Individuation in Jungian depth psychology is the quest for wholeness, the complete integration of all aspects of the Self. The story of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection encapsulate this process, giving us a perspective from which to view our own individuation journey.
When Life Betrays Us
Handing him over to the authorities with a kiss, Judas initiates Jesus' individuation journey. Each individuation journey begins with what seems like a betrayal. A religion you once believed wholeheartedly crumbles beneath your feet. A heart attack, or cancer, or major illness falls upon you. A marriage you thought was forever suddenly dissolves. Your children leave the house, begin their own lives, and you are faced with your own isolation and existential aloneness. This can often lead to what Saint John of the Cross described as the Dark Night of the Soul, a descent to the depths of the subconscious whereby we find new life. This “betrayal” is a cry from our subconscious that we have somehow been abandoning our deeper selves and must now look into the dark.
Jesus is taken in, beaten, humiliated, and eventually executed by the governing authorities. This is the suffering that often accompanies the awareness that something is no longer right, no longer working, no longer the same. The Ego is trying to make sense, trying to bring rational, logical rhythm to this disparity. But the blows keep coming and a loss of the persona begins. The psyche is being rearranged. This is when we know we are on the precipice of great change, of a new way of being in the world.
“About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'” (Matthew 27:46 NASB)
At his death, Jesus, representing the unintegrated psyche self, is forced into death by external circumstances, which, in our case, is often initiated by a personal crisis of some sort. This can feel in many ways like abandonment: Why have you forsaken me? Why has my partner abandoned me? Why has my body forsaken me in illness? Why have my God/religion/religious leaders led me astray? Why has my government abandoned me? And one is thrown into the death of the persona and the uninitiated Ego.
Navigating the Depths
“...for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Matt 12:40
When Jesus dies, his body is taken to the tomb, the darkness of the womb of new birth. He descends into the“Heart of the earth,” the depths of the unconscious, and stays there three days. This is where the work really happens.
“Therefore it says,
“When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And He gave gifts to men.”
(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)” (Eph 4:8-10 NASB)
Jesus, in the symbolic descend into the unconscious, finds the “captive” or shadow aspects of the repressed psyche and leads them out, then ascends “so that He might fill all things,” becoming whole and integrated in the light of full consciousness having rescued all the captive/repressed aspects. This is what we do in the subconscious. Through dream work, active imagination, therapy, counseling, spiritual direction, journaling, etc. we visit the dark realms of ourselves and rescue the parts we repressed and deemed “not good enough” so long ago. We shine a light on them and integrate them back into our consciousness.
From the external perspective, the tomb is the waiting space, when it seems like nothing is happening. The disciples mourn and grieve, experiencing confusion, bewilderment, a deep questioning and wondering: “Is anything what I thought it was? Was it all a grand lie?” In the midst of their despair, they gather together. They eat together in one house, supporting one another in this liminal space. A gesture of showing kindness and compassion to oneself in the process of seeking wholeness.
The Resurrected Integrated Self
After three days, Jesus leaves the darkness of the tomb (the psychic womb, the dark fertile soil) integrating all abandoned and displaced aspects of Self. He emerges completely united and whole. He has done the hard work of self reflection. He has engaged with the darkness instead of turning away from it or numbing it with work, television, entertainment, media, or drugs. He allows himself to die to the old psychic self, face the darkest parts of himself, and emerge from the depths fully conscious.
The feminine aspect of the psyche, represented by the women who visit the tomb, is the first to know that a shift has happened within the Psyche. As the creative function, the feminine brings the inspiration to the masculine (the male disciples), then the masculine takes the inspiration of the feminine and manifests it in the world through action. All aspects work together in full unity to encompass the totality of the integrated Self.
This is our work. This is the work of individuation and wholeness. This is the work of a lifetime.