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The Mandala & Individuation

The mandala is a universal symbol derived from Sanskrit meaning ‘circle’. To Jung, there existed many mandala variations, such as “concentrically arranged figures, round or square patterns with a center, and radial or spherical arrangements.” However, the basic symbolism remained the same.

Jung expressed the mandala as: “the psychological expression of the totality of the self”,  the archetypal image of the conscious and unconscious combined.

The discovery of the mandala as a psychological and therapeutic symbol provided an essential component to Jung’s psychology. In his practice, Jung determined that the psychic experience which formed in the mandala pattern was typical of people who were no longer able to project the divine image – to find God somewhere outside themselves – and so were in danger of becoming prideful.

The mandala enclosed the individual with its protective walls, thus preventing disintegration and offered a means to rediscover the order and meaning of life.

Through observation of mandala drawings, Jung, saw:

that everything, all the paths I had been following, all the steps I had taken, were leading back to a single point – namely, to the mid-point. It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the center. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the centre, to individuation.”

Through contemplation and creative drawings of this center that was always present in mandala symbolism, an individual could then recognize and rediscover their inclusion in the activities of a society and eventually in the cosmic whole. This insight was one more step in Jung’s development of individuation.

The Hindu word for mandala is ‘magical center’; and it is, in fact, considered the center of all paths, its outer and inner circles representing wholeness and self-realization through the union of opposites, the conscious and unconscious within an individual. The Yin Yang symbol of two polar opposites united – female and male, black and white – represent this union.

It was not uncommon that individuals resisted the thoughts, feelings, impulses, realizations and intuitions that pushed upward from the unconscious part of the psyche into the conscious or semi-conscious.

The ego, or center of the conscious mind, often chose to ignore these contents because they appeared to be destructive, challenged us to grow and change, or threatened established conscious rationalizations. According to Jung, the conscious and unconscious were really two parts of the same psyche and when balanced worked optimally for psychological wholeness.

Jung wrote in The Integration of the Personality:

The psyche consists of two incongruous halves that should properly make a ‘whole’ together. . . . (but) consciousness and the unconscious do not make a whole when either is suppressed or damaged by the other. If they must contend, let it be a fair fight with equal right on both sides. Both are aspects of life. Let consciousness defend its reason and its self-protective ways, and let the chaotic life of the unconscious be given a fair chanced to have its way, as much of it as we can stand. This means at once open conflict and open collaboration. Yet, paradoxically, this is presumably what human life should be. It is the old play of hammer and anvil: the suffering iron between them will in the end be shaped into an unbreakable whole, the individual. This experience is what is called, . . . the process of individuation.

Personal growth resulted from the integration of both the unconscious and the conscious. The individual must reconcile the opposing sides of the personality where neither function was repressed, and each fulfilled its function within the larger experience of lifelong fulfillment of one’s potential.

In other words, an individual could not realize their ultimate possibilities by developing just the intellect at the expense of repressing the unconscious, nor could this individual live in a primarily unconscious state.

The process of growth, or “reciprocal interpenetration” of psychic opposites whereby the individual accepted the unconscious while remaining aware of one’s unique personality, Jung called individuation, which found its symbolic representation from “the center of the integrated totality of ones being, or “Self”, in the mandala.

Once the journey of individuation had been passed through, the personality was not only liberated but also healed and transformed, becoming truly ‘individual’, or an integrated whole, that was to say without being ego-centered.

Jung added greater insight about this process in Two Essays of Analytical Psychology,

Individuation means to become a single, discrete being, . . . Hence, individuation could also be translated as ‘coming to selfhood’ or ‘self-realization.’ . . . Individualism is a purposeful attempt to stress and make conspicuous some ostensible peculiarity, in opposition to collective considerations and obligations. But individuation means precisely a better and more complete fulfillment of the collective dispositions of mankind, since an adequate consideration of the peculiarity of the individual is more conducive to a better social achievement, than when the peculiarity is neglected or repressed. For the uniqueness of an individual must not be understood as mere strangeness, or singularity of his substance or components, but rather as a peculiar combination of elements, or as a gradual differentiation of functions and capacities which, in themselves, are universal. . . . In other words it [individuation] is a process by which a man can create of himself that definite, unique being that he feels himself, at bottom, to be. In so doing he does not become ‘self-centered’ in the ordinary sense of the word; he is merely fulfilling the particularity of his nature, something vastly different from egoism of individualism.

Inasmuch as the human individual, as a living unity, is made up of universal factors, this unity is wholly collective, and therefore in no sense opposed to collectivity. . . . Individuation aims at an essential cooperation of all factors.

Jung viewed this process of individuation, or transformation of the personality, as innate. Individuals strove naturally towards the goal of self-realization, and as they learned from experience, the psyche became integrated and whole.

Last updated on February 18, 2017 at 11:00 pm. Word Count: 990