Letting your Life Speak – The Gentle Art of Individuation

Letting your Life Speak – The Gentle Art of Individuation

“Ask me whether what I have done is my life.”

William Stafford

Let Your Life Speak

Sometime ago, I discovered an old Quaker saying – “Let your life speak” – in a book by Parker Palmer. Palmer is a writer, speaker and activist who focuses on issues in community, leadership, spirituality and social change; and is the author of Let Your Life Speak. The Quakers lived their lives by letting the highest truths and values guide everything they do.

In the book, Palmer writes about his struggles and life challenges.  He finds meaning by looking at life differently. He writes: “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent . . . . Life that I am living is different from the life that wants to live in me. I sometimes catch a glimpse of my true life, a life hidden lie the river beneath the ice”.

Parker Palmer captures the spirit of Jung’s idea of individuation, that our lives are guided and moved by energies that are larger than our egos.

Individuation – Jung’s most misunderstood concepts

What is Individuation actually?

The greatest mystery of being human is the question of character and destiny. James Hillman says that our calling in life is inborn and that it is our mission to realize its imperatives. Based on Plato’s myth that you come into the world with a destiny, Hillman reframes the concept of individuation as the acorn theory, which says that there is an individual image belonging to your soul. An image forms our lives – a soul image — just as the oak’s destiny is contained in the tiny acorn. He writes: “each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived…. Each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny.”

What individuation is NOT is about being an individualist, isolated and alone away from others. It does not mean being grand by being rich or famous. Our “doing culture” can make our self-development journey a project rather than allowing and listening to what our lives have to say to us.  Or we feel that individuation is a destination — a place that we reach – like the top of a mountain.

Both ideas reflect lofty ideals that take us away from the day-to-day work of being and becoming ourselves.

The process of individuation is a natural and hardwired process in the psyche. It is a process that is imbedded in our nature and is constantly moving us forward to our fullest potential. It is teleological. It goes on without our awareness. As with all things related to the psyche, we don’t see it happening. When we suffer, most of the time we know that something is awry. The growth toward becoming who we were meant to be has encountered a glitch or a disturbance that is interfering with the process.

Acorn in the oak and know thyself

Jung spoke of the process to become whole and complete. To put it more simply, it is about becoming oneself, to be in the world in a less neurotic and more authentic way. To do that, we must make the unconscious conscious! And put another way, each of us has come to this planet with a specific purpose and we will stubbornly create our life – and the experiences in our life – to fulfill our soul’s calling. We are each an acorn that already contains a specific blueprint for a magnificent, unique oak tree.


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