"Those who are willing, the Fates will lead, the rest
shall be dragged"
The guiding assumption in most all of Jung's ideas is that there is a
something behind all psychological events that guides and directs us in the path
of wholeness. We develop the persona, we fight with the shadow, we get into fits
around the Anima/Animus, but really behind all this is a much larger complete
sense of human wholeness. This entity is called the "Self" , spelled
with a capital "S". This entity is both always transcendent and yet
still subjective. It is the center of * both* the conscious and the unconscious.
The Self brings together and integrates the many layers of psyche, and yet is
considered to be beyond the psyche.
The Jungian Self is a large and profound topic encompassing all layers of
psyche and human development, and at the same time a small and initiate
relationship in which the person finds his or her own uniqueness. Here I want to
look at two aspects of the Self that are most often mentioned by Jung; 1. The
Guiding Center and 2. The Transcendent Function.
1. The Guiding Center
"Imagine a circle whose center is everywhere and whose periphery is
"The (S)elf is not only the centre, but also the whole circumference
which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this
totality, just as the ego is the centre of the conscious mind" Jung CW 12
"Inasmuch as the ego is only the centrum of my field of consciousness,
it is not identical with the totality of my psyche, being merely a complex among
other complexes. Hence I discriminate between the ego and the Self, since the
ego is only the subject of my consciousness, while the Self is the subject of my
totality; hence it also includes the unconscious psyche. In this sense the Self
would be an (ideal) factor which embraces and includes the ego. In unconscious
fantasy the Self often appears as a superordinated or ideal personality."
Types_, pg 540
The Self may manifest in a single dream as a divine child, a mandala, an
image of Fourness, or in mystic and ecstatic identification. But for most of us
the Self is seen as an ideal personality, a Wise Man or Woman or is seen over a
series of dreams and over a lifetime of attention. At a distance these
manifestations may be seen as moving us around an unseen center, but a close
encounter will seem more like divine intervention. Robert Johnson mentions in
the book _He_, that most men experience the Self in mystic identification once
or more in childhood. Many women I've talked to say they have experienced the
same event. It's that perfect moment that just occurs to us where all of a
sudden everything is as it should be. Though everything is not perfect, it is,
as Alan Watts says, "perfectly imperfect". But that moment of
perfection leaves and the longing, the wound, that lasts a lifetime. And this is
often how experiences of the Self leave the unprepared ego; wounded, depressed,
longing again for a moment of wholeness. Handled properly, this wound may guide
the individual to a wider and larger life, handled improperly the wound can lead
to the person seeking to bridge the wound or gap with substance abuse or
neurotic and destructive behavior. Thus early Self manifestations are both a
blessing and a curse.
Close encounters with the Self are rarely appreciated in the moment. While we
like to talk about coming into relationship with the Higher Self, an actual
close encounter leaves a person dramatically changed and his/her life altered
forever. We might say later or from a distance that the change was for the
better, but at the time it feels like a complete defeat for the individual. The
exception to this are planned ceremonies like primitive initiation rights, or
events where one's life is so wretched that death seems attractive. My feeling
is that the transformative power in Near Death experiences is that it activates
the centering power of the Self and thus leaves the person fundamentally
altered. Thus there is a kind of Dark Side to the Self . While the Self
restructures, it also de-structures.
EXERCISE: A. The Light Side of the Self: Recall a dream where there was a
mystical experience or one where everything seemed quite perfect. What happened
in the dream? What might you do in your dayworld to bring about a connection
with the feelings of centeredness and oneness with the universe? If possible,
bring a piece of the dream into your life. If the dream was something abstract
like "The afternoon sky was dark and full of beautiful stars" maybe
you can draw this and carry the picture with you for a day. If the dream was a
visit from a Wise person, who do you know that you might visit and talk to who
is like this? B. The Dark Side of the Self: Recall a dream or nightmare where
you were offered two horrible choices and not choosing was just as ugly. If you
can't do this, perhaps you can recall a movie where this happened. I often think
of the moment in _Sophie's Choice_ where the Nazi officer made her choose to
give up her son or daughter, threatening to take both if she didn't choose. Now
shift your attention to the feeling of the internal struggle, tying not to
choose one option or the other but knowing you must choose something. This may
somewhat capture the image of the dark ambiguities of the Self and what it
promises to eventually bring together and solve in a way that we as individuals
cannot. Our role, it seems, is to stay conscious and participatory as possible
through the process.
How then, do we participate in this Self project and our own individuation?
As mentioned, for Jung, it is always trying to happen on its own. By consciously
trying to pick up the clues and move with these clues, we help ourselves to walk
down the path. Otherwise the Self is going to *drag* us. Its often said that the
Self *compensates* the ego. When the ego goes too far in one direction the Self
begins to pull it back across the center in the opposite direction. But be
careful here not to be logical and literal about Center. If I'm very active in
life, my compensation may not turn out to be the literal opposite - inactivity -
, but perhaps valuing my feelings more. Each individual has his and her own
relationship to the Self and it is unique, undeterminable by anyone else.
EXERCISE: What happens to the dream when we read it for compensatory moves?
a. Look at the dream as if it were suggesting a route of action in life that is
just the opposite of what you would normally do. Or ask yourself about a dream,
"If this dream is suggesting a particular direction in life, how is that
different than what I now am following?"
Note: Determining how the Self is speaking in dream and acting on this is
*not* just literally following what the dream might be suggesting. This requires
the careful consideration of *several * parts of oneself, a mix of common sense,
a high degree of self-reflection and recognition of the risks involved. The Self
can sometimes appear as quite childish and as of us things we cannot possibly
do. When this happens, it's often best to put out clearly to oneself why this
course of action would not be prudent and ask for other options, perhaps via new
b. Look at a dream and try to determine the center. Not the literal center,
but were the center of meaning is held. Sometimes this is the literal center,
like a building around which activity takes place or a sacred fountain in the
center of a courtyard. But for the most dreams, the center is the indescribable
thread that keeps us saying its one dream and not several. What holds the dream
together? What produces the structure in the dream, the plot, the feelings of
the dream ego, an odd building or city? Then look at how the action and plots
build around this center. What is everyone's relationship to the center? Do
people seem to harp on the center, or continually wander off? Is the center a
peaceful outing to the beach or is the center a storm or boat in trouble? In
what directions is the dream ego (you) pulled by the action and events?
Note: What we are looking at here might better be described as a
"complex" than a manifestation of the Self. A Complex is a group of
images and ideas clustered around a center with a similar feeling tone. But at
the center of every complex is an organizing principle that may be explored in
terms of Self organization. In other worlds, the dream may be coming from my
mother complex and be all about nurturance issues, being loved and abandoned and
taboo eroticism. But the Self will be behind the core guiding the mother complex
itself. Thus in experimenting with how various complexes in dream organize the
dream, we can begin to get a sense of more subtle Self organizational moves.
2. The Transcendent Function
While direct encounters with the Self can't be planned, we participate in this
process by becoming aware of our parts; persona, ego, shadow, animus/anima. Each
of these creates a polar tension. For example, I can neither become my Shadow,
nor deny it. Both paths would give me some immediate satisfaction, but cause
either staleness or destruction over time. I can't solve the problem that I want
to live forever and yet can't live forever. Instead, we can come to know the
tension created by these unreconcilable opposites and learn how to bear the
tension. Eventually a third and unexpected solution will arise from the
unconscious. Jung called this the Transcendent Function of the Self. It is the
ability of the Self to unite opposites in a new form, and to unite them in ways
that we as individuals cannot consciously do ourselves. While the Self can be
said to be doing this all the time without our help, by consciously holding the
tension we get to participate in the process and become co- creators in the
process. We'll look at this again when we talk later about symbols and
Exercise: (1) Locate in one or more dreams an irresolvable dilemma, and the
feeling tone associated with it. This might be being lost, bored, frightened,
exhausted, or something more subtle.
Example: "I'm dreaming that I want to go home and am lost in a maze of
twisty streets, all alike." There is a feeling tone of frustration.
(2) Now imagine that you have a fine bowl or cup in your hands that was
especially made to carry the tension created by the dream. You have to bear the
weight of the bowl, but you know that if you hold it long enough, some good will
come out of it, as its a magic bowl. It may help if you actually hold your hands
out or even use a bowl.
(3) Imagine that this tension in the cup is created by opposing elements that
can't be brought together. Find the imaginary balance point and try to hold this
feeling tone in the bowl. Example: I want to be home, but I'm not home.
(4) Say or think what one side of the tension is like, then the other. Don't
worry about what its about, just describe the contradiction.
Example: Its like the side that wants to be home is pulling me, the side that
isn't home is afraid.
(5) Now look in the bowl and imagine something arising from the dark
interior. Anything, the first thing that comes to mind. What is it? Does it in
some unexplainable way represent the issue at hand or not? If not, just keep in
the back of your mind for awhile and see it anything changes. I suggest taking
the first image that arises and sticking with if for a few days, not going into
how it might represent the solution, but rather just remembering that it carries
The point here is not to imagine that we are conjuring the Self, but rather
just seeing what the process or the reconciliation of the opposites might look
like on a small scale. The process is not entirely rational, but seems to be
quickened by conscious participation.
At one level the Self as the Transcendent Function brings together smaller
opposites, but at the deepest levels, the Self brings together our experience of
the Good and Evil.
The Self is often confused with God, an the difference may seem subtle, but its
important. The notion of Self deals with our experience of a larger transcendent
being and reality. Notice the word "experience". The Self is more our
collective and personal *experience* of the transcendent, not the transcendent
Him/Her/Itself. Yet the Self does go beyond our usual use the word
"experience" also and includes the mystic personification of the One
and represents the totality of psychological being, the guiding sum of ego,
self, Shadow, Anima/Animus and more. From a developmental analogy, the acorn all
the way to the tall oak (and the oak forest) is a metaphor of the Self. We come
into relationship with the Self via participation and awareness of and
co-participation in this hidden plan, the larger creative force, this coming
together towards wholeness and completion.
How does the dream fit into all of this? Here's a quote from Jung:
"The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret
recesses of the psyche, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long
before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter
how far our ego-consciousness may extend ... All consciousness separates; but in
dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man
dwelling in the darkness of primordial night. There he is still the whole, and
the whole is in him, indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood. Out
of these all-uniting depths arises the dream, be it ever so childish, grotesque,
Jung CW 10 pars 304 f.
The Self is not perfection, but completion. At first we are nagged and chased
by the enemy, our own Shadow. To the degree we begin to develop a continual
relationship with our neglected and repressed side, we gain new strength and
vitality, and our enemy becomes our ally. This opens the door to a deeper
experience of ourselves, parts we can never fully claim as ourselves in their
alien and different ways. Yet making room for these strange incompatible and
establishing a relationship with the manifestations of the Anima/Animus sets the
stage for a larger play, the bringing into being of our most dynamic and unique
self with the cooperation with The Self.
More on the Jungian Self:
Jung: _Psychological Types_ CW 6, esp, chapter 11,
"Definitions," under "Self," pp. 460?461.
________. _Aion_ CW 9, esp, chapter. 4 "The Self," pp. 223-35,
and chapter 5 "Christ, a Symbol of the Self." pp. 36?71.
________. (1957) _The Undiscovered Self_, New York: Mentor
Books. (also as cw 10, p. 247-305)
Edinger, Edwin (1972) Ego And Archetype. Baltimore: Penguin
Whitmont, Edward C. (1969)._The Symbolic Quest_. see both the
chapters on "The Self" pp. 216?230 and chapter 16 "The Ego-Self
Estrangement" pp. 250?264.
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