Saturday, August 18, 2007


"There are mysteries which men can only guess at, which age by age they may solve only in part."
Bram Stoker, Dracula

Imagination is at the root of our ideas, behaviors and attitudes. Ultimately the feelings and moods we drift in and out of are connected to these innate images which have taken up residence in us over the years. In another blog I wrote about the power of artful images.

I am not speaking of the typically modern understanding of images or imagination, our simple visuals or daydreams. While parts of what I am referring to, they are a very small parts of a fascinating whole. Carl Jung said, 'the psyche is image.' In other words, the very core of our being is founded on images, on imagination. The psyche is not fundamentally neurons, cognitive processes or learned behaviors, but images.

An image is a 'way of seeing,' or a 'way of seeing into and through.' An image might be likened to a pair of tinted glasses which affects everything one beholds. Images form the context, grid, filter or paradigm of our particular psychic lens; they comprise the means by which we interpret the world around us. These internalized imagistic structures are not just imprinted cognitive patterns, but they are alive in us. Now that is a wild claim in our modern world which tells us that our skulls contain nothing but a couple pounds of meat rife with neurons which communicate via dendritic pathways firing electro-chemical signals stimulated soley by the physical senses, a.k.a. the brain.

Jung, and other depth psychologists, believe we are animated by the images or fantasies which dwell in us, that the brain is an organ which mediates psyche rather than originating it. The brain, like a TV/VCR monitor, receives, records, plays, rewinds, erases, etc., but there is some field which originates and broadcasts these original (archetypal) 'signals.' Yes, this sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but as Isaac Asimov said, "Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable." Humans live by images as much as they live by oxygen and food. Some well known Jewish teacher once said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by words (images)..."

That is why other cultures were so obsessed by what we call 'art.' The earliest known imagistic representation dates back to nearly 500,000 years ago. It is about 2 inches long and resembles a human figurine. We know of the famous European cave paintings, Egyptian funerary images, Greek statuary, Roman mosaics, Mayan temples, Native American totems, Chinese water colors and the ubiquitous cultural rituals saturated with images. Art? Pardon me, but what a silly term. Did these people have the time or interest, amidst their life and death struggles for survival, to make art? They spent hours chipping away to make flint arrowheads and hollowing out log canoes, and in their spare time they made 'art.' Hardly. These imagistic representations were as crucial for survival as any weapon or tool.

Unfortunately, modern psychology has lost this fact. We have divided life into the 'arts and sciences', implying that the real important stuff for living resides in the practical technologies, and the arts are for Saturday strolls in the museums, or free evenings in the theatre. Evidently, man shall live by bread alone.

Our moods, behaviors, attitudes and lives rise up from the misty and sometimes mystical moors of a living psyche. Like ghosts, old images swirl around the haunted houses we call our souls. The ancients called it 'demon possession', 'being filled with spirits' or other terms connoting the internal animated dynamic of the psyche. They are not there primarily to make us happy or sad, depressed or elated, fulfilled or bored - but to make souls. Whether negative or positive images, they reside in us to make soul. This is done by paying attention; not by medicating or meditating them away. Some of these images need to be reinforced, honored, remembered and given the modern equivalent of the ancient's idea of sacrifices. Others need to be seen, heard, attended to and finally deleted. Even these negative images of fear, anxiety and rage which have been wreaking havoc on us for decades must be recognized, faced up to and then let go; Jesus 'exorcised' them.

For some, this whole notion seems like the ramblings of a madman, eccentric mystic, or brain damaged kook. God knows I have tried other approaches to life: religion (conservative, liberal and metaphysical), skeptical philosophies (existentialism, God delusionism), materialistic psychologies (behaviorism, cognitive and family systems), eastern philosophies (meditation, reality is illusion) and humanistic psychology (achieving my potential). Each is a wonderful fantasy, containing lovely and not so lovely images by which I have lived and thought, but each is just an image, a fantasy. James Hillman says we have science fiction and the fictions of science; both are images, and each is real, insofar as each can take you in making a soul. But the Psyche is a process of limitless images, infinite combinations of archetypal, imagistic energies which animate and comprise the soil of the entire Cosmos, the soil from which galaxies, solar systems, planets, societies, religions, political systems and individuals spring.

At every level, but primarily for each of us at the individual level, the work begins with our images. I will have more to say about that later. But I highly recommend Robert Sardello's book, Freeing the Soul from Fear. This is not one of the myriad New Age 'love is the answer' books which never tell you what the question is. Sardello makes it as clear as one can clarify the elusive Psyche, if love is the answer, the question is, 'how do we make souls?'

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