Psychology

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)

Forgive My French

It was pointed out in the lecture how Jung was deeply conflicted within himself about studying the extents of the psyche as if Jung’s own psyche were stretched outward and inward simultaneously. This reminded me of Grof’s description of the dual tendencies of Cosmic Consciousness. “The overall scheme of the cosmic drama involves a dynamic interplay of two fundamental forces, one of which is centrifugal (hylotropic, or matter oriented) and the other centripetal (holotropic, or aiming for wholeness) in relation to the creative principle” (Grof, 2000, p. 289). Perhaps Jung’s inability to square this circle within himself indicates the interplay of these two contrary yet fundamental cosmic principles at work. 

To my mind, Grof’s work illustrates perfectly the various parameters and capabilities of psychospiritual growth while also providing spiritual validity for the existence of material reality. His overview of the humor-filled co-creative love affair between existence and nonexistence, form and formlessness, psyche and matter is the most cogent definition of spirituality I have ever read. It encapsulates and validates the essence of many complimentary spiritual traditions and rings immediately true—like a great cosmic gong—on the “inner” level. I am particularly impressed that his findings are based on decades of experiential research. 

As a longtime seeker and practitioner of spiritual self-exploration, I intuitively resonate with the many ways in which Grof validates the ontological truth of so-called “magical” experiences. I am also convinced by his elucidation of archetypal realms and cosmic propensities as inherently intimate and personal impulses which open the doors to ultimate reality and “Absolute Consciousness.” It all makes perfect sense to those parts of me unhindered by the “skin-bound ego” tragedy. 

I can think of nothing more exciting and potentially liberating than the truth of a transpersonal objective psyche. Fuck the ego and its ignoble pettiness. 

The Source Of Power

It is such a fascinating time to be answering this question since I have been wrestling with the intersecting contours of power, wisdom, and magic for some time. My life has been marked by a level of power and innate capability that has almost scared me sometimes. I surfed 20-foot waves and studied Kung Fu and built giant canvasses and lugged heavy stuff around, all so I would have an outlet for my power. It isn’t just that I am physically stronger than most girls, it’s that I also seem to have been born with a higher tolerance for pain. 

Since earliest childhood, I’ve had an ability to see things in people’s faces and body language that they aren’t aware of conveying—a sudden rush of anger behind the eyes, a secret fear in the hunched shoulders. I embody a magician, a wise but stern goddess, and a fun-loving puella. Over time, my terrifying complexes and my shadow grew more and more powerful and took over so that all that power got misused. For a time, I became cruel and dark and seriously negative. 

When I discovered mythology and depth psychology, I found a psychospiritual roadway complete with signposts and maps which helped me to make sense of my inner world and to connect with the magical source of power that had been my constant companion. This road led through creepy towns like Hatred and Fear and Evil, yet the map pointed also to where Freedom and Liberation were located. My dreams showed me the way, too—they gave me little gold stars every time I got something right. 

Now I know that the powerful magician within me likes it when I use her magic to make beauty and love. She also knows that I bow before her each day, awestruck. 

Self Portrait With Doom

A sense of being doomed, or at least surrounded by an essence of doom, has been my constant psychospiritual companion, even since very early childhood. This doom was something I learned to abide in without really knowing why or what it was about. Now, as I reexamine myself through the lens of depth psychology, I understand what the fairy tale story about a princess locked away in a tower by an evil sorceress is all about. 

The sorceress is my own shadow grown immensely powerful and autonomous. She doesn’t care that her existence came about against my will. She doesn’t care that Mother and Father and Culture are to blame. Until I own up to her, she won’t let me out of the tower. 

Last night, She came to me two-faced. One nice girl and one hateful girl—the three of us discussing the ocean on Maui. The hateful girl had her arms crossed tightly. It took all her might to be nice to me (through gritted teeth). The other told me I already had the magic beaded necklace, I didn’t need her to give me hers. 

I think of my father—a coward who can’t speak the truth. A coward who is jealous of his own daughter, a father would rather tear me to shreds than become aware of his own weaknesses. 

“You’re a despicable evil lying thief!” I cry out. 

“Yes, I am those things,” I reply to myself. 

I own it. 

This is no longer about Him or Her or Them. It is about Me and Us, in here—deep in the darkness with my ghouls and demons and utter creeps, snuggled together, sleeping peacefully as the doors and windows of the tower open up wide to let in the moonlight. 

Come Doom, and welcome. 

Divine Intervention

The psyche is the world’s pivot: not only is it the one great condition for the existence of the world at all, it is also an intervention in the existing natural order, and no one can say with certainty where this intervention will finally end. CW8, para. 423

Our course, C. G. Jung in Context begins with this evocative and far-reaching quote from the man himself. Here, Jung is saying that without the psyche existence would be moot and that manifestations of movement, change, evolution, would likewise be absent. The psyche is the pivot, the axis, and the driving force which generates the ongoing project of life. Accordingly, the psyche and its numinous inhabitants—the archetypes—draw consciousness into being making life itself a reality. However, it is the “intervention” of the psyche into “the existing natural order" of life that fascinates me the most about this quote. It reminds me of Jung’s definition of God from an interview he gave to Good Housekeeping Magazine in December 1961, just before his death:

To this day God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse. (n.p.)

Here and in his other writings, Jung essentially equates the psyche (conscious and unconscious, personal and collective) with God—God, the creator, and God, the destroyer. Jung warns that God is not our stooge to be used by us for wish fulfillment, revenge, or derivation of power. Rather, it is a word representing an awesome, autonomous, and not always friendly power under whose ambivalent, unknowable influence we find ourselves, again and again. This knowledge is significant for me personally since I am living the life of a spiritual seeker. Looking for, and ultimately finding God is my job, my vocation. What is unique in Jung’s view is the admission that God is not necessarily our friend. God is not here to save us or rescue us or satisfy our wishes or make us shine. God has a dark side, a vengeful side. Furthermore, this God is none other than our own psychospiritual level of existence. We contain, no, we—are—God.

This course also taught me an important lesson about the dangers of hero worship. By examining the psychic effects of a constellated child archetype in relation with the puella aeternis, and by studying the various attributes of Jung’s personal life and times, I was able to see how I was worshipping him a bit, in the way a young girl might blindly worship her father. During this course, I was able to significantly shift my inner perceptions about the father archetype which led to a graduation from the grips of the wounded inner child, who is, after all, the shadow side of the hero archetype, my unconscious default position.

Jung has said that archetypes evolve, myths evolve, and, through the long step by step process of individuation, ideally, the whole person also evolves. There is an image of growth one can hold onto along the way. This course taught us to examine the idea of a personal myth and self-presentation, not just in how Jung presents himself in his writings, but also how we present ourselves in the many areas of life (including the dreamworld) in which we gambol about. The boundaries between self and other, personal and collective, dream and reality, are much more permeable than we’ve been led to believe. Permeability thus connects personal with archetypal using threads of psychic intelligence—they inform one another and grow together. One’s life and one’s myth are archetypal images which grow and evolve, just as ideas about Jung as a womanizing antisemitic racist permeate and grow with ideas of him as a genius explorer of parts unknown. Learning to put Jung in context helps bring a sense of objectivity to one’s own life as well. The psyche is a divine intervention, and this lessens the potential for boredom in objectivity. After all, what can be more exciting than watching God at work?

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.

Divine Progression

The essence of psychic conflict seems to reside within the confrontation between two warring factions. On one side sits the hardened one-sidedness of ego consciousness with its abysmal feeling of inadequacy, on the other a numinous intuition, an image of wholeness and freedom emanating from the unconscious. This confrontation between pairs of opposites yields an intolerable tension which creates a third thing. The transcendent function, as it is called, is a new and elegant solution “. . . which manifests itself as a quality of conjoined opposites” (Jung, 1969, p. 90).

Why is this psychic tension necessary for the individuation process? It seems that without it, there would be no forward movement. Coppin and Nelson (2017) write that the psyche is dialectical, invoking Hegel and his view that “all human thought and nature itself is composed of paradox and contradiction . . . the source of the natural and necessary movements towards the ‘Absolute’. . . ”(Nelson, 2017, p. 157). Accordingly, the psyche is inherently teleological, and the transcendent function is a kind of engine that feeds on tension, driving the conscious ego into the arms of the Self. “Conflict, to paradox, to revelation;” says Robert Johnson, “that is divine progression” (Johnson, 1971, p. 91). We must suffer--allow and bear--the tension, so we may “. . . earn the right to unity” (Johnson, 1971, p. 88).

Allowing and bearing the tension can sometimes become unendurable. After weeks of weathering an emotional cacophony, I was finally led to reading about the shadow. I discovered why things have been so painful—I have not been honoring mine. I have brutally rejected my artist self. I began drawing images that symbolize and express different parts of my shadows. I enacted a ritual of acknowledgment. I did active imagination.

While this process is urgent and ongoing, relief has been instantaneous.

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Jung, C. G. (1969). The transcendent function (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). In H. Read et al. (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 8, 2nd ed., pp. 67-91). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1958)

Coppin, J & Nelson, E. (2017). The art of inquiry. A depth-psychological perspective. Spring Publications. Thompson: Conn.

Jonson, R. (1971). Owning your own shadow. Understanding the dark side of the psyche. Harper One. New York: NY.

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.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/04/05/silicon-valley-beware-big-five/

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Blood Bond

The immediate value of dreams doesn’t come from explaining them, analyzing them, or following their overt or covert suggestions. It lies in re-entering them, living inside them, tasting and chewing them, until they become incorporated into the fabric of our waking hours (Lipsky, 2008, p. 14). 

When our course first began, this quote from our reading seemed abstract to me. It contained a promise that had yet to unveil itself, like a gift. I thought dreams were to be understood and utilized for personal gain and advancement of growth. Dreams were the powerful work animal and I was to harness them with my goals so that together, we’d super-quest and super-charge the individuation journey. But as I began the sincere work of keeping a new dream journal for class, I started to apply the coursework to my day-to-day dream interactions with exciting and disconcerting and dichotomous, paradoxical results. At every turn, I found alterations and mood swings and simultaneous explosions of exaltation and emotional destitution. The more I worked with my dreams, the more they resisted my ego’s greedy, acquisitive approach until I finally let go of the harness. At last, an organic, untethered way of the dream emerged of its own accord. Significant and astonishing was how letting go of the acquisitive approach permeated my entire consciousness. A corresponding psychological outlook spread across the horizon of my soul the way a few drops of blood beautifully flow and dissolve in water, fusing completely with its molecular structure. I think this is what is meant by re-entering a dream, living inside a dream, tasting and chewing a dream. 

In our course, we learned the craft and methods for dream work and of course, these are very useful. Associations, amplifications, and animation of dream figures, active imagination work, writing and speaking and dreaming in waking hours, developing a profound receptivity to the exceedingly subtle vibrations and messages of the unconscious—all these are powerful tools and important knowledge that I’ve come away with after taking this course. 

I have personally experienced the way dreams work together night after night, month after month, forming a series of linked narratives. What this tells me is that I am living my life in the unconscious in the same way that I am living my life in waking hours. In my dreams, I am growing and changing and evolving. In my dreams I am facing challenges, overcoming obstacles, questing and seeking, trying and giving up. In my dreams, I meet the darkness that cannot be named and also meet the strength and resilience I need to face it. Joseph Campbell says that when the truth is shoved down our throats, we choke on it—as do all people who meet true doctrine. Our course has taught me that my dreams are the true doctrine and sometimes I will choke on this truth. Even so, as it starts to go down, as it begins to be digested and assimilated, the truth of the dream spreads and becomes a powerful life force. It does so of its own accord, this work is not created by “me,” it is not manufactured by “me.” Dreams are real. I emanate outward from my dreams, not they from me. Indeed, this awareness has grown so pronounced that I feel in perfect kinship with Leonard Cohen who says:

Hold on, hold on my brother,
my sister, hold on tight. 
I finally got my orders: 
I’ll be marching through the morning,
marching through the night, 
moving cross the borders
of my secret life. 

For this is how it feels when dreamworld and waking world are fused in a bond of blood. A new, secret life emerges, powered by the prerogatives of the soul, where dreams have been “incorporated into the fabric of our waking hours.” This is where our course and the craft of dreamwork has led me—to a value in dreams that is no longer abstract, but immanent. 

I have crossed the border into a new land. There is no need to look back.

Lipsky, J. (2008). Dreaming together. Larson publications. Burdett:NY.