Components of Individuation:
Part III—Internalizing a Locus of Authority
A few years ago my sister took to wearing a button on her shirt as she went through her days on the University of Vermont campus. The button said “Question Authority.” She didn’t wear the button for long, because she found people’s reaction to the button so dispiriting: Most people would see it, read it and then say, “What should I ask you?”
This sad story illustrates a fact about our culture: We are not encouraged to internalize a locus of authority. We grow up looking to our parents, our teachers, the clergy, the police, political leaders, doctors, lawyers, judges and others as authority figures, and we are taught to honor these authorities. Jung would not be pleased. While he was no revolutionary, he never encouraged people to give over ultimate authority for their lives to any external figure. He felt that doing so was essentially an alienation of the self, a sign of spiritual immaturity and an abdication of the personal task to search for the truth.
Not even analysts did Jung exempt on this point. Early in his essay “Principles of Practical Psychotherapy,” Jung admonished analysts:
When, as a psychotherapist, I set myself up as a medical authority over my patient and on that account claim to know something about his individuality, or to be able to make valid statements about it, I am only demonstrating my lack of criticism, for I am in no position to judge the whole of the personality before me…. If I wish to treat another individual psychologically at all, I must for better or worse give up all pretensions to superior knowledge, all authority and desire to influence.
My analyst describes the relationship of Jungian analyst to client as one where both parties are “in the soup together.” That is, both analyst and analysand are affected by the process and both must defer to the wisdom of the psyche.
Jung reserves some of his most sarcastic comments for those who externalize their locus of authority by becoming disciples of a guru. When discussing negative attempts to free the individuality in “The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious,” Jung wrote:
… the joy of becoming a prophet’s disciple… for the vast majority of people, is an altogether ideal technique. Its advantages are: the odium dignitatis, the superhuman responsibility of the prophet, turns into the so much sweeter otium indignitatis. The disciple is unworthy; modestly he sits at the Master’s feet and guards against having ideas of his own. Mental laziness becomes a virtue; one can at least bask in the sun of a semidivine being. He can enjoy the archaism and infantilism of his unconscious fantasies without loss to himself, for all responsibility is laid at the Master’s door. Through his deification of the Master, the disciple, apparently without noticing it, waxes in stature; moreover, does he not possess the great truth—not his own discovery, of course, but received straight from the Master’s hands? Naturally the disciples always stick together, not out of love, but for the very understandable purpose of effortlessly confirming their own convictions by engendering an air of collective agreement.
The result? Both master and disciples get inflated (since both are identifying with an archetype). The disciple looses his/her spiritual freedom. His individuality is injured. Life for both prophet and disciple is “full of sorrows, disappointments and privations,…” Put on a pedestal by his followers, the master/prophet teeters precariously and almost inevitably eventually succumbs to the moral evils of power, lust and/or greed. The disciple is infantilized and sorely disillusioned when his guru turns out to have feet of clay.
At the Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences, we got a first-hand look at this whole process this past Spring and Summer 2009, when one of our students got involved with the work of Dr. Zhi Gang Sha. Interested in his system of soul healing, she went to several of his workshops, came back and urged us to look into Sha’s work, because Sha is quite explicit in his belief that the soul is real, powerful and should be the “boss” of one’s life.
Aware of Jung’s conviction that the psyche (soul) is real, we jumped at the chance to investigate the work of someone else (from a very different, Oriental, not Western background) who recognizes the reality of the soul. So we offered to the public two workshops led by two students of Master Sha. In these workshops it was clear that they had tremendous respect for their master, even to the point of venerating his books (which were not to be put on the floor). Some of us began to be skeptical—what one student called “spotting a red flag.”
Then we were told that the Master could remove karma from past lives, as long as you bought $1,000 worth of his books. Another red flag.
Then came the pitch to attend the Master’s enlightenment retreat, at which one’s level of “soul standing” would be raised—for the cost of attendance, of course. Another red flag.
Finally, a group of us went to a workshop led by the Master himself. We saw people seeking to kiss his feet, to kiss the ground he walked on, to prostrate themselves, to wait on him hand and foot. More red flags.
But it was when Master Sha announced to the group that he had elevated Jesus, Mary and Buddha to a higher level of Heaven that we had incontrovertible proof of the inflation that Jung describes as one of the features of the guru syndrome. Jung would have none of this. We left the workshop on the spot.
The Positive Authority Figure
Jung had no good words for those who set themselves up as authority figures and then take their followers’ authority from them. But he was not completely opposed to gurus: they just had to be inner gurus. The medieval alchemists (especially Paracelsus) were Jung’s models here. The alchemical literature is full of references to “the stone,” “Christ,” “Khidri”—all symbols of the inner authority that develops over the course of the alchemical opus. Paracelsus was particularly adept at attacking the old authorities—Galen, Avicenna, Rhazes and others—and putting in their place the authenticity of his own personal experience of nature. Over the course of his experimentation Paracelsus developed an inner guru that he knew he could trust.
Jung did likewise in creating his body of psychological wisdom. He tried something and if it worked and helped his patients, it became part of his system, regardless of how the “authorities” in medicine, psychiatry, or psychology regarded it. Hence Jung’s open-mindedness about things like astrology and the I Ching. He worked with these ancient systems, saw first-hand how useful they can be, and so incorporated them into his armamentarium of techniques.
The positive authority figure lies within. This inner energy often shows up in our dreams of an Old Wise Man or Woman. Sometimes it can be the spirit of a long-dead figure, like the 8th-9th c. Hindu saint Shankaracharya. When your inner wisdom figure shows up you’ll know it, because, like all archetypes, this figure carries numinosity.
Internalizing this inner guru, Jung felt, is part of the process of becoming an adult. It takes effort and time to do so and Jung was aware that it is not something most people would have the maturity to do:
… mankind is, in essentials, psychologically still in a state of childhood—a stage that cannot be skipped. The vast majority needs authority, guidance, law. This fact cannot be overlooked. The Pauline overcoming of the law falls only to the man who knows how to put his soul in the place of conscience. Very few are capable of this (“Many are called, but few are chosen”). And these few tread this path only from inner necessity, not to say suffering, for it is sharp as the edge of a razor.
“Inner necessity” drives the mature person into this work, despite the suffering that is an inevitable part of it. Balancing the suffering are a wealth of benefits.
Benefits of Internalizing a Locus of Authority
Unlike disciples always looking to the master for direction, persons who “authorize their own lives” are able to make their own decisions. Jung regards those who externalize their locus of authority as “spectators” at their own lives, while those who live guided by an inner authority are active agents in the creation of reality.
A second benefit to authorizing one’s own life is that your guru is always present: you don’t have to go consult somebody else when you have to make a decision. No one else is running your life; no outside “other” is determining your fate. You have the opportunity (and the obligation) to decide for yourself.
Most importantly, internalizing a locus of authority benefits our self-esteem. We aren’t giving over the direction of our lives to someone else. We recognize our adult status and act like adults in the knowledge and awareness that we have an ever-present inner guidance system that we can trust.
Such an inner presence is of inestimable value in helping us feel safe in the world. This brings us to the final component of individuation: internalizing a locus of security, which is the subject of Part IV of this essay.
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