Self-realization in the Work of Carl Jung

Carl Jung was a psychoanalyst, researcher of archetypes, and a spiritual seeker. Jung sought to understand the nature of the Self, and spoke of Self-realization as the highest potential of human awareness. Jung realized that we are guided toward Self-realization by the aims and instincts of the soul, as well as by archetypes and symbols as they appear in spiritual teachings, dreams, myth, art, and imagination.

Central to Carl Jung’s theory of psycho-spiritual growth is the idea of ‘individuation’. The word individuation comes from the Medieval Latin individuare meaning “to make individual.” Jung speaks of individuation as the process of differentiation, of becoming a unique and whole ‘individual’. Jung writes:

“The concept of individuation plays a large role in our psychology. In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated; in par­ticular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology. Individuation, therefore, is a process of differentiation, having for its goal the development of the individual personality” (CW 6, para. 757).

Individuation is a process of growth and development in which we make contact with psychic life. The work of individuation orients the mind toward the inner world, toward psycho-spiritual life. For some, this inner movement  include a relation to the transpersonal dimension of psychic life, and ultimately with the unity and Oneness of Being.

Jung spoke of the Self as “the archetype of transcendent wholeness” ( CW5, para. 297). He likened the Self to the “inner sun”, guiding our inner journey to wholeness and integration. We see the “inner Sun” is one of many sacred symbol of Oneness. As archetype and image of Oneness, the inner Sun guides psycho-spiritual development toward the transcendent horizon of psychic life.

For many people our Oneness, as transcendent inner sun, is veiled. Insofar as the inner light is veiled, it must be realized or discovered. The unveiling of Oneness takes place in and through a relation to Symbolic Life.

Another important image in psychic life is the deity image. Jung said that ‘God is a psychic fact.’ The deity, as psychic image, is the central archetype of transcendent wholeness. The deity image reflects a truth that is at first thought of as transcendent, but that we can come to know within ourselves: the eternal, the everlasting, sinless, stainless, omnipresent truth.

It is important to be clear that when Carl Jung speaks of the Self as related to the deity image, he is not speaking of the individual self or ego. Jung is speaking of the universal Self or cosmic Self. In the Psychology of the Unconscious (1916), Jung speaks of “the super-personal”, in other words the Self as it transcends the personal self.

In order to make this clear, Jung offers a reference the Atman, from a verse of the Shvetdshvatara-Upanishad:

“Two closely allied friends, beautifully winged, embrace one
and the same tree; One of them eats the sweet berries, the other
not eating merely looks downwards.”

In this passage we see two birds: one bird as the individual self and one as the supreme Self. One enjoys life and one is witness.

In Jung’s work and spiritual teachings alike, we must be content with analogies and pith descriptions of the Self. Spiritual images and descriptions are meant to guide the process of spiritual development. Images such as the “inner sun” or “two birds in a tree” are notions to be contemplated and meditated on. In this way, the individual grows toward spiritual truth and awareness. The point of Jung’s writings is to encourage us to work with the symbols, trusting that they will lead toward wholeness and integration.

The spiritual path is a path of transcendence which necessarily entails the ‘synthesis of the Self’. In The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious, Jung speaks to the synthesis of the Self:

“I have called this wholeness that transcends consciousness the ‘self.’ The goal of the individuation process is the synthesis of the self. …the symbols of wholeness frequently occur at the beginning of the individuation process.” Carl Jung (CW 9i, para. 278)

Carl Jung also saw that symbols and archetypes appear in opposition and as unity of opposition, urging forward the soul to psychic integration and wholeness. Take for example, light and dark. Light and shadows are images of self-knowledge and ignorance. Jung notes,  ‘One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.’ In Jung’s view we must work with the shadow. We must realize everything about ourself that we are ignorant of, and integrate these shadow elements by becoming aware of them. This is a path toward wholeness and integration, and it is likewise a path toward unity and Oneness.

Enjoy, and blessings on your journey!