The Function of Images

An area of interest that has captured my attention this term has to do with the autonomy of the unconscious and the power it wields over us through its images. I had not considered before what the function of images might be, I had just accepted that images are spontaneously produced by the unconscious and that they are its language. But this term, I have learned about the function of images which, to me, seems an important point that deserves emphasis. 

As we know, in depth psychology images are emanations that spontaneously irrupt from the deep psyche. They take a variety of forms including text, creative expression, or even emotions and intuitions. They come at us in our dreams, they come at us in thought formations and fantasies, and they come at us through art, literature, poetry, and dance. The question is, why? Why do these images come at us at all and what are we to do with them? Jung says that the images hold a measure of libido or psychic energy and that they use this energy for their own specific purposes. Furthermore, since autonomous, the images prioritize their own needs above the needs of the ego complex. Our task is to, first of all, allow the images to exist and then to experience and interact with them on their own level—the imaginal level (Jung, 1928/1966, para. 346). The images wield tremendous power over consciousness. They hold this power down in the unconscious and we must interact with the images in order to gain access to that power. In other words, images are libido—they are psychic energy. Which means that our lives as we know them rely upon images for their existence since without energy there can only be psychic entropy—a catatonic state of total inertia. This explains the sometimes overbearing urgency of images and why they often harass us until we meet them on their own terms. They know something we don’t. 

Another interesting feature of images is that they hold a specific message or quality having to do with the situation of the individual who is encountering them. Jung explained that the unconscious is the feminine side of consciousness and that it insists upon a feeling function to restore psychic balance since the ego’s rational and intellectual perspective is usually too one-sided (Jung, 1928/1966, para. 216). The images are thus emissaries of this mission to restore psychological balance and they, therefore, wear outward forms which are most relevant to the individual’s specific issues. Furthermore, psychic balance is not always just a matter of correcting pathological or unwanted psychological manifestations. It is also a matter of individuation, which is to say, a matter of bringing the two spheres of consciousness into proper alignment so that the individual ends up living a life that feels richly endowed with meaning and purpose. The images thus have secret knowledge to impart and play a serious role in the psyche.

Jung further explained that we cannot simply stand back and passively watch the images and hope to understand, much less effect, their meanings, for the images are autonomous, they have a level of unconcern we must contend with. If we hope to access the knowledge they contain we must interact with them actively on the imaginal level, which is to say, inside the image itself, inside the fantasy, inside the dream (Jung, 1928/1966, para. 350). Jung said that by actively participating with the images we “gain possession of them by allowing them to possess” (Jung, 1928/1966, para. 368) us. This method, which Jung called active imagination, makes it possible for an individual to not only experience but also to interact, in a waking state, with the unconscious—to merge with it. In so doing, access is gained to the hidden and secret knowledge of the images and the deeper predilections breeding in the psychological volcanoes of our souls. Without access to this restorative imaginal knowledge, we remain divided, stunted, and incomplete, making titanic blunders as we continue to live a one-sided, egocentric life.  

Jung, C. G. (1966). The relations between the ego and the unconscious (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). In H. Read et al. (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 7, 2nd ed., pp.  121–241). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1928)

Unfolding A Life In Work

DJA700, “Introduction to Depth Psychology,” provided me with a historic foundation upon which to build my future academic work in Jungian and Archetypal Psychology. While I did not find all of the material equally inspiring, I was nevertheless deeply engaged. The first two modules gave me a look at the ancient shamanic roots of depth psychology and the origin of the word mesmerize. I also learned how the scientific and industrial revolutions led to a preponderance of psychological disorders which gave birth to depth psychology.

We moved on to study the three great founders of depth psychology—Freud, Adler, and Jung. We learned about Freud’s insistence that sexual energy lies at the center of all psychic activity and that it alone is responsible for the creation of the unconscious, since that is where the psyche must deposit all its sexually charged shame and other repressed materials. Adler taught that the well being of the human psyche is tied to a holistic approach to an individual as situated within society and within social equity. Adler felt that inferiority/superiority complexes were instrumental in causing psychic malaise. Then, of course, there is Jung. He is my hero and no matter how often people go on about his romantic misadventures, I still find his work to be supremely illuminating and of extreme relevance to our current world troubles. Jung espoused a vision of the psyche that includes the personal unconscious, the broader collective unconscious, and a number of inhabitants, features, and psychic proclivities which populate and animate psychic existence, all of which exert a formative influence upon our daily lives.

Later, we learned about the social implications of rapidly spreading psychological practices and saw some of the corrosive, diabolical methods for inequitable social engineering that psychology was used for, especially in the post modern world. In the last two weeks we studied Ken Wilbur and his Integral Psychology, which, for me at least, requires a great deal more than one week of study to be understood. Finally, we did our best to decipher Susan Rowland’s views on Jungian psychology by studying Jung’s prose with its invisible peaks and valleys—the expressions of the unconscious embedded in his words and sentences. “Jung believed and wrote as though he believed that the thinking and discriminating mind—conventionally used to produce non-fictional argument—was situated within a sea of unconscious creativity” (Rowland, 2005, p. 1). In other words, the unconscious was also doing the writing, and Jung let it do so.

My favorite part of the class happened when I discovered Gustav Fechner’s The Little Book of Life After Death, in which, among many other moments of beauty, he postulates the development of human consciousness and its evolution into an angelic eventuality. This further cemented my personal attachment to the Romantic ground of depth and archetypal psychology, with Keats’s profound notion of life as “the vale of soul-making.”

My work is still amorphous and unknowable, like the archetypes. I am in the middle of a creative journey and cannot know yet what the outcome will be. The history of depth psychology and its many permutations is a snapshot of academic work as creative work. I’m able to see the knowledge which developed out of the discovery of the unconscious, and I’m able to take inspiration from its serpentine progression. All our forebears in this work, people like Jung, Freud, Fechner, Adler, Whitmont, von Franz, Mesmer, Edinger, Hillman, Rowland, Mayes and countless others have each expressed a life in work, exhibiting the way a vocation unfolds into a realized vision. For me, this means that I must simply continue putting one academic foot in front of the other, paying careful attention to every step, and taking special notice of the numinous moments along the way when a certain idea takes hold of me and doesn’t let go. In this way, I hope to unfold a life in work as a writer, an artist, and a scholar.

Hubris, Sacrifice, and Living the Religious Life

The never-ending school shootings are the unconscious sacrifice and American Exceptionalism as embodied in the Second Amendment, the so-called infallibility of the Founding Fathers, and the Constitution—is the hubris.

I’m more excited about the second part of the lecture--that subtler level of sacrifice and its practical application in everyday life. This is where we can develop “. . . that stability which human existence acquires when the claims of the spirit become as imperative as the necessities of social life” (Jung, CW 10, para. 190) [Italics mine].

The correct relationship of hubris to sacrifice is exactly that of the ego to the Self. There is a healthy way and a destructive way, and the healthy way unequivocally requires sacrificing the ego to the Self, again, and again, and again.

Strange moods, dark forebodings, irrational sorrows, sudden, unmistakeable intuitions, creative outpourings, the immensity of our dreams—these are the “significant” parts of “psychic life” that “always” lie “below the horizon of consciousness,” for “when we speak of the spiritual problem of modern man, we are speaking of things that are barely visible—of the most intimate and fragile things, of flowers that open only in the night” (Jung, CW 10, para. 194).

Sacralizing average moments in the day by surrendering egoic inclinations in favor of nurturing “the restorative possibilities in embracing the dark, underworld of shadow and dream” (Slater, nd, p. 114)—this is what it means to live a religious life.

Each morning, I write down my dreams. Each day, I honor the shadow (sad songs, angry, passionate drawings), 10, 20, 30 times a day I check in with myself: Where is my attention going? Who is in charge right now?

I finally know what Krishnamurti meant when he said you must die to your Self.

A Shallow Reservoir of Faith

An essential connection between the loss of a symbolic perspective and the inevitable existential crisis which follows is the absence of a healthy bridge mediating between the two centers of consciousness in the human psyche, namely, the conscious and unconscious minds, which are centered by the Ego and the Self, respectively.

In our unexamined post-Enlightenment haste to adapt to a world ruled only by rational thought, we destroyed the ancient and elaborate tapestry of symbolic systems together with the ancestral threads connecting us to it, creating a dangerously unsustainable situation where we no longer comprehend the meaning nor the potential outcomes of events in our lives, personally or collectively. In Man and His Symbols (1964), Jung wrote:

Modern man does not understand how much his rationalism (which has destroyed his capacity to respond to numinous symbols and ideas) has put him at the mercy of the psychic “underworld.” He has freed himself from “superstition” (or so he believes), but in the process, he has lost his spiritual values to a positively dangerous degree. His moral and spiritual tradition has disintegrated, and he is now paying the price for this break-up in worldwide disorientation and dissociation. (p. 84)

As one current example, I offer the attached image, which I found in the New York Review of Books article also listed here. It’s about cyber and information warfare and mentions how the United States “is currently working with an extremely shallow reservoir of faith” as a way of explaining our vulnerability to the power of misinformation. That is, we have lost faith in the symbolism of Democracy which once buoyed us, and so—dangerously—can no longer tell the difference between truth and lies.

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