I look down into the deep murky depths;
This is my subconscious.
Every so often something surfaces.
Movement disturbs and dislodges
Something from the bottom.
It bubbles up and makes itself known.
And there we have it,
Recently I began reading up on C.G. Jung’s ideas about active imagination, a creative way to bridge the gap between conscious and unconscious parts of the psyche. It brought to mind my years of writing poetry, and the inner process it allowed me to express. Also, in recent years, I’ve been involved with various art projects, especially as a journey into the imagination, or Imagi-Nation as one group called it. My own experience of psychology and art has been informal, and in fact I am currently on a course of psychosynthesis, so what I present here is some of my own creative experience and some of the material of Jung that I have been reading.
Very early on I recorded my insight into poetry and inspiration in the following six principles. Even now they carry relevance, and I see some parallels with active imagination too.
- Poetry is created by the formless ore of Universal Inspiration, which is filtered and forged through Personal Experience.
- Inspired poetry is an organic product that is made intuitively, instinctively and spontaneously, so the most inspired poetry cannot be forced nor rationalized.
- It doesn’t matter whether a poem is good or bad; as long as it’s expressed that’s enough to make it good.
- Because part of poetry is from Personal Experience it remains to some degree a subjective experience. Therefore let each person find their own interpretations.
- There are traditions and practices that help inspire and structure poetry in different ways. Whilst these are not essential to write good poetry they do exist as powerful tools to enhance the poetic experience.
- Being a poet is not about being able to write poetry all the time. It’s about accepting that inspiration is irregular.
As Druids we look for Awen, or “inspiration”, not something that can be forced, but encountered every now and then, something that has a life of its own, that arises when it is needed, whether we want it or not. There is a Cauldron lying deep down within us, brewing and fermenting until something stirs and germinates, growing out of its dark bed and reaching for the light, for manifestation.
In the early days of my encountering Paganism I resolved to do something artistic, something creative and expressive, something that would complement my more intellectual pursuit into the many philosophies and belief systems I would investigate. I would meditate and cogitate about new ideas, digesting them and searching for their nutrition. These ideas would “ferment” within me and later would seek expression, for which I’m glad I chose poetry.
I felt that as I investigated and experimented with many different beliefs and ideas that I was planting seeds within me. These seeds would later erupt in words and images, often without my meaning to. Often a few words would spontaneously come to me and I would make notes of them, maybe on a scrap of paper, perhaps on my mobile phone; anywhere convenient for me, since I’d usually be doing something where I wasn’t really in a good position to write anything (inspiration doesn’t have to be a convenience, lol). I could be working in a shop, or doing some gardening somewhere, or else out and about. Sometimes the poems would come coherently, and each line would come in order. Other times there’d be a dizzying array of words and phrases that I’d later have to edit and put into coherent form.
I didn’t do poems of rhyme and meter, because when I did I found them too restricting and forced. I soon developed a style of “poetic prose”, where sentences would be divided into lines, and the language wouldn’t be my usual day-to-day language but poetic in its expression. I didn’t have to be restricted by grammar or style, because this wasn’t about aesthetics or their comprehensiveness but simply to express something that wasn’t fully rational or so subject to conscious effort.
“It is not important for the picture to be technically or aesthetically satisfying, but merely for the fantasy to have free play and for the whole thing to be done as well as possible.” C.G. Jung
In writing poetry, and even editing their form, I didn’t just employ rational capacities to give them order and meaning, I often had to intuit the sense of what was being written. It wasn’t about what my conscious “thought” was right, but whether it felt right. This was the key. I think we’re often led to believe that art is about aesthetics, about what is somehow pleasing to the eye, that it has a merely cosmetic function, which can be the case, but I think that much art has a deeper significance, that the rational-aesthetic sense can’t appreciate nor duplicate.
Languages have their roots in the primal screams, grunts, gurgles and calls of our animal ancestors. So words have instinctive (pre-rational) as well as intellectual dimensions, yet they can also be intuitive, conveying a trans-rational meaning. The mystics say that the spiritual experience is ineffable, that words are poor conduits to convey it properly; perhaps because we understand words at an intellectual, dictionary level. All mystics have also used words to convey or express their experiences, knowing full well the limits of language. Those with “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” may be able to see what is hidden within or between the words.
Writing poetry has been about expression, and one of the most important things was not to worry about how “good” or “bad” it was, because this would impose conscious expectations of what the poem is “supposed to be”. The purpose was to connect with something that didn’t neatly fit the limits of what I could consciously think about. Although the final product would be shaped by consciousness, its source would be unconscious, and so uncensored.
“The method of ‘active imagination,’ hereinafter described, is the most important auxiliary for the production of those contents of the unconscious which lie, as it were, immediately below the threshold of consciousness and, when intensified, are most likely to irrupt spontaneously into the conscious mind.” C. G. Jung, The Transcendent Function
Imagine my surprise when, with this experience behind me, I discovered that Jung had used this with other forms of art and had called it “active imagination”, a psychotherapy to bridge the gap between conscious and unconscious parts of the psyche; in other words, to facilitate wholeness of the psyche. It was something I had been doing all along, something I had discovered for myself.
(1) Consciousness possesses a threshold intensity which its contents must have attained, so that all elements that are too weak remain in the unconscious.
(2) Consciousness, because of its directed function, exercises an inhibition (which Freud calls censorship) on all incompatible material, with the result that it sinks into the unconscious.
(3) Consciousness constitutes the momentary process of adaption, whereas the unconscious contains not only the forgotten material of the individual’s own past, but all the inherited behaviour traces constituting the structure of the mind.
(4) The unconscious contains all the fantasy combinations which have not yet attained the threshold intensity, but which in the course of time and under suitable conditions will enter the light of consciousness.
C.G. Jung, The transcendent function
Permit me to use an image: the conscious has built a dam to keep the unconscious at bay. Always there are little trickles and bursts of unconscious material when the pressure rises. Perhaps the pressure becomes too great and it overwhelms the conscious, but there are ways of “easing” the pressure so as to allow the unconscious some free expression. Art is one such method, at least in the sense that it is used with active imagination.
Through art, conscious and unconscious can learn to cooperate with each other; the unconscious can generate material that the conscious wouldn’t normally accept, and the conscious can integrate a wider psychological life. The fragmented psyche can makes creative steps towards wholeness.
“Here too a product is created which is influenced by both conscious and unconscious, embodying the striving of the unconscious for the light and the striving of the conscious for substance.” C.G. Jung
In one of the books I use for containing my poems I wrote a note at the beginning about poetry, written a few months ago. I share it here with you for posterity:
Poetry, the weaving and expression of words into meaningful form, has been a real blessing in my life. Where I could not express myself in life I had a little space for it in poetry. Here I had a mirror, a reflection in words, of me, my inner processes and the new perspectives to embrace and grapple with. I would consume and digest new ideas, new philosophies, and poetry represents an integration of that.
They are my experiments too. By taking on new ideas that were or are not part of my usual thinking or beliefs I had space in poetry to suspend disbelief and step into the unfamiliar and even the terrifying.
First and foremost, it would seem, the theme of nature dominates, and my relationship with it. Nature has always been my guiding star, but underneath all it is my soul, its journey, its evolution, its adventure through life.
The Soul’s Tapestry
I see a tapestry,
Woven out of threads from the past
In the loom of the present
And offered to the future.
It is worn and neglected when I discover it,
So I tenderly pick it up
To peer at the details.
It makes little sense
In its worn and fragmented state,
Each thread seems to blur into another.
So then I carefully trace each thread
Of each fragment,
Following how they weave,
Making sense of where they go
And untangling where they are indistinct.
Slowly and bit-by-bit
They are returned as a whole
Making the picture more clearly seen and known.
This is the tapestry of my soul.
But I have not finished there
For the weaving goes ever on.
Thank you for reading, and I look forward to this month's discussion!
References and links
Jung on Active Imagination - a collection of Jung's work connected with active imagination.
My artistic work: http://jakefishoutofwater.wordpress.com/ - describes the journey of Jake Fish through Imagi-Nation, also includes the current adventures of St. John de Monmouth through The Realms Beyond the Sea. And I also share my work on my conlang Alahithian.
A selection of my earlier poetry, not yet all published: http://www.theblackbirdsperch.wordpress.com