The Power of Imagination

by Kathleen Prophet

Imagination.........the realm of the magical, the impossible, the glorious, the terrifying... the realm where hags are transformed into goddesses, witches/bitches into wise women, beauties into beasts, old men into wizards, young men into knights on their quest for the Holy Grail. There once was a time when all saw themselves as part of a great drama played out upon the stage of life, where all felt immersed in the enactment of the great cycles, the great circle of birth/life/death/rebirth. And with this meaning infused in one's world, every mundane act became a ritual contained in the greater whole with each one conscious of the value of their own contribution in the great mandala of life.

Today, our lives are bereft of this imagination, disconnected from sacred drama. We as a society have become passive audiences to someone else's story, someone else's ritual, believing our own to be devoid of meaning. We fill ourselves with excesses of food, mind-altering substances, and activities that never quite satiate the empty hollow in the pit of our souls. Our shadows haunt our every act, and in terror we run to avoid the encounter. Yet when these very same lives are infused with imagination, borne out of the symbols held within each one's own psyche, the soul begins to flourish into life, expressing itself in its own unique and glorious dance. Even our pathologies become meaningful trysts with ourselves.

Inspiration and all creative acts spring forth out of the imagination. The visions of artists and scientists that have burst evolution into new paradigms were seeded deep within the fertile mud of the unconscious, the abode of the imagination. Mining these buried treasures is the key to entering into this deep, meaningful sacred relationship with self and life.

Carl Jung, the great depth psychologist, found his life bereft of imagination as he approached his middle years. He had recently broken off his relationship with Freud and found himself facing the black abyss of the unknown. In the book, Dance Therapy and Depth Psychology, the author, Joan Chodorow writes of this significant moment in Jung's life:

After the break with Freud, Jung felt disoriented and sensed so much pressure inside himself that he suspected a psychic disturbance. Thinking there might be something in his past that was causing the pressure, he went over all the details of his entire life twice, with particular attention to early memories. But he could find no logical explanation or solution.

Then he deliberately opened himself to the impulses and images of the unconscious and decided to do whatever occurred to him. The first thing that came up was a childhood memory. At the age of 10 or 11 there was a period when he was fascinated with building games. This memory of spontaneous play was accompanied by a rush of emotion. Jung, now in his middle years, felt out of touch with his own creative life. He realized that he had to re-establish a relationship to that inner child. But how was he to bridge the distance between himself, a grown man, and the young boy? Since there seemed to be no rational way to do it, he submitted to his fantasies and began to enact them, that is, play exactly as he had when he was a boy.

As Jung continued the process of imaginative play, his thoughts clarified. The pressure he had been feeling was released, as a flood of fantasies (that is, images and emotions) came to consciousness. He wrote them down as well as he could; he also drew and painted them. After giving the fantasies form, he made every effort to analyze and understand their meaning...

His building game turned out to be the beginning of a deep process of psychological development. In a beautifully written thought provoking review of Jungs confrontation with the unconscious, Stewart (1982, p.210) points out that play does not necessarily lead down the slope of memory to childishness; rather it leads directly to the unfinished business of childhood. Symbolic play inevitably involves some regression, because the process takes us to the emotional core of our complexes. But play does more. Symbolic play activates the image producing function of the psyche (i.e. the imagination) which puts us in touch with ourselves. In Jung's case, he not only retrieved long forgotten memories from his past; a flood of fantasies were released that ultimately reshaped his future.

The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life--in them everything essential was decided. It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarification of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and at first swamped me. It was the prima materia for a lifetime's work.

(Jung 1961a, p.199)

And thus, like other Greats scattered throughout history, the giant of a genius was earthed out of the depths of his own inner fantasy and symbols.

Though this fantasy play, this undertaking of active imagination is most often enacted within the Jungian world through the introverted forms: dialoguing, authentic movement, painting, drawing or modeling of the inner imagery, active imagination may also be performed as dramatized encounters in outer life when one holds consciously the inner symbols of Self. This movement becomes a ritualistic act facilitating deep transformation.

Jung explored outwardly that which caught his imagination from his personal myth, his personal history...building games from childhood. Through this experience he was flooded with symbols from his unconscious that became the grist from which he fashioned consciousness, his body of work.

I find myself deeply immersed in my own inner symbology created out of the instinctual impulses I was born with, the ancestors I came from. These symbols are reflected in my dreams, my art, my written works and outward into relationships and unexplored worlds. In these mirrors are revealed the many faces of my soul.

Some of these primal impulses have dark overtones to them, taking me to the outer regions of what is considered acceptable to the norms of our society. Paradoxically, I have discovered sacred altars and safe environments that others have created in which to enact the more radical energies of the inner world, a place where boundaries and rules are set ensuring a safe and honorable encounter with the Dark Self.

Though the places may look different than the time honored institutions of church and spiritual community, the experiences are sacred rituals that literally can and do "bring me closer to god", as a favorite artist has sung. I feel myself in the transformative fires. Every relationship speaks to me of my relationship to Self. Activities engaged in with intent and awareness become the sacred rite. Sharing this awareness with others engages them in the sacredness of the event while awakening them to a new and meaningful approach to life, bringing them into their own sacred tryst with Self. The whole of life becomes the sanctified place where one encounters and co-creates with the soul and spirit of oneself, humanity and the World.

Thus, we are creating altars in the world for energy that has been both repressed and abhorred, shedding light upon it, ennobling its existence, and allowing its true presence in life. We are also deepening our relationship with our own souls and Self. What comes to mind is the Native American practice of creating rock altars that mark and honor a sacred moment, a spirit, a sacred place. We are scattering sacred altars throughout our souls and the soul of the world.

Thomas Moore writes from his book Dark Eros:

All material of the soul, including the erotic elements, usually appears first as primitive material, raw stuff, the alchemical prima materia. Our cultural task is to find ways of housing that raw stuff, giving it a home, and providing it a place within our existent home. This work is analogous to building an altar for a god or creating a shrine for a spirit. This secret, recognized so strongly in fifteenth-century Europe, is that without a concrete home in a cultural setting, such spirits run amok and generate all kinds of trouble.

The "raw stuff" that is up for me at this time is: power/violence/sexuality/death. These energies have run amok in my life, causing much destruction and decimation, causing much suffering and pain. I have been tending to a reclamation process of these energies now for years. Through my current encounters, this work with the unconscious is now deepening into my body, into my nervous system, where the primal responses are housed. My bones and blood are the foundation for the new home I am consciously constructing for these impulses. My relationship to life furnishes it.

Following the thread of my dreams and images, I have found a place within the world to engage these primal impulses with imagination and ritual. Here I have discovered a sacred land peopled with magical beings, gallant beasts, fierce warriors & warrioresses, and powerful implements. I have found others who are also working to bring these 'dark' impulses into the light, naming them and coming into conscious relationship with them. And to my amazement, I have found that the distorted, repressed figures imprisoned in the dungeons of my unconscious have begun to transform into magnificent dignified creatures with much to teach.

Dance Therapy & Depth Psychology The Moving Imagination Joan Chodorow:

Careful observation of the day-to-day experiences of children reveals that they are forever playing out whatever it is in their life that arouses emotion. But in their play, the effects of these emotions are transmuted through compensatory fantasies, liquidating or cathartic experiences, and the like. Thus one must conclude that during the period of development, play and fantasy serve a transformative function in the equilibration of the personality, and this makes it readily apparent why in analysis, active imagination serves an identical transformative function in the "re-creation" of the wholeness of personality.

(Stewart 1987b, p. 133)

Before closing this part of our discussion, I will attempt to restate how the affects are intertwined with play and the imagination. First, we remember that Joy motivates play. Second, we have seen that play has a transformative function; the crisis emotions are transformed in the process of play. To summarize these two important points: 1) affect energizes play. And 2) play transforms affect. These observations are related to the most basic functions of the psyche: ...The "ways in which the affects are enmeshed with play and imagination exemplify two fundamental and reciprocal aspects of the psyche, namely, energy and transformation" (Stewart 1987b, p. 133).

In the "play" I am presently engaged in, I am discovering that the crisis emotions, the primal impulses of anger/violence, fear, grief, shame, are in reality powerful and noble energies when given a place to live in my world, a place of imagination and beauty. In this realization, creativity is birthing out of the ashes of what was previously the affect of the unconscious response to these emotions and their ensuing destructive consequences. My tryst with these energies in this manner has just begun. How this process evolves is unknown. Yet the journey for me is in this glorious and terrifying moment, with the hidden gold of a life fully lived revealed within its folds.

Do I need to build a case for the re-imagining of one's life? I think not. But to enter into the more shadowy realms where the impulses of sexuality, power, violence, and death converge, one may need to broaden one's scope from the limited perspective of their acceptable realization in our society, into the extraordinary and vast landscape of the soul's imagination played out in the world.

Holding this in mind... come, enter in, to play with me in this vast realm of my soul.