The Creative Unconscious and Imagination

I want to consider imagination as an experience, not a thought process -- that deep resourceful river that depth psychologists might call the Unconscious; that spark of life that offers creative solutions, wild images in dreams, and even healing transformations. It is also that which pulls us into deep, chaotic emotions and shapes our complex souls.

 The imagination expresses itself through mythopoetic language. Poetry and other art forms have an uncanny power to ignite the imagination and draw-in the whole person, not just the rational mind. Symbols and symbolic language quicken– i.e. they have an energy that invokes tacit knowing through intuitive-like imagination. Sometimes when I engage in artistic expression (be it poetry, painting, or music), I feel as though I’m traveling through imaginal portals that bridge me into unfamiliar places of discovery. These places provide a temenos or sacred space for experiencing the creative unconscious. There, I am enlivened, for it enacts and evokes unconscious psychic experience in me.

C. G. Jung prioritized a mythopoetic or more symbolic type of psychic communication when he stated: “In describing the living processes of the psyche, I deliberately and consciously give preference to a dramatic, mythological way of thinking and speaking, because this is not only more expressive but also more exact than an abstract scientific terminology” -- more exact in enacting psyche’s “living character” ” (Aion, emphasis mine). I see it as the difference between talking about the psyche or the unconscious as concepts versus demonstrating it so it can be experienced. Symbolic expressions have the capacity to enact this experience because they proceed from that “living character” of the creative unconscious.  They are alive!

Cosmic Conflict painting.jpg

As I read Dickinson or experience a Rothko with the inner ear of the soul, I allow myself to be acted upon.

 Experiencing this intended enactment of the unconscious, involves listening with personal resonance. As I read Dickinson or experience a Rothko with the inner ear of the soul, I allow myself to be acted upon. What is the painting saying or awakening in me? What emotional or mental reaction is arising in me? In this way I enter a psychic space, an opening that enables me to experience the creative unconscious. This is similar to engaging with a dream -- one lingers with the image, letting it expand and take a life of its own through the imagination. Jung called this technique of working with a dream image, active imagination. This process results in both the image and the observer being transformed.

To live fully, we need mythological or symbolic experiences that give meaning to our existence. The human psyche craves illumination for its sustenance. This essential ingredient brings healing and purpose to our lives by relating us to something bigger than ourselves. Jung wrote, ““The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? ...The more a man lays stress on false possessions, and the less sensitivity he has for what is essential, the less satisfying is his life. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being” (MDR, p. 325-326). Imagination and mythopoetic psychic experiences are the essential Jung refers to in this quote. Life looses its spark without it.

So…what myth do you live by? What meaning is your existence built upon?