CHAPTER 7 Becoming Worthy (complete)
In 1913, Carl Jung broke with Sigmund Freud. They had been colleagues for six years, and the schism formed over what Jung believed was Freud’s overemphasis on sex and limited view of the Unconscious. At the time of the split, Jung started having visions, hearing voices and seeing beings within his own psyche that seemed autonomous. He believed he was going insane, or as he termed it, “doing a schizophrenia.” Rather than running from what was going on inside himself, he decided to confront these psychic entities and see where they took him. He realized that his patients were experiencing the same phenomenon because he recognized their symptoms in himself, and thought that if he couldn’t deal with this psychic material, he couldn’t ask his patients to either. Thus began the many years of his own experience with these visions and voices, the outgrowth of which was the process he came to call Active Imagination. He documented his experience in The Red Book, which has only recently (2009) been published.
Back in Chapter 5 when I provided Mary Shelley’s description of how she came up with the idea for Frankenstein, in addition to describing the experience of contacting the Collective Unconscious, I was also preparing you for Active Imagination. Mary used the method intuitively and to great effect. She had unknowingly prepared herself for a psychic experience by discussing the reanimation of dead tissue with Percy Shelly and Lord Byron. This discussion continued late into the evening and even past the witching hour. Let’s revisit Mary’s initial words about the psychic state she was in when her idea came to her:
When I placed my head on the pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision—I saw…
She did not think or sleep but slipped into an imaginative state. She had cleared away her psychic space and let come what may. But she also had been actively trying to come up with a ghost story. Just before sleep she was “possessed” by her imagination. She was given a series of vivid images that terrorized her. We need a process that will replicate Mary’s situation and actions and yield results on demand. This process is Jung’s Active Imagination.
Back in Chapter 2, when I gave directions on how to develop an initial concept for a story, i.e., find the prima materia, I was seducing you into this whole process by suggesting you look at an image that came with your idea and concentrate on that image until it animated. Then you looked for conflict between the characters that inhabited your story. These seemingly benign visualization techniques constitute, as we have seen with Mary Shelley’s example, the initial stages of Active Imagination. Jungian therapists teach Active Imagination to help patients integrate problematic psychic material, internal conflicts, from the Unconscious into Consciousness.
We will be using Active Imagination to assist us with storytelling, but we didn’t develop our Philosopher’s Stone for nothing. It provides us with one type of preparation when we plan to create a new story: structure. And we didn’t select that structure, practically a template, arbitrarily. We used what some of the greatest storytellers of all time knew about story. Active Imagination provides us with a technique for conjuring our story from within our Subconscious, and we will use its process in conjunction with our Philosopher’s Stone.
Mary Shelly fell into Active Imagination intuitively. Carl Jung was dragged into it by his own autonomous psychic entities. We’re not so lucky. How can we learn Active Imagination? Is it possible to enter such a creative psychic state at will? Luckily, Jung describes this process in detail at various points throughout his Collected Works. All his ideas on Active Imagination have been provided in a single book titled, Jung on Active Imagination, edited by Joan Chodorow. The following is his best description of the process [pages 167/8]. (The original source for the material is Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis, paragraph 706):
This process [Active Imagination] can… take place spontaneously or be artificially induced. In the latter case you choose a dream, or some other fantasy-image, and concentrate on it by simply catching hold of it and looking at it. You can also use a bad mood as a starting-point, and then try to find out what sort of fantasy-image it will produce, or what image expresses this mood. You then fix this image in the mind by concentrating your attention. Usually it will alter, as the mere fact of contemplating it animates it.
This is a marvelously detailed description of the initial process. The notion that it will spontaneously animate if you contemplate it, although it may seem mundane, is quite profound for anyone who has attempted the process and has run into trouble getting it to work. Jung continues:
The alterations must be carefully noted down all the time, for they reflect the psychic processes in the unconscious background, which appear in the form of images consisting of conscious memory material. In this way conscious and unconscious are united, just as a waterfall connects above and below. A chain of fantasy ideas develops and gradually takes on a dramatic character: the passive process becomes an action.
For someone trying to come up with an idea for writing a novel or screenplay, this is like hearing the voice of the prophet. There’s more:
At first it consists of projected figures, and these images are observed like scenes in the theatre. In other words, you dream with open eyes. As a rule there is a marked tendency simply to enjoy this interior entertainment and to leave it at that. Then, of course, there is no real progress but only endless variations on the same theme, which is not the point of the exercise at all.
This is quite an analogy for someone trying to write fiction. It gets directly at the process. I might add that simply to be entertained isn’t the point of writing fiction either. The author must be emotionally engaged. The point of fiction is to fully develop the central conflict and resolve it. Jung continues:
What is enacted on the stage still remains a background process; it does not move the observer in any way, and the less it moves him the smaller will be the cathartic effect of this private theatre. The piece that is being played does not want merely to be watched impartially, it wants to compel his participation. If the observer understands that his own drama is being performed on this inner stage, he cannot remain indifferent to the plot and its denouement. He will notice, as the actors appear one by one and the plot thickens, that they all have some purposeful relationship to his conscious situation, that he is being addressed by the unconscious, and that it causes these fantasy-images to appear before him. He therefore feels compelled, or is encouraged by his analyst, to take part in the play and, instead of just sitting in a theatre, really have it out with his alter ego. For nothing in us ever remains quite uncontradicted, and consciousness can take up no position which will not call up, somewhere in the dark corners of the psyche, a negation or a compensatory effect, approval or resentment.
It’s as if Jung is speaking directly to the author here. He even couches his argument in the lingo of storytelling. This beehive of conflict is a goldmine for an author. Remember that Mary Shelley’s vision terrified her, an indication that she wasn’t “watching impartially.” She was fully emotionally involved, if only as a viewer of the action. One last paragraph from Jung, and it contains bad news, or perhaps really good news, depending on how you look at it:
This process of coming to terms with the Other in us is well worth while, because in this way we get to know aspects of our nature which we would not allow anybody else to show us and which we ourselves would never have admitted. It is very important to fix this whole procedure in writing at the time of its occurrence, for you then have ocular evidence that will effectively counteract the ever-ready tendency to self-deception. A running commentary is absolutely necessary in dealing with the shadow, because otherwise its actuality cannot be fixed. Only in this painful way is it possible to gain a positive insight into the complex nature of one’s own personality.
The bad news is, “…in this way we get to know aspects of our nature which we would not allow anybody else to show us and which we ourselves would never have admitted.” We learn about ourselves from the stories we select to write, and this isn’t a pretty picture. What interests us says a lot about our own psychic makeup. We rarely associate ourselves with our characters literally, nor would we want others to equate us with them. Think of Steven King. But our readers do, perhaps not in a totally literal sense, but they do. Storytelling, particularly fiction, gets to the inner workings of the author’s psyche, and our readers instinctively know that these stories we tell are an indelible part of ourselves. But then these stories are a part of the reader’s psychic makeup also, or they wouldn’t be interested in reading them.
The one thing we should always remember is that we are never isolated from the creative process. It is always a therapeutic process of internal discovery and reconciliation. However, the news is not always good. We can activate repressed internal conflicts, and troublesome content from the Unconscious can flood Consciousness. Some of us are more susceptible to this than are others. It depends to a large extent on how much we’ve suppressed and repressed and the nature of that psychic material, i.e., the depth of the trauma, that created the Shadow and the way it is connected to the archetypes of the Collective Unconscious.
Here’s another way of looking at what we’re going to do. Normally your center of awareness is pointed forward. You go about your daily tasks with your awareness facing the world. What I’m now asking you to do, and will give you some tools to help accomplish, is to turn your awareness around so that it’s facing backward staring directly at your Unconscious, but only during creative writing sessions. Graphically, it looks like this:
Figure 7-1 Direction of Awareness
To me as a layman, the definition of at least one type of insanity is a psyche within which awareness uncontrollably points inward toward the Unconscious instead of outward toward the real world. I assume that was Jung’s problem when he started hearing voices and seeing visions. In such an inward configuration during daily activity, awareness can’t distinguish what is actually happening versus what is going on inside this hidden psychic world as it is projected onto the perception of reality. In the beginning of this book, I warned that this method carries certain risks. You’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to take that risk. If you run into trouble, you may need to spend some time with a Jungian therapist. We can also cultivate relationships with psychic forces buried deep within us that don’t deserve a voice. It’s up to the author to differentiate between those who should and those who shouldn’t be turned loose upon the world.
Jung found that when using Active Imagination successfully, we build a bridge from Consciousness into the Unconscious, both the Shadow and the Collective, that facilitates and regulates the exchange of information, integrates material from it into Consciousness, and makes the individual both more functional and individuated. This bridge, which the patient develops during Active Imagination sessions, Jung termed the Transcendent Function. It is the outgrowth of the process and what enables the patient to better function in the real world and within his/her own psyche.
Jung wasn’t the first to practice such a therapeutic technique, perhaps the first to do so consciously, but others had been at it unconsciously for millennia. Jung studied the written works of the alchemists for decades and noticed similarities to his own experience. Jungians today still study the writing of the alchemists to learn more about the Transcendent Function. The book, The Transcendent Function by Jeffrey C. Miller, describes that process. Here’s what Miller has to say about Alchemy:
Alchemy was concerned with creating qualitative changes in substances, specifically transforming base metals into gold or silver. Its importance to [depth psychology] lies in its conviction that “outer” in the substances corresponded with “inner” changes in the alchemist’s psyche; as the alchemical endeavor proceeds, transformation occurs in both the alchemist and the substance. Indeed, some would say that the transformation of the alchemist is the true focus of alchemy…
Alchemy holds that subject and object, indeed all opposites, are joined in an unseen way by a universal process or substance, called the lapis, which imbues all creation, even the human mind and body. [Miller, The Transcendent Function, page 123]
This “lapis” (Latin for “stone”) is what Jung called the Transcendent Function. What is interesting for the author is that she/he is engaged in a process quite similar to that of the alchemist. When we write, we are working on something viewed as external: the novel, screenplay, etc. The author is joining opposites, the protagonist and antagonist, and resolving their conflict. During the writing process, authors focus on perfecting the work, but the process involves pulling material from the Unconscious into Consciousness. In doing so, they are creating and using Jung’s bridge, the Transcendent Function. Authors both improve their working relationship with their own Unconscious and create a work of art, their story.
To prepare for an Active Imagination session, Jung suggests the patient first do a little homework and go in with a purpose. In therapy, this is whatever is troubling the patient most. It can be something specific or as vague as a persistent bad feeling. For the author, I also suggest preparation, and that she/he go into Active Imagination with the purpose of learning something specific about the story. This can be a need to further develop the plot or to write a chapter or a scene. I’m assuming that the author has developed an idea as we talked about in Chapter 2. It can be just about anything.
But this is where I’m going to stop. We’re not quite ready to enter psychic space. We need to know more about Jung’s Active Imagination and how that process relates to our Philosopher’s Stone. We also need to know how the actual story material we develop relates to the therapeutic process. All the material for your story, at least its heart and soul, most of the words, will come from the Unconscious. You will simultaneously experience a form of therapy because the processes are interrelated. You will, in some ways, be building Jung’s Transcendent Function disguised as narrative storytelling. The story isn’t the Transcendent Function precisely, but it will be akin to it, or maybe even more accurately a representation of it. One of many, actually. The thing to recognize is that you are cloaking your Active Imagination sessions as story construction sessions. The outgrowth of your sessions, once edited, will be your written work. It will be something about you, but not about you. You’ve disguised your Active Imagination session as writing fiction, and its product you’ve called a work of art.
This is nothing new. Every work of fiction is and always has been the product of disguised Active Imagination. It’s just that authors didn’t and don’t realize it. What I’m doing is taking you another step, perhaps many steps, closer to hardcore Active Imagination, and toward butting right up against the Unconscious. You will be aware, much more intensely aware, of the place from which the creative material is coming. Plus, it will change you.
For a Christian perspective on this, we turn to the non-canonical, but widely quoted by scholars, Gospel of Thomas (70): Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” This is the same as Jung’s contention that what we suppress into the Shadow is unknowingly projected out into the world, and it’s not pretty. It was suppressed for a reason, and that reason was that it was unacceptable to society. In a good portion of our own writing, we are bringing our forbidden impulses into the fictional world. They are disguised in daily life but still projected “out there” and help form our perceptions of people and events. We react to these mistaken perceptions and develop “blind spots” to our bad behavior. Once we come to terms with the unconscious content through writing, we can deal with it internally without allowing its destructive effect to be projected onto the real world. The suppressed content then has expression within fiction and is not acted upon. At least that’s the theory.
Instead of mistakenly trying to resolve these internal issues in the real world, we are writing stories about them, just as the alchemist was perfecting himself while trying to create the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life. Your novel or screenplay will be proof of your striving for individuation. Your story will be the alchemist’s gold which she/he transmuted from lead. By use of the author’s Philosopher’s Stone, the plot yantra/mandala and the dodecahedron, you will transform your prima materia and de-energize it by resolving your internal conflicts.
This process is forever a hall of mirrors. When it comes right down to it, this storytelling process isn’t about story at all. It’s about presiding over the resolution of conflicts between Consciousness and the Unconscious, both within you and your readers. That Philosopher’s Stone for storytellers we just discovered has its origin within the psyche. One might say that the original Philosopher’s Stone is about the psyche, and we’ve only developed a replica of it for storytelling. Our story will have the shape and contents of a Philosopher’s Stone, but the psyche must be so configured to be psychologically healthy, to see clearly and understand the story. One might well imagine that this Philosopher’s Stone is the basic structure of the psyche in the healthy state and describes psychic processes when it’s working properly. This then is what we call being “worthy.” Here’s how we might describe this graphically:
Figure 7-2 Story as a Psychic Mirror
Story creation is a process of looking into a mirror. We all have had the experience of cruising along with our story when we come to a difficult part that we just can’t quite get right. We close our eyes and “look” within. We didn’t realize it, but we were trying to see “back” into our psyche because we instinctively know that the creative material comes from some dark place within us. We project that material forward into our story. It’s as if our awareness is a projector for the contents of the Unconscious.
Let’s take a quick look at Jung’s therapeutic process for creating the Transcendent Function. When you first read about it, you might get the feeling that the process seems familiar. Jung viewed the process of forming the Transcendent Function as one of bringing opposites that reside in Consciousness and the Unconscious into direct conflict so that contents from the Unconscious could be integrated into Consciousness. This is a process of conflict engagement and resolution. It has six steps but still seemingly fits our five-plot-point pentagon.
Here are Jung’s steps as outlined by Miller, along with what I see as their corresponding points on our plot pentagon (see pages 21-28 of The Transcendent Function):
Artificially Inducing Unconscious Contents (AIUC) When the self-regulating nature of position/counter-position between Consciousness and the Unconscious breaks down, it’s necessary to artificially induce interaction to restart the process. [In storytelling, this constitutes the Setup and Locking the Conflict. It corresponds to the Setup and Plot Point 1 on the plot pentagon. It puts the characters in motion.]
Producing Unconscious Material: Active Imagination (PUMAI) This is the initial stage in the mechanics of creating the Transcendent Function. Consciousness actively seeks out interaction with the Unconscious. It consists of finding the disturbing symptom (conflict) and diving into its core. [This is the process of the protagonist coming to terms with what the central conflict is all about, and corresponds to the action along the line between PP1 – PP2.]
Utilizing Unconscious Material: Creative Formulation and Understanding (CF&U) This is where Consciousness struggles to understand the content from the Unconscious. [In storytelling this is the point where the protagonist fully understands the conflict, what she/he’s up against. This is PP2, and includes the action along the line between PP2 – PP3.]
Relation of Ego to Unconscious: Bringing together the Opposites (BTO) Jung states: “At this stage it is no longer the unconscious that takes the lead, but the ego”. [The first part of this step is a reversal in the conflict, PP3. The action forced by the ego (Consciousness) occurs between PP3 – PP4.]
Final Result: Dialogue Creating Emergence of the Third (DCET) The Transcendent Function comes fully into being through a conversation between Consciousness and the Unconscious. [The protagonist finally makes a decision as to how he/she will approach the antagonist. This decision point is PP4. This precipitates the prolonged struggle (conversation) that occurs between PP4 – PP5.]
Closing Passages: Liberation and the Courage to be Oneself (LCO) Functional to-and-fro arguments as permitted now by the creation of the Transcendent Function. [The conflict is finally resolved at PP5. What follows from PP5 – PP1 is the Denouement, which is a brief presentation of the results of the conflict. This then brings us back to where we started, normal life.]
Figure 7-3 Jung’s Active Imagination as a Pentagon
It seems that both the plotting process for storytelling and the structure of Jungian psychotherapy are meditations on conflict and directions on how to achieve resolution. What is so surprising is how well Jungian psychology explains the author’s process. It seems that, in developing our own theory of storytelling, we’ve run directly into Jung’s process of individuation. A patient’s internal conflicts manifest and get resolved through therapy, a process that leads to individuation if resolved successfully. In Jungian psychology, the patient (the conflicted self) would be at the center of a therapeutic pentagon, whereas in storytelling the premise, conflict incarnate, occupies that spot. This means that the author is the patient when writing fiction. The author is always struggling with an internal conflict that is resolved through storytelling.
Now that we’ve come this far down the road to good storytelling, let’s take a really cynical look at what we’ve done. So what if the conflict is resolved? Shouldn’t something more profound about the protagonist be happening? How does this relate to consciousness raising? And, what does this really tell us about the author becoming worthy? A lot of novels, plays and movies are built around conflict, probably have all these plot points, and many still suck. How do we get to a place where it all means something, possibly even something profound?
We’ve already addressed this, but now we’ll expand upon it. Meaning comes from theme. To explore theme properly, both sides of the argument must be reasonably presented, and that argument will become the vise that puts the squeeze on theme and results in meaning. Let’s redraw Figure 2-1 and make it more graphically telling:
Figure 7-4 Conflict Squeezing Theme Yields Meaning
Conflict is a mechanism for exploring theme. If the antagonist doesn’t have a reasoned position relative to the theme, the conflict becomes one-sided. A one-sided vise doesn’t work.
To illustrate that conflict, in and of itself, isn’t theme, consider the case where the protagonist loses the conflict but gains wisdom in the process. Perhaps when the protagonist went through the agony of choice, she/he came to the realization that she/he didn’t want to win, that they were wrong. They realized that the higher road was in losing. In doing so, they transcended the conflict and became a better person. She/he became enlightened. In losing the conflict, the protagonist has saved her/his own soul. Conflict is about winning or losing; becoming worthy is about enlightenment; theme processing leads to enlightenment, individuation, worthiness. Conflict without theme is story without meaning. The story has no soul.
Consider the movie, Kramer vs Kramer. Following a divorce, the mother wins custody of their child, but in the end, she gives the little boy back to her ex-husband because the mother realizes that he will be better off with his father. She has transcended the conflict through love for her child and respect for the father — and the realization, which hurts the most, of her own limitations as a mother.
The best way to look at what happens as a result of conflict and its resolution is through the lens of a mandala. The Hindu and Buddhist traditions teach “the five types of deep awareness,” with a different Buddha representing each of the five awarenesses. I mentioned these awarenesses back in Chapter 4, but briefly. Now we must fully develop the concept. We can adapt some of this Eastern philosophy without pulling too heavily on their traditions by insisting that the protagonist learn something profound at each step, i.e., plot point, of his/her journey through Storyland. These are the milestones that occur when the connection between conflict and theme surface dramatically. You might call the Five Types of Deep Awareness a parallel pentagon that charts the major learning experience of the protagonist. See Figure 7-5. The interaction between the basic natures of each plot point, together with the theme, fully develops the story’s philosophical content.
Up until now, we’ve viewed each plot point as an event confronted by the protagonist, but we can also view each as a learning experience, something that will help her/him overcome the obstacles presented by the central conflict. Each of the five plot points presents the protagonist with a different manifestation of the same, ever escalating, central conflict, but each also provides an opportunity to learn, to become wiser. In writing about the protagonist’s struggles and increasing awareness, the author, by becoming emotionally and intellectually involved, also becomes enlightened. The nature of the theme, indelibly etched in the central conflict, determines the makeup of the consciousness-raising achieved by both author and protagonist.
To help envision how enlightenment results from theme under the flames of conflict, we place the author as the Ouroboros, the circling dragon, and the five theme plot points as teachings that arrive as different aspects of the conflict as experienced by the protagonist.
Figure 7-5 The Five Types of Deep Awareness
The five wisdom Buddhas embody the progress of enlightenment. The protagonist then experiences the following five teachings at the five plot points: (1) conflict recognition, (2) experiences conflict’s true nature, (3) withstands the full conflict, (4) recognition of resolution, (5) enforcing the resolution. What is crucial is that each of these five teachings originates in the theme as part of the central conflict. All the while, of course, we have the ever-circling Ouroboros, which is the author. Shown in the form of a mandala, the theme plot pentagon looks like that in Figure 7-5. Theme enters from the center with the narrator’s premise and point of view, and then the protagonist progresses around the wisdom pentagon as the Ouroboros/author starts its/his cycle about the mechanism. The protagonist undergoes the five steps to gain full theme awareness.
What proof can I offer that psychotherapy/writing/Active Imagination have done anything to help me along the path to individuation, i.e., becoming worthy? Sometime in early 2012, two years into Active Imagination, I had a dream that concerned me quite a lot. I avoided telling about it on my blog, but it stuck with me, so eventually I did. Here’s what I wrote the night of the dream:
I dreamed that I was with a bunch of people who were giving me their condolences. I didn’t exactly understand why. We were outside walking, and when we started to cross the street, I saw something lying in the gutter among leaves and other debris. It was a body, stripped of clothing, and when I went to see who it was, my friends tried to stop me, but I walked over to it anyway. It was lying under the front end of a parked car. The car hadn’t run over it. It was just lying there dead and discarded. By then I realized that it was me, my body. I felt great affection for it, and I was heartbroken that I was dead. I took a hold of my hand and moved my body around a bit, but I was dead. Dead and just simply discarded there at the side of the street. In the gutter. Under a car.
But I had a new body and my friends wanted me to move on. I went into a home and went to the bathroom mirror to see what my new body looked like. I was surprised. I looked a little like a friend I had when I was in high school fifty-three years ago. I was not pleased, but at least I didn’t look horrible. It wasn’t as if I was reincarnated but more like I had just received a new body to replace the old one. It was not a traumatizing dream but not very pleasant either.
This dream was undoubtedly a result of my Active Imagination sessions. If you remember, the Ouroboros is the dragon that eats its own tail, therefore, constantly dying and resurrecting itself. Here’s what Jung says of the Ouroboros:
In the age-old image of the [o]uroboros lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulator process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself. The uroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e., of the shadow. This “feed-back” process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the uroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which, as a projection, unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious. [Mysterium Coniunctionis, page 365, para 513]
By “he slays himself,” Jung means the repression and suppression of some of our natural tendencies that fall into the Shadow, and by “brings himself to life” Jung refers to the therapeutic process of bringing the contents of the Shadow back up into consciousness. In doing this, we become somewhat of a different person, which he describes as giving birth to ourselves anew as the One. And as in my dream, we are perhaps not as “beautiful” as we were before because we’ve absorbed some of our less favorable characteristics that we’d previously discarded/repressed to become civilized. The new, or reborn person, he considers individuated. What the individuated person has gained that makes him so different is the Transcendent Function, which is the functional bridge that enables Consciousness to interact successfully and continually with the Unconscious and integrate its contents.
My dream seems to have been a direct result of the process I was using to write a vampire novel. I’m not very conscientious about documenting my dreams. I don’t even make much of an attempt to remember them. It’s a laborious process about which I’ve become complacent. But this one dream, which had a major emotional impact, I finally realized, is indicative of what was going on within me at the time and deserved to be documented.
When writing of the alchemists, Marie-Louise von Franz, who worked with Jung for twenty-eight years, put it this way:
The underlying, not consciously realized thought is that if one gets deeper into psychology, one will have to give up all one’s present weltanschauung [comprehensive world view], thoughts, and occupations. Thus people feel threatened — and in a way they are right, they are threatened, because if they get in touch with their own depth, their former frame of life will collapse. Thus, in that form, medicine has a primarily destructive effect on the former framework of the personality’s rational consciousness. Everybody knows that he or she has to be drowned and lie like a corpse at the bottom of the green and white water before being resurrected, but this effect goes further and ultimately cures the person. [Alchemical Active Imagination, pages 56/7]
It cures the person, but not before she/he has suffered a symbolic death and their life completely upturned, as mine had been. The psychic equivalent was my death and rebirth, which I experienced in my dream. If you pursue this creative process, it could happen to you. If you’ve been writing for quite a while, it has probably already worked at least some of its dirt on you, and you’ve ended up better for it, at least in some ways.
In therapy, the psychotherapist is an advisor that facilitates the process, providing the patient with the crucial treatment and information needed to help create the Transcendent Function and negotiate the resolution of the internal conflict. In storytelling, frequently the protagonist also has such an advisor, and that person is, interestingly enough, called the thematic character because she/he is there to teach the protagonist how to engage the antagonist. In the first Star Wars movie, the thematic character is Obi-Wan Kenobi, who teaches Luke Skywalker about the Force. In the second, it’s Yoda, who trains Luke to be a Jedi Knight. In James Cameron’s movie Titanic, Jack tells Rose about freedom and helps her find the courage to break free from family shackles. Thematic characters pop up naturally as a part of the creative process. This is particularly true of coming-of-age stories where the protagonist has a lot to learn to solve the predicament she/he is in.
Learning Active Imagination is a process, a skill we develop over time — days, months, years. We come into it with a certain skill level because it is a natural process. Learning all the details of practicing Active Imagination makes it more effective and controllable, hopefully. I’m much more proficient than I was when I first started even though I’d been writing for decades. I’ve also noticed that it’s improved my creative skill during editing, by virtue of the Transcendent Function, no doubt. Don’t be disappointed if the process doesn’t seem very effective at first. You’ll work into it. The initial part of becoming worthy is undoubtedly about the Shadow, but the bigger picture is about building that additional part of the Transcendent Function that will connect Consciousness with not only the Shadow but also the Collective Unconscious.
Okay, we know what being worthy is all about, and we’re ready to get the show on the road. Are we supposed to go inside the Philosopher’s Stone? But it’s a formidable, solid object with no door. Our pilgrimage has led us to a sacred site which is in itself another unsolvable mystery. Maybe it was just a bowling ball all along and isn’t as useful as we thought. We have a meditation technique, a tradition, called Active Imagination, but how does it work with the Stone? Seems hopeless.
Don’t walk away just yet. Since the Unconscious has brought us this far along the road to achieving our goal, perhaps it can help find a way inside. And we really do have to get in because no way can we accomplish anything from outside. We have to be intimately involved with the Philosopher’s Stone. I had some strange experiences when I first started practicing Active Imagination that just might be able to help. Perhaps, I have a key that opens this thing.
In a scene in the 1956 classic movie Forbidden Planet, the main characters pass through a pentagonal-shaped door and take a shuttle to another part of the planet to witness the marvels of an ancient but extinct alien civilization called the Krell. The circular tunnel they negotiate while in the shuttle has a series of lights that extend far off into the distance where they travel. This tunnel is like a track into the center of a bindu, particularly after getting to it through a pentagonal-shaped door that could represent our plot pentagon. When they reach their destination, they are shown a wondrous machine that occupies four hundred square miles and goes about its business unaided without any human or alien guidance, much like the Collective Unconscious goes about its business without the individual’s awareness.
Figure 7-6 Forbidden Planet Shuttle
This alien machine is powered by an energy source in the very center of the planet that is of almost infinite capacity. It drove the Krell’s advanced civilization and enabled them to instantaneously create anything that their minds could imagine and project it into the real world.
We are about to enter such an energy center.
Chapter 8 The Iris of Time (preview)
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