Thursday, August 09, 2007
I have just finished reading a lovely and lively introduction to Jungian Psychology called Jung and the Human Psyche by Dr. Mary Ann Mattoon (Routledge, 2005) I won’t say much about the book or indeed quote from it. I read it to get some ideas for this post, for adding to my thoughts on what exactly the human personality is; to get some insights into my own on-going personal development, or individuation as Jung himself described everyone’s personal growth.
I loved a quotation from a poem which begins Chapter 2 as it points out in a clear and poetic way (if this is not a contradiction in terms?) what we all experience as we grow up especially in our late teens and early twenties, i.e., a plurality and confusion of images of who exactly we are at all. The poem says it all – I’ll quote just a few lines to give you the flavour:
Within my earthly temple there’s a crowd.
There’s one of us that’s humble; one’s that’s proud.
There’s one that’s broken-hearted for his sins.
And one who’s unrepentant, sits and grins.
There’s one who loves his neighbour as himself,
And one who cares for naught but fame and pelp.
From such corroding care would I be free
If once I could determine which is Me?
(Edward Sandford Martin, op.cit., quoted p. 17)
Have you ever wondered – Would the real me ever stand up? It’s not just a question of “Who am I?” Often it’s a question of “Who are we?” Obviously if I am to have any good and valuable and integrated self-concept I have to get beyond plurality to unity. I cannot live in a state of ambiguous plurality. Okay, it’s obvious that we all have to have masks to protect ourselves, but we also have to realise that they are not the “real me” which it is the job of my personal development, or of my unique individuation process to shape and form or even “discover.”
Okay, I’m a teacher and it’s a very distinct role. It still is an honourable role in society but one which has lessened in kudos in more recent years. It’s a role that brings power with it, and here I’m alluding to the power of knowledge, simply because it is a truism to state that “knowledge is power.” Without knowledge you can get nowhere in the world. When I was 7 years of age I said to my mam and dad that I wanted to become a teacher. I was transfixed by the power of knowledge and then the power of imparting that knowledge. However, I’m aware it’s only a role, a mask. I cannot be “teacher” with my friends, brothers, nephews etc. I have to exercise another role namely that of “friend”, “brother” or “uncle” etc. The more mature and more integrated person can go with ease from one role to another because quite simple he knows that each one is a role or a mask he is wearing to make life liveable, comfortable and indeed workable. We all want our policemen to be policemen and firemen to be firemen when there is an accident or crisis. We want our teachers to be teachers, lecturers to be lecturers, plumbers to be plumbers, engineers to be engineers etc. It’s okay, though, and very human indeed for these people to come out of role from time to time. A doctor or a nurse or a teacher or a policeman is allowed to make human statements, too, showing their human concern, frustrations with others etc. This is all very human, and as long as it does not interfere with their job, it is most acceptable. No one likes dealing with an automaton. And, indeed, 99.999% of the time this above described human behaviour is the way we humans function.
Over the years I have attending countless book launches and poetry readings and one theme that comes up again and again, almost ad nauseam, is that of “finding one’s voice.” This latter phrase has become a veritable cliché in poetry and literary circles. A maker of poems, who might not be adjudged to be that good, could be said not to have “found his voice yet!” This last comment has been made at least once of my own poor efforts. I remember being hurt the first time this was said, but I’m rather indifferent to this comment now since Brendan Kennelly, creative writer, poet, scholar and Professor Emeritus of English at TCD, a mentor of mine through having attended many of his workshops over the years, said once that every writer has many voices. Brilliant, I thought, I’m not going to listen to that cliché again about finding “my voice.”
However, there is a sense, of course, where all these voices, (another metaphor for all those masks), have to be orchestrated as it were, or brought into some harmony – otherwise you have chaos and confusion and sheer breakdown in identity. So, other metaphors for the growth and integration of personality can be used. If we experience confusion as to who we are we must learn to accept all the different masks and learn how to change them with ease; we must learn to be a conductor of the different voices with which we speak; we must learn to conduct an overall orchestra and get a symphony of Self playing soulfully as it were.
So, okay, my many masks are: friend, brother, teacher, uncle, writer, poet, searcher, scholar (in the traditional sense of one who likes to study), graduate and postgraduate. I’m sure there are others. None of these is the real me, yet each of them is part of the symphony that my personality is, part of the One Self that I am, the Real Me, underneath that wishes to sing soulfully through each mask or voice.
And so growing up is never easy. There is much frustration and not a little hurt along the way, as well, of course, as all the good experiences like eating ice cream and making love and drinking a good bottle of wine. However, all the “ups and downs”, all the “ins and outs”, all the “overs and abouts” have to be integrated into a whole or into a unit that I can call me. Freud spoke about “making the unconscious conscious.” Jung spoke about the process of Individuation. Carl Rogers spoke about Self-actualization. Another psychiatrist or psychotherapist spoke about “Self-Realization,” (I cannot remember who at the moment used this precise term) while my hero psychiatrist, whom I would dearly have loved to have met, Anthony Storr referred to the “integrity of the personality.” However, while these terms have their own small variations and nuances, they are in fact all terms for the same goal – namely the self-development of the personality, which, all agree is the very goal and meaning of our life’s project or task.
Another metaphor, one of my favourites, with which I’ll finish this post is a very famous and astute one, and widely quoted, namely: “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In this context the whole is the Real Me, the Self, the Soul, Call-It-What-You-Like, while the distinct parts are if you like the many voices, the many instruments, the many masks which we use from day to day to survive. Hence, we have that marvellous word, well-used in Jungian circles and indeed in all the Humanistic theories and practices of psychotherapy, namely, holism. We have Jung to thank for this powerful emphasis in contemporary psychology and psychiatry.
The above picture is one I took of a section of the Garravogue River, Sligo town, Septemeb 2006. I am using this picture as my screensaver at the moment because I feel this picture is very meditative and Buddhist - Just look at the delicate flowers like the lotus blossom pushing up from that great amorphous black unconscious deep!