“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
Paper and E-book versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. The Wilbur Award-winning Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.com. Jean’s new Nautilus Award-winning The Soul’s Twins, is at Amazon and Schiffer’s Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit. Subscribe to her newsletter at www.jeanbenedictraffa.com.
Thank you for another great post Jeanie! In each of the practices you explore here, you ask all the important questions. What a treasure this third book of yours is! And so, as I reflect on the practice of (seated) meditation, I don’t know why but this practice doesn’t work for me (unlike Lin who meditates in this way every day), perhaps my mind is too busy. However, by walking in nature and writing I recognise that I can and do bring my unconscious and conscious together in deeply insightful ways, alongside active imagination. I must add art, dreams, music and films to my meditative practices too, especially those that engage in metaphor, allegory, mythology and symbolism. For my soul dances in circles of delight when entering these spheres.
Apologies if I’m going off on a tangent my dear friend because as a “feeling” type my mind naturally seems to turn first to feelings and to the sense of well-being that walking, writing and creativity offers my soul, especially dream work. I do not think that I “think” about things whilst doing them, rather, and most especially with art, I enter this “doing” state of being during these times. I’m there inside this huge space, connected to everything there is, in a place where everything meets. For me there are few questions in this space. It just “is”. I’m sure others would answer in different ways. So let this spaced-out poet end by echoing the resonating words of John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”. Love and light, Deborah.
Hi Deborah, thank you for sharing the many ways you connect your conscious self with your unconscious. Obviously, the four I mention here all use left-brained self-examination, focused thinking, and Logos, as does writing. As a long-time academic and INFJ with a powerful need to both understand myself and be understood, this mode of thinking has been enormously helpful to me and is one I consciously apply often.
But as you point out, there are many soulful, right-brained ways of strengthening the bond between one’s outer and innermost Self and one’s psychological and spiritual sides, that are not necessarily motivated by the desire to understand oneself but more by the feelings of comfort, peace, well-being, and psycho-spiritual connection with all that I am and all that is–a feeling of unity and wholeness. Dreamwork does that for me better than anything else I’ve ever tried. Maybe because it interweaves both hemispheres of the brain, logical and analogical, focused thinking with diffuse awareness, reason with imagination. So do films and music. I can listen to a symphony and think about its structure while enjoying the imaginative images that pop up spontaneously. Or reflect on the technical aspects of visual storytelling while resonating deeply with the film’s underlying psychological meaning and message.
No, dear friend, you are not the only dreamer. I’m right there with you! Love, Jeanie
I loved your last post. For someone who meditates as often as I possibly can, and walks while using my senses (hearing, feeling, smelling, and touching); I started giving much thought to your four test questions and found that I delve deeper into my thoughts, and feel comfortable in what I am discovering about myself. So thank you for your continued wisdom and knowledge.
Hi Fern, I’m glad to know that you found these suggestions helpful. And especially that you feel comfortable with what you’re discovering about yourself. Meditation is a wonderful practice too. I’m all for anything that lets my monkey mind take a rest and enjoy the physical awareness of being alive. Love, Jeanie
Thanks for reminding me of these questions, Jeanie. It’s been a long time since I read this material. I have little guilt in my usual life other than collective guilt about living at peace without feeling threatened when so many people are hungry or cold. And guilt about political decisions being made. I handle this with gratitude for my safe life and supporting others and ecological groups as I can with donations, but my country feels so lost and off kilter and this makes me uneasy. I’m still not used to living alone without the psychological growth and support that comes with partnership–someone who asks deep questions and shares the quest. Inner partnership and dreams can be rich, but Vic and I helped each other become more conscious. I do this work on my own now with the help of a dream therapist and writing. Also lots of walking meditation with a sense of “kissing the earth.” I learned to trust my feelings and my body lets me know when I’m off track or making a poor decision. I’ll hold these 4 questions in mind and see where they take me the next few days. With gratitude…
You’re welcome, Elaine. Thank you for sharing your reflections here. You bring up a really wonderful point about how a loving, intimate partnership with another person is so conducive to spiritual connection, consciousness-making, and soul-making. You’ll recognize that last as one of Marion Woodman’s terms. It revealed the possibility of turning my life into a project, making it a work of art. To see my life and soul as something I can “make” — in the sense of giving my unconscious self more substance by noticing and attending to its needs and becoming authentic — presented me with a fascinating challenge that I have taken very seriously ever since I became aware of it. I would say that aside from being naturally introspective, most of the inspiration and motivation for doing that came out of my relationship with Fred. So yes, continuing dialogue with a physical partner can be deeply enriching, both psychologically and spiritually. Love, Jeanie
Thanks Jeanie so much for this probing post. I sometimes think and feel that duty plays an overly large role in my life. I’m comfortable with responsibility but duty is so big; for, once I see my duty to myself, and my small circle, I can’t help but think of the larger world. Should I give away all my money to those who are in greater need than I am … or make reasonable donations to societies that need them. Even that is overwhelming at times. But my conscience says do it … some money here and there will mean that I won’t buy that fabulous face cream that I’m ogling, or those wonderful sunglasses that I’d love to have … but my ongoing meditation practice is a boon in this regard in that ultimately I see the difference between need and want. Monkey mind takes a much needed break – including the ego.
None of the question you posit are easy … what really is my motivation is easier to ask when I’ve had that cookie or ice cream. I’ve not yet learned self-restraint with regard to food. In relation to others, I often take my pulse when irritated and can pause before response so for that I’m grateful.
Your last point, # 4, is a great one and one worthy of striving towards. Thank you for this. Love, Susan
Yes, feeling a strong sense of duty, like feeling a lot of guilt, is also one of those qualities that ignites our conscience. I struggle with some of the same issues: am I fulfilling my duty to my country? To my brothers and sisters in need who have so much less than I? Becoming conscious and listening to our conscience is not an easy road to follow. It constantly makes us aware of our failures and shadows. But it comes with the individuation journey.
Knowing the difference between need and want is a huge help! Thanks for mentioning that.
And yes, ego and monkey mind need a break. We can’t fix everything or solve every problem. We can just do our best, while remaining mindful of what needs to be done.
And, oh dear. Self-restraint with food. That’s always a challenge. Still, I don’t see eating too much sugar or drinking a little too much wine as a character flaw that obstructs my individuation!! 🙂
Oh yes! The words are all said. You hit so many important points which are so helpful to define every inner feeling. Although, I notice something important here that we all must do: be honest to ourselves. I suppose such a confrontation with one’s inner soul needs a lot of courage. However, I appreciate your lessons from the button of my heart. Thank you, dear Jeanie. Always yours, Aladin.
Thank you, Aladin. You raise an excellent and valuable point. Being honest to ourselves. I think that must be about the most difficult task of all, and wish I’d included it in my list. Our egos are so desperate to think well of themselves, and so loathe to face our shadows. I know that I was unable to be completely honest with myself the first time I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory. In midlife I had this image of what I should be and I tried so hard to convince myself that I fit this image that I inadvertently mis-typed myself. Fortunately, when I took it about ten years later after a lot of inner work, I dared to be more honest. I wasn’t thrilled with some of the qualities of my type which I knew I had, but knowing I have them has been very beneficial for me in the long run. Thanks for bringing this up. I appreciate your interest and comments about what I write from the bottom of my heart!! Always, Jeanie
I appreciate your posts SO MUCH. I am experiencing a lot of synchronicities around these…often I find myself grappling with an issue, when — BOOM! — your post arrives in my email and provides some clarity and perspective on that very issue. It’s amazing.
I love it when that happens! Synchronicities like this show us we’re on the right path, doing the right thing, asking the right questions, being self-aware. And I love it that my posts are supporting you in that way.
Thank you so much for letting me know. It’s very affirming to know that I’m also on the right path and doing the right thing.