Jung’s Conceptualization of Individuation, the Unconscious, and Transcendent Function
following is a chapter from this research (jump to the red paragraph below if you want the juiciest part right away. i think that paragraph is pure gold.)
The present study was informed by Jungian concepts. This theoretical perspective was chosen due to Jung’s work and conceptualization of the Self, unconscious, disintegration, liminality, archetypes, alchemy, and the individuation/integration process, as these seem to describe multiple aspects of the Ayahuasca experience. Jung (1938) explains that while it has been assumed
that consciousness—the sum total of representations, ideas, emotions, perceptions, and other mental contents which are easily available to the person— was considered to be the psychological whole of an individual, that is not the whole of the individual. Jung mentioned that human feelings, thoughts, behavior, and consciousness are deeply affected by the unconscious.
Jung (1960) talks about two layers of unconscious in the psyche. The first is what he called the personal unconscious. The personal unconscious encompasses emotional material that is unprocessed, repressed traumatic experiences, modes of behavior, negative side of the personality and unpleasant qualities one has—the shadow. The shadow never arouse to consciousness and stayed in the personal unconscious, and it effect one’s way of seeing and being in the world unknowingly. Jung saw the shadow as the one of the most challenging aspect for the ego personality. For Jung, the personal unconscious was resting upon a deeper layer inside one’s psyche—the collective unconscious.
The collective unconscious, as Jung (1960) describes, is collective due to its universal, inborn qualities. Jung said that in art, dreams, and other various experiences, psychic energy goes beyond the personal, and an interior spiritual world opens out—a world that can be in contradiction to one’s conscious perceptions. The psychic energy goes to ancestral life, mythological realms and motifs, and primordial images represented in the psyche by archetypes (Jung,
1960). Archetypes are not just images, but a psychosomatic experience, as Jung saw them, as they link body, psyche, affect, instinct, and image. This, Jung concluded, is the language of the collective unconscious.
Both the conscious and unconscious, with all their contents, emerge from what called the Self. Jung (1953) perceived the Self to be not only the center, but the whole circumference which embraces conscious and unconscious, the center the totality of experience. Jung (1970) saw the Self as the spring from which all phenomena come, and that we as human beings have an image of the Self in us,
“god within us” (p. 280). Fragment by fragment of this vast totality, the Self demands to be recognized, integrated, and realized, slowly bringing one back to wholeness. Therefore, the relationship between the ego and Self is a crucial and never ending process—the individuation process.
It can be seen how important the relationship to the Self and unconscious was to Jung, which made him aware of the challenges humans faced in order to facilitate such a relationship. Jung (1959a) believed that modern life demands a conscious, directed, and concentrated functioning in order to succeed and adhere to the demands of industrialized society. But this function was at the cost of dissociating, disconnecting from the unconscious. These factors led individuals to remove themselves from the relationship with the unconscious. The more disconnectedness there is, Jung says, the more powerful the counterposition of the unconscious will be, which may lead to intense suffering and disagreeable consequences (Jung, 1959a).
Jung (1959b) mentions that until an individual starts to confront the
unconscious, and even after, the conscious and unconscious seldom agree on their contents and their tendencies. The prolonged alienation from the unconscious, due to parenthood, societal demands, education, and other external factors, leads to a tension between the conscious and unconscious.
To this extent, Jung (1959b) says, the psyche of civilized humanity could be compared to a machine, working on only what is conscious to it, insensitive to the unconscious and unknown, so it can continue to function to the point of self-injury. Hence, the focus of the conscious mind is on what is known to the person, rarely on what is new or unknown. Thus, the unconscious is excluded from
consciousness, and with it those archetypal and mythological realms inside the individual, and the psychosomatic experience they encompass. The individual’s consciousness is then “split” off, as Jung says, from this unconscious realm, and hence split off from wholeness.
Jung (1959b) then goes on to suggest that the answer to this conflict is getting rid of the separation of conscious and unconscious. There is a need to recognize the significance of the unconscious as a compensating and complimentary source to the conscious world. Both are equally important to make a whole function, Jung says. What people are searching for, according to Jung, is a way to make conscious those contents which are about to influence individual
actions, so that the secret interference of the unconscious and its unpleasant consequences can be avoided.
Jung (1959b) concludes that by making the unconscious conscious, people are also connected to their deeper, spiritual Self, and those archetypal and ancestral realms. Hence, if an individual can come to a point in the psyche where unconscious material is welcomed and a process of expression and understanding starts to take place, the complementary dialogue between the conscious and unconscious begins—a constant dialogue that Jung called the ego–Self axis
Jung (1953b) used the ancient practice of alchemy to describe
psychological processes, among them the idea of the conscious and unconscious dialogue as part of the individuation or integration process. Jung describes how alchemists found that in the process of making gold, which he saw as the archetype of full integration, there are four stages—nigredo (black), cauda pavonis (peacocks tail or yellow), albedo (white), and the final rubedo (red). The nigredo is a process of confrontation and suffering in which the individual begins
to be conscious of previously unconscious content, and the confrontation of the old ego structure with this new material begins. Jungian analysts von Franz (1980) and Sherwood and Henderson (2003) compare this stage to the psychological stage where there is an initial disturbance in one’s psyche.
The second stage, caudis pavonis, marks the beginning of a process of the self which then brings forth the beginning of a period of inner observation and realization. This leads to the third stage, albedo. Jung (1953) described it as “dawn” where new insight, understanding, and new possibilities arise due to the dialogue between the conscious and unconscious, “in order to make it come alive it must have blood...the redness of life... only the total experience of being can transform...the albedo into a fully human
mode of existence” (p. 228).
Arnold van Gennep (1960) was the first to use the term liminal, in his
observance of rites of passage in different societies and cultures. The first stage, preliminal rites, is when initiates depart from their known environment, their known roles and cultural identity. The second stage, liminal rites, is the in-between phase, as it is in this stage where transformation is in effect, as internal structures of a person’s former identity are dissolved and new structures
constellate. The third stage, postliminal rites, is when the individual returns to society as a new being with a new identity.
In the book chapter “Betweex and Between: Patterns of Feminine and Masculine Initiation,” Murray (1987) expands on van Gennep’s (1960) work on the liminal stage, by using Jungian psychology. Murray describes the liminal phase as one where the unconscious is very active, bringing up images, shadow material of all the repressed aspects of personality, and different aspects of the self. Murray writes that in the liminality, the person struggles with emotional flux,
the inner dynamics of their personality, and undergoes internal structural changes that will affect their attitudes and reactions permanently. This, Murray concludes, will result in a transformation of consciousness.
It can be seen that there is a need for a shift in consciousness, a movement from the familiar and known ego structure, in order for material from the unconscious to emerge. Michael Fordham (1974, 1976), a Jungian analyst who applied Jungian psychology to child observation and therapy, suggested the concept of deintegration. Fordham described this to be a process where the self allows a disruption of a previous state of integration while a pattern incorporating new material and new understanding is forming.
From his child observation and analysis research, Fordham (1974)
mentions that at times the child will take the risk of deintegration but fails to subsequently reintegrate because the experience is too traumatic to assimilate. The mother’s ability to be responsive to the infant’s engagement (needing or wanting or playing with mom), the mother’s acceptance of the child’s withdrawal, and attunement to cues of re-engagement from the infant comprise a rhythmic
reciprocity process named affect synchrony. This is what, according to Fordham, allows an infant to engage in deintegration processes, as the infant knows mother will be there to help with the integration phase.
Fordham (1974) saw this process to be in the service of the ego, meaning that the self recognizes that on a deep level, in order to grow and develop, it must sometime “stand aside” in a way, to allow a deeper, more expansive self to arise. Deintegration then is a process that leads to an expansion of experience, a widening of consciousness, a deepening of self-concept, an opening to new
identity and to a following new level of integration. It can be understood from Fordham’s research that, in order for the deeper, more authentic Self to come to expression through the ego, deintegration and a following state of expansion, liminality, is needed before integration can happen.
It can be seen that in both the alchemical process and the different liminal phases there is a need for a deintegration phase, as Fordham (1974) called it. It is due to that deintegration phase that the corresponding caudis pavonis and albedo in alchemy and liminal phase in Murray’s (1987) writings will emerge. It seems that these are the stages where the integration of the initial process begins. As
discussed in the following pages, it is how one stays conscious in this phase that determines the quality of the final stage, the rubedo.
Jung (1959a) describes that due to the disconnect from the unconscious, the experience of unconscious material to consciousness can be very challenging to one’s psyche and even dangerous. Jung (1938) describes similar experiences to those that Dobkin de Rios and Rumrill (2008) and Trichter (2010) found in
participants of Ayahuasca ceremonies, that when an individual is either penetrated or somewhat overcome by his unconscious, the unconscious material and the affect that comes with it can lead to psychological struggles, producing a state of panic and emotional disturbance. In some incidents, it might even cause a psychotic state and behavior.
Jung (1938) mentions that:
In real psychosis we find the same mental contents [as in
neurotic patients], only in these cases they could not be assimilated by consciousness. Whoever finds himself attacked by such ideas, fantasies, and visions is either seized by an irresistible fear of becoming insane or thinks he is a genius. In either case, he is at once isolated from his fellow beings, who are, of course, unable to understand what it is all about...The alienist [experiencer]...is at least suspecting an unsound mental condition ...If prudent and careful people, therefore, have such experiences, they prefer to keep quiet about them, or to repress them before they are fully developed. (p. 42)
Jung (1959b) points out that for individuals who have such experiences without prior knowledge or guidance (in his case, analysis), there is a danger of not only psychological and emotional disturbances, such as feelings of inflation or fear for sanity, but of repressing the experience and its contents. When one is reacting to this material without knowledge of this process, the unconscious
material returns to the unconscious, only to await another opportunity for it to emerge, potentially inflicting more suffering. It is only when these two aspects of the psyche, the conscious and unconscious, are integrated that the process of individuation can take place.
Jung (1953) mentions that despite the challenges of the initial
deintegration process and its following liminality, the raising of the new unconscious material to conscious starts a procedure of enrichment and clarification. The affective experience becomes more impressive, understandable, and has a vitalizing influence. When one brings both an intellectual understanding with an affective depth and an artistic exploration to this dialogue between the conscious and unconscious, the union of conscious and unconscious begins—the transcendent function (Jung, 1953). This phase corresponds with the second and third stages in alchemy.
Jung (1960) called it transcendent because he saw this function as
allowing a transition from one attitude, a person’s way of being, to a new attitude in an organic way, without the loss of the unconscious material. There is a “third,” as Jung called it, new way of being that emerges. It can be seen that Jung is already suggesting here the initial phase of integration, as conscious and unconscious material, intellect, self-observation, and emotion are conscious:
the confrontation of the two positions (i.e., conscious and unconscious) generates a tension charged with energy and a creates a living, third thing, not a logical still birth...but a movement out of the suspension between opposites, a living birth that leads to a new level of being. (p. 90)
The psychological processes described in this chapter are all in the service of what Jung (1959 a,b) called the individuation/integration process, which Jung saw as the primary process of an individual’s life. Jung (1959b) saw individuation as one’s process of becoming an in-dividual , the continuous conjunction and integration of unconscious experiences with consciousness, an embracing of one’s
innermost uniqueness, those archetypal realms and coming to “self-realization.” Jung mentions that this is not a process where one becomes concerned for one’s self alone, as the term is seen in modern society. On the contrary, this is a process where one also begins to understand and feel that the unconscious unites all
humankind, so one is at-one-ment with one’s Self and humanity at the same time (Jung & von Franz, 1964).
As mentioned before, Mabit (2007) found in his work at Takiwasi that the main issue in Western participants was a cultural deficit of knowledge of the symbolic dimension, for patients and therapists alike. Attending to the physical, psycho-affective, and spiritual levels of experiences as Ayahuasca ceremonies, engaging, analyzing, interpreting, and processing in different ways, allows deeper
integration of the experience. In turn, this allows implementation of the newly integrated experiences and supports change, or as Jung (1938) described this process:
when the main shock is over, I always try—with the help of my patient—to see what has happened...we try and reduce the seemingly incomprehensible events to rational sequences and to personal and impersonal origins. By such a procedure, we hope to assimilate the experience, and to integrate it into the whole of the human personality. Such experiences should never leave a fatal sense of inferiority; rather they should enrich both the feelings and the mind, because they contain real life and the greatest values. They contain, as a matter of fact, just those values that were painfully lacking before the outburst occurred, and they added just those pieces to the puzzle of life which make the picture
complete. (p. 44)
Jung (1956) mentions that in opposition to the Western individual, the Indigenous tribes are taught by tradition and their esoteric teachings to make these archetypal experiences conscious. Hence, the archetypes of the Self and the unconscious, those mythic symbols and contents, are no longer a threat or disturbance, but a welcomed knowledge. Jung is suggesting a change in the
individual’s and the collective’s way of seeing the world, to one where the spiritual and archetypal are integrated into one’s worldview. This suggests that with more and more Western individuals experiencing Ayahuasca, an informed form of therapy should emerge. Jung’s statement is aligned with both Trichter’s
(2010) and Mabit’s (2007) call for further research on the integration process of Ayahuasca ceremonies in Western participants.
The primary interest of this study is participants’ integration process and how it may be reflected in Jungian psychology’s ideas of the individuation process, deintegration/disintegration, liminality, and the transcendent function. But as elaborated in this chapter, the integration phase is continuous with the individual’s state prior to the Ayahuasca ceremony, during the experience itself and the process thereafter. In order to understand the nature of the integration process, those aspects of participants’ Ayahuasca experiences were questioned as well in this study.
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