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Reviewed by Charles Remington for Readers' Favorite
Individuation is a term that was used by Carl Jung to describe the process of unifying the conscious and subconscious minds, producing a psychologically integrated and balanced personality. Identical conditions or spiritual awakenings are recognised in many religions and cultures under a variety of names. It is known as Kundalini in the Indian sub-continent and, in the West, is probably what forms the basis of Gnosticism and Esotericism. It is a condition that can be brought on spontaneously as a result of deep meditation. Night Sea Journey by James V. Downton is subtitled ‘The Ordeal of Individuation’ and ‘Ordeal’ seems to be the operative term when the author goes on to describe seven years of physical and mental tribulations whilst undergoing this process. During this time, he suffered extreme heat in the base of his spine, rising to his shoulders, loss of sleep, disorientation and reactions from his subconscious which surfaced via violent or horrific dreams.
In Indian culture those undergoing Kundalini are helped by an experienced guide, but as an American university lecturer, James Downton was unable to avail himself of the services of a guru, and Jungian analysis also proved to be of little help. As a result, he underwent this transformative process virtually alone, helped only by books and writings which he managed to source on the subject. Towards the end of the period, however, he started to experience episodes of what he describes as ‘ecstasy’, and finally emerged unscathed, his spiritual awakening complete and his psyche in balance. At the end of the book, he describes his new view of daily life and the various techniques he has developed which enable him to maintain a peaceful, balanced outlook. The book also includes further reading suggestions for those interested in the subject.
Interested in the work and ideas of Carl Jung, I was intrigued by this book and found it an enlightening, if sometimes scary, view of a process that very few individuals undergo. I had very little knowledge of Individuation and imagined the process of Kundalini to be one of peace and tranquility as the individual advanced towards enlightenment. I was unprepared for the harrowing tale which chronicles James Downton’s experience, but heartened by the end result and encouraged by his transformation into what appears to be a more balanced individual. The book is lucid and well-written, succinct and to the point. An excellent introduction to a subject that can take one along any number of exploratory avenues, and an interesting and absorbing work. Highly recommended.