The ultimate goal of all self-improvement work is to become the best version of yourself that you can possibly be. This doesn't mean putting on a false facade and trying to be something you're not. Quite the reverse. It means becoming the true and ultimate you - the shining jewel at the very core of your being. It's about unleashing the phoenix within. The world-famous hypnotist Paul McKenna puts it rather well in one of his self-improvement books when he states that we all essentially have three selves. There's the person we're born as - a glittering, untarnished diamond with infinite potential. Then there's the person we become as a result of stressful life experiences and the social and cultural conditioning we're subjected to by our parents, teachers, peers, employers and colleagues. This version, bruised and battered by life experiences, can be likened to a lump of coal due to the original diamond having become covered by years of accumulated muck and grime. Then, in an attempt to hide all our flaws and insecurities from the outside world, we go and paint over the muck with brightly-coloured nail varnish, choosing to project a fake image full of false bravado rather than admitting to being monumentally messed-up inside. But the answer to our problems doesn't lie in painting over the cracks. The solution is instead to scrape off the layers of muck to reveal the original pure diamond underneath with all of its shining potential still intact. It's an evolutionary process which the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung termed Individuation.
Here's where we start to pull together some of the various strands from my previous blogs to date so that a more complete picture can begin to take shape. Previously I've discussed the value of meditation, mindfulness and consciousness-altering hypnosis techniques; the psychological importance of imagery, mythology, legend and archetypes; the symbolic significance of death and resurrection, and the concept of modelling excellence through the principles of NLP. These pillars represent the cornerstones of the Phoenix approach to individuation - a process in which the conscious and subconscious elements of the human mind are made to work together in perfect harmony, unleashing a person's full potential and enabling them to live their life as a fabulous and wondrous adventure in which magical possibilities begin to unfold. It's a process of unpeeling the onion, layer by layer, until the original diamond at the core of our being is revealed. The diamond is still there, just as it always has been since the day you were born, but it's become obscured by all the crap life has thrown at it.
In Jungian Psychology, the first phase of the Individuation process is the shedding of the false self which Jung termed "the persona". The persona is the social mask we wear to fit into society. Its formation begins early in life as the pull of conformity causes us to identify most strongly with elements of our personality which are in harmony with the social values of our day, while rejecting those that clash with social norms. Think "peer group pressure" and you're on the right lines. The problem, however, is that many people reach a point where they believe they are the social mask they wear and in so doing they cut themselves off from the deeper realms of the psyche. Anyone wanting to take the conscious path of individuation must therefore accept that their social mask represents only a tiny fraction of their total personality. Peeling back that onion can be a difficult and traumatic process, but as I described in my previous blog, Regeneration - The Death and Resurrection Show, the destruction and breaking down of old outworn forms is a vital part of the process if we are to uncover the inner phoenix burning brightly underneath.
The next phase is the acceptance and integration of those aspects of our personality which have been suppressed or repressed. No matter how much we might try to deny it, we all have our dark or hidden sides - those parts of ourselves which we aren't particularly proud of and go out of our way to keep concealed from other people for fear of facing shame, ridicule, judgement and rejection. But repression is ultimately an unhealthy way of dealing with things. What we resist persists and, like trying to forcibly close a Jack-in-a-box, the harder we push the Jack down, the more dramatically it's going to burst back out. These aspects of ourselves are yearning for expression. They want to be recognised, not denied and ignored. Accepting these traits as legitimate parts of our wider, over-arching personality is the key to making peace with them. This isn't a licence to behave badly or to indulge unhealthy appetites. There's a world of difference between accepting something and indulging it. But denying those aspects of yourself altogether causes the personality to splinter into fragments. Accepting them - welcoming them into the fold and recognising them as legitimate parts of who you are - enables the greater self to become whole again and opens the door to healing. This work is key to the Generative Trance approach to therapy pioneered by Dr Stephen Gilligan, whose work I discussed in a previous blog, Hypnosis - Fact From Fiction, and it forms a major part of the way we work at Phoenix in which we use a variety of trance techniques to create a safe space in which clients can uncover, explore and make peace with those parts of themselves which had previously been denied expression.
Jung believed our complex psychological make-up could be seen reflected in mankind's rich history of myths and legends which symbolise the archetypal processes we all go through in the course of our lives. The characters in these mythic stories, whether they be the gods and goddesses of ancient pantheons or the superheroes of modern comic books and movies, also represent the various different archetypal aspects of our own psyche and those of the other people we meet on our life's journey. I had long been fascinated by the similarities found throughout myths, legends, fairy tales and religious teachings across the world. Numerous patterns can be seen to recur again and again in the folk stories of ancient cultures and civilisations which could not possibly have had any direct contact with each other. Such themes include the concept of a great flood which almost wiped out humanity, the notion of a messiah who rises from the dead, a virgin birth, a baby floating in a basket, a magical sword, and an archery contest in which an arrow is split down the middle by the winning shot. One of the first patterns to attract my own attention was that of the recurring significance of the number 12, particularly in relation to the number of characters or "followers" featured in classic stories. For example, the Ancient Greeks had their 12 Titans and then 12 Gods of Olympus, the Israelites had 12 tribes, Christ had 12 apostles, Mohammed had 12 disciples or Imams, the Zoroastrians had 12 Gods known as Commanders of the Light, Buddhism has 12 Stations of Life, King Arthur had 12 Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood had 12 Merry Men and a coven of witches has 12 members plus its High Priestess. Coincidence? Not if you consider the fact that there are also 12 signs of the zodiac and 12 basic personality types recognised within psychology. Just let that sink in for a moment. If you think there's not a pattern here then I would venture to suggest you're in denial. The bottom line is that creation conforms to a strict schematic template or blueprint, which is why Freemasons refer to God as "The Great Architect of the Universe". By making a conscious effort to live our lives in accordance with that blueprint, we massively increase the chances of favourable results because we're working in harmony with the laws of creation instead of unconsciously resisting them.
Another enduring concept found throughout myth, legend and world religions is that of a “Chosen One” or “Child of Promise” whose coming has been foretold in ancient prophecies and who is expected to be the saviour who will finally liberate humankind from all its woes. Among the most famous examples of this archetypal demigod figure are Jesus of Nazareth, Vasudev Krishna, Moses, King Arthur and Robin Hood. The concept is also explored frequently in cinema through characters such as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, who carries the seed of his Jedi heritage, and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter who was predestined from birth to vanquish the evil power of Lord Voldermort. Put simply, creation conforms to a template, as do our myths and legends which are subconscious reflections of universal laws. An understanding of this concept enables us to live our lives in accordance with the rules of the template - a process whereby we become a co-creator of our own reality rather than resisting and fighting against the fundamental laws and principles underpinning creation. By identifying the archetypal characters which resonate most strongly within our own being, and making a conscious decision to "live our own myth", we turn our lives into an adventure story and start to embrace the magic rather than resisting it.
These essentially Jungian themes were expanded upon by American psychologist James Hillman (1926-2011) who studied and later taught at the Jung Institute in Zurich. Hillman's work in archetypal psychology recognised the existence of multiple "selves" within the human psyche. He made frequent reference to gods, goddesses, demigods and other imaginal figures which he referred to as sounding boards "for echoing life today or as bass chords giving resonance to the little melodies of daily life". Hillman taught that the images or myths a person is intuitively drawn to in both dreams and waking reality are indications of their soul's true calling. By identifying that life calling and actualising it, we can unlock our full potential. The mythological hero or archetype we feel most drawn to therefore becomes a template for us to model as we create our own adventure. The principle works just the same, no matter whether our hero of choice be Jesus Christ, Robin Hood, Superman, Wonder Woman or Harry Potter as long as the core values embodied by that character are in alignment with our own underlying values and belief system. Hillman believed that all people already hold the potential for unique possibilities inside themselves, much as an acorn holds the pattern for an oak tree.
These concepts are also key to the work of Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature whose work included the study of comparative mythology and comparative religion. Campbell wrote a book titled The Hero With A Thousand Faces (1949) in which he shared his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero shared by world mythologies. Campbell’s hypothesis that all stories conformed to a basic common template which he termed the monomyth, or Hero's Journey, gained widespread international recognition after George Lucas credited it with inspiring the Star Wars saga. Novelists, songwriters and video game designers have all drawn inspiration from Campbell’s theories and the themes can be spotted in storylines as diverse as Watership Down, The Lion King, The Matrix, Batman and the Indiana Jones series. Campbell described the basic narrative pattern of the monomyth as:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Campbell, Hillman and Jung all believed that the key to unlocking man’s full potential lay in understanding and mastering the universal laws and patterns found within the unconscious mind, of which the monomyth was one example. The process of liberating man from the bondage of everyday life, with all of its stresses and strains, involves applying the template of The Hero’s Journey to one’s own life and making a conscious decision to “live the myth”. This means unleashing our own inner “Chosen One” - the true self trapped within - in order to tap into our innate power and infinite potential, taking back control over our own destiny. The Chosen One is therefore not some external superhero-saviour expected to arrive on Earth at some undetermined future date to rescue mankind, but is rather a symbolic representation of the Divine potential which exists within us all. We each have within us a perfect, magnificent version of the Self - an inner phoenix - the ideal person we were born to be. The process of self-transmutation through which one becomes this Higher Self is the true alchemy, symbolised in literature by the mythological quest for the Holy Grail. In a previous blog I highlighted the fact that famous examples of the dying-and-rising-god archetype from history and mythology served as models to illustrate the universal law of death and resurrection. The same is true of the Chosen One - these archetypes serve as models whose exploits, whether real or fictitious, are designed to stir the inner knowing within our subconscious where our own Higher Self is imprisoned. Whether or not one chooses to believe in the existence or historical accuracy of characters such as Christ or King Arthur is entirely a matter of personal faith and preference, but it is not necessary to prove their historicity in order to be able to derive benefit from the fundamental truths embedded within the allegory.
I've spoken previously about my own affinity with Robin Hood, particularly Richard Carpenter's 1980s take on the legend Robin of Sherwood (See Robin Hood - Symbol of Hope), though my love for this particular archetype goes back even further than that to the days when my grandmother had an old red leather-bound book of the Sherwood folk stories which I would absorb myself in voraciously when we stayed with her over the summer holidays. All the classic monomyth ingredients are present across various tellings of this legend including The Chosen One (Robin himself, the Hooded Man), the plucky heroine (Marian), the archetypal twelve followers (in this case the Merry Men), the wise old man who serves as a mentor figure (Herne the Hunter), the use of magic and super powers (such as the magic sword Albion), the hero's dual identity and double-life, the hero's death and resurrection, the arch-villain who blocks the way (the Sheriff of Nottingham), the villain's henchman (Guy of Gisborne) and the arrow-splitting archery contest. Everything about Robin Hood, and what the character stands for, resonates with me on a fundamental level - a champion of the underdog who robs from the rich to give to the poor and who stands as a symbol of resistance against tyranny, injustice and oppression. Robin Hood was an outcast - a pariah - who turned around one day and said: "You know what? Enough is enough. It's time to fight back, regardless of the seemingly-insurmountable odds against us".
For as long as I can remember I have always identified with Robin Hood-type characters - not just Robin himself but also other examples of the archetype such as Zorro, Batman and contemporary reimaginings like Simon Templar (The Saint). Even Doctor Who contains elements of this archetype - the character of The Doctor being a fugitive from his own people who fled a society which had descended into decadence and corruption. Another character which resonated strongly with me was The Count of Monte Cristo (from the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas) whose eponymous hero Edmund Dantes was falsely imprisoned in a hell-hole of a jail for 15 years before eventually escaping, unearthing a buried treasure and reinventing himself as an all-powerful socialite with the resources to bring down those who'd betrayed and framed him. The parallels with my own life journey could scarcely have been more stark. So when it came to my own individuation project, it was a complete no-brainer. I didn't even have to think about it. My archetypes were Robin Hood, Simon Templar, The Count of Monte Cristo and Doctor Who - those were the myths I'd felt intuitively drawn to my entire life, all of them conformed to what's known as the "Outlaw" archetype and those were the characters I was always going to model. I played back old DVDs of Robin of Sherwood, Doctor Who and The Saint, I studied the physiology and speech patterns of Michael Praed, Jason Connery, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Roger Moore and Ian Ogilvie and I assimilated them into my own personality until I felt their strength, confidence and passion for social justice coursing through my veins like fire. But, I hear you cry, isn't this just acting? No. Not if the person/character you're modelling is an archetype in harmony with your own values and belief system and towards whom you've always felt drawn. That's the difference between being a fake and being your true self. If you're being even the slightest bit false then the facade will collapse like a house of cards, but if the archetype is true to yourself and everything you stand for then you're simply turning up the dial on your own ability to deliver on your true potential. Archetypes represent our ultimate self - the person we can be once we've shed our inhibitions, peeled back the layers of the onion, scraped off the grime and decades worth of negative programming which life has drilled into us. We all have it within us to be a superhero. We just have to rip loose the shackles chaining us to our outer Clark Kent and unleash the Superman beneath. Do this and you'll suddenly start to attract the people, resources and support network you need to make your dreams become reality. Trust me. It works. All it needs is a leap of faith.
It's perfectly possible to be drawn to more than one archetype and to model more than one example simultaneously. The alchemical secret is to mix the colours on the pallet until you come up with a hybrid which is most in keeping with your own core values and which resonates with you on every level. It's very important not to overthink this process but just to let it unfold naturally and organically. I mentioned in my last blog, The Whirlwind - The People's Champion, Now and Forever, how I'd been modelling my idol Jimmy White, either consciously or unconsciously, throughout much of my life. It was actually my hypnosis master, Thom Shillaw, who cottoned onto this during a fascinating piece of therapy in which he somehow discovered, with forensic skill, that my unconscious modelling of Jimmy White was the reason why I had so often, in the course of my own life, somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. By making me aware of the fact that I'd been modelling the Whirlwind, Thom was able to shift the underlying reference memory and ensure that from that point on I took from Jimmy only those attributes which were actually helpful to me, and ignored the rest. And that's another key to the successful modelling of excellence. We don't have to copy everything about a person - we can take from our heroes and models just those aspects which are useful and leave the other stuff behind. Discovering this was a huge game-changer for me and it almost immediately flushed out a huge number of my innate fears and insecurities which had been picked up through unconscious modelling, not just of Jimmy White but of other people as well. We're all unconsciously modelling people from the day we're born. Ever wondered why people from the same family often have the same mannerisms and vocal inflections? It isn't entirely genetic - it's learned behaviour. We learn how to speak and walk by copying our parents and elder siblings and we do it unconsciously without even thinking. The same is true of mannerisms, foibles, facial expressions, beliefs and values. All of these are learnt from our parents, siblings, teachers, mentors, peers and heroes. The type of modelling we're advocating here at Phoenix simply involves taking conscious control of the modelling process to ensure we're taking on board the qualities and attributes most useful to us in our own unique journey, rather than simply soaking up unconsciously the traits of those people in our immediate social circle without regard for whether those traits are good, bad or helpful.
At Phoenix we use the Neuro-Linguistic Programming concept of modelling to help people with their own personal individuation projects. If you've read my previous blog, NLP - The Modelling of Excellence, then you'll know that I've had a love-hate relationship with NLP over the years but that I've come to appreciate the value of its fundamental tenet of the modelling of excellence. Whether your hero is Nelson Mandela or King Arthur, Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln, Robin Hood or William Wallace, Iron Man or Thor, a contemporary or historical figure, a real person or a character from fiction, legend or folklore, they can serve as a model to help you become the ultimate version of yourself. We can help you to identify the heroes, characters and myths most congruent with your own self and teach you how to model those figures to become the best version of you imaginable. When you embark upon your own Hero's Journey, your life will become a magical adventure and whole new worlds and possibilities will begin to open up to you. As Christ said, "The Kingdom of heaven is within you". Your inner phoenix is just waiting to be awakened, so don't wait a moment longer. Take that first step towards individuation right now. Check out our website phoenixcoaching.co.uk or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can help you to regenerate your life and unleash the phoenix within.
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