Archive for the ‘active imagination’ tag
I have been wondering about the use of the word, Jungian here on my site. Over the decades I have been influenced by a lot of people, dead and alive. In trying to explain this recently in terms of my use of the word Jungian, I tried to explain how each writer or each individual in face-to-face contact brought forward ideas that had me realise that for my self, these ideas resonated and I felt that these ideas contained some truth-to-me. Nietzsche was one of the earliest of influences when I began to question the authority of the Catholic Church. It wasn’t long before I was reading the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, and wandering through the philosophical writings of Sartre, Heidegger, Spinoza, Kant, Kierkegaard, Teillard de Chardin, Buber and too many others to remember from those formative years as an adolescent and very young man.
I began to wander through a variety of Christian churches in vain hopes of finding a spiritual home, looking for somewhere that would resonate with my inner core. I was always repelled at the thought of being contained-restricted by any of the churches I found. It seemed that one had to give up thinking, questioning in order to become at one with each community. And this was something I couldn’t do, couldn’t even pretend to do. In my early twenties I turned to meditation, Transcendental Meditation, something that grew out of my love of music, the influences of John Lennon and his fellow musicians who discovered another world in India and another form of music through Ravi Shankar. It wasn’t the first experiment with meditation, but it was the first experience that was structured.
Through music, I discovered another way of being and thinking, that of Hinduism and Buddhism. Before I could invest much of myself in learning more, I became a father and that became the focus, the centre of my life for many years. During those years, as a teacher, I invested what time I had in the world of psychology. Being a teacher of adolescents I sought to find ways that would allow me to be a better mentor, teacher and guide. Jung, Pearls, Rogers, Frankl most resonated though there were parts of other systems and beliefs that I felt contained something of value for me. Courses in cognitive psychologies and therapy models provided me with tools to work with immediate problems but couldn’t help me in terms of deeper rooted questions, existential questions. I was caught between the worlds of psychology, philosophy and religion. It was with this realisation that I began to think of finding the links, taking from each of these areas as well as from my life experience as a son, father, teacher and community citizen in order to attempt an understanding of my self.
The links are there – Buddhism, Humanism, Jungian, Gestalt, Existentialism, Christianity, Hinduism, poetry, music, and nature – symbols all over the place all pointing towards something that is vibrant but yet undefined, maybe never to be defined or contained. And so I turn to active imagination and sati so that I can pay attention to what happens in my own mind, pay attention to the resonances without letting ego take a controlling presence in order to make things fit thus distorting what emerges.
And in the end, I am left with only one thing – I do not belong to any “ism” or any belief system. All that I can know is a small fragment of who I am through the echoes that come from the “ah-ha” moments and the resonances from the interactions with others, others who are both dead and alive.
This young woman was picking a rose from one of the many rose bushes found along the boulevard that passes the apartment where I live. The roses belong to the city and are rarely touched by the citizens. Yet, here this one young woman was selecting just one of the roses. Carefully, she chose one and then slowly walked on, lost in her solitude. I didn’t see happiness in the picking or the leaving of the scene. It made me wonder what sad story she had to tell. Of course, I will never know her story.
But in taking this photo yesterday, I wonder what I was really photographing. I have have more than enough photos to be simply recording daily life in China. It hardly needs saying anymore, but I will say it anyway, I was taking the photo in order to allow some otherwise silent part of myself to have a voice.
Usually I take such an image and allow active imagination to bring out the voices of the various aspects of the personal unconscious. But, this isn’t always necessary, in fact it might even be counterproductive if used to an excess. Sometimes all that is necessary is to acknowledge the presence (here, the face of anima) and leave it at that.
The same is true with dream work. I used to religiously record all of my dreams and then work overtime on mining these dreams. But the effort was not often rewarded with satisfactory results as far as my ego was concerned. I had thought that each dream must be pregnant with deep meaning. In many things I am a slow learner or take things too literally. After many wasted hours, I turned to Jung only to find that the effort I was putting into the process was excessive. Just being aware of the presences in a dream, being aware that the dream took place was enough. There is an interior dialogue that occurs without the mediation of the ego that is vital for psychic health.
And this is the lesson I take to my photography. Often, most often, it is enough that I have taken the photo with either intuitive intention or ego intention. Taking the photo is much the same as unconsciously picking a rose and then wandering away with the rose with no questions asked
There is a danger in entering “depth work” via active imagination. The truth is that one can get caught in the world of the unconscious if the ego is not strong enough. Opening the door to the unconscious is like opening a Pandora’s box- one might not have the strength to return to regain control of the ego. Entering into fantasy so as to bring unconscious contents into consciousness is part of the journey that Jung calls individuation. However, one cannot become individuated if the unconscious gains control of the psyche:
“But when the unconscious contents – these same fantasies – are not ‘realized,’ they give rise to a negative activity and personification, i.e., to the autonomy of the animus and anima. Psychic abnormalities then develop, states of possession ranging in degree from ordinary moods and ‘ideas’ to psychoses. All these states are characterized by one and the same fact that an unknown ‘something has taken possession of a smaller or greater portion of the psyche and asserts its hateful and harmful existence undeterred by all our insight, reason, and energy, thereby proclaiming the power of the unconscious over the conscious mind.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 370)
It makes one reconsider the use of active imagination with oneself or with one’s patients or clients. ‘Am I truly ready for this?’ and ‘Is my client ready for this?’ I know that I rarely move into this approach with my clients, and only after having worked at some length using Solution-Focused therapy, Cognitive therapies and ensuring with the aid of a medical practitioner that the issue is not biochemical which can best be addressed with appropriate medications. But, when the client is in the second half of life, has demonstrated success and is suffering more existential pain, then I approach cautiously. Why? In my opinion, the deep-rooted questing of the client is more about what I have labelled a ‘call’ that it is about a behavioral or cognitive dysfunction. There is a call to individuation.
“Here one may ask, perhaps, why is it so desirable that a man should be individuated. Not only is it desirable, it is absolutely indispensable because, through his contamination with others, he falls into situations ans commits actions which bring him into disharmony with himself. From all states of unconscious contamination and non-differentiation there is begotten a compulsion to be and to act in a way contrary to one’s own nature. Accordingly a man can neither be at one with himself nor accept responsib ility for himself. He feels himself to be in a degrading, unfree, unethical condition.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 373)
It is that need to be ethical, to be true to oneself that pushes one to individuation. To refuse the task is to be left in a state of victimhood or to live in perpetual dissatisfaction knowing one has taken an easy way out at the cost of one’s soul. In working with the self or with a client, one needs to be clear why the work of active imagination is being pursued. What are the motivations of both therapist and client?
I chose this photo because it holds the image of the lotus blossom and the shadow image of the lotus blossom. I purposely want this duality in an image so as to address something that needs to be addressed when working with active imagination – the separation of fact from fantasy. I have been talking about active imagination as something vital the transformational process of individuation without setting any guidelines. Rather than make too much a mess of trying to set guidelines, I will bring Jung’s words here on this topic:
“The way of the transcendent function is an individual destiny. But on no account should one imagine that this way is equivalent to the life of a psychic anchorite, to alienation from the world. Quite the contrary, for such a way is possible and profitable only when the specific worldly tasks which individuals set for themselves are carried out in reality. Fantasies are no substitute for living; they are fruits of the spirit which fall to him who pays tribute to life.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 369)
The words are quite clear – one doesn’t engage in active imagination to escape unpleasant realities. One uses active imagination when most of the work of the outer world has been accomplished – parenting, career, care-taking, etc. – or nearing completion. With the engagement with midlife there is often a sense of “is this all that life is about?” that begins to haunt one who has succeeded in the work of the outer world. There is a sense of “there must be more than this!” that needs to be addressed. Active imagination is just one method to help find that which seems to be missing. I use the word seems with deliberate purpose for what is missing is not really missing but rather located in the unconscious which is dissociated from the conscious contents of the ego.
“Finally, the normal man will never be burdened . . . for he is everlastingly content with the little that lies within his reach.” (ibid)
There is a danger in treading the world of the unconscious when one is not ready, when one has not finished the work of the outer world, when one is not called to wander in an inner world in search of answers to questions that an outer world can’t answer. It is a matter more akin to not having much choice if one is to remain sane that it is about curiosity – hence the feeling that one is forced into an alter journey in an alter universe.
I am again digging into the archives for a photo for today’s post, one from my last winter’s stay in Vietnam. As I turn to active imagination, sometimes I am tempted to believe I might know the stories of these two men, or of any man or woman. I jump into the scene and allow intuition and feeling, my dominant functions build the story. With any luck, an improved ability in using my inferior functions, thinking and sensing will help fill in the gaps. But in the end, all that my fantasies, this journey of active imagination can tell me is a story about my self.
“The vast majority of people are quite incapable of putting themselves individually into the mind of another. This is indeed a singularly rare art, and truth to tell, it does not take us very far. Even the man whom we think we know best and who assures us himself that we understand him through and through is at bottom a stranger to us. He is different.The most we can do, and the best, is to have at least some inkling of his otherness, to respect it, and to guard against the outrageous stupidity of wishing to interpret it. (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 363)
It makes one think about what one expects and why one enters into an activity of active imagination. At times I use my images to wonder about the person in the image and to create some sort of understanding of that person. I should know better for my words don’t really paint an honest picture of that other person, rather the words speak of myself.
How well do I know myself? Well, it seems that I am still figuring this out.
A spider, a very large spider, caught my attention this past Monday, the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival here in China, while I was walking along one of the hundreds of small canals that are everywhere in the city. I want to skip reflections via active imagination with regards to this photo for now in order to return to Jung’s position that one changes one’s personality through engagement with the contents that emerge through active consideration and participation with the fantasies. Jung goes on to say:
“This change in personality is naturally not an alteration of the original hereditary disposition, but rather a transformation of the general attitude. Those sharp cleavages and antagonisms between conscious and unconscious, such as we see so clearly in the endless conflicts of neurotic natures, nearly always rest on a noticeable one-sidedness of the conscious attitude, which gives absolute precedence to one or two functions, while the others are unjustly thrust into the background. Conscious realization and experience of fantasies assimilates the unconscious inferior functions to the conscious mind – a process which is naturally not without far-reaching effects on the conscious attitude.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 359)
So we change, become less one-sided, more of who we are rather than just a portion of the whole that we can be.
An example I can give is taken from my own experience. When asked about change, specifically about changing something about myself, I often reply that some things about me are just who I am. Jung would say that these unchangeable things are my original hereditary disposition. But of course just what parts are unchangeable? First, I have to listen carefully about what Jung is saying about dominant functions and inferior functions. Knowing that my dominant functions are intuition and feeling, and that my inferior functions are thinking and sensing I can see that I can where I can change. I can bring my inferior functions into the way I live and relate to the world and the people in the world. Yes, I trust my intuition, but there is more room for thinking to take a role and become part of how I rationally interpret the world.
When I enter a situation, it is in my nature to process what I see, hear, and intuit in order to arrive at an understanding of the situation. Usually intuition is enough and I then proceed to then to be an active part of the scene within the boundaries of my role. I have learned to add in some data via my senses and then think about that data before turning to intuition to make rational choices. When all is said and done, I do go with what my intuition tells me. That is who I am.
I guess, it is not much different than the saying that a tiger can’t change his spots. I can be a more effective person in my own skin by nourishing the neglected functions. Active imagination provides me with a way to connect with those neglected functions.
Yesterday evening I went out for the purpose of meeting with new students at the university, the Freshmen classes who were taking part in a combination “Welcome to University” and “Mid-Autumn Festival” celebration. As I walked to the university campus I saw the full moon in the sky, not an unusual site as it happens once every four weeks; but this full moon was special in terms of China as it is this particular moon which is celebrated for the Mid-Autumn Festival. I ended up taking a fair amount of photos of the moon but this one is the only one that jumped out begging for my attention when it came to writing today’s blog post after my last set of teaching classes was done for the day.
The moon is framed by a fair-sized high-voltage power pole structure. The moon seems to be trapped within the steel bars, imprisoned and contained. But of course, this is all illusion as one knows that the moon is not really contained within the crossbars, it just looks that way. It is all about perspective.
Perspective – what does the inner voices tell us about an image? What does the ego tell us about an image? What fantasies are evoked? By listening with active imagination in which we safely participate in the fantasies that come out of the engagement with the images, we can come to begin to hear our own inner self speaking to us. Perhaps it is the soul, anima talking to us through the image of the moon. Does the soul, like the moon feel trapped and unable to find release? We do this to our soul when we deny the soul, when we put boundaries to bind the soul to darkness and silence.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, in order to grow we need to engage in active imagination activity with those images that pull at us, those that catch the attention of some part of us. Listen to what Jung tells us:
“Continual conscious realization of unconscious fantasies, together with active participation in the fantastic events, has, as I have witnessed in a very large number of cases, the effect firstly of extending the conscious horizon by the inclusion of numerous unconscious contents; secondly of gradually diminishing the dominant influence of the unconscious; and thirdly of bringing about a change in personality.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 358)
When we continue to ignore the faint voices of the unconscious that seek our attention so as to be included in the larger sense of self, of identity, we risk acting out unconsciously. We all know of those who do and say things that they appear to be unaware they have said or done to the point of thinking that we are telling lies about them. We have heard of those who somehow slip into and out of alter personalities like some Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, situations where the ego is banished for some time while the unconscious takes over and runs wild. The process of engaging in active imagination allows us to carefully unmask the shadow removing the necessity for the unconscious to burst out of its prison running rampant over the ego.
Remember, it is all about perspective. Once we change our perspective, we change everything.
I took a walk this afternoon passed the university in order to check in on the arrival of the new students, the freshmen, and the many students that I know who are working at various stations as a welcoming committee for the various programs of study. After taking a fair number of photos, I continued on for the walk which led me over a canal into a new subdivision of high rises and expensive villas where I took this photo. It was quite a contrast with Mercedes and BMW’s whizzing by and this man carrying a load such as was done hundreds of years ago. The old ways haven’t quite disappeared in spite of the new face that ChangZhou has put into place in its race to become a modern, civilized city. It is easy to see what is consciously driving a city such as this, but it isn’t so easy to see what is unconsciously working beneath the veneer of the city’s surface, the city’s persona.
One has goals. I have goals that drive me to act, to be present in this world. They are conscious goals As C.G. Jung said, “There are psychic goals that lie beyond the conscious goals“. Active imagination is a way of discovering something about these psychic goals of the unconscious. By engaging in active imagination, one hands control or should I say leadership to the unconscious in a safe manner. Unconscious contents then have an opportunity of entering into consciousness through fantasy. One accepts the fantasies for what they are, expressions of the unconscious which are vital to the achievement of balance in the human psyche.
In accepting the fantasies, one is then obligated to act, to engage in active participation in the fantasy rather than engage in trying to analyze and intellectualize. Run with the flow of the fantasy without setting boundaries – allow the words or the art form or the dance or the music or whatever form of artistic form you are using for active imagination become filled with your presence as well as that which emerges from the unconscious. I have found that drawing, working with clay or writing poetry works best for me.
As one engages in active imagination, it is necessary to accept without criticism the reality of the products or the contents. The contents which emerge from the inner world within are just as real as the facts in our outer world. Both inner and outer realities comprise the whole of self.
I would like to invite you to engage in active imagination with either this image or any other image. I would like you to become each part of the image, to tell your story from each part. For example, with this particular image, what would you say, what would be your story if you were this man, if you were the pavement upon which he is walking, if you were the pole balanced on his shoulder, if you were one of the bags being toted, or were the contents of one of these bags? What would by your story if you were one of the bushes or the distant buildings or his clothing? In trying this, remember to be “I” in each scenario, talking about what is seen, what is felt, what is sensed, what is wondered, what is known about that form of self. Don’t censor yourself in terms of being too serious or too silly or too unreal – just let it happen and allow the voices to emerge. Then, if you could, please write here and tell me something about your experience.
Though it was a muggy, thick and gray day yesterday, I took a long walk which included a small park. Usually the park is bustling with people – grandparents with little ones, university students with their new-found loves, middle-aged people exercising and a few playing traditional Chinese instruments in the scattered gazebos by the small man-made lake. But this day, it was different. The park was almost empty. I guess I would have to blame it on the weather.
Today is no different. The air is again thick. There is an absence of smiles and sunny dispositions in the faces I saw as I walked. Later in the day, a light rain fell as though trying to release some of the pressure. It made me think of tears, how one cries in order to relieve pressure that has built up within oneself. Sometimes one doesn’t even know why one is crying, just that there is a need to let the tears flow and find some relief this way.
Strange how one’s mind travels, how imagination kicks in and takes one to different places. As I wrote the above words I thought of weather patterns, how there are high pressure systems and low pressure systems. High pressure systems and we have sunshine. Low pressure systems give us rain. The clash of the two systems give us storms. Does the human psyche mimic nature? Or, is is possible that the psyche is nature?
For me, the photographic images help draw out what is buried deep within myself. Yes, the image here is of a young woman in a park, sitting on a stone bench with a cell phone in her hand and her shoes on the brick stone work of the ground. But, the image is much more than a pictorial record of the scene. As I look at it and let it sit with me, something is drawn up from the depths. This happens with all of us with some images, not all images. When it does happen, we have tapped into libido.
“Libido can never be apprehended except in a definite form; that is to say, it is identical with fantasy-images. And we can only release it from the grip of the unconscious by bringing up the corresponding fantasy-images. … we give the unconscious a chance to bring its fantasies to the surface.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 345)
So, when an image becomes more than the objective scene, it becomes numinous and allows me to make another journey into a world of shadows. And there I listen and watch and learn and discover – self.
As most of my readers already know, the process that I use here is primarily that of active imagination. In each post I select a photo and then sit quiet and wait for something to emerge. I don’t worry about factual or objective reality as what I perceive as factual or objective from the perspective of the ego is quite limited in terms of the totality of who I am, of the self. Why do I do this? In my opinion, it is to allow ideas, feelings, and energy to rise up from the depths within myself thus allowing me to expand my own understanding of myself. As things, ideas, feelings, and energy rise up I am faced with recognizing this material and considering it in relation to what I already know of my self and thus engage in the process of change or transformation as Jung would put it. Here are a few words from Jung about the process:
“… transformation is the aim of the analysis of the unconscious. If there is no transformation, it means that the determining influence of the unconscious is unabated, and that it will in some cases persist in maintaining neurotic symptoms in spite of all of our analysis and all of our understanding.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 342)
In other words, the process of active imagination is not to produce works of art, poetry, music or theatre, but to allow the human psyche to grow or individuate. When I have worked with my clients on issues that have brought them to me for therapy, they have all come with the idea of having something change because the status quo wasn’t working out for them. The use of various therapeutic models by any therapist is intended to assist the client in making the change. It sounds simple but it doesn’t quite work the way we would like as either clients or therapists because often the client doesn’t know what really needs changing. This is where the use of active imagination can help both the therapist and the client as it often points to otherwise hidden issues, foundational issues. More from Jung:
“… it is a question of releasing unconscious processes and letting them come into the conscious mind in the form of fantasies. We can try our hand at interpreting these fantasies if we like. In many cases it may be quite important for the patient to have some idea of the meaning of the fantasies produced. But it is of vital importance that he should experience them to the full and, in so far as intellectual understanding belongs to the totality of experience, also understand them. Yet, I would not give priority to understanding.“ (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 342)
These final words are vitally important, the experience is vital and understanding is secondary. Why? Transformational change is not always a product of the work of the ego. Sometimes it is simply a matter of adding elements to the stew which serve as a catalyst for movement from the unconscious to the conscious.
Now, you may have noticed that I didn’t reflect on the photo above. Atypically, I am going to refrain from doing so. Rather, I am inviting each of you to allow active imagination to work within you via this image. And, if you are brave enough you could share your resonance via active imagination here in the comment section. The reflection/resonance can be as long or as short as you want it to be in posting it here. Or perhaps a reflection on what you felt or learned about using the process of active imagination. I invite your words with true interest in what you and your unconscious have to say.