Wilderness = Individuation
Forgive me if I keep coming back to the idea of a Passage through the Wilderness. I started this series of posts originally because I wanted to tie it in to my just-published memoir, GOVT CHEESE, which is about my own Wilderness Passage. But I keep coming back to the topic because it seems so central to all of our lives—and particularly our “hero’s journey” odyssey that leads us to our calling as artists and as human beings.
Most of us are familiar with Jung’s term “individuation.” It was, Jung always said, the goal and the object of any exercise in therapy.
In “the talking cure,” we work with a psychotherapist to explore the content of our unconscious as a means of stripping away all false or delusory selves with the aim of arriving ultimately at our true individuated self.
In real life, the world kicks the crap out of us until we arrive at the same place.
What the person in therapy is seeking is to answer the question, “Who am I?” And to take it to the next level: “How do I become that? How do I become who I already am?”
A Wilderness Passage, in our real lives for ourselves or in our fiction for a character we have created, is a real-world version of psychotherapy. It’s the psychotherapy of hard knocks.
Are we struggling with anxiety, depression, isolation, PTSD, addiction (of all kinds)? Are we a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a business? All these, if you ask me, are versions of the same question:
“Who am I?”
And the deeper corollary questions:
“What is stopping me from finding out who I am … and what is stopping me from becoming that?”
The passage itself is often the answer. Why do I have a problem with alcohol/porn/doom-scrolling? What does my anxiety protect me from? Why can’t I finish my novel/screenplay/dissertation?
The wilderness itself will teach us because it will break us down. We will run and run until we run out of bullshit. At that point—an All is Lost Moment—we’ll come face to face with Jung’s question.
For me it was, “I’m running from writing.”
Individuation for me was, “Sit the f*ck down and start writing.”
That was my answer to the question, “Who am I?”
When all the false selves and the runaway selves and the let’s-try-this-version-of-who-we-are selves have shot their wad and fallen to the wayside, what is left?
That’s who we really are.