“…the self comprises infinitely more than a mere ego, as the symbolism has shown from of old. It is as much one’s self, and all other selves, as the ego. Individuation does not shut one out from the world, but gathers the world to oneself.”
~Carl Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, Paragraph 432.
Individuation was Jung’s word for the process of coming to know and accept our whole selves as we truly are. As I’ve noted before, this includes not only who we think we are, (Ego), or what we show the world (Persona), but also our Shadow (disowned unconscious contents), Animus (unconscious masculine sides), Anima (unconscious feminine sides), and Self (our God-image, the archetype of wholeness).
To our surprise, opening to our inner otherness reveals a world that is exactly like the one without! Not only is it a compilation of our worst fears and flaws, but also of our fundamental beauty, lovable qualities, and sacred potential. Accepting ourselves at our worst humbles and softens us. Accepting ourselves at our best affirms and inspires us.
If we keep at it, bringing our inner opposites into our awareness becomes a catalyst for the miracle of transformation. Resistance, separation and defensiveness soften into an all-embracing inclusivity. Suspicion dissolves into trust, agitation calms to equanimity, hostility is replaced by compassion, and mindless worry wanes into mindful serenity. This inner alchemical process gradually alters our behavior too, although it can take years before old dysfunctional habits and attitudes are so thoroughly mitigated that other people can see and trust the mounting evidence.
Gathering the inner world to ourselves also changes our ideas about the Mystery of God. For example, the Old Testament Yahweh first appeared in the Western world as a jealous, partisan and judgmental deity. Then 2,000 years ago a new God-image of love, mercy, justice and inclusiveness was introduced and began to make its way into collective thinking. But despite widespread acceptance of this God-image, the translation of ideas into action has been a dishearteningly slow process.
Christianity was founded on the basic principles of democracy, but the U.S. didn’t establish a democratic government until 1,776 years later! Slaves were freed in the U.S. in 1863, but it took another three generations before the exclusive doctrine of “separate but equal” was overturned. Jesus constantly demonstrated his belief in the equality of women, but American women weren’t even allowed to vote until 95 years ago and women are still denied certain basic rights throughout the world.
Despite our advances, it is commonplace for people who profess to believe in a God of love and inclusiveness to consistently demonstrate the opposite values without realizing it. This has always been true of even the most well-intentioned people. Jungian analyst James Hollis explains why:
“…the unexamined adult personality is an assemblage of attitudes, behaviors and psychic reflexes occasioned by the traumata of childhood, whose primary purpose is the management of the level of distress experienced by the organic memory of childhood we carry within. . . . What we may call the provisional personality is a series of strategies chosen by the fragile child to manage existential angst. Those behaviors and attitudes are typically assembled before age five and are elaborated in an astonishing range of strategic variations with a common motive – self-protection.”
The unexamined adult personality is the reason for the disconnect between belief and behavior. After thousands of years of struggling to do the right thing and consistently failing, we are just beginning to realize that there is no magic pill, no silver bullet, no quick fix. The only remedy for our painful separations is to cross the line that fear drew in the sand of our childhood and begin gathering our inner world to ourselves. Then each of us will discover that it is overcoming our ignorance, not our sin, which connects us with the Ground of our Being and ushers us into the presence of the sacred eternal Mystery.
Special thanks to Lewis Lafontaine and Robert Longpre’ for posting the inspiring quotes.
Image credit: google free images