Spiritual Awakening: Exploring Self-realization in the work of Carl Jung

Carl Jung’s profound insights into the realms of the unconscious and the nature of the Self provide valuable guidance on the path to Awakening. Through the exploration of symbols and archetypes, we gain a deeper understanding of the essential aspects of our being. This blog post delves into the symbolic motifs related to compassion, self-compassion, self-realization, and spiritual awakening, as illuminated by the work of Carl Jung.

The Archetype of the Self: Unveiling Transcendent Wholeness

At the core of Jung’s framework is the archetype of the Self, representing transcendent wholeness. It stands as the most significant archetype, serving as the focal point for the integration of all other archetypes within our psyche. The Self extends beyond our individual identity and encompasses a profound dimension of consciousness that surpasses our everyday awareness.

Jung spoke of the Self as “the archetype of transcendent wholeness.” (CW5, para. 297) Carl Jung saw the Self as an archetype, meaning that the motif of the Self is a guiding principle in psychic life, occurring in myths and spiritual teachings from around the world. The Self is probably the most important archetype. All other archetypes are supportive of the archetype of the Self.

In the Psychology of the Unconscious (1916), Jung speaks of the Self as “the super-personal”. In the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Jung calls the Self the “supraordinate personality” (Carl Jung, CW 9i, para. 314). As a universal motif, the archetype of the Self reflects an intuition that guides growth and development.

Self-realization in the Work of Carl Jung

There is an instinctual movement towards Self-realization. Jung expressed this when he spoke of “a driving force, … an urge toward Self-realization”. (CW 7, para. 291).

In the rich tapestry of Carl Jung’s work, the concept of self-realization shines as a guiding principle. Jung recognized an innate and instinctual movement within each individual towards the realization of the Self. He eloquently expressed this driving force when he spoke of “a driving force, … an urge toward Self-realization” (CW 7, para. 291).

According to Jung, this innate urge reflects our deep-seated desire to connect with the core of our being, to uncover our true nature, and to live authentically. It is a profound invitation to embark on a journey of self-discovery and growth, embracing the totality of who we are.

For Jung, self-realization was not a static destination but an ongoing process of becoming. It involved engaging with the unconscious, working with symbols and archetypes, and integrating the disparate aspects of the psyche. Through this transformative journey, individuals could gradually align with their unique and authentic selves.

The instinctual movement towards self-realization compels us to explore the depths of our being, to confront our shadows, and to embrace the potential for growth and transformation. It is a call to step beyond the limitations of the ego and to connect with the expansive and transcendent nature of the Self.

In Jung’s view, self-realization was not merely an individual endeavor but held collective significance as well. As individuals embarked on their journeys of self-discovery, they contributed to the evolution and transformation of the collective consciousness.

The One-sidedness of the Ego: Navigating the Limitations

While the ego is essential for navigating our daily lives, it often operates in a one-sided manner, constrained by its limited perspective. Jung recognized the necessity of transcending this one-sidedness by inviting the unconscious aspects of our personality into conscious awareness. By engaging with symbols presented in dreams, myths, and imagination, we unlock the potential for integrating these unconscious elements, expanding our understanding and broadening our horizons in relation to the true nature of the Self.

Jung understood that the Self transcends the personal ego. The idea of the Self presupposes two centers of consciousness, the Self being the deeper, more profound aspect of consciousness. Most of us have an ego. The ego is the center of our conscious awareness.

Egoic thought relies upon directed thinking. Jung understood that egoic (directive) thought is typically one-sided, and this is a defect (see CW 7, para 483). Jung understood that the only way to transcend the one-sidedness of the conscious ego is to open to those aspects of the personality which are unconscious. We do this through working with the symbols as presented in dreams, myth, and imagination. Working with symbols encourages us to become aware of and integrate the aspects of the personality that we are currently unaware of (the unconscious). As we transcend the ego, we become more and more aware of the true Self. The true Self is the subjective experience which transcends the personal ego. Knowing the true self gives rise to a wider, more expansive sense of who we are.

Individuation: The Alchemical Process of Self-Synthesis

At the heart of Jungian psychology lies the concept of individuation—a transformative process of self-realization and self-actualization. Through deep self-exploration and introspection, we unlock our innate potential for conscious realization of our unique individuality. Individuation involves a journey of differentiation, allowing us to become whole and authentic beings. We find our selfhood through this process.

Carl Jung writes, “I have called this wholeness that transcends consciousness the ‘self.’ The goal of the individuation process is the synthesis of the self.” (Carl Jung CW 9i, para. 278) Through an investigation of the Self, we each hold the potential to become more fully conscious of who we are as living being.

Just as an acorn holds the potential to become an oak tree. So, too, each of us can realize our full potential. Jung said, “there is a destination, a possible goal… That is the way of individuation. Individuation means becoming an “in-dividual,” and, in so far as “individuality” embraces our innermost, last, and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one’s own self. We could therefore translate individuation as “coming to selfhood” or “self-realization.” (Carl Jung, CW 7, pap.266)

Jung explored various philosophies, spiritual teachings, myths. From his investigations, he was able to create a theory of psycho-spiritual growth and development, which he called ‘individuation’. The word individuation comes from the Medieval Latin individuare meaning “to make individual.” Jung speaks of individuation as the process of differentiation, of becoming a unique and whole ‘individual’. Jung writes: “The concept of individuation plays a large role in our psychology. In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology. Individuation, therefore, is a process of differentiation, having for its goal the development of the individual personality” (CW 6, para. 757).

Individuation is a process of growth and development in which we make contact with the deeper layers of the inner Self. The work of individuation orients the mind toward the inner world, toward the innermost Self. This inner movement includes a relation to the transpersonal dimension of psychic life. It is through a connection to these transpersonal dimensions of the Self that we awaken to who we truly are.

The Healing Potential of the Self: Bridging the Divide

According to Jung, true healing unfolds through establishing a profound connection with the Self. Genuine healing necessitates acknowledging and integrating the hidden aspects of ourselves, thereby fostering unity and wholeness. While other healing modalities may provide temporary relief or palliative measures, it is the deep connection with our Self that ultimately leads to profound transformation, significantly altering our lives and our relationship with existence itself.

According to Carl Jung, any true healing involves a connection to the Self. Jung wrote, “Only what is really oneself has the power to heal.” (CW 7, para. 258) The work of Self-realization entails a desire to know and integrate hidden aspects of the Self. This brings about a sense of unity and wholeness.

Most enlightenment teachings express the notion that healing emerges through a connection to the deeper Self. This is the true path to healing. Every other healing modality is short term, while connection to the depths of the Self transforms the entirety of life and one’s relationship to life.

Working with Symbols: Portals to Self-Realization

Jung utilized symbols as powerful tools for exploring the contents of the personal and collective unconscious, acting as catalysts for transformative processes within us. Symbols serve as gateways to the depths of the psyche, allowing us to uncover and integrate unconscious aspects of our being. These symbols can manifest as images, sounds, or gestures, and they possess both psychological and spiritual dimensions. By actively engaging with symbols, we gain profound insights into the hidden realms of our Self, facilitating growth, self-realization, and personal evolution.

Jung used symbols to make contact with the contents of the personal and collective unconscious, eliciting an innate process of transformation. Jung encouraged people to work with symbols and archetypes as a path to realizing the unconscious shadowy aspects of the psyche. Carl Jung realized patterns exist within the primordial layer of the unconscious, which he called the collective unconscious. These patterns are represented in symbolic form.

Symbols are images, sounds, or gestures that represent ideas or qualities. Symbols are collective motifs that represent psycho-spiritual dynamics. Some of these symbols are purely psychological, but many symbols are more spiritual in nature. Certain symbols are vital to the process of spiritual enlightenment. Working with symbols also encourages an investigation into the inner worlds of the Self. We can work with symbols to clarify and discern that which is unconscious and bring those aspects into consciousness.

Jung studied the sacred myths in order to write about the various symbolic motifs. These motifs express patterns in consciousness. Jung believed that these patterns express the instinctual strivings toward the growth and development of consciousness. Jung writes, “The archetype is a tendency to form such representations of a motif – representations that can vary a great deal in detail without losing their basic pattern…. They are … instinctive trend.” (Carl Jung, Man and his Symbols, p. 58). The development of consciousness is intertwined with our instinctual strivings. The instincts are important in the process of psychological growth and development. Jung wrote, “Life is teleology par excellence; it is the intrinsic striving towards a goal, and the living organism is a system of directed aims which seek to fulfill themselves.” (Carl Jung, CW 8, par. 798) Our instincts guide psychic development toward wholeness and unity, toward a dynamic equilibrium in consciousness. Jung said, the “Instinct is purposive.” (Seminar Given in 1925 by Carl Jung, Page 86.)

Through a connection to the symbols and archetypes, we can find reconnection to the instinctive patterns that guide the process of Enlightenment. Symbols guide the process of spiritual development. Symbols are to be contemplated and meditated on. In this way, the individual grows toward higher truth and awareness.

The True Nature of the Self: Transcending Boundaries

Jung identified the Archetype of the Self as resonating with the concepts of Atman and the Buddha. It represents a psychic totality and a central core that encompasses, yet transcends, the ego. The Self is an image of pure subjectivity—an intrinsic part of our consciousness and the very source of our experience of subjectivity itself. Although the Self can be experienced as an object of consciousness, we can further comprehend it through the projection of its contents onto external forms, such as dreams, imagination, and art.

Jung states rater clearly that the Archetype of the Self is related to the Atman and the Buddha. It is a figure comparable to Hiranyagarbha, Purusha, Atman, and the mystic Buddha. For this reason I have elected to call it the “self,” by which I understand a psychic totality and at the same time a centre, neither of which coincides with the ego but includes it, just as a larger circle encloses a smaller one. (Carl Jung, CW 9I, 247) In Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung writes more about Self in as Atman.. Jung says, “the nature of the atman …corresponds to the smaller than small yet bigger than big motif. As an individual phenomenon, the self is “smaller than small”; as the equivalent of the cosmos, it is “bigger than big.”

Jung understands the atman is an image of the Self as pure subjectivity. Subject and Object are two poles of conscious awareness that make up the experience of subjectivity. The Self is the pure subjective pole. Jung says, The self, regarded as the counter-pole of the world, its “absolutely other,” is the sine qua non all empirical knowledge and consciousness of subject and object. Only be-cause of this psychic “otherness” is consciousness possible at all. (Carl Jung, CW 9i, para 289)

Jung used the word ‘supraordinate’ to describe the Self. The Self, in this sense, includes the totality of the conscious and the unconscious. Jung says: “I usually describe the supraordinate personality as the “self,” thus making a sharp distinction between the ego, which, as is well known, extends only as far as the conscious mind, and the whole of the personality, which includes the unconscious as well as the conscious component. The ego is thus related to the self as part to whole. To that extent the self is supraordinate.” (Carl Jung, CW 9i, para. 314-315)

Jung further says that the Self is often experienced as an object of our consciousness. In other words, we are perceiving the Self from the perspective of the ego. He says: “Moreover, the self is felt empirically not as subject but as object, and this by reason of its unconscious component, which can only come to consciousness indirectly, by way of projection.” (ibid) This implies that we have some distance from our ‘Self’. Because of this distance, we cannot experience the Self directly, instead it becomes the object of our contemplation.

Jung believed that the Self was not necessarily directly accessible or subjectively experienced. Instead, it is the aspect of our being that we have to get to know ‘by way of projection.’ The projected images appear in imagination, dreams, and art. This is where Jung is a great guide to knowing the Self.

Jung showed how the Self appears to the conscious mind (ego) as archetypal images and forms. Jung says: “Because of its unconscious component the self is so far removed from the conscious mind that it can only be partially expressed by human figures; the other part of it has to be expressed by objective, abstract symbols. The human figures are father and son, mother and daughter, king and queen, god and goddess. Theriomorphic symbols are the dragon, snake, elephant, lion, bear, and other powerful animals, or again the spider, crab, butterfly, beetle, worm, etc. Plant symbols are generally flowers (lotus and rose). These lead on to geometrical figures like the circle, the sphere, the square, the quaternity, the clock, the firmament, and so on.” (ibid)

From the perspective of the egoic mind, the essential Self seems incomprehensible. Archetypal images emerge to express the nature of the Self. Jung says: The indefinite extent of the unconscious component makes a comprehensive description of the human personality impossible. Accordingly, the unconscious supplements the picture with living figures ranging from the animal to the divine, as the two extremes outside man, and rounds out the animal extreme, through the addition of and inorganic abstractions, into a microcosm. These addenda have a high frequency in anthropomorphic divinities, where they appear as “attributes.” (ibid)

Compassion Awakens in Relationship to Self-Realization in the Work of Carl Jung

Within the transformative journey of self-realization in Carl Jung’s work, compassion emerges as a profound and vital aspect. Jung recognized that as individuals embark on the path of self-discovery and integration, they cultivate a deepening sense of compassion towards themselves and others.

Compassion, in the context of self-realization, involves embracing the inherent interconnectedness of all beings and recognizing the shared struggles, joys, and vulnerabilities that unite humanity. It is through the process of exploring and integrating the various aspects of the self, including the shadows and unconscious realms, that individuals develop a compassionate attitude towards their own experiences and the diverse range of human existence.

Jung understood that self-realization requires a willingness to face and integrate the shadow aspects within oneself—those parts that may be difficult, uncomfortable, or even repressed. By acknowledging and accepting these aspects with compassion, individuals move beyond self-judgment and cultivate a profound sense of empathy and understanding for others.

As individuals delve deeper into their own psyche and connect with their authentic selves, they gain insight into the complexities and depths of human nature. This expanded awareness fosters compassion by transcending the limited perspective of the ego and embracing the inherent divinity within oneself and all living beings.

Compassion awakens as individuals realize the interconnectedness of their own suffering and the suffering of others. Through the integration of the shadow and the exploration of archetypal symbols, individuals gain a broader perspective that goes beyond personal narratives and opens their hearts to the universal human experience.

In Jungian psychology, the concept of the Self represents the transcendent wholeness that encompasses both the individual and collective dimensions of consciousness. As individuals approach self-realization and align with the Self, they tap into a deeper wellspring of compassion that emanates from the shared source of interconnectedness.

Through the integration of compassion and self-realization, individuals cultivate an attitude of kindness, empathy, and acceptance towards themselves and others. This compassionate awakening transforms relationships, promotes harmony, and contributes to the healing and evolution of the collective consciousness.

In conclusion, compassion and self-realization are intertwined aspects of the transformative journey in Carl Jung’s work. As individuals explore the depths of their being and integrate the various aspects of the self, compassion naturally arises, expanding their capacity for empathy, understanding, and interconnectedness. It is through the awakening of compassion that individuals embody the profound wisdom and love that resides within, fostering a more compassionate and harmonious world.


I invite you to share your comments and insights on the possibility of compassionate awakening. Your feedback is valuable and helps me gain a deeper understanding of your perspective. Together, we are embarking on a journey towards compassion. Please keep in mind that although I read and appreciate all comments, I am unable to respond individually. Nevertheless, your input plays a vital role in shaping the conversation and fostering a meaningful dialogue. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Let’s awaken into compassion together!

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