The following are sample writings by Cedrus Monte.
The Inner Figure is a process that involves making a figure of clay and other materials which forms itself around a numinous, or archetypal experience. It is a course in active imagination which I developed out of studying ritual doll-making, ritual theatre, and Jungian psychology.1
The main focus of this discussion is to illustrate how synchronistic phenomena are related to the imaginal realm and the process of image-making. I use the The Inner Figure, a nine- month long class which I have taught since 1983, as the primary example for the image-making process. At the conclusion of the discussion are two individual stories from The Inner Figure course, demonstrating the unique nature of the synchronistic events which form around the making of a figure. The first story is about “Regina”, one of the participants in The Inner Figure course. The second story is my own. In each class I make my own figure.
The Imaginal Realm
The soul never thinks without a picture.
C. G. Jung’s formulation of the unconscious, primarily the collective unconscious, is important to note because it lays the groundwork for the retrieval of the mythical, imaginal world view. One could say that Jung returned the soul back to the psyche, primarily through his psychologically vivifying relationship to the unconscious, and to the mythicalizing voice of imagination and image by which it speaks. Jung liberated a whole dimension of human experience or understanding for the non-indigenous Western world by honouring the ubiquitous, a priori image-making capacity of humankind. According to Jung, “Every psychic process is an image and an imagining” (CW 6, § 77).
Jung was one of the forerunners in redeeming the imaginal world for 20th-century Western civilization. As such, he helped redeem a well-spring from which life regenerates itself. Imaginal, mythical time is the time in which the origins of life are held. If we consider creation myths in particular, we see that they are universally used to restore and revivify. In Fiji, for example, when feeling something is out of balance, or that life is threatened, or the cosmos, in their view, is exhausted or empty, the Fijians return to the beginning of time, in principio, to mythological time, seeking a restored sense of life from its ritual re-creation. “Whenever they are threatened by dissociation and panic and social disorder, they try to restore the creation and the whole cosmos by retelling the creation myth. They create again, as it were, the conscious order of things and then await the corresponding effect upon their souls, which would mean that they once again feel themselves to be in order” (von Franz 1972/95, p. 23).
The phenomenon of imaginal reality presents itself quite pointedly in the writings of Western alchemy which inspired much of Jung’s later formulations on the nature of the psyche. Jung explains that the term imaginatio held particular importance in the opus of the alchemists who believed that “the work” must be accomplished with “true imagination”. Jung felt that the fantasy process in alchemy, whereby images of figures were seen in the retort, was of special significance. The imaginal phenomena referred to by the alchemists were “half spiritual, half physical ... The alchemist related himself not only to the unconscious but directly to the very substance which he hoped to transform through the power of the imagination” (CW 12, § 394). The imaginings were “an intermediate realm between mind and matter, i.e., a psychic realm of subtle bodies whose characteristic is to manifest themselves in a mental as well as material form” (ibid.). We see this notion, for example, in the writings of alchemist Raymond Lilly when he says:
Jung found repeated reference to the necessity of imagination in the alchemists’ writings. One particularly striking statement invokes the following claim:
“Star” in this case was understood or translated as the “quintessence” of humankind. Imagination, then, according to the alchemists, is the “quintessence”, or essence, of us. Imagination, our essence, is the subtle-body state of material and spiritual equivalence. Particle and wave are one.
As I will explain more fully later, it is from the ground of the imaginal realm – the subtle- body dimension of matter as spirit, and spirit as matter – that synchronistic experiences arise. From the synchronistic follows the transformative power of the numen: the healing, regenera- tive shock from contact with the Divine.
In addition to entering mythical, imaginal time through the ritual re-enactment of creation myths and the alchemical opus, the imaginal realm can be accessed through the conscious making of images that arise from the unconscious. I offer The Inner Figure as a possible, contemporary example of an imaginative process where life can be potentially recreated, regenerated through the subtle-body world of the synchronistic event.
1 The research for writing The Inner Figure: Synchronistic Images of the Soul was conducted under the auspices of a grant from The Susan Bach Foundation, and was formulated as Cedrus Monte’s thesis for her diploma in analytical psychology from the C.G. Jung Institute in Zürich (1997). This article is an extensively abridged version of the more complete study written under the same title.
During my mid-twenties I entered an impasse. Although I was far from being crippled, I could not stand for more than 15 or 20 minutes without experiencing debilitating pain. To counteract the exhaustion, I slept for hours during the day. The doctor finally suggested an operation to fuse the vertebra of my lower back. This was clearly not an option for me, so I began researching different modalities of treatment. Eventually, someone told me about a little known approach called Rolfing, a method of physical manipulation developed by Ida Rolf (1990). In those days, there were only about 30 Rolfers in existence, all trained by Ida Rolf herself. Today, Rolfing is practiced world-wide.
After the series of treatments, I was structurally and psychologically different, very different. Among many other changes, I stood straighter, naturally, becoming taller by almost an inch; without effort, my head rested differently on my torso; my shoe size changed considerably with my feet widening, allowing greater contact with the ground; and most importantly, I no longer experienced pain, a condition which has remained to this day, decades later.
All the energy used to uphold the structural imbalance and withstand the pain was now released, available to propel me forward into life. I felt the ground beneath me as never before; I could stand more readily on my own two feet. I had the energy and strength to meet the world and was eventually able to develop and promote my own work as an artist. In Jungian terms, one might say that the negative complex around which nearly all my libido had been focused was addressed to the extent that I became less regressively bound, constructively aligned with my own individuation process, no longer at such odds with who I was and with how I could serve in the world.
Soon after I was Rolfed, I entered Reichian therapy, a somatically-oriented psychoanalytic approach developed by Wilhelm Reich. Although Reich was a colleague of both Freud and Jung, his work was largely ignored. During the two-year period of my Reichian therapy, the unconscious was approached using the combination of direct hands-on address of body armoring as well as the psychological insight that is part of Reichian work. I was able to understand the deeper psychological significance of the process that unfolded. Most significantly, I became an active participant in the process. I became increasingly sensitive to what was happening physically in my body, at the same time learning to understand the psychological dimension of my feelings and bodily sensations. What I experienced somatically was the mirror image of what I experienced psychologically. As the armoring in my body gradually released, so did the regressive pull of psychological wounds that kept me armored and self-protective.
In time, my somatic explorations as a patient began to shift into somatic training as I continued to seek out and engage other ways of working, including approaches that do not necessarily require direct, hands-on manipulation. These approaches include exercises that employ the weight and positioning of the body as leverage for releasing body armoring and increasing the flow of energy in the body. They also include ways of embodying, through movement, imaginal material from the unconscious such as dreams, waking images, archetypal energies and psychosomatic symptoms.
During the same year I was Rolfed, I was introduced to C. G. Jung's writing. As is the experience for so many, I was deeply touched, his words giving shape and life to what had until that time lay unformed in my own mind. It would not be until some 15 years later, however, that I would enter Jungian training in Zurich where I began to interweave Jungian psychology with my work as a visual artist and the psycho-physical realm of the body. Well into my training, I also encountered the work of other Jungians involved in body-centered analysis, including that of Joan Chodorow (1991) and Marion Woodman (1996).
I have been asked by some, "Do you work with the body in your sessions, or do you work analytically?" From my experience, there is no dichotomy between the two, between working with the body and working analytically with the unconscious. This is not just a theoretical idea. As the reader might understand from the personal story I have shared, it is a deeply felt, experiential knowing of the spirit-matter continuum Jung so carefully traced in alchemical literature and which became pivotal in his work, including his understanding of synchronicity. From my own perspective as an analyst, the "soulwork" that analytical psychology offers can only be fully entered through the experience of the body-mind, psyche-soma unity, a unity that can be understood as the territory itself of the analytical opus. Any separation of body and mind, soma and psyche, in this context is artificial and unnecessarily divisive.
Before describing elements of a somatic, body-centered session, I would like to introduce two points the reader may find useful to understanding how I view the body within analytical psychology. The first discusses the transference; the second, quality of movement.
Please click here to read full essay in Corpus Anima: Reflections from the Unity of Body and Soul.
The numen, according to Jung, is that which offers the real healing. Following Jung’s lead, I propose that the flesh, the materia of the body, contains its own capacity for generating the numen, and therefore the experience of healing. The numen arises out of the flesh as a direct result of the very nature of matter itself. In other words, there is no split between spirit and matter. Every natural system has an inner life, a conscious center, from which action is directed. The body, the materia of the flesh, is one of these natural systems.
The collective unconscious contains not only the residues of human evolution but also the residues of animal evolution. Coming to terms with the unconscious – that is, becoming conscious – requires, therefore, a coming to terms with one’s instinctual, animal nature. Given that one’s instinctual nature is directly related to the body, one can propose that a new relation to one’s body must be established for a more complete individuation.
Though Jung was deeply concerned with the question of instincts, the body itself was and continues to be largely marginalized in psychoanalytic practice. Wilhelm Reich, colleague of Freud and Jung at the turn of the last century, was the only real proponent of somatic inquiry, of working directly with, on and through the body. Unfortunately, he was rarely taken seriously. He was often mocked and sorely excluded from the formulation of psychodynamic understanding within the context of analysis and the unconscious. It is to Reich that many of the body-oriented approaches to the psyche owe their debt of existence, including Reichian therapy and bio-energetics. From the perspective of analytical psychology, this important work still remains in the shadows.
Considering the negative, pathological effects generated by the relative split of body and mind, it feels important if not imperative to offer skillful ways and means of affirming the irrevocable and harmonizing relationship between the instinctual, animal body and the archetypal, spiritual impulses of mind. To begin this task, I first offer a brief discussion on the nature of numen and matter. This is followed by contributions from participants involved in the somatic work I conduct. Finally, I include personal observations from my own somatic experiences.
In his letter dated August 20, 1949, Jung says it is the numen which offers "the real therapy, and inasmuch as you attain to the numinous experiences you are released from the curse of pathology." (Jung, 1973, 8/20/49)
Jung refers to the numen as "a dynamic agency or effect not caused by an arbitrary act of will. On the contrary, it seizes and controls the human subject….The numinosum - whatever its cause may be - is an experience of the subject independent of his will.…The numinosum is the influence of an invisible presence that causes a peculiar alteration of consciousness." (Jung, 1989, Par. 6)
In addition to the qualities listed above, the experience of the numen carries with it a fateful sense of meaning. It is not just a random or superficial experience but, as with the phenomenon of synchronicity, there is an understanding that the experience carries particular and personal meaning. One gains insight, often profound insight. Most frequently, insight and numen are one. Both are accompanied by experiences of surprise, shock, wonder, awe; both leave us feeling different in our skin.
Perhaps the visitation of the numen is most often understood as a descent of the Spirit to humankind, a transpersonal visitation from “above” that floods the body and mind with its presence. An event in which this is celebrated, for example, is Pentecost, a commemoration of the descent of God the Holy Spirit to the Twelve Apostles granting them the sudden and miraculous gift of tongues.
In contradistinction - not opposition - to this view, I propose as the main thesis of this inquiry that the numen is contained by and released from the flesh itself; that the numen is a presence within and as the material body. The flesh, the body, is not only the receiving vessel of the numen but, by the nature of matter itself, the body is also the generator for the experience of the numinosum. By addressing the body, through the body, we can experience the "peculiar alteration of consciousness" that is available to us when we are grounded in somatic experience and informed by the numen of the flesh. We have the opportunity to free ourselves from the "curse of pathology" and to further our course of individuation through the consciousness of the body itself.
Please click here to read full essay in Corpus Anima: Reflections from the Unity of Body and Soul.
The eyes, they say, are the windows of the soul. Why do we then, spend so much time looking through these windows but not into them? Why do we so rarely connect with the soul that is there? What are we afraid of? Is it the soul itself? Or is it, rather, the starkness and intensity of psychic openness and vulnerability? How did we come to misplace our passion and courage to meet this intensity, to meet soul to soul? To dive? Or did we indeed ever do that willingly? Perhaps we are all part Persephone, needing simply to be taken, without conscious consent. Hades never asks; it's already his due. Willingly or not, we must all eventually pass through his realm; and many more times than once. Why do we have so much difficulty surrendering to him? The grace of willing surrender is sweet; the death it brings is full of the new life that comes from the ecstasy it stirs. Why are we so afraid? We want to be present in the white heat of soul linking with soul, and yet we are turned back by the curl of fear. We repeatedly walk away empty-handed, robbed by our demons of the opportunity to soften the shield into transparency. We continually relinquish the chance to love, without condition, simply and purely.
With the help and mercy of the gods, we dedicate our lives to the art and discipline of baring the soul.
The secret is that only that which can destroy itself is truly alive.
C. G. Jung1
I. At the Threshold of Psycho-Genesis
The Paradox For some of us, if not for all, meaning in life periodically finds its way through a piercing and deadly darkness. Hopelessness and despair can descend like a toxic cloud, even in the midst of a joy-filled life, a life of spiritual discipline and intent, and dedication and commitment to conscious growth. Dark moments can strike like a sudden, rending eruption from mysterious and subterranean places. Without warning, the crust of a forever-healing wound, or an old insidious trauma is torn open unexpectedly, and we bleed again. We feel that we have entered into the abyss, body and soul. In the darkest of these times, nothing - no word, no prayer, no loving gesture, no therapeutic intervention - reaches the mark. Everything is lost, crumbled and gray, pointless - our life hopelessly flapping in the maw of a terrifying yet welcome annihilation. How do we find our way through these darkest of spaces? Jettisoning a way out is impossibly dangerous, a too-heroic feat for this tenuous and precarious state of being. Remaining at this threshold of pain feels intolerable. And yet, given the grace of enough psychic ground, by staying with the intolerable dissonance we can once again restore our faith and experience the rare jewel of equanimity. Here, at an unfathomable but fecund threshold, something can change, something new can come forth. Faith that arises at points of near-unbearable suffering is a faith born by sustaining absolute paradox. Those who endured the Holocaust and the devastating events of the Third Reich have been able to communicate the profound meaning and acceptance of this paradox and provide us with unprecedented teachings. Innocent suffering in the Holocaust, as in Christs innocent suffering, has helped to redeem humanitys ignorance and lack of true compassion. The unparalleled gift of such understanding shows us how to survive trauma of inexpressible dimension. In testimony, in his Letters and Papers from Prison, Bonhoeffer writes:
Others have also offered insights, quickening to paradox as a means toward spiritual and psychic regeneration. Robert Sardello at the School of Spiritual Psychology suggests that the explosion of the first atomic bomb traumatized our consciousness as a planetary people. Considering this situation, Sardello reflects:
According to Sardello, our task in facing the threat of total annihilation is to find a way to regenerate our world, both inner and outer, psychic and physical, through the power of love born not of existential security but of the inescapable presence of annihilation. Here, as well as in the example of Holocaust survivors, the presence of a lethal, traumatizing condition prompts and demands the emergence of an even greater vivifying force. A traumatic condition begs a bio-psychic genesis, an instinctive and spiritual arising of new life. Finding new life through the profound acceptance of death is the paradoxical solution. In paradox, we stand at the threshold of lifes resurgence. Holding fast the divergent reigns of painful dissonance, we enter realms of deeper healing.
Please click here to read full essay in Corpus Anima: Reflections from the Unity of Body and Soul.
Chapter One: The Imaginal Realm
The phenomenon of imaginal or psychoid reality presents itself in the writings of Western alchemy which inspired much of Jung’s later formulations on the nature of the psyche. Jung says that the term imaginatio held particular importance in the work of the alchemists who believed that ‘the work’ must be accomplished with ‘true imagination.’ Jung felt that the fantasy process in alchemy was of special significance. "We have to conceive of these processes not as immaterial phantoms we readily take fantasy-pictures to be, but as something corporeal, a 'subtle body,' semi-spiritual in nature." (CW 12, par. 394)
In the alchemical works exhumed by Jung there are repeated references to the use of imagination when properly performing ‘the opus’ of the alchemists. For example, in the ‘Novum Lumen,’ we find the following:
During the practical work certain phenomena of a visionary or hallucinatory nature appeared in the retort, visions that presented themselves in the chemical composition that was underway. For example, alchemist Raymond Lilly writes:
Jung considers these images projections of unconscious contents, but he explains that these phenomena were "half spiritual, half physical; a concretization such as we frequently encounter in the psychology of primitives…The alchemist related himself not only to the unconscious but directly to the very substance which he hoped to transform through the power of imagination." (ibid par.394) Jung says it is always an obscure point whether the alchemists were referring to something physical or psychic, but that in the end there was no ‘either-or’ for that age. There was rather "an intermediate realm between mind and matter, i.e., a psychic realm of subtle bodies whose characteristic is to manifest themselves in a mental as well as material form." (ibid) (In the second chapter the nature of the subtle body will be discussed in more detail.)
In Fritjof Capra’s book, The Tao of Physics, he compares the field of quantum physics to the Taoist concept of ch’i, or subtle body, saying that both the field and the subtle body are conceived as a "tenuous and non-perceptible form of matter which is present throughout space and can condense into solid material objects." (Capra 1975, p.224) He goes on to quote Joseph Needham’s description of the Chinese view of physical reality: "The Chinese physical universe was perfectly continuous…Ch’i condensed in palpable matter was not particulate in an important sense, but individual objects acted and reacted with all other objects in the world…in a wave-like or vibratory manner dependent, in the last resort, on the rhythmic alternation at all levels of the two fundamental forces, the yin and the yang. Individual objects thus had their intrinsic rhythms. And these were integrated…into the general pattern of the harmony of the world." (ibid p.225)
We spoke earlier about the particular capacity of the imaginal realm, and therefore the subtle-body, for engendering the experience of regeneration and renewal in creation myths, the work of the alchemists, and in Figen’s paintings. The same applies to particle physics. It is both a curious and awe-inspiring discovery that in the ‘field’ of quantum physics (that subtle-body ‘flux’ of spirit and matter) elements or particles spontaneously and apparently appear out of thin air:
As described above, field theories of modern physics have forced physicists to abandon the classical distinction between material particles and ‘empty space.’ This distinction finally had to be abandoned when it became evident that particles came into being spontaneously out of nowhere, or out of the ‘void,’ and then vanished again back into the ‘void.’ Below is a diagram, followed by Capra’s explanation.
"Here is a ‘vacuum diagram’ for such a process: three particles - a proton (p), an antiproton (-p) and a pion (r) - are formed out of nothing and disappear again into the vacuum. According to field theory, events of that kind happen all the time. The vacuum is far from empty. On the contrary, it contains an unlimited number of particles which come into being and vanish without end." (ibid p.222)
This event has an ancient parallel, found in the Eastern traditions. Capra uses the term ‘void’ and ‘vacuum’ synonomously. He has borrowed the term ‘void’ from Eastern texts which refer to the Absolute as the ‘Void’ or ‘Emptiness.’ This is a concept which has been mistakenly perceived by Westerners as a total absence of life or energy. But the ‘Void’ of Eastern mysticism, like the ‘physical vacuum’ in field theory, is not a state of mere nothingness. It contains, rather, the potentiality of all forms." The ‘vacuum’ is truly a ‘living Void’ pulsating in endless rhythms of creation and destruction." (ibid p.223) This discovery of the dynamic quality of the vacuum is considered one of the most important in particle physics and does truly seem to reflect the words of the Chinese sage, Chang Tsai when he says:
It is also a curious fact that not only do particles materialize and dematerialize from the ‘void,’ but they ‘communicate’ to each other through the ‘field,’ thus providing another instance of the infusion of spirit in matter, or rather of their inseparability. Jean Charon, a French physicist of spiritual and metaphysical proportions, explains this in his work, The Unknown Spirit. He spotlights the electron and its probable patterns and properties to illustrate this point. He describes how electrons, examples in particle physics of the ‘building blocks’ of life, are able to exchange information with each other in the ever continuous flow of life’s evolution. The electron is a veritable micro-universe. In this micro-universe, phenomena take place with increasing negative entropy, i.e. the electrons continually increase their informational content. This is how he describes it:
"As time flows, Spirit increases its order within each electron. It has no choice in this: it consists of a space in which order cannot decrease, a non-decreasing negative entropy space…The electron does not consider this constant negative entropy increase as an aim in itself, in other words the object of evolution, but as a means of discovering the objective of evolution…Each electron is like ourselves: as it increases its memorised information, it begins to perceive a new objective and to mould its actions accordingly…That is why we can speak of the spiritual ‘adventure’ of the universe, since Spirit is choosing to exist through constantly increasing awareness." (Charon 1977, p.167)
The electron structures its memory according to a process that Charon refers to as matrixism, which works something like this:
"We shall represent symbolically the ‘blank’ level of the electron space, the level at which it has not yet recognized anything, by a numbered chart.
This chart is a matrix. Each box represents a point of electron space at a given time. "A sign from beyond electron space…is expressed by a photon, being memorised by the electron when this photon has an action…with the electron…" (ibid p.169) This changes the informational content then so that the new state of the matrix looks, symbolically, like this:
There is now somewhere a 2 instead of a 1. 2 should not be interpreted as only 2 but as conveying both 2 and 1. "Mathematical analysis…describes perfectly the important aspect that:…state 2 contains…state 1; it does not mean that 2 takes the place of 1, but that…2 adds itself to…1." (ibid p.170) This goes on into infinity…"as a means of discovering the objective of evolution," as Charon states earlier. "In short, the electron contains the space-time of Spirit within itself, in ‘communication’ with that of other electrons." (Charon 1977, p.64)
He believes that the electron and its properties could be the explanation for telepathic phenomena. All life, including humans, are made up of electrons, speculating this as the reason for some people’s recognition of their ability to communicate with all of nature, both animate and inanimate. It is the electron that provides the wordless link and language between all creation. "An electron feels the electrostatic influence of another electron whatever the distance between them…Similarly, spiritual [informational] interaction between two electrons will be possible whatever the distance." (ibid p.64) The electron’s journey is our journey and physicist Charon believes that the journey goes out into infinity. We usually call this principle of infinity or eternity God. "So for the electron populating the universe, and also for us, the spiritual adventure of the universe is a search for God." (ibid p.168)
Cedrus Monte, Ph.D. Dipl., is a Jungian analyst trained at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland.
© Cedrus Monte, all rights reserved up to and including the present date