Life is a beautiful mystery with infinite potential. Its changing nature is expressed in creative ways, like dream paintings, that reach past perceived limitation. The world, in 2016, is a place where ideas, from bliss to despair, circulate the globe in seconds. However paradoxically, digital communication is suspected of distancing, as opposed to connecting people. Psychologist Carl Jung was a pioneer in exploring the dual nature of our minds. In this paper I reflect on how creative process, like a serpent, connects opposites.
Although there is no universal key that unlocks the mysterious mind, Jung (2012) did leave behind a book with clues. It is called The Red Book. “The overall theme of the book is how Jung regains his soul and overcomes the contemporary malaise of spiritual alienation” (Locations 892-893). Jung, like others today, experienced things in imagination that he could not ignore. His creative work in The Red Book was how he expressed and explored them.
The Red Book (Jung, 2009) contains illustrated stories and is the source material for what became active imagination therapy. Hillman (1983) said, “radical activation of imagination was Jung’s method of Know Thyself” (p. 56). As Jung explored his inner world, through creative work, he became personally familiar with figures that live there. Jung noticed similar basic patterns in thought and behavior by observing them in himself and his patients. These unconscious patterns have a special term that is archetypal. Hillman (1983) said, “After Jung, I cannot pretend to know myself unless I know the archetypes” (p. 63).
It is the natural opposition, of archetypes, that Jung poetically describes in his creative writing. He uses the image of a serpent to connect opposing principles. Jung (2009) said, “The way of life writhes like the serpent from right to left and from left to right, from thinking to pleasure and from pleasure to thinking” (p. 247). Another way to contemplate this tension is to ponder the connection between the body and the mind. How does a person, with singular focus, control all the simultaneous functions of a body? We need to trust the unconscious forces that maintain critical processes such as breath and blood flow. Jung (2009) says, “One cannot live with forethinking alone, or with pleasure alone. You need both” (p. 247).
Jung (2009) did his creative work in The Red Book by night and lived his profession in psychology by day. The distinction between night and day is a natural opposition. It is an external world phenomenon and also corresponds to mental transitions from the dreamtime to waking life. My creative process connects these worlds, like the snake. I see the benefit of connecting opposing worlds in the work of others, like Jung. In particular, the artists interviewed in Ariadne’s (2006) book, Women Dreaming–into–Art, are role models. Their work is stunning aesthetically and is much more than superficial technique. Ariadne said, “Acting as inner change agents, these artists both model and facilitate for others processes, which ultimately promote self-reliance and confidence” (Locations 226-228).
Taking a clue from these artists, I engaged in a new creative process. I started with writing down the following dream that took place on January 30, 2016: Killed a mostly baby cobra snake in the house and threw a cloth over its head—mom carried it outside and it went into the river. She noticed an alligator snake (lizard) much bigger that was near the shore and took 1/2 its head off with a shovel. It all ran off down the stream. She said she didn’t want them near her home. I ushered two flying gnats carefully back inside into the house—wondering if I killed them if I would notice. Ancient mud /nature /Italian stucco home feel.
Later, I drew three of the dream scenes on an iPad. One of the sketches, seen in Figure 1, took colorful form. A known expert on dream, Aizenstat (2012) said, “Living images, particularly those who carry the intelligence of the ancestors, are at the core of our personal maturation” (p. 55). Wanting to grow and see the wisdom of the dream, I focused my attention on one scene at a time and let details unfold. Another clue on the process came from Watkins (2000). She said, “The imaginal resist being known except own its terms. Image requires image. Image invokes image” (p. 129). I took this to mean that in order to unlock the intelligence in the dream I would need to expand the image with more images.
Figure 1. Digital sketches.
I expanded the colorful sketch by turning it into a 5’ x 2’ painting. For 3 weeks I spent my nights tending to the image by adding colors, adjusting placements, and defining the shape of each character. I was careful to keep my rational mind at bay and protect the magic of the creative process. Watkins (2000) said, “Labeling is not our concern. It kills the bird that is in front of us right now” (p.142). The resulting painting, seen in Figure 2, is full of possible narratives and mysterious life.
I titled the painting Serpent Encounter. I feel bettering looking at art and not just interpreting it but listening and watching. I know that exploring the revolving mystery of life has always been at the heart what I seek in art. What is new after active imagination work is my ability to sit with the tension of mystery and not give into the impulse to define one meaning. I feel connected to life through dreams and appreciate the knowing that unfolds naturally from them. I likewise connect when I share this work on my blog and promote the inner-changing creative processes in the, perhaps soul-endangering, digital world.
Figure 2 two. Serpent Encounter, 5’ x 2’ acrylic painting on canvas with detail below.
Aizenstat, S. (2011). Dream tending: Awakening the healing power of dreams. New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal.
Ariadne, P. (2006). Women dreaming-into-art: Seven artists who create from dreams. [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Hillman, J. (1983) The pandemonium of images—Jung’s contribution to know thyself. In Healing fiction (pp. 53-63; 75-81). Woodstock, CT: Spring Publications.
Jung, C. G. (2009) The red book (S. Shamdasani, Ed., J. Peck & M. Kyburz, Trans.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co.
Jung, C. G. (2012). The red book: A reader’s edition. [Kindle version]. (S. Shamdasani, Ed., J. Peck & M. Kyburz, Trans.). Retrieved from Amazon.com
Watkins, M. (2000). Invisible guests. Woodstock, CT: Spring Publications.