Other Visions

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Carl Jung


Individuation can be seen as the development of personality, which Jung defined as “the supreme realization of the innate idiosyncrasy of a living being.” The path of individuation involves, as with many of the ideas that we’ve just considered, knowing the self: “Personality can never develop unless the individual chooses his own way, consciously and with moral deliberation.”46

Whilst a person who chooses his own way may be on the course to becoming an individual, Jung was careful to point out that the process of individuation is not something that can ever be completed. Individuation is, like mindfulness, not a trophy to be attained; rather, it is an ongoing process, a mode of living.

In contrast to a path of individuation, Jung described the route of conventions; “The other ways are conventionalities of a moral, social, political, philosophical, or religious nature. The fact that the conventions always flourish in one form or another only proves that the vast majority of mankind do not choose their own way, but convention, and consequently develop not themselves but a method and a collective mode of life at the cost of their own wholeness […] The mechanism of convention keeps people unconscious, for in that state they can follow their accustomed tracks like blind brutes, without the need for conscious decision. This unintended result of even the best conventions is unavoidable, but is no less a terrible danger for that.”47

James Hillman

We touched upon Hillman before, with his notion of the ‘Psychic Hermaphrodite’. Hillman’s use of the hermaphrodite can be seen as an entrance-point into a polytheistic mode of thought. Prevailing ideas may have us believe that a path of maturity is about transcendence; a path of integration that leads to a solid and unified whole. The mature individual is often painted as someone who has direction (or, a direction), who has ‘found their way’ or is on a fixed path; as someone who is sure of their opinions; who has ‘made it’, who has become (is whole). The images that surround this individual are generally ones that connote solidity and stasis, and a singularity of mind, and they have their origins in the monotheistic mode of thought, a vision of life that has at its heart the perfect unity of a singular God.

Hillman sits the monotheism of the Christian tradition next to the polytheism of the Greeks: one God and one way in contrast with many gods, and many ways. His ideas grant the psyche room to breathe, allowing doubt, misgivings, mistakes, paradoxes and new directions – the expanse of multiplicity - back into the course of life. He reintroduces the image of water, with its permeability and refusal of form, flowing first this way and then that.

R.D. Laing

Whilst Laing may not provide us with an explicit vision of the idealized individual in the way that others have, we are able to sketch a picture through his criticisms of present structures. Like those involved in the S.I., he was concerned with the stifling effect that modern society has on the individual, and the way that it tends to curtail experience and foreshorten our imaginative capacity.

“We act on our experience at the behest of others, just as we learn how to behave in compliance to them. We are taught what to experience and what not to experience, as we are taught what movements to make and what sounds to emit. A child of two is already a moral mover and moral talker and moral experiencer. He already moves the ‘right’ way, makes the ‘right’ noises, and knows what he should feel and what he should not feel […] As he is taught to move in specific ways, out of the whole range of possible movements, so he is taught to experience, out of the whole range of possible experience.”48

Like others that we’ve considered, Laing makes reference to the child as a paradigm of the idealised existence; “Children do not give up their innate imagination, curiosity, dreaminess easily. You have to love them to get them to do that. Love is the path through permissiveness to discipline: and through discipline, only too often, to betrayal of self.”49 It is through adapting to society – through learning the ‘right way to move’ and the ‘right things to think’ - that the child loses what is most precious about it; its innate ability to be itself: “[In adjusting to society we have been] tricked and [have] tricked ourselves out of our minds, that is to say, out of our own personal world of experience, out of that unique meaning with which potentially we may endow the external world [...]”50

Anthony Storr

“Becoming what one is is a creative act comparable with creating a work of art. It is freeing oneself from the tyranny of one’s upbringing; emancipating oneself from convention, from education, from class, from religious belief, from all the social conventions, prejudices, and assumptions which prevent one from realizing one’s own nature in its totality.”51


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1 comment:

  1. A retreatant withdraws temporarily from the world to gain the spiritual strength required to help others effectively. The spiritual path begins with an inner transformation, and it's only when that's been achieved that an individual can usefully contribute to the transformation of society.

    [Matthieu Ricard]
    The Monk and the Philosopher, p.181

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