The Ground of Individuation
by Bud Harris, Ph.D.
Imagine how it would feel…
to have the strength to quietly assert yourself…to have the ambition to want to discover new talents and abilities…to find a new sense of confidence, self-respect and self-esteem… and what this could do for your life.
The renewal of hope in difficult times, making significant changes in our lives, developing the will to live with purpose and love – including loving Life itself, begins with empowering our ego. Our ego gets a bad rap in our everyday culture and is identified as being egocentric, as housing our distracted “monkey mind,” as based on superficial appearances, and other negative characteristics.
We seem to think that our religious, spiritual paths and philosophies are either telling us to get rid of or to transcend our egos. But when we are narcissistic, anxious, preoccupied, feeling shame or guilt, and so on, it isnʼt our egoʼs fault. From a perspective based on the work of Carl Jung, our ego has been taken over by a psychological complex. (For more information on complexes and Dr. Jungʼs approach, listen to my lecture, “A Lifetime of Promise: A Jungian Guide to Discovering the Transforming Power in Complexes” and download the lecture handouts from my website, www.budharris.com).
The answer to these problems is to work through our complexes, which will actually expand and strengthen our true ego. Our ego, Jung writes, is that part of our psyche that we think of as our “I.” Until we begin the inner journey in earnest, though, we generally think of our ego as our entire personality. In daily life, it is regarded as our conscious intelligence, our everyday brain that thinks, plans, organizes, and runs the activities of our lives. It is also the part of us that is vulnerable to our complexes, to shame, to guilt, and to a variety of fears. As long as the ego is considered “alone” in our personality and not connected to our center, the Self, it continues to long for safety, security, and control over life and events.
The Self, Jung has informed us, is a greater entity than we realize, and that it contains our ego. The Self, he says, incorporates our personal and collective unconscious and is the home of the archetypes within us. The Self is the creating principle within us, the operating force behind our growth, and the regulating and shaping principle. It contains the pattern or blueprint for our development and is the goal of our personal journey into wholeness and uniqueness. In Jungian circles, we have often heard that the pattern in the Self is like the potential pattern of an oak tree in an acorn. What we have not heard about as much, is the acorn also contains the force to make the tree grow, even in dry and rocky soil.
It is of great benefit to us if we can become open to this force within us to grow, to heal, and to become whole by fulfilling our inner pattern. It takes courage to have this kind of openness, and this courage frequently arises during times when we are unhappy or desperate. Unfortunately, if we are relatively well fed and clothed, many of us are very reluctant to open up to the inner quest for a more conscious realization of our potentials. Yet, somewhere deep inside, we all know that such openness, imagination, and the journey-quest are at the heart of every well-lived life. But it is normal for many of us to keep our teeth clenched or to put on a positive, cheerful, or even seemingly mature face in our efforts to maintain the status quo – and to refuse to change even one little bit.
So, while “hanging on” to our self-image as hard as we can, we also have the capacity to fool even ourselves and claim vociferously that we are open and flexible. That is how afraid we can be of ourselves, our unknown potentials, and of the true realities of life. Real life has a tendency to try to push us to confront our shadows, to question our dearly held values, and the belief systems that have guided our lives. (To find out more about the term shadow, refer to my book, Knowing the Questions, Living the Answers: A Jungian Guide through the Paradoxes of Peace, Conflict, and Love that Mark a Lifetime.)
We call individuation ʻa journey into wholenessʼ because it means the continuous conscious development of “knowing oneself” and the growing awareness of our need to know the greater Self. We come to learn, at a profound level, how to be supported by the Self and how to become the expression of its pattern and potentials in how we live. From these experiences, we learn how to feel at home in life and within ourselves. It also comes to mean that we are concurrently facing the truth about the reality we are living in.
The critical juncture in our individuation process is for our ego to enter into a full relationship with the Self. This relationship means acknowledging that the seat of our conscious personality is actually in the Self. In other words, we need to allow our ego, our small self, to “shift” and be centered in the Self. We must not just make this shift intellectually – we must live it in our active lives. The purpose, values, and direction of our lives that are supporting us now come directly from the Self. This realization of the Self is an acknowledgement there is a power within us that is greater than we are, that has intentions for our lives that may not match our egoʼs goals for success, security, and a “good life.” To deal with this evolving reality takes an empowered ego. In my next blogs, I will outline each of the four psychological areas in which we can take steps to empower our egos and also to heal and tap into the strength in our shadows.
To love our life is to love the pattern and potentials within us that are seeking to be lived. Like any artist, when we devote ourselves to the art of living, we must become empowered to dedicate our lives to it. Our lives then take place in an atmosphere of individuation, and become the context for becoming who and what we truly are. We must then be ready to find all the aspects of human experience through this process of individuation – pain, pleasure, joy, sorrow, inspiration, and yes, at times, despair.
Individuation is a call from the soul, a vocation. It is not a self-improvement program to which we try to devote 15 – 30 minutes a day. A vocation – which is an actual “calling” (from the Latin root, “to call”) – is demanding, consuming, and rewarding. And, as you may imagine, it calls us to go into places and directions we fear. In going into the places we fear, however, we will be following Jungʼs map. To navigate this journey requires strength, ambition of a new kind, imagination, and a love of Life. These qualities are within us and within our shadows, and the support for developing these qualities is within our Self. In my next blog, I will begin discussing the first of the four psychological experiences we must cultivate in order to empower our ego for this journey.
(Read Part Two: Emotions: The Royal Messenger of the Unconscious)
(Read Part Three: The Groundwork for Becoming Self-Reliant)
(Read Part Four: The Need for Developing a New Value System)
(Read Part Five: Learning the Art and Craft of Loving Ourselves)
Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris