less demonstrative way. Indeed, death might be thought of as the greatest challenge to our identification with body, family, worldly status and the external world as means to identity. We leave this world naked except for the quality of our own being.
Meeting oneself and self responsibility – The fact that our waking self is a small spotlight of awareness amidst a huge ocean of unconscious life processes creates a situation of tension, certainly a threshold or ‘Iron Curtain’, between the known and unknown. If one imagines the spotlighted area of self as a place one is standing, then individuation is the process of extending the boundary of awareness, or even turning the spotlight occasionally into the surrounding gloom. In this way one places together impressions of what the light revealed of the dark landscape in which we stand; clues to how we got to be where we are, and where we might move on.
The Inner Journey
The landscape is in fact made up of our past, the massive prior experience of the cosmos, nature, our culture and our family, and how we relate to these. This past is the basis upon which all our present experience is built. It is the fact of our physical body, our language, and our family genetic history. But one may remain, or choose to remain largely unconscious of self in connection with these. The Iron Curtain may be defended with our desire not to know what really motivates us, what past hurts and angers we hide, what individual, family and cultural traumas forged our likes and dislikes, our talent and ignorance. It may be easier for us to live with an exterior God or authority than to recognise the ultimate need for self-responsibility and self cultivation. To hide from this, humanity have developed innumerable escape routes – exteriorised religious practice; making scapegoats of other minority groups or individuals; remaining unconscious of oneself through social drugs such as alcohol or tobacco; rigid belief in a political system or philosophy; search for samadhi or God as a final solution; suicide.
This aspect of our maturing process shows itself as a paradox, common to maturity, of becoming more sceptical, and yet finding a deeper sense of self in its connections with the cosmos. We lose God and the beliefs of humanity’s childhood, yet realise we are the God we searched for. This meeting with self, in all its deep feeling of connection, its uncertainty, its vulnerable power, is not without pain and joy. See: First example in spiritual life in dreams.
Master of Dreams
The last of the great themes of individuation is summed up in William Blake’s words – ‘I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s; I will not Reason and Compare: my business is to Create.’ A function observable in dreams is that of scanning our massive life experience. Even a child’s life experience has millions of bits of information from which it can gather enormous information about LIFE and SURVIVAL. Out of this we unconsciously create a working philosophy of what life means TO US, and what is real in the world. It is made up not only of what we have experienced and learned in the general sense, but also from the hidden information in the cultural riches we have inherited from language, literature, music, art, theatre and architecture. The word ‘hidden’ is used because the unconscious ‘reads’ the symbolised information in these sources. It is, after all the master of imagery, being the creator of dreams. But unless we expand the boundaries of our awareness we may not know this inner philosopher. If we do get to know it through dreams, the beauty of its insight into everyday human life will amaze us.
In connection with this there is an urge to BE, and perhaps to procreate oneself in the world. Sometimes this is experienced as a sense of frustration – that there is more of us than we have been able to express, or to make real. While physical procreation can be seen as a physical survival urge, this drive to create in other spheres may be an urge to survive death as an identity. Dreams frequently present the idea that our survival of death only comes about from what we have given of ourselves to others. This creative aspect of ourselves apparently is active at the moment of death according to the many accounts of the deathbed review of ones entire life – particularly as such reviews seem to be largely about what one has ‘gathered’ or learned from the experience of living.
There is a disinclination to deeply consider death in North Western culture. What passes for this is the excuse that physical death ends all life, when such a statement is observable not true. Nothing that we can see in the physical world exists outside of evolutionary connections with past objects or forms. Our language, our body, our personality, have all arisen out of what existed previously. The past is obviously alive in the present, so how can there be death to anything except the limited awareness people consider to be themselves, their ego?
Death is the great adventure of the psyche. The great undertaking of individuation takes us into the meeting with our birth and infant traumas. We face the monsters created by our sense of being unloved, of parental desertion or betrayal. The demons of self doubt, of self destructiveness, of worldly struggle and fear spring up to meet us on the journey and we have to do battle. The negative habits of our lifetime pull at us or bind us to our past unless we can break free. The instinctive hungers and drives, of reactive fear, challenge us. Can we take the tiny boat of our self awareness across their swirling and torrential waters? Can we swim in the whirlpool of desire and use its energy to achieve a new awareness and transcendence? Can we meet the unconscious influences of the archetypes and find some ability not to be lost in them? Even if we can, after all these great feats, should we find our way through them, lies not an upliftment of our being into wonder – but death!
The Empty Cave of the Holy Grail
What a strange blow it is, after journeying so far in the psychic adventure of ourselves, after being the hero or heroine of so many battles, that when we come to the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece, the inner sanctum of ourselves, we meet not a treasure but an empty cave. Nothing is there waiting for us – except death – the strangest paradox of all. Strangely though, it is this nothing, this emptiness, this loss of self, which holds in it the centre of ourselves. With extinction of our effort and drive, with the dying of ourselves, there comes a self-existent radiance in us. The meeting with nothing, the void, is the great treasure itself that penetrates us and transforms us.
Dreams, when they are the great creations of high awareness, suggest the cosmos arose out of a huge death – the big bang – a death planned out of love so that we might exist. Meeting death while alive – relinquishing all we have considered to be the reason for our personal existence – dropping the urge to grasp what has been the goals of ones life, such as sex, money, power, self expression – brings a new life in which we realise our intimate oneness with life. And although this seems like an end as we enter it, as we die to it, the vastness of it promises new and wondrous life. This is an end to the life we have led up to that point. But ends are beginnings in the wider life. For at our very centre is the ever shifting mystery that is life itself.