It has been known throughout history that there exists a centre within creation, a human soul belonging to the Universal Self, which resides far beyond the thoughts and ideas that we have of ourselves. In Hinduism, this centre is called the Atman, which is interpreted as the ‘eternal self’, that which we are always, high above the ego and the false self; the Romans knew it as the spiritual Genius within all persons; Christians might refer to it as the Holy Spirit or the ‘Inward Light’; the Indigenous Indians call it the Great Spirit that moves through the world and permeates through all things; and the Greek philosophers understood it as the inner ‘Daimon’, meaning the source of creative inspiration and potential. Modern day secular audiences will recognise this central essence as the origin of human intuition, the voice that speaks from within, calling one towards what is right and true. However one wishes to express this truth, the Self can be defined as the eternal core of being, the core that reflects the divine and brings motion and sound to the earth — it is the energy that pulses our hearts and breathes air into our lungs; it is the stream of undifferentiated consciousness that will one day arise into union with the Absolute.
This eternal centre holds, as Marie Louise von Franz writes in the book ‘Man and His Symbols’, the images for the future whole of our psyche, and it is the single point from which our character and our personality matures as we grow older — just as a seed holds the whole potential future of a flower. Carl Jung called this singular point the archetype of the Self, which can otherwise be described as that which we are as a totality — in essence, the Self is the grand total of everything we are now, as well as everything we could potentially become. The Self, therefore, is the origin of our impulse towards creative self-realisation.
It is the Self that brings about what Jung called ‘the process of individuation’, the process from the potential of childhood to an ever-widening journey of self-discovery, whereby one consciously and gradually integrates the immature or ‘shadow’ aspects — the parts of ourselves that we have ignored or have refused to confront — of one’s personality into the whole psyche. The end purpose of human life is to experience this coming together of the whole and to fully realise the true Self; for this end is the fullest expression of one’s individuality, and allows one to entrench their personality against the collective mass unconscious.
The process of individuation should become conscious if one wishes to achieve self-realisation — that is to say, to meaningfully come to terms with one’s own ‘Inward Light’. How far one realises the Self depends on how attentive they are to the inner voice. Here, von Franz, in explaining this idea, hands over to the Naskapi First Nation tribe of eastern Canada. For they are a tribe of hunters who hunt either in isolated groups or in complete solitude, and so each hunter develops a strong bond with what he calls his ‘inner companion’, or his ‘Mista’peo’, which means ‘Great Man’. This tribe is a matter of interest because they do not have any collective religious beliefs or any tribal customs, nor do they have an all-powerful God, at least not in the way we in the Western World would expect — instead, each hunter worships the divine Great Man as revealed to him only. The hunters trust their inner friend for spiritual guidance in everything they do, whether it be stalking a prey or predicting the approaching weather. And they believe the more they trust their ‘companion’, the wiser and more truthful he becomes. Therefore, the Naskapi have a natural relationship with the true Self, the ‘inner guiding factor’, or the ‘God within us’, and they live without the scientific and logical suspicions that hurt Western Man.
The Naskapi understand the higher part of our being to be connected to the highest Universal Principle, and thus they believe that if we are receptive to the callings of the Great Man, then he will lead us to do and say the right thing at the right time. Now if we turn our focus to western man, we see how he has little to no faith in any higher power, and, in turn, he has delegated himself — or rather his ideas of himself, the ego — as the highest God. And so, rather than trusting life to come to him through the eternal Self, he tries to make sense of his life through his thoughts and emotions, which are scattered and anxious and are always trying to control and bring down the world. It is this grasping to all of his emotions and his worries and his anger that keeps him away from the truth and from honest communication with his own Great Man. He feels that if he does not hold on and interfere and control, then he might lose himself completely.
But if we allow ourselves the space and time to observe the world around us and the world within us, and if we watch what exactly is going on, we will notice how the things we do, the thresholds we cross and the lessons we experience all happen by themselves — they are ‘happenings’, in the sense that they are natural and occur without our will. The Daoist’s use the word ‘Ziran’, meaning ‘self so; so of its own; so of itself’, to describe how the natural world happens of its own, and how it was not created by any being to fulfil a particular purpose. The sun rises and falls ‘of its own’, the flowers blossom from the ground ‘self so’, the pulse of our hearts happens ‘of itself’. And so, in the same way, the growth of our own psyche cannot be had through conscious effort, through iron will and determination — rather, like the flowers and the rising sun and the human heart, it happens of its own accord.
This is not to say that we cannot participate in our own spiritual development; instead, it is the responsibility of each person to ‘co-operate’ with the eternal Self. Nature did not, von Franz writes, create the ego so that man could be a slave to his impulses, rather the ego allows man to be conscious of his own evolution, and the evolution of others as well. We do not know if a flower is aware that it began as a seed in the ground, but man understands he was born, and more so, as he grows older, he becomes increasingly mindful of the development of his own psyche. And it is precisely this awareness that allows man to freely act in cooperation with his unconscious. For our unconscious will demand what it needs in order for us to move towards individuation, and if we do not listen, if we do not wish to answer or if we are too cowardly, then we will relive the same experience repeatedly until we finally do the thing the Self was telling us to do at the beginning. The process of individuation, then, is the process of allowing your own nature to take care of itself; for we cannot individuate ourselves, we cannot think and frustrate ourselves into our desired circumstances. Our only role is to be the conscious observer of what is going on within us.
In verse 2.47 of the Holy Bhagavad Gita, Krishna advises Arjun to give up concern for the fruits of his labour and instead focus solely on doing a good job. And this wisdom is true of the process of individuation. We should not become upset or angry when our growth is obstructed, nor should we make conscious plans about how to overcome these obstacles; instead we should surrender to our impulse for self-realisation, and gently allow the eternal Self, our Inward Light to guide us towards totality. The ego ought to let go of trying to control the world and assume a deeper, simpler existence, so that one can, as it were, get out of one’s own way and allow the inner growth to happen naturally, without haste or worry. This perspective is similar to that of the old stoics and the ancient Christians and the Hindus — the perspective that we are all under the light and design of a power greater than ourselves and we each have no way of understanding the system of our lives, and so, the only thing we can do is bring ourselves closer to the Source and trust our True Self.
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