Mysterium Oceanus: part 1
The problem with individuation, as described in the work of C. G. Jung, beyond its maddeningly enigmatic character, is that it is a somewhat grand aspiration. It is a lofty idealised notion conceived in the reified atmosphere of Küsnacht on the shores of Lake Zurich in Switzerland. Having had occasion to visit Jung’s residence there I can confirm that it has about it a decidedly Olympian aegis. This idea of “individuation” birthed in such elevated Apollonian climate, was further refined in the alchemical fires of Bollingen -Jung’s secret lair and antechamber to his odysseys to Hades, Mount Olympus, and a multitude of mythic destinations, many prior to his Red Book unchartered and undocumented. This priceless treasure of Jung’s prodigious intellect, spectacular imagination, and boundless libido was then field tested and matured by Jung’s extensive travels around the world, engagement with other visionaries – at a time when history saw fit to constellate a few, and a lifetime of scholarly dedication.
A problem, of course, entails a perspective that constellates the problem. So, possibly I should add, by way of clarification, that the problem with individuation for me and for many of my students is that it is very grand. Maybe too grand. Added to this issue is that possibly the idea individuation belongs to an earlier era and is best relegated to the history of ideas. In fact, the Jungian scholar Wolfgang Giegerich makes just this argument. That the time of the individual has passed and is now a historical artefact. I think there is truth in this perspective, as unpalatable as it may be. Individuation, of the kind espoused by Jung, has an elitist perspective built in that is the province of very few, and today considerably fewer than before. We live in a different time that is less concerned with individuation and more with survival. In any case, individuation, in the age of social media, has been eclipsed by individualism: the deification and ascendance of the narcissistic ego.
To sharpen the point a little, let me speak of my own failings in this respect. I have come to accept that quite possibly I am not tall enough, rich enough, Swiss enough, scholarly enough, pensive enough, imaginative enough, or sufficiently well-travelled, to speak of “individuation” authentically. I suffer too many deficits in comparison to the master himself for such meaningful comparison. And I’m not even getting into the deficits I observe in my students, which would be unpolitic of me here adumbrate. Suffice to say much like me, and some even worse (!), I sometimes question whether my students possess “the right stuff” for such an ambitious moral programme.
It may be more modest and truthful then to simply speak about the moral imperative I have taken up, formally referred to as “individuation” but which I will here simply term “becoming myself”. Lest you find yourself here breathing sigh of relief, let me hasten to warn you, it is precisely here where I pretend to have introduced a resolution to the dilemma of individuation that the problems really begin! You see, if becoming myself is even vaguely modelled on the concept of individuation, I am really, really bad at it. The vices and deficits I suffer in this respect are myriad, and I would overly tax your graceful indulgence and attention to pretend at any type of complete listing of these here. These are best kept for my own analysis when kind providence should see fit to provide me with a sufficiently robust interlocuter. My last analyst, God grant him rest, after fleeing the country and emigrating to Central Europe and finding the distance thereby created yet still insufficient, finally departed this mortal coil. Now, to be clear, I’m not saying I drove him to such desperate lengths, but like any true-blue Jungian or member of the Mexican Cartels, I’ve never actually encountered a (meaningless) coincidence. I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never actually seen one.
I will, as needs must, simply focus here on one or maybe two of these problematic dispositions, at least with respect to this intention of becoming myself: lethargy and cowardice. My late mentor in Jungian studies – (yes there’s pattern here, thanks for noticing), was fond of saying that comfort and protecting one’s comfort are antithetical to individuation. I have found this to be an accurate evaluation. The vice of cowardice is perhaps the more obvious. Opening up new vistas of the personality entails embracing new experiences, which is obviously increasingly challenging as one grows older. Daring and spontaneity are typically the province of youth. The other issue though that has become increasingly clear to me of late, and that is if we’re to treat Jung’s life as some kind of model of individuation, is his prodigious work ethic! Whatever else one may criticise him for, I wouldn’t characterise the man as lazy.
By contrast, as already confessed, I suffer the blight of both character flaws, cowardice and lethargy. As it happens though their recent constellation and my ability to wrestle with them and endure the pain they inflicted without ultimately caving in, led to a breakthrough of sorts in this endeavour of becoming myself or “individuation” if you prefer. A very modest breakthrough, but one I feel worth sharing, nonetheless. An example that I hope illustrates why this act of becoming oneself is not without challenges and how passing through the eye of the needle is part of the transformative process. Possibly so characterised I am setting you up for disappointment when I shortly relay the rather modest event in question, but nevertheless I wanted to in broad strokes frame what it is I am intending to convey with this short anecdote.
The Open Water Course and Carl Lindemann.
Recently I travelled to the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape of South Africa to dive during the annual sardine migration up the Eastern coast of Southern Africa. A unique marine event that attracts visitors from around the globe. A small percentage of sardines that spawn off Cape Argulus but which still number in the millions of individual fish, make this annual migration. This migration attracts a wide variety of predators that feed on the sardines, including dolphins, sharks, whales, and birds.
I think some context would be helpful here, so let me share with you how it is I came to make this trip, (which story will effectively be part 1 of this two part narrative). On a whim late last year, I decided that my two teenage sons, fifteen and sixteen years old respectively, and I should learn to scuba dive. This was in anticipation of trip we had booked in Dahab in Egypt, which is renowned for being a premium scuba diving destination. In somewhat typically fashion, I did this without any real sense of what getting an Open Water Certification, the initial qualification required for ‘autonomous scuba diving’ i.e., to be allowed to rent scuba equipment and dive, actually involved.
This was my first of many miscalculations.
The Open Water Course was no cake walk!
Well at least it wasn’t for me. In no small part this was due to my aversion to discomfort. Whilst in my fantasy life I aspire to heroism and machismo, truthfully, I feel more like the character in the classic Elvis song Teddy Bear. Beyond the discomfort of the cold wet and somewhat wild False Bay Coast, I got something of a shock the first time I breathed water up my nose and started choking at the bottom of a training pool. This was the first time it really dawned on me that breathing underwater is not man’s natural state. Imaginatively transposing the moment of inner panic, I experienced in the training pool, to the experience of being in the ocean and realising the distinct possibility of choking whilst submerged in the ocean, I had to candidly inquire of myself whether I trusted my instructor with my life. I’m don’t mean to narcissistically imply that my life is somehow special, but, you know, it is the only one I have and to date I have made a career out of preserving it.
This was a threshold moment and the impulse to cut my losses and run for the hills was strong. I would have gladly substituted swallowing some pride for another mouthful of water. God knows at my age I have made every compromise in the book just to stay alive, my pride would at this point in the game best be characterised as patina in complexion. I’m not saying it’s a doppelganger for the portrait of Dorian Gray but it sure ain’t any blushing virgin either.
To cut a long story short, I didn’t buckle under the pressure of my desire for inertia, comfort, and preservation of the status quo. I stayed and successfully completed the Open Water Course. I would attribute this moral victory, modest as it may be, to a remark a friend of mine, Carl Lindemann, made to me at the onset of the diving course.
I was parked at Long Beach, where my journey into diving began. It was an overcast, windy and cool morning and already the reality of what I was getting into as opposed to the fantasy was dawning on me. A few months earlier I tried to enrol Carl into my diving enterprise, which on the spur of the moment he had agreed. Now that the moment was here of course I found myself alone and reached out to Carl to point this out and (un)subtly remonstrate him. During our exchange, via WhatsApp, Carl, referencing Freud, made a comment about the ocean as a the closest naturally occurring metaphor for the unconscious. Now to be clear given my two decades odd history of studying symbols of the unconscious, this wasn’t exactly news to me. And, yet, somehow, in that way sometimes one can hear something you have long “known” and yet in hearing it now, hear and know it as if for the first time, with renewed insight, Carl’s words fertilised my imagination and inspired me.
It is true, I thought, the ocean is an almost perfect metaphor for the unconscious and scuba diving a unique way to explore the ocean, analogous in some sense to the journey into the inner world we preach and hopefully practice in Jungian psychology. Furthermore, it would seem wholly hypocritical for one who has made his vocation evangelising the exploration of the unconscious psyche, to stop on the threshold of his own journey of exploration into the “unconscious.”, or, at least, such was my logic. With this imaginative seed planted and symbolising the endeavour in this fashion my fate was sealed!
Oceanic bliss and exploring the unconscious
Once I resolved to do it and got over my initial resistance, I fell in love with scuba diving! It’s that kind of an activity, it is improbable one would be on the fence about it. Those that can dive, love it, and those landlubbers that can’t suffer what they must. The first time I experienced the ecstasy of diving was during one of my training dives for the Open Water Course. This was off Long Beach in Simonstown, a popular destination for training dives, as it is relatively shallow, about nine or ten meters the deepest point, easy to navigate and being a bay, relatively protected. It does suffer one minor drawback though, in that it relatively speaking rather cold water. Far from freezing, but also far from tropical. Anyway, to cut a long story short, on one of my training dives I decided not to wear a hoodie and leave my head exposed. This seemed like a good idea as I was manging the relatively cool water with ease in my wetsuit.
It seemed like a good idea until we submerged, and my head was hit with a blast of cold. So much so that I almost had to abandon the entry and return to shore to put on the hoodie. Anyway, with the advice of my instructor I persevered, “Colder than you thought,” he chuckled, “Carry on a bit you may get used to it,” he suggested with a grin. And, sure enough, it only took a few minutes for my head to go numb so that I didn’t feel the cold anymore. That said, this was the first dive where I felt a degree of competence and ease in the water. I felt a sense of comradery with Gareth, my dive trainer, and being together with no one else in sight, underwater in this oceanic environment, blew my mind! I hadn’t anticipated just how profound an experience it would be.
It’s difficult to describe the experience but let me try.
Possibly the single most significant aspect was the sense of weightlessness and moving through the water with “neutrally buoyancy”. It is the closest I have ever come to the experience of flight. One is in effect flying through the water! In a single moment a lifetime of dreams about flying through space, free flight, my very best and most treasured dream experiences, were in effect realised. Not wearing a hood mean that there was nothing between me and this oceanic environment, the experience and contact wasn’t deferred or mediated, and this greatly heightened the sense of complete immersion. Navigating through the unique kelp forests one encounters in False Bay, around the wreck off Long Beach in Simonstown, checking in on some sleeping pyjama sharks and exploring the marine environment, well it more than rewarded the effort it took to get there. This, mind you, was only my first ocean dive! I felt like an explorer who had stumbled upon a new and previously unknown world. It really was that impactful.
An added dimension to the experience of diving was that I kept this idea of the ocean as metaphorically embodying the unconscious in mind. Of course, thinking about it now, one might say it does this more than metaphorically, being also the literal source of all life on the planet. Be that as it may, this idea and lens added to my experience of diving, such that every dive became both an exploration of the ocean and of lucid dreaming. I found and continue to find my consciousness altered the moment I submerge below the ocean surface and my receptivity to the symbolic consciousness greatly enhanced.
A few weeks after we had all completed the Open Water Course, we travelled to Aliwal Shoal off the coast of KwaZulu Natal to dive and for our annual holiday. Diving with my sons was, at least initially, a lot less fun than diving on my own. Suddenly I found myself focused on their welfare underwater, which kind of ruined the initial sense of ecstatic freedom. That said, simultaneously, it was a great way to connect and bond with my two sons entering manhood and with a strong sense of youthful adventure. This trip proved to be an enchanted one for all of us on holiday there, not just my boys and me. We got to experience the savage tropical beauty of the KZN South Coast, adrenaline charged launches through the surf on a “rubber duck” and snorkelling with Blacktip reef sharks.
This was our first-time diving from a boat, all our training dives had been shore entries. This was the first time we were diving so far out in the ocean that we couldn’t see the shore from the boat. We were about 5km off shore from Umkomaas where we launched through the river mouth. It was quite a bit deeper and a lot wilder than diving in False Bay, but also much warmer water which, for me at least, made the experience much more pleasant. The diving was a mixed bag. For the first time we had to deal with current and obviously unfamiliar conditions. It was also my first experience of getting violently seasick and being knocked around by the waves on our small boat.
One dive though the plan came together, and the experience was extraordinary.
This was the second of our two dives off the boat on the Shoal that day. Upon surfacing, after the first dive and resting on the boat before our second dive, the dive master was speaking to me quite intensely about the art of achieving neutral buoyancy in the water. Whilst I was listening to him the thought occurred to me, he is teaching me how to fly. This was of a very enchanting thought. With this in mind, during the second dive there was a moment when we encountered a sharp drop in the shoal and the experience was once again of free flight in the water but this time high above the clearly visible surface beneath. Although it’s a questionable metaphor to use in the context of scuba diving, it took my breath away. I couldn’t help crying out in joy, like a child who has some or other ecstatic experience for the first time.
The water was warm, visibility was good, the current was manageable, and we got to see an abundance of sea life, including fish of various varieties, big Potato Bass, small luminous nudibranchs, Rays and Raggies (ragged tooth sharks). This experience of complete immersion in the bosom of the ocean alongside and among the marine life was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was, in its own modest way, an experience of the unus mundus – the union between psyche and world. The experience was so intense and numinous that later that afternoon, whilst walking through the enchanted Durban Botanical Garden, when I tried to relate the experience to my girlfriend Alexia and her mom Terry, I found myself on the verge of tears. It was that overwhelming.
In encountering and engaging in scuba diving I feel I have discovered a new world, environmentally obviously, but also more subtly but no less real a new form of psychic experience. My set of truly enchanting experiences had increased by a multiple of one and I was one step further on the path to becoming myself.
Until we speak again,
In the next part of this story Mysterium Oceanus: part II: Individuation and Humpback whales, I’ll narrate the next chapter of this journey when I travelled to the Wild Coast for the annual Sardine run.
 Albeit recently a student informed me she has long evolved beyond mere ‘individuation’ into interdimensional travel.
 Westray from, ‘The Couselor’, (2013), screenplay by Cormack McCarthy, directed by Ridley Scott.
 De Chatillon, principle of ‘Little Athanor’ who dramatised the Jungian text in three weekly classes for twenty-five odd years in the North of Jo’burg, where I first encountered Jung’s work in the late nineties.
 Of course, by “lethargy”, I don’t mean merely lazy, but also passive, not easily roused to action, rather still and inactive in disposition, low energy reserves and so on.
 I don’t want to be a tiger
‘Cause tigers play too rough
I don’t want to be a lion
‘Cause lions ain’t the kind you love enough.
Just want to be your Teddy Bear. (Elvis Presley, written by Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe,1957, Gladys Music.)
 For the record this isn’t an official part of the Open water Course, but a mishap that occurred whilst practicing the mask clearing exercise, due to my inability to work out in time what to do not to allow jus that to happen. Fortunately, it was a salutary learning experience and one that I have managed not to repeat since.
 Let the record show that Carl Lindemann, at least in the experience of the author, is not an individual lacking courage or daring. As it turns out he was out of action for this particular endeavor consequent to awaiting a knee operation. I hope to share the story one day of Carl, the Mercedes Benz, and the red ants of the Cederberg.
 No inside psychoanalytic joke intended, I’ll attribute this, ‘Carl referencing Freud,” to synchronicity.
 “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must,” Alvey Kulina, in Kingdom (2014 – 2017), quoting Thucydides (c. 460 B.C.–c. 400 B.C.) from the ‘History of the Peloponnesian War’,.
 Done with the very talented and dive trainer Gareth Collins from Cape Town Dive Centre.
 Scuba diving, whilst not the most extreme of extreme sports, at least not recreational diving, is dangerous. It comes with some inherent risks, not least the fact that breathing underwater is not a natural situation.
 This is the final stage of the Mysterium Coniunctionis according to Gehard Dorn, as referenced by C. G. Jung Collected Woks vol. 14 Mysterium Coniunctionis. It is the subject of this year’s Mystery School, for more information go to https://appliedjung.com/jungian-mystery-school/