Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Religious Function of Psyche: Individuation, The Lifelong Path to Wholeness

This essay concerns the religious dimension of psyche which, under the direction of the central archetype of Self, fosters individual psychic development in a process which Jung named individuation. Relevant literature from both classical and contemporary analytical psychology is reviewed. The traditional analytical psychology view of this “widening of consciousness” is discussed, along with more recent contributions from the developmental school of analytical psychology.

Esther Harding, a first generation Jungian analyst (cited, Heisig, 1979), states that “most of Jung’s works deal with problems raised by his first book” (p. 151), a viewpoint supported by von Franz (1975) as well as by Jung himself (Jaffe, 1971; Jung, 1965). These ‘problems’ concern, among other things, the differentiation of consciousness - the paradoxical process of psyche’s movement toward wholeness known as individuation.

Consciousness is a process unique to human beings. Its expansion is the central task of human existence. The task of expanding consciousness by owning and integrating formerly disowned psychic contents (one’s dark side or shadow) is the critical issue confronting the individual today (Guggenbuhl-Craig, 1971; Jung, 1969; Neumann, 1990). Jung called this process of psychic growth through integration of the opposites contained within us, individuation. The individual’s journey to ever-increasing consciousness and psychic wholeness can be thought of as a “hero’s journey” in that it is taken alone and at great peril, demanding as it does the sacrifice of ego-centeredness for connection with Self. In other words, its aim requires “a suspension of the will” (Jung cited, Fordham, 1994, 8) or a giving over of ego directedness to the archetypal influence of the Self so that, one’s “aptitudes can develop unhindered” (Hostie, 1957, p. 71). Although the aim of individuation, which Jung conceived of as being a process active from mid-life on, is opposite that of the formative years of life i.e., ego-strengthening and consolidation, social-relatedness and adaptation, it can be thought of as a lifelong process. At first glance, the idea of individuation as a life long process conflicts with the empirically-derived data which suggest that individuation requires conscious collaboration, in other words, that in order to suspend one’s will or ego one must have an ego. Infants and children, of course, do not have the psychic structure in place to permit this and so haven’t the necessary consciousness. Developmentally, individuation is not even possible until at the very least early adulthood, and even at this time the developmental tasks involved - ego-relatedness and active social engagement and adaptation – are distinct from those of mid-life which involve an inward-turning in anticipation of life’s end. For these reasons, mid-life is normally thought of as the period when archetypal activity directs a shift from an external to internal focus or ego-centeredness to Self-centeredness (Jung, 1954). However, based on Fordham’s (1994; 1995) developmental work as well as contemporary fetal research and infant studies (Boodman, 2000; Hrdy, 2000; Jacoby, 1999; Lowry, 1999; van Heteren, Boekkooi, Jongsma, & Nijhuis, 2000) the case can be made for individuation being a continuous archetypal process actively promoting development and growth towards consciousness from the very beginnings of life in the womb to birth and through the various stages of psychological-physical development that finally ends at death. Thus where once the infant and young child were thought to be alternately a psychic blank slate or totally immersed in the mother (and the unconscious), and so without any sense of identity, Fordham’s (1994) clinical research suggests that the infant exists in what could be said to be a state of semi-unconsciousness or an integrated state of psychic unity, a state which he calls the “primal self.” It is a state of “psychosomatic unity containing all potentialities” (Sidoli, 1996) and not dependent on mother or others for its psychic wholeness (Fordham, 1994). This primary unity, or “primal self,” is the basis on which the child’s sense of personal identity rests and from which psychic development – individuation - proceeds through a dynamic process of psychic unfolding and enfolding (deintegration-reintegration) (Fordham, 1994; Sidoli, 1989). Although the infant (and fetus) possesses a form of nascent ego (ego in a germinal stage) apart from mother’s, it is the quality of the mother’s relationship with it that will help determine the health or pathology of its development – a fact also borne out by contemporary medical studies into the connection between the womb environment and adult health (Ross, 2002).

What is especially significant is that Fordham’s (1994; Sidoli, 1989) speculations about fetal development within the womb – that prior to birth the fetus is a whole psychic entity – is now seemingly being corroborated by medical research. A study on learning and memory conducted on full-term human fetuses indicates that fetuses are able to learn and that they possess short-term memory of at least ten minutes, and long-term memory of at least 25 hours (van Heteren, Boekkooi, Jongsma, & Nijhuis, 2000; Boodman, 2000). The results of another study on newborn infants’ recognition of mother supports these results (Hrdy, 1999). Far from being a passive recipient of another’s care, the infant from birth and before is a relational being actively engaging with its environment (Elson, 1989; Hrdy, 1999). All of this suggests that the fetus-infant-child is the carrier of its genetic and archetypal development and that individuation, the process to integration and wholeness is, in fact, a lifelong process and not only that of middle age.

Individuation, when consciously undertaken, is an extraordinarily difficult process to realize since its ongoing achievement exacts the highest price possible - moral and ethical responsibility for all that one thinks and does, as well as for all that one fails to do (Jung, 1970). Regarding this, Jung (1968) writes:

the right way to wholeness is made up, unfortunately, of fateful detours and wrong turnings. It is a longissima via, not straight but snake-like, a path that unites the opposites in the manner of the guiding caduceus, a path whose labyrinthine twists and turns are not lacking in terrors. It is on this longissima via that we meet with those experiences which are said to be ‘inaccessible.’ Their inaccessibility really consists in the fact that they cost us an enormous amount of effort: they demand the very thing we most fear, namely…‘wholeness’ ” (p. 6).

There are different roads to wholeness. Jung’s psychology provides one route to greater consciousness and connected-ness with life - to a fuller humanity, aligned with the transcendent dimension of human existence. This is the religious function of Jung's work with the psyche, since it is only through consciousness that we come to know the world as it gives itself to us, and are able in the process to participate in its co-creation (Jung, 1965). This participation and co-creation with the world in which we are embedded is made possible only through an ongoing process of discovery of meaning or purpose in each individual’s life. Connection with the sacred, the religious dimension of psyche that is within as well as without, is essential to a life of wholeness and of meaning. Because the medium through which we experience life and come to know ourselves and the world is psyche (the ground of consciousness), Jung (1969) saw the problems of the world as “psychological problems” (p. 79), a detaching of meaning from one’s roots and from the earth.

Individuation is the teleological function of psyche, a purposefulness directing us throughout our life to greater degrees of self-realization, achieved through an expansion of consciousness (Jung, 1969). The sine qua non in the development of personality and human existence itself, individuation is the inevitable movement to wholeness - to meaning and to life lived consciously (Jung, 1965; 1969). It is the “hero’s journey,” the archetypal template that patterns the life course of each individual, differing from person to person only in how each fills out the archetypal pattern; this is dependent on subjective factors such as personality type and family environment. The mythic figures Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Inanna and Persephone, for example, exemplify this inward journey to Self, similarly personified by the historical figures of Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed. Each symbolizes in a particular way the costly psychological process of individuation whereby redemption of one kind or another is made possible only through a Nekyia or journey into the underworld, and a sacrifice. This inward “quest for the ‘treasure hard to attain’ ” (Jung, 1969a, p. 184) - the wholeness that is a potential for all of us - is open to anyone who seeks it.

Down through the centuries, mystics such as Lao-Tsu, Plotinus, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, and countless others trod the arduous inner path to Self for union with all things at psyche’s core. Those less able to travel the solitary inner road to wholeness became pilgrims walking the many divinely inspired man-made external roads to connection with self. The pilgrim routes to holy shrines that exist in all the great religions are explicit examples of the spiraling path to self (inner-outer-inner) as are these religions’ sacred places of worship, which physically mirror the transformative journey to psyche in every element of their architectural design (Barrie, 1996). Today mystically-based religions still provide one path to unity, but for those who choose to walk either outside or alongside an organized faith or philosophical tradition, analytical psychotherapy provides another.

Individuation is the most important of Jung’s discoveries, with everything else that he conceptualized about psyche being a way in which to talk about, and therefore understand to a limited degree, this most fundamental of life processes. Individuation is a seemingly contradictory process, since the journey to wholeness or unification of personality is made possible only through conflict and separation – psychic conflict such as the integration of one’s shadow (disowned aspects of personality) with a consequent separation of consciousness from the unconscious psyche (expansion of consciousness). Jung (cited, Zukav, 1979) writes:

The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves (p. 31).

Jung’s statement embodies a paradox concerning wholeness; that is, to live wholistically or in harmony with our inner world and the outer world, we must individuate and leave behind paradise, the uroboric state of oneness with the unconscious (Neumann, 1954). Thus the development of increasing levels of consciousness and subsequent differentiation from collective norms and the collective unconscious is a necessary process of separation from the unconscious psyche. It could be that the dualistic worldview, with its origins in early Greek natural philosophy, developed gradually to meet the evolutionary mandate for this differentiation of consciousness from the unconscious - the division of mind and matter being thus a consequence of the developmental need to resolve the dilemma inherent in man’s quest for knowledge, since discernment is not possible without separation.

Throughout his life, Jung worked to understand psyche and the lifelong process of individuation, while also recognizing that psyche and its processes are ultimately unfathomable, beyond the limits of our comprehension (Jung, 1965;1969; 1976; von Franz, 1975) due in part to the paradoxical nature of individuation. Jung (1965) was well aware of this paradoxical nature of individuation, which produces the growth of consciousness yet does not originate in consciousness, and he understood that it is an innate process ultimately beyond both our control and comprehension. Heisig (1979) reports that Jung had “carved in stone over the fireplace of [his] retreat at Bollingen … the words Quaero quod impossible” [sic] (p. 103). The translation advises, “Seek that which is not possible.” Similar to the inscription carved on the entrance door lintel of his Kusnacht home, (“Summoned or not the god will be there,” mentioned earlier), the one over the fireplace is a koan or teaching riddle whose “solution” is a paradox, grasped intuitively at the meeting place between the opposites, rather than accessed directly by the intellect. Both inscriptions have multiple interconnected meanings and refer to the same phenomenon - the irreducible nature or unfathomability of psyche. What is especially interesting here is the placement of the inscription over the fireplace. It refers to the psychic process of individuation which is always active but never finished as such; from birth and until death, and some speculate even prior to birth while the fetus is in its mother’s womb, the process to individuation is in potentia (Fordham, 1994; Jacoby, 1999; Sidoli, 1989). The placement of the inscription over the fireplace highlights the alchemical analogy between the psychological transformation of the individual and the conversion power of the fireplace (container) to change wood (matter) to heat (energy) by fire (transformation process). This transformation is, of course, the aim of psychotherapy for those who seek it.

Consciousness is inherently subjective. This is its strength and its weakness. We can never go beyond it. Only with the change in the sense of self brought about through a shift in consciousness (from identity with the collective to identity as an individual), and through concomitant developments in technology were we humans able to discern with ever greater accuracy the reality of the physical world and the individual’s role as a shaper of his or her own destiny. Consciousness does not spring ready-made in one easily recognized form; it “does not create itself” (Jung, 1969, p. 569). Consciousness, Jung (1969) continues,

…wells up from unknown depths. In childhood it awakens gradually, and all through life it wakes each morning out of the depths of sleep from an unconscious condition. It is like a child that is born daily out of the primordial womb of the unconscious. …it is not influenced by the unconscious but continually emerges out of it in the form of numberless spontaneous ideas and sudden flashes of thought (pp. 569, 570).

For this reason, the awakening to consciousness each morning is akin to a rebirth and is a process parallel to the hero’s journey of individuation (Giannini, 2002). Consciousness is not or not only an epiphenomenon of the brain. To the contrary, it is a process of unfolding and expansion, of differentiation and discrimination, springing from the greater psychic background of the unconscious which informs it (Fordham, 1994; Jung, 1970; Sidoli, 1989; 1996). Consciousness can be thought of as the road that one walks during a lifetime. In the sense that “consciousness is a precondition of being” (Jung, 1970, p. 271), it is the same road for everyone; but the way in which one travels it, and for how far and for how long, is dependent on the individual. That said, psyche or whatever else is being investigated can be known at least in part by consciousness because it exists for consciousness in some form. To be conscious means to be conscious of some thing.

Analytical psychology was shaped very directly by Jung's commitment to study this subjective phenomenon. Jung considered himself first and foremost a scientist who pursued knowledge of psyche through the observation of phenomena, to which he then applied the methodical process of assembling his material, sifting through it, comparing data, and formulating provisional hypotheses, even though he was known to deny any conscious intent at methodology (Fordham, 1995; Jaffe, 1971; Jung, 1968a; von Franz, 1975). Jung was also a scholar interested in other fields of learning. Thus Fordham (1995) notes,

after the early periods, he gradually ceased to be a [medical] specialist, becoming a centre round which not only medical but a number of other specialities could revolve. His extensive research into mythology convinced him that it was necessary to distinguish a spiritual principle which could not be reducible to anything else (p. 85).

Jung attempted a synthesized understanding of psyche and looked to other disciplines such as philosophy, religion, and the sciences for what they could add. Jung’s synthesis of material from other disciplines was not always smooth (something also noted about his relationship to phenomenology) (Brooke, 1991) and at times there is a discernable blurring of boundaries between disciplines in his work, although he is always grounded in the psychological approach to psyche. The reason for this, I believe, rests in his process toward understanding; as Jung came to understand psychic phenomena through the use of a certain theoretical lens, so to speak, he would shift to a different theoretical lens to view his data from a different perspective, thus developing a fuller picture of it. This shifting of theoretical perspectives over the course of his professional life, rather than being arbitrary, evolved naturally, from one way of understanding phenomena to another and then another, in his effort to understand psyche as fully as possible.

Jung's application of scientific method to the study of individuation is based on a methodology – phenomenology - which requires a bit of explanation. Phenomenology, a method of knowing, is a science of consciousness. It is related to epistemology in that it is concerned with the limits of knowledge, that is, what can be known as fact. Phenomenology is a tool for investigating the essential nature of phenomena, material or immaterial, based on the immediate experience. Phenomenology seeks the essence of a phenomenon, that which makes a thing that thing - not the particular thing, however, such as the desk with the crooked top at which one sits at, but desk as idea, that is, desk as universal desk. Phenomenology seeks to understand the particular through knowledge of the universal which is its template. Jung observed phenomena phenomenologically for their essence or archetypal dominant and analyzed his data hermeneutically. Hermeneutics is an interpretive method used to understand data, rather than to explain it. It is a dialectical process of subject (researcher) and object (data) relatedness made possible through the reflective process. An ultimate answer is never sought in hermeneutics. Each encounter of the researcher with his or her subject is new, providing a different perspective and further opportunities for understanding.

Metaphysics, epistemology, phenomenology, and hermeneutics - all are, in varying degrees, integral to Jungian psychology: metaphysics because it is the [back]ground of all theory; epistemology because it deals with the limits of knowledge; phenomenology because it is a method and an attitude concerned with the intentionality or directedness of consciousness toward some thing and that thing’s description; and hermeneutics because it is a reflective dialectical process of engagement which seeks to understand phenomena and the meaning they contain.

Jung was an empiricist, a scientist who used direct observation and careful description of phenomena as his tools in constructing his theory of psyche (von Franz, 1975). Jung was also a phenomenologist to the extent that he used his subjective experience to describe the phenomena with which he was in relationship, rather than imagining himself an observer who stood apart and separate from the phenomena he was studying. As noted earlier, however, Jung went beyond phenomenology’s mandate of the description of essences to metaphysics with his postulates about psyche and its functioning. Thus his starting point is phenomenology, but his end point is metaphysics. That said, Jung avoided preconceptions and formulas, in which both systematized theories and methods of treatment are rooted. He understood that psyche is a living reality which must be experienced anew with each engagement. Any attempt to fit the facts of psychic phenomena into a ready-made formula, or to reduce them to causal factors, subverts and changes the encounter with the unconscious psyche (Jung, 1965).
Jung understood psyche to be a “totality,” a unified system composed of consciousness and the unconscious. Consciousness and the unconscious exist within a compensatory relationship, balancing each other out. Equilibrium is maintained by psyche, which acts as a thermostat to monitor and adjust conditions between the two, echoing the homeostatic process by which the physical self functions. Although this may suggest that consciousness and the unconscious are two equal halves of psyche, they are not. Consciousness and its expansion is made possible because of the unconscious; consciousness is “birthed” by the unconscious, which is the womb out of which it arises (Jung, 1965; von Franz, 1986; 1993).

Jung did not discover the unconscious, but he did develop the concept. He formulated a theory of the human psyche that reached far beyond the personal sphere of an individual’s consciousness to encompass the transcendent and a unitary reality. Within his model of the psyche, Jung conceived of three layers: consciousness, wherein the “little light” of ego-consciousness shines (von Franz, 1975); the subjective or personal unconscious, closest to consciousness; and the objective or collective unconscious, the deepest layer of psyche where the archetypes originate. At the center of this tripartite psychic structure, or paradoxically encompassing the whole as the universe embraces the earth and the solar system, is the unus mundus, the unity where all are one (von Franz, 1980). This transcendent reality presents as the Self, the archetype of wholeness and the stable center of psyche.

Jung understood psyche as encompassing all psychic processes, everything that makes the individual who he or she is, as well as all that is potential but not as yet realized within the personality. These psychic processes include: shadow, one’s dark or unknown side; persona, the face(s) presented to the world that hide one’s true self; the anima or animus, the contrasexual aspect (for man it is Eros, the inner feminine principle of creativity and relatedness, while for woman it is Logos, the inner masculine principle of discernment and discrimination); introvert/extrovert, the way in which one experiences the world, that is, either inward focused or outward looking, and, finally, the methods of processing information which he labeled as the functions of thinking-feeling and sensation-intuition.

Jung's data are psychic phenomena - the contents of psyche or mind made accessible to consciousness through symbols, and manifested in thought, word, image, form, and action. One way to understand Jung’s theory of psyche is to think of it as a sort of map which charts the psychic ocean of the unconscious, a territory of limitless depth and breadth. Although limitless, the sea of the unconscious does meet land; it washes up against (and, at times, over) the shore of consciousness. The shore of awareness that bounds these two spheres of consciousness and the unconscious is not hard and fast, but like the sand, is continually reshaped by the interaction of consciousness and the unconscious. Just as the land does not in normal circumstances encroach upon the sea, consciousness does not reach into the unconscious. It is always the action of the ocean that reaches up and over into the conscious mind. Whatever is observable in human behavior through its presence (or absence) is therefore regarded as a psychic reality, whether a material fact or not, because it is a fact of the patient’s psychology and thus real for him or her. Unlike most other psychologies such as Freudian psychoanalysis, medically based psychology, and cognitive and/or behavioral psychologies, Jungian psychology does not attempt to explain psychic phenomena by reducing them to initial primary causes (Fordham, 1995). Nor does it attempt to effect change through the external manipulation or control of behavior. Jungian psychology fosters change by supporting the innate growth process inherent to psyche. Rather than asking “why” as in “why does the patient have this symptom?", Jung asked “what” as in “what is showing itself, and what does it point to (mean)?" - two very different and far more complex questions. The influence of the past upon the present is not irrelevant - as long as the past is still alive for the patient, it will continue to be replicated in some highly specific form - but its explication is not the aim of treatment. What is being sought is understanding and a way for the patient to make meaning of the symptom, thus leading to an internal process of psychic consolidation so that life can go on. In comparison, anything else seems just a quick fix. The goal towards which Jung and those who practice his approach pursue therapeutically is the expansion of consciousness through integration of personality, and ultimately, the furtherance of individuation.

Theory and method are inter-related; in order to understand method, one must first understand theory. This somewhat arbitrary division of components – arbitrary in the sense that to discuss one inevitably means discussing the others – gives a clue not only to the scope and depth of Jung’s work, but also to its core, the wholism or the union of opposites essential to individuation. Wholism in turn suggests the underlying aim of Jung’s psychology, a life work spanning well over half a century, but reveals very little other than the paradox inherent in his work, complexity and simplicity. This is, I believe, what makes Jung’s work so difficult to understand and why it has been so misunderstood and misrepresented during his lifetime and into today.

Jung’s approach is synthetic in that, as a psychology, it digs deeply into the rich soil of universal human endeavor and integrates its findings into a metaphysic of the human psyche. Religion, the humanities, and the human sciences all contribute to analytical psychology’s system of thought and methodology. For this reason, analytical psychology is inherently interdisciplinary. As the only discipline concerned with both psychical phenomena and their physical manifestation, analytical psychology can be thought of as the stable bridge connecting two disparate though complementary fields, religion and science.

Jung was not interested in promulgating new doctrines, political, religious or otherwise, as has often been suggested by those who continue to misunderstand his psychology (Jung, 1973; 1976; McLynn, 1996; Noll, 1994). He observed phenomena in therapy with patients, and based on this direct experience made certain hypotheses concerning the psyche. Because Jung approached his subject first and foremost as a scientist (Fordham, 1995), he based his findings on empirical data – observable data – and deliberately chose not to conjecture about psyche’s origins, a topic he believed best left to philosophy and religion (Adler, 1968; Jung, 1976). This is not to say that Jung’s psychology is not a metaphysic; as has already been pointed out, it is, as are all theories which postulate things which can never be actually known in their fullness, including scientific theories. A close reading of Jung’s oeuvre reveals that it was only late in his life that he allowed himself the privilege of a conscious subjectivity in his writing (Jung, 1969b; 1973).

“Each new case” writes Jung (1968a) “is almost a new theory to me” (p. 5) because of the phenomenological approach of his therapeutic method as well as the youth of psychology itself. As such, Jung’s “own theories were for him never more than ‘suggestions and attempts at the formulation of a new scientific psychology’” (Jung cited, von Franz, 1975, p. 9). By “new scientific psychology,” Jung (1968a) meant a psychology not based on the reductive medical model of psychopathology or mental illness as disease, although this was a constituent part, but meant instead a general psychology concerned with the human being as a whole. In this wholistic psychology, psyche is comprised of both consciousness and the unconscious, both of which exist in polar relationship to each other; an imbalance in one sphere effects the other and is discernable through highly specific behavior. Thus within this homeostatic system where every psychic aspect contains its opposite, psychic conflict manifests itself in some psycho-somatic form or other behavioral expression. Psychopathology, in whatever manner it presents itself – physical or psychological – is thus psychic dis-ease or imbalance in the person, that is, “disturbed normal processes and not entia per se with a psychology exclusively their own (Jung, 1968a, p. 4).

Jung’s psychology, then, is a psychology of wholeness since it deals with the entire human being (soma and psyche - consciousness and the unconscious, its matrix) and the teleological function of psyche, a function which, in its drive to wholeness and connection with the transcendent, identifies the religious nature of psyche. For this reason, Jung (1969c) referred to his psychology as a “psychology of religion” (p. 205). His theories were (and are) provisional and of use only as long as they serve their purpose in providing a means to thinking about and communicating about psychic phenomena, about which nothing definite in a scientific sense can be said.

Analytical psychology, although it began with Jung, does not end with him. In other words, because it is based on the understanding that all scientific knowledge is relative due to the limits of consciousness (Jung, 1965; 1970; von Franz, 1975; 1988), there can be no absolutely valid truth; each new discovery changes the already existing body of knowledge, confirming, disconfirming or adding to it. Analytical psychology is an ever-evolving science in the same way that its subject, the psyche, is ever-evolving (Jung, 1965; von Franz, 1986; 1988; 1993). The one mirrors the other (von Franz, 1986). The expansion and deepening of analytical psychology based on the explorations and discoveries and influences of other disciplines will be discussed in other essays.


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-Submitted by Stephanie Buck

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent term to describe the process of becoming aware of oneself, of one’s make-up, and the way to discover one’s true, inner self. Although the structure is basic and simple, the contents require a much deeper understanding.
    To see a World in a Grain of Sand
    And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
    Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
    And Eternity in an hour. "William Blake"
    I am also reading Mr. Robert Scheinfeld's profile at whom talks about personal development according to the human experience.