“The task consists in integrating the unconscious, in bringing together “conscious” and “unconscious.” I have called this the individuation process…” ~C.G. Jung Symbols of Transformation, CW 5, par.459.
Spiritually, our destiny is to evolve into wise, consciously integrated beings who recognize the sacredness of all life and work to preserve it at every opportunity. We honor the imperative to grow spiritually by making the unconscious conscious. Meditation can help us be mindful of gut instincts, thoughts, emotions, and so on. Identifying these signals from the unconscious when they occur is essential, but it is not enough. To decide which to heed and which to refuse, we need to know how to interpret them. Here are four tests we can apply to any compelling internal event. All contribute to psychospiritual maturity.
Test 1: Listen To Your Conscience
An obvious test is, “Let your conscience be your guide.” People in the latter stages of ego maturity acquire a healthy conscience and a strong sense of duty and responsibility. They cannot betray their evolving ethos without terrible guilt. But guilt alone is not a reliable guide. If you’re feeling guilty about the temptation to act on an inner prodding, more information is always needed. Are you feeling guilty because this might have truly harmful consequences? Or do you always feel guilty whenever you want to defy convention and make an original choice? If it’s the latter, know that it’s normal to feel guilty when you’re opening up to new ideas and ways of thinking.
In the early years of my inner work I had many dreams of trying to evade police or other authorities who wanted to punish me for breaking society’s rules. An ego that is transferring its allegiance to the Self is indeed breaking the conventional rules of youth, and it is a rare person who doesn’t occasionally feel guilty about this.
Test 2: Question Your True Motivation
Some feel guilt when they eat a cookie, have a critical thought, or swat a fly. A more reliable test is to ask yourself: What is my true motivation? Does my desire to critique this person’s behavior come from my ego’s need to feel smart? Important? Superior? From a compulsion to wound? To make him/her feel as small as I feel? Or do I truly want to clarify an important issue in the interest of helping this person or creating a more honest relationship with him or her? Does my desire to befriend someone come from an ignoble motive like wanting to use them to further my own ambitions and ego needs? Or does it come from a strong sense that this is someone I really like who has the potential to become a treasured friend?
It takes greater ego consciousness than normal to even think of asking yourself such questions, let alone to actually ask, then probe for answers. Look for the hidden part of you that is causing your discomfort. When your answer resonates in a strong “Aha!” you know you’ve found a valuable truth.
Test 3: Recognize Your Feelings
Some internal messages come in the form of compelling thoughts or ideas we believe to be true and positively motivated when in fact they are not. The ego is excellent at fooling itself. Another important test is to pay attention to the feeling that accompanies the thought. I can tell myself I want to improve my relationship with a loved one or enhance the functioning of a committee I’m working with, and I can believe myself when I say it; but if I’m feeling annoyed, superior, self-righteous, impatient, hurt, disappointed, angry, needy for validation or retaliation in relation to this belief, I need to back off and regroup. When thoughts are at odds with feelings, trust the feelings. Feelings never lie about what’s really going on in your unconscious.
Test 4: Question Your Moral Reasoning
Ask if the internal message is in accord with the guiding principles of mature moral reasoning. These are:
- to serve equality and justice for all with nonviolence,
- to feel and be guided by love and caring, and
- to cause the least possible pain and harm.
If acting on your messages would violate these principles, you can be sure they are not from the sacred Self but from an immature ego or shadow forces in your unconscious.
Here’s how Dr. Jung described his reward for taking his inner life seriously:
[W]hen we obtain a complete realization of the self, there comes with it the feeling of immortality…It is the goal of individuation to reach the sense of the continuation of one’s life through the ages. It gives one a feeling of eternity on this earth.” ~C.G.Jung Introduction to Jungian psychology: Notes of the Seminar on Analytical Psychology Given in 1925, p. 154.
Which of these tests are easiest for you on your individuation journey? Which need more work?
Read more about your spiritual journey to individuation in Healing the Sacred Divide. This copyrighted material is from pp. 115-118.
Image Credit: Brahmanaspati Magma Tree Serpent, The Red Book, C.G. Jung
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