Why We Should Make Carl Jung’s Concept Of Individuation Our Life’s Purpose
When asked what I write about, I always seem to struggle for an answer. Of course, it doesn’t bode well for me to find the right audience. But that’s another story.
My usual reply is that I generally write within the self-help domain, but I share stories from my own experiences, whether triumphs or struggles. However, it always leaves me feeling short-changed because I read, learn, and write about much more profound concepts and philosophies than that, especially how many construe self-help.
In reading James Hollis’s book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life,I came across what perhaps is Carl Jung’s most compelling idea, and it encapsulated what I’ve been trying to explain as to what fascinates me.
“Individuation is the lifelong project of becoming more nearly the whole person we were meant to be — what the gods intended, not the parents, or the tribe, or, especially, the easily intimidated or inflated ego. While revering the mystery of others, our Individuation summons each of us to stand in the presence of our own mystery and become more fully responsible for who we are in this journey we call our life.”
To me, the definition above strikes at the heart of my life’s work. All I want to do is become more of the person I must be, taking full responsibility for that while helping others do likewise with my thoughts, words and actions.
I love the process; we are much more than that egoic Self that everyone sees from the outside. Secondly, becoming that whole person resembling our Soul’s intention is a lifelong journey — actually our life’s purpose. Everything else seems so trivial.
However, Individuation does not mean mere self-indulgence. Like going on Instagram to show off our knowledge by quoting some wise, stoic aphorism without embodying the philosophies.
I’ve been guilty of such behaviour in the past, falling victim to my ego’s need for attention and validation. However, as I’ve grown personally, I’ve seen how futile and avoidant my actions were. We do the actual work outside social media.
Individuation is also not what Ayn Rand’s Objectivism seemed to preach, where the purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of happiness. I won’t discount all of Rand’s arguments or her excellent book; Atlas Shrugged; however, her theory does seem to make us more selfish with little regard for others.
To serve our Soul’s intent means to rid ourselves of the ego’s plan to seek security and emotional reinforcement. This process can include moments of happiness but also much pain. Growth is the goal, not mere pleasure.
But what is Soul?
Hollis, a Jungian Psychotherapist, explained Soul in such a beautiful and memorable way:
“Soul is the word we use to intimate that deepest intuitive relationship we have had with ourselves from our earliest moments of reflection to the present. Soul is our intuited sense of our own depth, our deepest-running, purposeful energy, our longing for Meaning, and our participation in something much greater than ordinary consciousness can grasp.”
He continues to describe how the Soul’s journey plays out in four orders of mystery:
(1) the immense cosmos through which we are flung at warp velocity,
(2) ambient nature, which is our home and our context,
(3) each proximate other who brings the challenge of relationship, and
(4) our own elusive, insurgent Self, forever asking, insisting, not to be forgotten.
We know we have a lot of work ahead when we look at the four-dimensional lens Hollis has used. The ego will try everything in its power to stop us. Instead, we mustn’t fight back but surrender to allow our fullest expression from within to come out.
Individuation does not mean we cut ourselves from society to seek refuge in a metaphorical cave but instead develop our fullness. That enlarged Self is what we need to bring into the world, give back to our society, serve our family, and share with others.
Today’s average life expectancy is 72 years, and closer to the 80-s mark in developed countries. Therefore, there is an opportunity and a responsibility to make Individuation a lifelong goal.
The first half of our lives (first 35–40years) is reserved for strengthening the ego, allowing our younger selves to try and fail regularly, and discover our identity and boundaries.
In protecting our egos, we create patterns that we take into all realms of our lives but are too self-involved and fearful to discern them. We are too busy with life to see how they only serve the ego.
However, after midlife, we become stronger or more desperate, and have the opportunity to slow down, step back, reflect and examine our past. That way, we can deal with the disappointments and failed expectations that we had set ourselves.
We can then discern the patterns that we have constructed in the first part of our lives. Whether these patterns be at work, with others or with ourselves, we can see that they are self-defeating and challenge our path to become more whole.
This Individuation process then opens the doors for us to ask the big questions of life.
Are we the protagonists in the drama called life? Are we the authors of our lives? If not, then whose script our acting out?
Perhaps our greatest failure in our lives would be not taking steps to answer these big questions and thus removing the unconscious layers within us.
If you are nearing midlife or have gone past it, then the time has come to invite the concept of Individuation into your life.