FOREST OF CONSCIOUSNESS
ORIGINAL RELIEF PRINT & ACCOMPANYING ESSAY
BY AMY HILEY
Central to the method of analytical psychology developed by C.G. Jung is the concept of individuation, a process through which ‘self-actualisation’ is achieved through the integration of the conscious and unconscious aspects of the self. “The aim of individuation is … to divest the self of the false wrappings of the persona on the one hand, and the suggestive power of primordial images on the other.” (1)
A Jungian understanding of the unconscious and the role it plays in individuation can be likened to the idea of “universal consciousness” that runs central to many Eastern philosophies in the form of ‘higher’ states of being, such as Nirvana or Samadhi. In our normal state, ego-consciousness keeps us under the narcissistic delusion that it is the centre of everything, that it is the Self, where in fact, it represents only a minute clearing in the chaotic wilderness that is the unconscious. If we can unite the two, and hold them in balance, we can become whole: those higher states are nothing more and nothing less than ‘wholeness’ in this sense.
In the artwork, the tiny ego-consciousness is represented by the foetus in its womb-like cave, shrouded by the comforting confines it needs in order to maintain the delusion that it is the centre of everything. But this centre, as well as being illusory, is minute in the vastness of which it is necessarily a part. The conscious mind comes to represent so tiny a part of the Self, that it shrinks to an insignificant drop in the ocean compared to the limitless unconscious thicket that engulfs it on all sides.
This insignificance is taken further, enhanced by the fact that, instead of representing merely a tiny clearing in a wide, wild forest, the Self is reduced to a yet smaller pocket of existence, being only a dot at the core of a single tree that stands contemplating the clearing, which has, itself, already been established as being pretty small in the scheme of things. If left unexplored and unintegrated, the enveloping wilderness will inevitably control the course of a person’s life while the ego-consciousness remains the powerlessly dependant infant, ignorant as a puppet in its sleep-like state.
The tree may represent many things: the symbolic possibility tied up in its image is rich. Thus the tree itself can be seen as a metaphor for the whole forest, the whole Self or even the whole ego-consciousness. Both tree and foetus bring symbolic connotations of the concept of growth, and it is hoped that through this, an element of hope is transmitted in the image. Though individuation is a ‘rare and wearisome process’ that requires ‘open conflict and open collaboration at once’ (2), it is not an impossible one: If we can make the unknown known, we can strip it of its chaotic power and reap the rich benefits its now not-so-shadowy depths can offer when non-judgmentally accepted and understood.
The forest people who dance in distant cyclical rhythms form the real forest and the real shadows. If the little ‘I’ becomes aware of its limitations, yet retains its sense of reason whilst painfully shedding the mask that tells it everything it wants to hear, it may grow to integrate itself into that strong, chaotic and potent realm without getting lost in either the forest or the lie.
1. C. G. Jung, 1935, ‘The Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious’
2. C. G. Jung, 1939, ‘Conscious, Unconscious and Individuation’