My central thesis here and in my own life, is that we’re here to evolve and to grow. Ultimately everything is in service to that greater meaning of life. It means you have the fun and responsibility of making up your life without having to follow the dictates and demands of your family, your friends, your culture, or anything else outside of you. Your evolution is an inner job as you radiate out into the world, and the outer world radiates back, but your job is to master that material coming in, according to your inner self. Your evolution will affect your family, friends, the culture, and all of humanity, as everyone else’s evolution affects your own. This is the ultimate mashup of people evolving in humanity. But the evolution of humanity starts and lives within each one of us. We’re social creatures and that can never be denied or evaded, but we’re also autonomous individuals, and that’s where all evolution has to begin.
Carl Jung spoke about a fundamental process he called individuation. There’s no question that the evolution of each one of us can happen without knowing about Carl Jung or individuation, but I’m finding that the process of evolution is immeasurably helped by a certain structure and understanding. Individuation is not a recipe or a “how to” manual, but it is a map and a guide that helps me identify and understand the material that I must face, and it provides a framework of doing the work – and it is work.
“All my life I’ve wanted to be somebody, but I see now I should have been more specific”
– A great quote from the one woman stage play by Jane Wagner performed by Lily Tomlin – The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe. The line points to a great truth – deep down we do yearn to be somebody. Too many of us look outside of ourselves to find a role model or a template to “be”. But that deep yearning for a meaningful existence is the compulsion of the self to be realized. Too many of us deny our own true self it’s very existence. That is the source of so much of our pain until we begin to answer the call and Jung called the process of responding to that call individuation.
The movie with Lily Tomlin is a funny and moving look at life, the universe and everything, that deserves more attention than it received. The movie is true to it’s stage performance, that would have been amazing in its original run with Tomliin. Live theater, at it’s best, is a powerful experience and this one is special in its humanity and its grit. The central character is a wise, homeless person interacting with alien visitors in her head, but Tomlin plays many other people to riff on our existence. Here is a summary to give you a taste of the brilliance – I love the end of this and the movie – here at 9:55, but you need to watch the first 1:15 to understand the ending, but better yet, see the whole movie.
Jung and individuation speak to this quote directly – specifically becoming yourself – not just someone or anybody, is the gig, the job of personal evolution. It includes radically embracing your own self – an inner exploration to bring you past and through all the external flotsam and jetsam of your life. Who but yourself can direct yourself to become yourself? Listen to the outside world all you want, and then dive into your inner self, to find and construct your self.
“The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.”
I’d say the first half of life is indeed forming that healthy ego because you need it to face the process of individuation. That inward journey is not for the faint of heart. One needs strength to be successful and as one clears the dreck and detritus, the ego can recede into the background as no longer being necessary or useful. My view is that this first part of your life, which may be chronologically less or more than half a normal lifespan, is the process of collecting much of the raw material for your self’s evolution and then the latter part of life is processing that in individuation. In this way, individuation is a process of pruning and integrating to arrive at a central core of the self. Then you can move into another phase of life where your self can achieve more, in different ways, without being dominated by an ego that is dedicated to its own narrow ends.
I love metaphors, so I’ll toss out another one. Our lives are like the multi-stage rocket that sent people to the moon decades ago. The biggest part of the rocket was the massive first and second stages that were needed to send the spacecraft holding the crew, out into space, away from the gravity and atmosphere of earth. As the rocket stages were spent and no longer needed, they were jettisoned as the spacecraft continued on its journey. The essential part of the craft carried the astronauts. The essential part of each one of us is our true self, to be discovered, uncovered and recovered, after the complications arising from the first half of our life are processed and integrated as we evolve.
I see individuation as a process of jettisoning and consuming the material that we collect over the first decades of life. This material consists of the complexes, neuroses and issues we collect and construct in the first half of life. They are inevitable, and likely necessary, to allow us, and to push us, to individuate – evolve – in the latter part of life. No longer weighed down with this material, as it’s been processed and integrated, we can evolve and grow more freely. We gain the freedom of traveling lighter.
This process of individuation will be one I keep returning to here. It is fundamental to our personal meaning and evolution. It is our core and the core of evolution.