ERIC Identifier: ED448305
Publication Date: 2000-00-00
Author: Dirkx, John M
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Transformative Learning and the Journey of Individuation. ERIC
Digest No. 223.
Over the last 20 years, transformation theory has deepened our understanding
of what it means to learn in adulthood. Collectively, the work of Paulo Freire,
Phyllis Cunningham, Laurent Daloz, and Jack Mezirow, among others, addresses the
sociocultural and personal dimensions of transformative learning. Dominant views
of transformative learning emphasize rational, cognitive processes related to
critical reflection. An additional perspective on transformation, however, has
emerged, led by Robert Boyd and his colleagues (Boyd 1989, 1991; Boyd and Myers
1988). This work focuses on deeper emotional and spiritual dimensions of
learning that many have suggested are underdeveloped in dominant conceptions of
transformative learning (Merriam and Caffarella 1999). This Digest summarizes
and expands on Boyd's notion of transformative learning, discussing the role of
image, symbol, ritual, fantasy, and imagination in transformation.
BOYD'S VIEW OF TRANSFORMATIVE EDUCATION
For many years,
Boyd's research on the nature of adult learning in small groups has reflected a
long-standing commitment to understanding the psychosocial, emotional, and
spiritual dimensions of adult learning. This work is grounded in the field of
depth psychology, which is based on a fundamental belief in the powerful role
that the dynamic unconscious plays in shaping our thoughts, feelings, and
actions on a day-to-day basis. In Boyd's view, powerful feelings, emotions, and
affect that arise within our learning experiences draw attention and energies to
unconscious issues or concerns seeking to gain voice.
Boyd's earlier work reflected a more Freudian influence, particularly that of
Erik Erikson. It was his study of Carl Jung, however, which led him to formulate
a view of transformative learning grounded in Jung's concept of individuation
(Boyd 1991; Boyd and Myers 1988). Jung (1921, quoted in Jacoby 1990) defines
individuation as a "process by which individual beings are being formed and
differentiated...having as its goal the development of the individual
personality" (p. 94). The forces and dynamics associated with individuation are
largely unconscious and manifest themselves, independent from the conscious ego,
within the emotional, affective, and spiritual dimensions of our lives.
We often discover that, despite our best intentions, our being in the world
seems to take on a life of its own. More accurately, we find that our lives are
actually made up of multiple selves, each seeming to have its own sense of
direction and purpose. Our conscious will is often quite one sided, reflecting
the influence of our sociocultural contexts and personal biographies (Clark and
Dirkx 2000). From Jung's perspective of individuation, however, we understand
that the ego is just one player within the psyche, and not a very powerful one
at that. When we begin to participate consciously in this process of
individuation, we often discover that our conscious, ego-based striving to be
what we want to be is not the same as being who we are (Jacoby 1990). Without
conscious participation, we are much more subject to compulsions, obsessions,
and complexes, which may be the darker, more unconscious manifestation of the
individuation or transformation process.
Individuation involves differentiating and becoming aware of the presence of
the different selves operating within the psyche. This requires an imaginative
engagement with the unconscious, a working dialogue between ego consciousness
and the powerful contents of the unconscious. According to Boyd, a
transformative education fosters the natural processes of individuation through
imaginative engagement with these different dimensions of one's unconscious
life. This engagement reflects an ongoing dialogue between ego consciousness and
THE IMPORTANCE OF IMAGES
Boyd's notion of transformative
education reflects a psyche- or soul-centered psychology (Dirkx 1997; Moore
1992; Scott 1997). That is, what matters most in learning is what matters to the
deep ground of our being, the psyche or soul, what is "primary, original, basic,
and necessary" (Sells 2000, p. 3). In depth psychology, soul represents a third
way, in addition to mind and matter, of thinking about human nature. Some
authors have loosely equated soul in education with "heart." This way of knowing
is felt to be mediated largely through images rather than directly through
concepts or traditional forms of rationalism. Images convey the ways in which we
invest or withdraw meaning from the social world. By image, we intend here not
mental pictures derived from perception or memories but more in the sense of
poetic usage, a kind of psychic representation with no actual correspondence in
an outer reality. For this reason, I refer to this perspective as the
"mytho-poetic" view of transformative learning (Dirkx 1998). The mytho-poetic
view relies on images and symbols, the language of poetry. In this sense, this
view complements the idea of perspective transformation as described by Mezirow
(1991) and Cranton (1994). Perspective transformation relies primarily on
critical reflection, reason, and rationality. Although Mezirow (1991) mentions
the role of imagination in this process, he does not fully develop its role in
From the mytho-poetic perspective, transformative learning leads not back to
the life of the mind, as we might find with reflection and analysis, but to
soul. From this perspective, we focus on images, which are thought to represent
powerful motifs that represent, at an unconscious level, deep-seated emotional
or spiritual issues and concerns. They represent our imaginative engagement with
the world, expressing what is not known or knowable through words alone in the
self-world relationship. They are manifest through dreams, fantasies, myth,
legends, fairy tales, stories, rituals, poetry, and performing arts, such as
dance. But images may also be evoked or activated through emotionally laden
aspects of interactions with others or with the text being studied.
Boyd's work in this area primarily focused on elaborating the structures and
dynamics of transformation as they were manifest within the context of small
adult learning groups (Boyd 1989, 1991). Within the last 10 years, several
scholars, using depth psychology, have focused more specifically on the
imaginative and spiritual aspects of transformative learning. For example, Scott
(1997) explores the sense of loss and grief that can accompany personal
transformation. In positing transformative learning as autobiography, Nelson
(1997) suggests that learners compose their lives by using imagination and
critical reflection to interpret their life story within the social context.
Clark (1997) relies on ancient myths as well as more contemporary Western
stories to deepen her understanding of the interconnections among writing, the
imagination, and dialogue. In some of my own work, I seek to develop a better
understanding of the role that fantasy and imagination play in transformative
learning (Dirkx 1998, 2000; Kritskaya and Dirkx 2000) and of nurturing soul as a
means of fostering inner work (Dirkx 1997; Dirkx and Deems 1996). This research
is providing a foundation for further exploring imaginative and spiritual
dimensions of transformative learning.
WORKING WITH IMAGES
Many learning situations are capable of
evoking potentially powerful emotions and images among adults. In a
transformative pedagogy informed by the mytho-poetic perspective, these emotions
and images are given voice, expression, and elaboration. Strategies to foster
this form of learning engage the adult imaginatively with the content or
processes of the learning situation. Educators working from this perspective
will make substantial use, regardless of the subject matter, of story, myths,
poetry, music, drawing, art, journaling, dance, rituals, or performance. Such
approaches allow learners to become aware of and give voice to the images and
unconscious dynamics that may be animating their psychic lives within the
context of the subject matter and the learning process.
These unconscious aspects of psyches are almost continuously seeking
expression within our lives, often in unconscious and disruptive ways. The
intent here is to deepen a sense of wholeness by, paradoxically,
differentiating, naming, and elaborating all the different selves that make up
who we are as persons. Engaging in dialog with these structures is a way of
consciously participating in the process of individuation and integrating them
more fully within our conscious lives. Research and theory in depth psychology
provides us with some ideas about how to work with the images that might arise
within educational contexts (Sells 2000; Ulanov 1999). This process, referred to
as the "imaginal method," reflects a general collection of strategies useful in
fostering learners' insight into those aspects of themselves and their worlds
that remain hidden from conscious awareness, yet serve to influence and shape
their sense of self, interpretations of their external world, and their
day-to-day actions. The specific steps of this process vary but generally
involve: (1) describing the image as clearly as we can; (2) associating the
image with other aspects of our lives; (3) amplifying the image through use of
stories, poetry, fairy tales, or myths that present us with similar images; and
(4) animating the image by allowing it to talk or interact further with us
through additional fantasy, or imaging work. These processes may be used with
writing, drawing, dialogue, story telling, performance, dance, or other methods
described earlier. In addition, learners and educators may decide to use all or
only some of these steps, depending on the particular images presented and the
directions for work they suggest.
From the perspective discussed here, we are all
influenced and shaped by the forces of individuation going on unconsciously
within our lives. Whether or not we are aware of them, these forces propel us
along a journey and certain courses of action. Transformative learning refers to
processes through which we consciously participate in this journey of
individuation. Through imaginative engagement with the images and symbols that
characterize this journey, we can come to a deeper understanding of ourselves
and our relationship with the world around us. Often through such learning, much
to our surprise, we find that the direction and nature of this deeper journey do
not always reflect the choices and judgments of our ego-dominated consciousness.
This lack of parallel between our inner, unconscious life and ego-consciousness
is often reflected in feelings of "swimming upstream" or "rowing against the
current." When we consciously engage the poetic messages the unconscious offers
to us, we begin to experience an alignment of our outer lives with the movement
We have much to learn about how these processes manifest themselves within
adult learning. The work of Boyd and his colleagues represents only a very
modest beginning. Much of what is published thus far related to this view of
transformative learning represents theoretical work, grounded in the research of
depth psychology. Research approaches in education, even into transformative
learning, are largely dominated by rational, logical, ego-based conceptions of
knowing. To begin to "see" the mytho-poetic manifestations of transformative
learning within adult learning, we need to be willing to entertain learning and
knowing as imaginative processes. Although the theoretical and methodological
challenges are large, Boyd's pioneering efforts in this area point to the
possibilities and rewards of such an effort. In characterizing the powerful role
of the imagination in our lives, Hollis (2000) quotes Novalis, a Romantic German
poet and theorist: "Poetry heals the wounds reason creates" (p. 35). Boyd's view
of transformative learning invites us to embrace a more mytho-poetic
understanding of education, to deepen our sense of its emotional and spiritual
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