Carl Jung suggested that the psyche naturally attempts to bring about its own healing, growth, and wholeness. Historically, mystics have called this progression the ascent of the soul, the alchemy of the soul, or enlightenment. Jung termed this lifelong process of self realization, of integration with the Self, individuation.1 His student and colleague Marie-Louise von Franz described individuation as occurring in three phases: firstly through encounters with the Shadow, then with the Anima or Animus, and finally with the remaining Self.
In the quest for higher consciousness, it is important for continued and healthy growth that none of the phases of individuation are skipped, since it seems to be quite difficult for a subject to revisit an earlier problem area if it has been completely bypassed. The premature experience of a later stage of individuation can foster an arrogance that stalls further self-examination and growth. However, I am not suggesting that any of the stages of individuation are ever completely finalized, and there is often a need for a return to an earlier phase to allow for a deeper resolution of unfinished business. My concern is for those who have skipped a phase entirely.
In the first stage of individuation we discover and recover personal treasures from the dangerous world of our personal Shadows - that which we deny about ourselves. As mentioned in Three Questions, this challenging and difficult phase of individuation is best facilitated by an experienced and appropriately trained counselor. This stage of individuation liberates us from compulsions, projections, fears and unhealthy complexes, increases self-confidence and self-reliance, releases hidden skills and talents, and prepares us for further growth.
The second stage of individuation is the encounter with and - ideally - the abiding union with the Inner Beloved. This integration is the core concern of this web site, and we will be exploring this subject in greater depth. But the lack of awareness of that this stage exists, the anti-artistic, materialist, hierarchical, patriarchal, conformist, and determinist undercurrents of our culture, and the naturally protectionist conservatism of the ego all conspire to make this phase fairly rare. Although current trends are encouraging, it is obvious from the lack of first hand discussion that this stage of individuation is particularly uncommon in contemporary men.
The Inner Beloved is the definitive expression of the archetype of loving relationship, and acts a gatekeeper and guide to the unconscious. Union with the Inner Beloved fuses both the conscious and the unconscious, the objective and the relational, the particular and the transcendent. In accomplishing this union, one experiences love below the
levels of persona (that which we receive from and project back to society), ego (that which we believe we are), shadow (that which we believe we are not), myth (those symbols we share with all humanity) to the level of Self (that which we really are, the central essence of the soul). Union at the level of the Self is the perfect love which every soul most ardently desires.
Relationship at the Self level is celebrated by the romantic as "chemistry" and by the mystic as "alchemical". In common with the most ideal spiritual and romantic relationships - but with the affect heightened by its archetypal purity - the inner sacred marriage reaches beyond the Self and connects to the realms of both the instinctual and the divine, the deeply erotic and the ecstatic spiritual. For this depth of union to occur, the ego must surrender completely to the power of transformative love, but the goal is not to destroy the ego - which would result in a disassociative psychosis - but to encourage it to claim and integrate as much as possible of the newly discovered inner world. The dynamics of a Self level relationship with the Beloved tend to nurture and guide all components of the psyche into further wholeness, leading naturally to the final stage of individuation.
The last stage of individuation is the ultimate integration with the Self and of the Self. If the second stage of individuation has been bypassed in favour of a rapid progression to this final and most seductive state then the result can be a soul who is out of touch with her or his physical roots, a mystic without a heart. But if each of the stages of individuation have been accomplished successfully then the soul has the potential to reach the state of the Buddha or the Christ. The Self becomes coincident with each of its psychic components: persona, ego, shadow, mythic and Beloved - and perhaps also with the divine and instinctual. For example, this holistic merging means that the ego becomes the Self and the Self becomes the ego. The third stage of integration is beyond the scope of my experience and therefore beyond the scope of this site.