Mysterium Oceanus: part 1Stephen Farah
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/
This is indeed wondrous Stephen, I am moved to tears reading it, so some small sense of the magic, if that’s the right word for it.
I understand fully where you write about the “grandness” of individuation, the lethargy and sometimes acedia, I dip in and out too.
However I live by the maxim of one moment at a time, which at times is glorious and at those times I recognise my own glory as a human being, with all my strengths and weaknesses .
Like you sometimes I draw back from that inner world which I know can be dangerous as well as glorious.
Go well my friend
Thank you so much Yvonne, for this comment and all that you are and bring. I hope our paths continue to converge, I am enriched by your presence in my life.
Stephen, while I don’t know about your height or bank balance, I have to agree that ethnicity , non Swissness, could be a barrier for you. However within the confines of my limited knowledge of you, I do challenge your remaining adjectives pertaining to your personality. Perhaps as a response to the fear in my own soul that I do not have the right stuff.
Individuation v individualism is something I ponder. What has happened in our global collective development?
I do love your searing honesty, particularly regarding students. As a rather lacking, former but deeply thankful student of two excellent CJAS courses, I find the tide of populist individualism deeply distressing. And I find those distressing naparts of myself swimming in that tide too, naturally. How has my own individuation not bloomed. How much inner work is enough and is there a tipping point or a giving up point?
Your oceanic experience is fascinating to read. I wonder if the cessation of the usual sensory input above water, renders one more open to the other liminal gifts of the psyche?
May you be happy.
Elaine we are comrades on the journey, and although you’re too kind I deeply appreciate your words, wisdom, and warmth. I like your thought about the cessation of the usual sensory input whilst diving, yes, I strongly agree with this, in that space one is able to encounter a moment of silence and the value of that can hardly be overstated.
Three things: You laid this all out so gorgeous.
1. continuing on this path is most certainly going to kill me. At least I die happy.
I do not know individuation from algebra. I do know elitism. to have it spoken: thank you , or should I say written, and so nicely.
2. this elegantly considered bit you’ve tackled is: metaphor of decision. Helpful. and once again, thanks. To be more precise, it changes my thinking mechanism in the moment: to read it, and so I read it again because it feels so good when things change in my head: gratitude.
3. Ah. this was my point, methinks: other than bedazzled by the idea of now I guess.
My point: I discovered in the study of SOGF ….dang its gone…wait…ah yes….materia medica…..and learning, study, dare I guess soph philo. The learning itself, the love of it is medicine. I’m a little seasick with it now.
I reveled in the scuba experiences .
It is dangerous. I know I am going to be seasick. Am I going to get on the damn boat. now. in a moment. maybe. This discussion you so generously offered is beautiful work. To say food for thought is paltry. It feels like bread and butter. blessings and gratitude. until we speak again. gsr.
Gail I can say frankly that having met and engaged with you on the Secret of the Golden Flower, my universe of enchanting people – the kind that make one continue to believe in the value of the human project, increased by a multiple of one.
“Continuing on this path is most certainly going to kill me. At least I die happy.” And pursuing your highest ideal. I’m reminded of the remark made by Jung -each of us makes his or her hypothesis i.e., by the way we choose to live our lives, what else or better could we ever do?
Hello Stephen and thank you for sharing your experience with being an evolving and reflective human in this world, at this precise time. I believe that Jung’s concept of individuation means precisely what you call “becoming oneself,” and as such, rather than being best relegated to the history of ideas, it is needed more than ever, exactly as Jung intended it.
During the years when Jung was struggling with his journey into the unconscious, 1913-1928, as well as later, even at the end of his life, after he wrote Mysterium Coniunctionis, the process of individuation was not easier, nor grander, or less grand than it is now. Most people were in a survival mode as well.
Jung and many Jungians speak of individuation as a process, in the same way that Buddhists invite us to practice on the path to satori. Practicing, we become ourselves as much as we can, but we do not become the Buddha.
I believe that it is precisely now, in the time of social media and heightened individualism, that the individual should learn about one’s self, so that one migh hold the opposites in tension, and integrate what emerges from the unconscious. I am surprised to see how many of my students who are business people with no knowledge of Jung resonate with Jung’s concepts.
I am glad to learn more about your experience.
Radha, yes agreed, it individuation (whatever that is) is much needed. That acknowledged, should but we judge the issue of veracity and viability purely by our needs? The question we might enquire after is, is it still a viable concept? In the main I think it remains viable, otherwise we’d close the Centre and discontinue the work we’re doing. That said, I think is far from being above criticism and possible re-evaluation.
Thank you for this beautiful account of you aquatic journey. I am interested in the process of individuation seen as an alchemical process.
In this post, you seem to consider Jung’s concept of individuation not fit for the present-day person who is more focused on survival than on lofty concepts of Self. You say it is too grand for the regular person.
I find the opposite to be true, precisely because Jung lived it, every step, and practiced it on himself. Today, we are not alone, since we have the Red Book and many a Jungians’ guidance, despite most of us still being in a survival mode. I wonder how “becoming myself” is less grand than individuation. Do you find that a century after Jung’s experience we need more fitting terms for the journey of knowing one’s self?
I was hooked by Dorn’s mysterious comment presented to us by Jung in Mysterium:
“The descent to the four and the ascent to the monad are simultaneous”
In contrast to the Church, which shows that descent came first, and that God himself came down from heaven, secretly, to bring enlightenment through incarnation, the Alchemists stay grounded in nature, mixing and heating the impure substances into the alchemical vessel, where these substances rise (ascend first) to the top, towards purification (albedo) and then descend, to become the elixir.
In my humble experience, having had dreams of going up and down, and other “ascent/ descent” symbolism, I find these texts to be relevant today to my striving towards individuation.
Stan I strongly agree on the continuing relevance of Jung’s work, in fact more so now than ever. It is the path I have dedicated myself to both personally and vocationally for the last quarter century of my life. I share you intrigue with Dorn’s notions of the Mysterium and the Unus mundus and look forward with keen anticipation to the Jungian Mystery School’s lectures and seminars on this topic this year.
I have no association with CAJS. I do get the blog posts and read them occassionally. This one stuck with me as I am currently diving into the concept and always in the process of individuation. The spirit with which I engage you is as a “robust interlocuter.” 😉
It is interesting to me that you chose the word grand… ‘a grand notion’, ‘too grand’ when referring to the process of individuation, because I understand individuation to be anything but grand. Grand undoubtedly if you are witnessing the effects of individuation in another human being, but the act of seeking to define individuation through witness of another negates the very spirit of individuation which is by nature, self referential.
If grand were an embodied movement it would swell outward and upward, in an instant it would grow beyond human grasp… As mere mortals we would stand in awe looking up at the sacred spirit of grand and marvel at it. Grand is proud.
On the contrary, at least in my experience, individuation is an inward and downward movement an excavation… grueling maybe a better word to describe the essence of it. If grueling was an embodied movement it would seek the lowest ground, shedding skin and bruising bone as it passed blind through endless narrows seemingly too small for human awareness to even grasp. Dirty, and always intrigued, grueling would rarely emerge into the full light of day because it values finding little cracks of light in the darkness. In my experience, individuation requires a willingness to lose everything on the decent, so I agree with you that comfort must be dispatched and courage employed with an enormous dose of humility added to the knapsack.
I do not understand the pairing of the word elitist with the process of individuation, at all. Elite seems to be a projection onto the individuator, or conflation.
Grandiose aspirations are a call from the ego … Elitist aspirations are a call from the ego… Grueling aspirations call the spirit to bear.
To make sure we are on the same page… the process of individuation is expanding consciousness to include that which has been forced into the shadow by pain intolerance and the adoption and strict adherence to the chosen persona(s). In the process of individuation the persona is consumed wholly in metamorphosis and what emerges is a flexible, integrated version 2.0. This personality has the capacity to move between the poles of the temperaments, adept and responsive in the emergent field.
To the next main point: that individuation may be a relic, my warrior complex was activated. “How could he”, a voice welled up inside. I can not wrap my mind around the notion that the time for the individual has passed. To what end? My thoughts drift to a giant amorphous, blended collective Id pulsing with the the primal survival instinct? (I do agree there is evidence of such a thing happening around us now, all the more reason to get busy)
“There is no linear evolution… only circumambulation of the self”
Individuation isn’t an idealized end state… it is a process, a way of being, just like life itself is a process. Through the process of knowing the self, our capacity to relate authentically deepens and union takes on a life of its own… is auto-generative… autopoeitic… life giving… life affirming. The notion that we are only concerned with survival may be an over identification with the toxic masculine or some other neurotic archetype from the collective unconscious in the death throes. Overwhelming survival concerns certainly aren’t a universal truth, not my truth. I, for example feel more connected and capable of engaging in the process of individuation than ever before.
In my not so humble opinion, comparison has no place in a discussion of individuation. The essential beauty of circumambulation of the self is that absolutely everyone has “the right stuff” because there is no other stuff. Only the stuff inside each unique self matters, that’s it. Simple. The playing field is leveled… all one has to do is endeavor to understand the self as the sacred object around which and into which you evolve, and of course have an interest in doing so.
I do not imagine vices and “deficits” to be anyones obstacles to individuation but rather opinions and judgements of the shadow selves. Condemning those aspects and shoving them further into the shadow will not serve efforts of individuation, which of course requires full acceptance of all that exists; Including and especially the split off aspects.
The courage of which you speak, is the courage to own the perceived limitations and love them all, because to be sure – everything about a person makes perfect sense in the context under which it was formed. How could it not? Limitations are only perceived as such when compared to a reference point outside of self. Lethargy and laziness are judgements applied to pure, organic movements such as stillness and inactivity.
Lastly, I am on the verge of tears multiple times a day simply bearing witness to the brilliance of my clients, as they dive deep into the oceanic waters of their own unconscious and swim with the objects of their terror. I guess in this way we share an interest of the deep.
Certainly, a grand and ambitious comment from a very occasional and non-associated interlocuter (you’ll grant me that😊). I think not to recognise the inherently elitist nature of psychoanalysis broadly speaking, and individuation more pointedly, is incorrigibly naïve. I don’t really think that point is debatable so will leave it there. That said, is individuation still a notion worth grappling with, teaching and thinking about? Yes, no argument there. I would hardly be wasting my time writing posts like these if I didn’t believe that.
Beyond any theoretical difference I wish you and your clients grace and good fortune in your ongoing endeavours. I agree this work is much needed, maybe more today than ever, as you suggest.
Shannon, thank you for your comments. Especially this one “There is no linear evolution… only circumambulation of the self” Individuation isn’t an idealized end state… it is a process, a way of being, just like life itself is a process” I resonate deeply. The pain of the process can be beyond words, many times. Most times. There is blood and tears, and no elitism in it at all. But there is no other choice left for me, as I see it.
I am reading again Marie Louise von Franz’s book Alchemical Active Imagination. She had asked Jung (pg 113) if it more difficult at the beginning or at the end of the process of individuation. Jung responded that it is equally difficult but in different ways. Then von Franz ponders an aspect that I found true in my case: in the beginning of the process when we make “mistakes,” we have ample room to correct. Whilst, as we grow with the process, every tiny “mistake” becomes corrected immediately through synchronicities and even accidents that redirect us towards our inner path. Nothing grand about that either.
Radha, I love this and through your words can touch my own process, the essence of the experience comes through. Thank you for this reflection and I appreciate the reference. I will put this book on my list and read it soon.
“no other choice left for me… ” Beautiful, haunting.
You write: “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.”
You write: “the problem with individuation for me and for many of my students is that it is very grand. Maybe too grand.”
Jung himself described individuation as follows: “In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology.” [“Definitions,” CW 6, par. 757.] Too grand? Maddeningly enigmatic? Really?
Respected Jungian analyst author and publisher Daryl Sharp conceived of individuation as follows: “Individuation is a process informed by the archetypal ideal of wholeness, which in turn depends on a vital relationship between ego and unconscious. The aim is not to overcome one’s personal psychology, to become perfect, but to become familiar with it. Thus individuation involves an increasing awareness of one’s unique psychological reality, including personal strengths and limitations, and at the same time a deeper appreciation of humanity in general.”
Definitely a hard grind but neither enigmatic nor ‘lofty’ in the perjorative sense that you intend. Just a process more people should undertake but won’t.
You write: “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.”
Really? Do you no longer acknowledge your independent psychic existence? Of course you do. Are you completely absorbed by the collective? Of course you aren’t. If you were you would be unable to adopt the role of the verbal provocateur which you seem to enjoy so much.
You write: “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.”
Few people are drawn to pursue their own individuation and even fewer persist long enough to make any progress. It is bloody hard work. That doesn’t make the idea of individuation ‘elitist’. Jung was concerned with our prospect for survival as a species also as I’m sure you know. He felt the only hope was in more people treading the path of individuation which unavoidably entails analysis.
You write: “In any case, individuation, in the age of social media, has been eclipsed by individualism: the deification and ascendance of the narcissistic ego.”
What a load of pretentious twaddle. Individualism is rampant as you say but individuation is the antidote.
Thanks Doug, I take it you’re no ironist. That said, 10/10 on your citations. 🙂
Individuation may well be the antidote but where, pray tell, are the patients to take the medicament.