Navel gazing versus the journey to the World Navel: Individuation and community

Jungians are sometimes accused of being ego-centric navel gazers in the Pagan community.  There is a certain truth to this.  Jung wrote that

“every step towards fuller consciousness removes [a man] further from his original, purely animal participation mystique with the herd, from submersion in a common unconsciousness. Every step forward means tearing oneself loose from the maternal womb of unconsciousness in which the mass of men dwells. [… He] has estranged himself from the mass of men who live entirely within the bounds of tradition. Indeed, he is completely modern only when he has come to the very edge of the world, leaving behind him all that has been discarded and outgrown …” (“The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man”, Collected Workds, vol. 10, para. 150).

But technically Jungianism is not ego-centric.  It may be fairly called Self-centric, but only in the sense in which “Self” refers to the “Big Self” distinguished from the ego.

Jung wrote that individuation should not be confused with individualism:

“Again and again I note that the individuation process is confused with the coming of the ego into consciousness and that the ego is in consequence identified with the self, which naturally produces a hopeless conceptual muddle. Individuation is then nothing but ego-centredness and autoeroticism. But 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 itself.”

(“On the Nature of the Psyche”, Collected Works, vol. 8, para. 432).

Nevertheless, Jungian practice is unavoidably introspective.  This raises the question of what responsibility Jungians feel toward the community.

Recently I came across a quote from Jung’s 1916 essay, “Adaptation, Individuation, Collectivity”.  In this excerpt, Jung acknowledges that individuation (the process of integrating the conscious ego with the unconscious Self) is, in some sense, a separation from the collective.  Individuation, he says, “means stepping over into solitude, into the cloister of the inner self.”  However, he goes on to state that individuators have a responsibility to create new values for the community:

Without this production of values, final individuation is immoral […]

“Not only has society a right, it also has a duty to condemn his individuation at the cost of an equivalent work for the benefit of society, for he is a deserter. […]

[I]nner adaptation leads to the conquest of inner realities, from which values are won for the reparation of the collective.  Individuation remains a pose so long as no positive values are created.

“The individual is obliged by the collective demands to purchase his individuation at the cost of equivalent work for the benefit of society.”

(“Adaptation, Individuation, Collectivity”, Collected Works, Vol. 18, para. 1095-1099).  Elsewhere, Jung writes:

“As the individual is not just a single, separate being, but by his very existence presupposes a collective relationship, it follows that the process of individuation must lead to more intense and broader collective relationships and not to isolation.”  (CW 6, P 758).

Thus Jungian John Dourley writes that “The individual’s growing into one’s personal myth in the analytic process is never a solipsistic event.  Such growth is a significant social resource because it provides society with individuals endowed with the critical perspective that only living out their personal myth affords.”  Of course, this presumes that an individuated individual will make themselves available to society as a resource in some manner.

The the idea that the individuator has a responsibility to return to the community recalls Joseph Campbell’s outline of the “monomyth” in The Hero With a Thousand Faces.  Campbell, a follower of Jung, applied Jung’s ideas more broadly to his study of world mythology.  In The Hero, Campbell writes that the journey of the mythological hero follows the same pattern across cultures: “a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power, and a life-enhancing return.”  The descent of the hero/heroine into the “belly of the whale” parallels the journey of the individuator into the deep Self.  Campbell identifies this place with the “World Womb” and “World Navel” — thus it the hero/individuator may be fairly called a “navel gazer”, but the “navel” here is a cosmic one.

Joseph Campbell’s Stages of the Monomyth: “The Hero’s Journey”

After penetrating the sacred source, the hero/heroine must then fight his/her way back to the mundane world.  But to what end?  Campbell writes, “the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

“When the hero-quest has been accomplished, through penetration to the source, or through the grace of some male or female, human or animal, personification, the adventurer still must return with his life-transmuting trophy. The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet or the ten thousand worlds.”

The monomyth parallels the psychological process of individuation.  The hero/heroine must return from the source and bring back to his community the gifts he has won.  While individuation is necessarily introspective, the process is not complete until the individual reintegrates with society, bringing with him or herself the possibility of collective renewal.  Thus the process of individuation, seen as a whole, is not anti-social:

“As the individual is not just a single, separate being, but by his very existence presupposes a collective relationship, it follows the the process of individuation must lead to more intense and broader collective relationships and not to isolation.”

(“Psychological types. Definitions.” Collected Works, vol. 6., para. 758).  Or as Campbell wrote more poetically:

“We have not even to risk the adventure alone . . . where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”

Note, however, unlike the hero’s journey, individuation is not a one time event, but an ongoing process requiring successive immersions in the deep self, followed each time by a life-renewing return.

Even while acknowledging the responsibility of the individuator to the community, this process still seems somewhat one-sided.  It seems to me that the cycle, to be complete, must include a second transformation of the individual, by contact with the community.  This is true even if the response of the community is one of rejection.  (Consider Plato’s allegory of the cave or story of Jesus’ crucifixion.)

The deep Self is not the only source of personal transformation.  It is not only the community that is blessed by contact with the individual, but the individual who is blessed by contact with the community.  Thus, the individual is transformed by his or her contact with the deep Self, and then transformed again by his or her contact with community.  Ideally, these two sources of transformation work hand in hand, in a never-ending dialectic.

The diagram below depicts this somewhat better, portraying the monomyth not as a one time event, but as a perpetual cycle, and including two different points of transformation, one in the realm of the deep Self and one in the world of society.


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  • C Luke Mula

    I’ve been meaning to comment on this for a while, but just hadn’t gotten around to it.

    Anyway, I find it very interesting that Jung believed the boon was specifically to be brought back and bestowed upon the community. In the introduction to The Red Book, there is a conversation which he had written down in one of his notebooks. During this conversation, his Self tried to push him to publish The Red Book, and he resisted the idea completely, even knowing that it was to usher in “the new religion.”

    Well, the end of the story is that he never personally shared the boon of his inner journey with the rest of the world, and it had to be shared posthumously.

    • John Halstead

      Yes, I think he wanted too much to be perceived as a scientist. But he wasn’t a scientist; he was an artist and a mystic.

      I wonder how the rest of his ideas would have been received if he had published The Red Book early in his career. I imagine that he would have turned out to be like Jakob Boehme, highly original, but limited in his influence to those with an interest in esotericism. Jung’s influence (like Freud’s) has permeated our culture, even for people who have never heard of him. I think he would have been dismissed as a crank had he published The Red Book during his lifetime. It’s only now, decades after his death, that the book can be truly honored for what it is. I think he was right to keep it to himself.

      I think Jung has ushered in a “new religion” though. Not in the sense in which Richard Noll accuses him though (of wanting to be a prophet of a Mithraic solar cult). But more in the sense in which Jung wrote to Freud in 1910:

      “I imagine a far finer and more comprehensive task for [psychoanalysis] than alliance with an ethical fraternity. I think we must give it time to infiltrate into people from many centers to revivify among intellectuals a feeling for symbol and myth, ever so gently to transform Christ back into the soothsaying god of the vine, which he was, and in this way absorb those ecstatic instinctual forces of Christianity for the one purpose of making the cult and the sacred myth what they once were — a drunken feast of joy where man regained the ethos and holiness of an animal.”

      Here’s the longer quote from Jung’s 1922 “conversation” with his soul, for anyone who is interested:
      [I:] I feel that I must speak to you. Why do you not let me
      sleep, as I am tired? I feel that the disturbance comes from
      you. What induces you to keep me awake?
      [Soul:] Now is no time to sleep, but you should be awake
      and prepare important matters in nocturnal work
      The great work begins.
      [I:] What great work?
      [Soul:] The work that should now be undertaken. It is a
      great and difficult work There is no time to sleep, if you
      find no time during the day to remain in the work
      [I:] But I had no idea that something of this kind was
      taking place.
      [Soul:] But you could have told by the fact that I have
      been disturbing your sleep for a long time: You have been
      too unconscious for a long time. Now you must go to a
      higher level of consciousness.
      [I:] I am ready: What is it? Speak.
      [Soul:] You should listen: to no longer be a Christian is
      easy: But what next? For more is yet to come. Everything
      is waiting for you. And you? You remain silent and have
      nothing to say: But you should speak. Why have you
      received the revelation? You should not hide it. You
      concern yourself with the form? Is the form important,
      when it is a matter of revelation?
      [I:] But you are not thinking that I should publish what I
      have written? That would be a misfortune. And who would
      understand it?
      [Soul:] No, listen! You should not break up a
      marriage, namely the marriage with me, no person
      should supplant me … I want to rule alone.
      [I:] So you want to rule? From whence do you take
      the right for such a presumption?
      [Soul:] This right comes to me because I serve you
      and your calling. I could just as well say, you came first,
      but above all your calling comes first.
      [I:] But what is my calling?
      [Soul:] The new religion and its proclamation.
      [I:] Oh God, how should I do this?
      [Soul:] Do not be of such little faith. No one knows
      it as you do. There is no one who could say it as well
      as you could.
      [I:] But who knows, if you are not lying?
      [Soul:] Ask yourself if I am lying. I speak the truth.

  • wernerschwartz

    Reblogged this on wernerschwartz.

  • John Halstead

    Here’s the full quote from “Adaptation, Individuation, Collectivity” excerpted above:
    “Individuation cuts one off from personal conformity and hence from collectivity. That is the guilt which the individuant leaves behind him for the world, that is the guilt he must endeavour to redeem. He must offer a ransom in place of himself, that is, he must bring forth values which are an equivalent substitute for his absence in the collective personal sphere. Without this production of values, final individuation is immoral and–more than that suicidal. The man who cannot create values should sacrifice himself consciously to the spirit of collective conformity. In so doing, he is free to choose the collectivity to which he will sacrifice himself. Only to the extent that a man creates objective values can he and may he individuate. Every further step in individuation creates new guilt and necessitates new expiation. Hence individuation is possible only so long as substitute values are produced. Individuation is exclusive adaptation to inner reality and hence an allegedly “mystical” process. The expiation is adaptation to the outer world. It has to be offered to the outer world, with the petition that the outer world accept it.
    “The individuant has no a priori claim to any kind of esteem. He has to be content with whatever esteem flows to him from outside by virtue of the values he creates. Not only has society a right, it also has a duty to condemn the individuant if he fails to create equivalent values, for he is a deserter.
    “When, therefore, the demand for individuation appears in analysis under the guise of an exceptionally strong transference, it means farewell to personal conformity with the collective, and stepping over into solitude, into the cloister of the inner self. Only the shadow of the personality remains in the outer world. Hence the contempt and hate that come from society. But inner adaptation leads to the conquest of inner realities, from which values are won for the reparation of the collective.
    “Individuation remains a pose so long as no positive values are
    created. Whoever is not creative enough must re-establish collective conformity with a group of his own choice, otherwise he remains an empty waster and windbag. Whoever creates unacknowledged values belongs to the contemned, and he has himself to blame for this, because society has a right to expect realizable values. For the existing society is always of absolute importance as the point of transition through which all world development passes, and it demands the highest collaborative achievement from every individual.
    “Individuation and collectivity are a pair of opposites, two divergent destinies. They are related to one another by guilt. The individual is obliged by the collective demands to purchase his individuation at the cost of an equivalent work for the benefit of society. So far as this is possible, individuation is possible. Anyone who cannot do this must submit directly to the collective demands, to the demands of society, or rather, he will be caught by them automatically. What society demands is imitation or conscious identification, a treading of accepted, authorized paths. Only by accomplishing an equivalent is one exempted from this. There are very many people who at first are altogether incapable of accomplishing this equivalent. They are therefore bound to the well-trodden path. If they are pushed off it, they are seized by helpless anxiety, from which only another of the prescribed paths can deliver them. Such people can achieve self-reliance only after imitating for a very long time one of the models they have chosen. A person who by reason of special capacities is entitled to individuate must accept the contempt of society until such time as he has accomplished his equivalent. Only a few are capable of individuating, because individuation rules out any renunciation of collective conformity until an equivalent has been accomplished whose objective value is acknowledged. Human relationship establishes itself automatically on the basis of an acknowledged equivalent, because the libido of society goes directly towards it. Without the equivalent, all attempts at conformity are foredoomed to failure.” (CW 18, P 1095-1099).