A central idea in Romanticism was the idea of becoming.
We are always in the process of becoming not only our future, but a future wherein we are different, and hopefully more, than we were before. You could say that becoming happens spontaneously as is evident in the changes we see in a child growing up. However Jung would argue that there is a world of difference between becoming which is driven by a conscious intention for individuation, and simply growing older in an adult.
Individuation meaning simply becoming your most authentic self, becoming the person who truly expresses the unique make up you were born with. Becoming a personality which pays the ultimate compliment to the individual and unique composition of your character. That is to say the opposite of being a mass man or woman, of being a carbon copy, of who you are suggested to be by your parents, your schooling, your peers, your friends, the media, your family etc.
Becoming your authentic self, in this sense then, is a project which requires no little degree of courage. However we may reasonably say it is your life task, that which you were born to do and be. Nietzsche came to believe in the idea of Eternal Recurrence, which was the idea that everything that has happened, is happening and will happen, recurs in an infinite cycle. Meaning that your eternal life in heaven or hell happen here and now, in this lifetime. That it is your sacred duty as a conscious human being to come to terms with your life and not to posit a reward for your current suffering in a distant and essentially unrealisable future.
This does not mean you should not believe in a future, even possibly a utopian future. What it means rather is you should be sincere in seeking to live a life which you are proud of, a life which reflects to the maximum extent your unique self, a life which if looked at as a work of art is the most beautiful, real, expressive, evocative work of art painted by the brush of your being.
Naturally enough there can be no formula for doing this as the formula in itself would be a copy, a contradiction in other words. However Jung devoted his life and his work to creating an intellectual legacy which, roughly speaking, gives us a few clues of how we might proceed. Although he himself was the first to warn against the dangers of being a Jungian, meaning of copying him. This is the inherent flaw in the personal development industry, every author however sincere, is essentially trying to remake you in their image. And if you follow them it is a disaster for your individuality. Your way is your way and no one else’s way, at best you can look for ideas and inspiration from others but copying is a fatal flaw if individuation is your goal.
In a sense the same thing that can drives me crazy about the Not so New Age can also be its saving grace. That everyone simply moves from one weekend workshop to another, never sincerely following anything but just indulging in the transitory high. The advantage of this is obvious; no one takes any teacher too seriously each participant thus retaining personal sovereignty. However be careful that if you fall into this category you are not substituting these experiential workshops for genuine personal growth. As much fun as they might be they are no substitute for a real life.
Okay enough of that let’s get down to business….
The Way Forward
In the aesthetic tradition beauty is the highest value and this is a useful metaphor for our goal of individuation. The idea of beauty is sufficiently ambiguous to allow you to pursue it without being closed down by a set a values which are not appropriate for you. The idea being that you set out to live a life that values the beauty it creates and becomes.
Naturally we are not talking here about the youth obsessed, body beautiful, materialistic beauty of the modern media machine. Rather we mean the beauty of the soul, of your soul, for you to live a life which expresses to the world that inner beauty. However don’t get confused and read that in a moralistic sense, the beauty must be yours whatsoever that might be, the idea is for you to express your inner beauty, not what anyone else deems as beautiful.
Identify that beauty and follow it as the proverbial red thread through the labyrinth of life. I list below eight ways you can identify the thread. But bear in mind this list is arbitrary a creation of my mind, the key is to create your own list, and only use mine as a model to inspire yours.
- Truth; find your truth, or as Shakespeare said be true to yourself and you will lie to no man.
- Beauty; what is it in yourself and in the world around you you most admire, you find most attractive, most beautiful, let this be your guide. What kind of life would be a true expression of the beauty you bring to the world?
- Authenticity; break the shackles of the collective values that restrain you and become who you were born to be, not in the sense of being an anarchist unless that is truly your destiny in which case so be it, but rather in the sense of one who is so much him or herself that your are truly unique and cannot be compared with anyone but yourself. Add something new to the world which is who you are, rather than wearing down the moulds of who everyone else is through creating just another copy.
- Love; what do you love, who do you love, how do you or how can you express your love in the world.
- Community; this is an important one, the truth is being in the world is very much about being with others; paradoxically I need you to find my way. The people, the community you place yourself in will play a very significant role in who you become. Choose your community well, spend time with people you care for and very importantly who care for you. Life is too short to spend it in bad company.
- Self-actualisation; is what you are doing and where you are going actualising who you are or are you just passing the time? Carpe diem my friend carpe diem, time is precious don’t waste it on trivialities, unless you wish trivialities to be your legacy.
- Your Future Self; there is a theory or possibly more than a theory, (I am not sufficiently knowledgeable in the subject to speak with real authority), nevertheless in micro physics which states that causation doesn’t only run from past to future, but also runs backwards from the future. So the idea here is to be aware of what that the future self echoes back at you from that future. It’s helpful to think of it this way, the future self leaves markers along the path to your future, if you follow these you become that future, if not you become something else. So imagine the future self you most want to become and then look for the markers that that future self sends back in time for you to follow.One of the best markers of this kind is dreams, pay attention to your dream life; it is a map of your future which exists outside of normal space-time. But it only reveals itself to those who pay careful attention to it.
- The future of your community; following the logic of point 7 (your future self), you can think about your community in the same way, what actions do you need to take today in order to reach your imagined future for your community. What clues can you find to the choices you need to make today, sent back by that future state?
A story from Neil Gaiman is the best metaphor I know of for this idea.
Dream of a Thousand Cats
This story in its original form can be found in The Sandman Dream Country, by Neil Gaiman.
The cats gather in an old cemetery to listen to one who has come from far to deliver an important message and this is what she tells them.
‘Thank you friends for coming to listen to me tonight, I hope after you have heard my story and leave this place some of you will share my dream. I was not always as you now see me, but once life you lived in the thrall of human beings their plaything, their toy.
I lived in an idealised state until one day my litter from a stray tom cat was drowned by my owners who prized only pure bred cats. Disillusioned I left my home and embarked on a journey to find answers to why we cats were not sovereign beings why humans held us in their power.
After many long nights alone and walking though places I have never dreamed of before, I finally found him, the Dream Lord. And this is what he told me.
Things have not always been as they are now. There was a reality where cats ruled and humans served them, in this world cats were big and humans small. The humans would care for the cats by day and be hunted by them at night, and this way the way of things and it was good.
Until one day a man was born amongst the humans who gathered them to himself. He shared with them his dream, a dream where humans lived proud and free, not as the slaves and playthings of cats. Word of this man’s dream spread and slowly amongst the humans others started to share his dream.
When this number reached a certain critical point, when sufficient people were having this dream, it didn’t take that many perhaps a thousand, the dream changed reality. It not only changed what was but also what had been, so that history itself was rewritten and man ruled the earth now as he always had.
This my friends is my story and my dream, and I leave you in the faint hope that some amongst you may share it and dream a future where we once again rule the earth.”
With this she left them and continued on her mission hopeful but not optimistic, for if truth be told how you do get a thousand cats to share the same dream?
Life is full of possibility and the world is full possibility, perhaps never more so than now. But you and the world are interconnected in the most mysterious way, in a way which is beyond our ability to explain. If the world is to unlock her treasures for you and for us, then you must have the courage to unlock your heart. The world cannot be more than you are, it cannot feel more than you feel, it cannot care more than you care, and it cannot love more than you love.
I know it is not easy to be yourself, really I know, I get that. For so long so many people have told you who you should be, how the hell are you supposed to remember who you really are? But underneath all that pretense, underneath the garbage dished out by a thousand Cosmo Magazines, there is something real. If you have the courage to find that real thing and then to live it, we will all bask in your light.