This post is formatted to reflect an original journal entry.


I am engaged in the process of creating my own symbols. I’ve recognized it, albeit dimly, for awhile now, but the magnitude of such a revelation didn’t hit me squarely until just this morning. This goes beyond the creation of a personal myth. White apples, purple peacocks, blue elephants, wolves, owls, magic skulls, caves, and psychedelic trains. Each of these—now that I have brought them to life in my imagination and assigned them meaning—has become, somehow, necessary to me. This is why I’ve been feeling that my creative work has taken on a spiritual significance as of late.

An observation: it is the creative process that lends them such personal significance. The inner journey that is so powerful. That imbues those images with so much life. For me to engage in the poetic process (with regard to the narrative, symbolic poems) has become a spiritual activity—if not the spiritual activity. As I described it to T. Blake in an e-mail this afternoon: “My surroundings rarely faze me, although it is always preferable that I write from the floor cushion in my writing room. I light a candle, turn on some music, and, well, ‘tune in and drop out,’ as they say.” These experiences are revelatory for me. The dynamic inner world my imagination allows me to enter. The colors, movements, and dimensions. The profound impact of those scenes. The heightened energy and clarity of thought. And the essential feeling that, in those moments, I am channeling something beyond myself, that I am a co-creator. I always keep something of that experience with me. It is the soul of every image. And what ties me to it.

What we call a symbol is a term, a name, or even a picture that may be familiar in daily life, yet that possesses specific connotations in addition to its conventional and obvious meaning. – C. G. Jung

Symbol formation is a necessary outlet for psychic energy. A way to balance the spiritual and instinctual. The traditional function of religion but, for some, an individual pursuit. Then, it is at once the development of a personal religion and a means of becoming oneself. An act, too, of defining oneself in relation to a shifting culture when collective beliefs are no longer viable. I didn’t see it right away. Through my art, I am crafting the elements of a personal religion. Am I right about this? No shit. I spent so much time thinking of the “religious” dimension of my life in terms of personal rituals that I didn’t notice immediately what I was doing as I defined symbols through analogy-building, through poetry. Made them magical, imbued them with life and infused them with the aesthetics of my inward journeys:

In abstract form, symbols are religious ideas; in the form of action, they are rites or ceremonies. – C. G. Jung

This is what I have been working toward. I can’t believe it. And it’s all got me viewing my imagination differently. Imagination and perception. Always expecting that there exists a purer, truer insight than that of which I am capable. The kind that’s reserved for prophets and mystics and shamans. And maybe that’s true. But what if it’s also true that my exercises in imagination—active imagination (which I am having a very hard time, at this point, distinguishing from regular imagination)—and the insights they produce are sufficient for me to flourish? Imagination is the language of the spirit. It just speaks differently in each of us. 

But thinking in these terms also answers my previous questions about “religious forms of perception.” Jung says it himself:

Every advance in culture is, psychologically, an extension of consciousness, a coming to consciousness that can take place only through discrimination. Therefore an advance always begins with individuation, that is to say with the individual, conscious of his isolation, cutting a new path through hitherto untrodden territory. To do this he must first return to the fundamental facts of his own being, irrespective of all authority and tradition, and allow himself to become conscious of his distinctiveness. – C. G. Jung

This is exactly the kind of perception Maslow describes as non-rubricized. Defining the world according to the fundamental experiences of our being. Not the other way around. What I set out do from the outset with femininity—speak in terms of subjective experience alone. And what Huxley defines in The Divine Within as immediate apprehension—regaining the intuitive power that we lose as we grow up in favor of more “factual and utilitarian” forms of knowledge. Perhaps that’s it. Magic really does hide in the backs of the eyes. But, wait, isn’t this the same lesson the owl already taught me? Nothing is as unreal as it seems.

Thank you…

Another great big thank you to T. Blake for an incredible painting of Sandman Express (Part I). I am now fully inspired to tackle Part II!

Sandman Express I (1)


17 thoughts on “Strata

  1. What you’ve written, and what I imagine you have been experiencing, is fascinating. When you mention active imagination and regular imagination, I can only speak from personal experience, that the times I have experienced active imagination (as I understand it), I am in a meditative state of mind, I return to a dream image in my mind, focus on it, as if nothing else existed, and basically open myself to whatever the unconscious might present me with next. So for me this is different than regular imagination in that I have zero control of what images might come to me next. And then an inner dialogue follows between “I” and inner figures. I haven’t practiced active imagination very much over the years because I feel that it can be playing with fire. You can’t control what the unconscious is going to present you with. And at least I have to be in a very meditative frame of mind for this to be possible.

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    1. I think I understand what you mean. I have practiced something similar myself, but only a few times. In my mind, I conceive of my creativity as always only partially controlled, if that makes sense. As if I engage with my imagination, but I never know where it will take me, and it is that inner adventure that I find so thrilling. Also, the stream of words and images that just seem to “arrive” in my mind when I am writing or meditating and preparing to write always makes me feel as if the simple act of imagining is tinged with what Jung calls “active imagination.” I additionally wonder after the fact, once I’ve created, say, a symbol that’s surprising to me in some way and that I feel an emotional connection with, where it came from and why.

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  2. I experience my imagination in similar ways to what you describe of your own experiences. I have always thought of active imagination as something apart from what I consider imaginative experiences that I might have when I sit down to write or walk in a park, in that, as I understand it (as Jung experienced in The Red Book), in active imagination one opens oneself up to what Jung termed the collective unsconscious.

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    1. I sometimes try to envision myself doing the kinds of things Jung did imaginatively in The Red Book, and I have a difficult time with it. Although, I will say, I did once have a fruitful image emerge from such an exercise within myself. Do you think creativity generally allows a kind of access to the collective conscious, perhaps of a different nature than that involved in active imagination as Jung defined it?

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  3. I admire how you have seemed to jump into the deep end, so to speak, with your interest in Jung. It took me years to develop the inner space in which to do so. And thank you for your question. Recently, I have been returning to an interest which I have struggled to develop: how do artists communicate with the unconscious? In recent days, I have watched countless times a single video of a contemporary visual artist creating a drawing on a wall while he was filmed, and each time I watch it I sense that he became one with the drawing (I would say, with the unconscious) while he worked. Perhaps some of the images and symbols in his mind as he drew originated from what Jung would call the collective unconscious. And as far as I could tell, this artist being filmed was not practicing what one would call active imagination. Thanks again for this very interesting dialogue.

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    1. And thank you for answering my question! I always enjoy our exchanges. I perhaps should have mentioned earlier that this post was prompted by a rereading of “On Psychic Energy,” which you first recommended to me about a year ago. I’ve been noticing lately that I am creating symbols through my poetry and that this seems like a natural and important practice for me. I wondered what might be the significance of this, and I remembered the “Symbol Formation” subsection of that essay, which I, in all likelihood, glossed over the first time I read it. It was that rereading that prompted my question to you. There, of course, Jung makes the distinction between imagination and active imagination, but he also seems to clearly think “imagination” can bridge the unconscious. There are times when I think so, too. I think we can recognize when our work or the work of others comes from a vision, has depth. I think it is an intuitive response.

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  4. It seems as if you are learning to communicate with the unknown within, the unconscious, in new ways. I am impressed that you returned to “On Psychic Energy”! What you are doing, creating symbols through your poetry, is exciting! I will always remember the first time I read “On Psychic Energy.” I was in a coffee shop, alone, and as I read, I felt the need to write, and I started creating a scene that was imaginative in new ways for me. The imagination often seems like everything to me, from where thought itself emerges. Yet, without emotion, we probably can’t imagine. I think I need more coffee on this Sunday morning!

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    1. It is an exciting, albeit peculiar, journey. To reread that section of “On Psychic Energy” with new eyes was wonderfully illuminating! I can certainly see why that essay would inspire your imagination. And, I know what you mean about the imagination being everything. I often feel that way, too, as if all the rest is just drudgery, and my real self, the seat of my soul, resides somewhere only my imagination can take me. Be well, my friend, and happy Sunday!

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  5. Another book to add to my list, thank you, I do so love your reflections! I am drawn to drawing symbols and other imagery—particularly about self—when words feel too limiting as though the image expresses it more strongly and clearly. Look forward to seeing your expressions.

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    1. Thank you very much, Kris! I am happy this discussion resonates. The more I read about the human need for symbols, the more fascinating–and illuminating–it is. And the more I notice my own thoughts on religion, the divine, and the imagination are shifting. Happy reading!

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  6. This is so cool, I love getting a “behind the scenes”! Both poems were very thought provoking. And it sounds like I have a couple of books to check out as well…

    I love that you’re creating your own mythology and symbols. Something I think we do from time to time throughout the day but rarely put it to use the way you have/are. Similarly I’ve noticed that when I have had an insight or an experience that i feel is worth sharing i usually end up feeling incomplete or not accomplished because I know that it’ll never hit the reader the same way it did for me, because of my choice of symbols just don’t always have the same meaning to others.

    So if I think of it more like an exercise to help me remember the insight with nearly as much power as the original moment, then I feel satisfied. Thus I’ve worked at creating my own myth and, the best part, I’ve only ever hinted at thinking of it that way until reading your perspective and insights!

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    1. I didn’t realize what I was doing at first. It wasn’t until after the first several poems (White Apple, Blue Elephant, The Wolf, etc.) that a little voice in the back of my mind shouted, “Hey! You’re making a system of symbols here.” And I wanted to know why. It just, for me, all seemed to come together naturally as the result of my creative process, the symbol and its meaning; although, some symbols came to my mind during meditation.

      I also know that other people may not connect with these images in the way that I do or assign them the same meaning…and that’s ok. Mostly because I can’t think of too many collective symbols (religious, cultural) that are very meaningful to me. I think the individual route of symbol formation is usually the path of artists, and it can make us feel isolated or unaccomplished to stand alone and be often misunderstood. But, to my mind, it is the necessary path, the one that comes naturally and that produces the greatest internal reward. According to Jung, this is what people used to do before the advent of state religion: symbol formation was an individual practice. So, keep at it 🙂

      With regard to books: highly recommend Huxley and Jung’s Man and His Symbols, which I began a few days ago. “On Psychic Energy” is a long essay contained in Jung’s On the Nature of the Psyche. It’s incredibly informative, but a dense read…not as enjoyable, in other words, at least to me. Enjoy! I am so glad this post resonated with you! Thank you for commenting.

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      1. Thank you so much, I looked up Man and His Symbols, and as it happens is a book I’d had in my cart for some time, (I’m pretty sure I heard about from reading J. Campbell, as his work is so connected to Jung) though never got around to purchasing it, then totally forgot about it! Now it seems the universe is telling me to read it as I have a credit as well (I always use that excuse when it comes to books!)

        It totally makes sense to me, I hold the belief that we are responsible for our own cultivation of the spiritual, which is much easier to do when you’re actively engaged in the process, rather than being told the way of things!

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