Masters Presentation: Floating, Falling, Balancing, Flying and Landing

I completed my final 20 min presentation with 3 other amazing women who spent the last two years in the program of Engaged Humanities and the Creative Life at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Here is an audio recording of my presentation and slides as well as a few photos from the weekend and my notes.

Copy from Presentation on July 19th at Pacifica Gradutate Institute.

Tonight I share my journey of discovering my voice as a female artist. My journey covers two years of study at Pacifica Graduate Institute and focus on four techniques I learned to revitalize my creative practice.

Businesses commonly use arts influence to sell products through media, entertainment, marketing and advertising.

Understanding an image gives you the ability to consciously choose what influences you and how. This is important because your choices have consequences both in personal and collective life. Just as what you eat nourishes your body, so what you imagine feeds your psyche. Carl Jung said, “There is no difference in principle between organic and psychic growth.” (Jung, 2012, p. 53).

I must make socially responsible art so I was led me to investigate the relationship between psychology and creativity. The roots of these words gave me a clue about where to start. These words originate with the Greeks. “Psyche is the ancient Greek word for ‘soul’ or ‘breath.’ Techne is the word for ‘craft’ or ‘art.’” (Lane, 2015. p. 1).

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Wait, what? Soul is the meaning of psyche?

Yes. A human life has a soul. What does a soul look like? Perhaps phosphine patterns, the stars that we see when we rub our eyes, are what souls look like. These abstract patterns are seen in early artworks from all over the world.

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You might think of the soul like I do, as white light that contains all other possible colors.

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In the world of depth psychology, the central force is illustrated as a big circle, also called the archetype of the Self (capital S).

Professor Jim Kline told us, “Since the Self regulates or rules the total psyche, it is linked to a god-like power”. We must follow the impulses of the Self because it is an organizing center. Carl Jung (2012) described Self as, “the totality of the whole psyche, in order to distinguish it from the ‘ego,’ which constitutes only a small part of the total psyche. When ego consciousness dismisses intimation from the Self, the result is a sense of estrangement from the source of vital life energy, likened to alienations from God.”

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As an artist, remaining connected to vital life energy is a primary concern.

Carl Jung wrote that creativity is an instinct, not an optional gift granted to a lucky few. If you don’t find a way to be creative in life, that instinct becomes repressed and frustrated. You feel its loss as a deflation, the spirit leaking out of your sense of self. You feel empty, disengaged, and unfulfilled. (p. 2)

How then does one reconnect with the god-like vital energy of the Self?

The first technique I learned at Pacifica was working with myth. Myths have the ability to shape inner dialogs between the ego, concerned with personal identity, and the Self. (Rowland, 2012)

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The ancient myth of Inanna holds secrets about the phases of feminine development from birth to death. Inanna is a heroin or more precisely, the queen of heaven and earth. Recently, Maureen Murdock (2013) said that the task of the heroine’s journey is, “to heal the internal split that tells us to override the feelings, intuition, and dream images that inform us of the truth of life” (p. 11).

Many people feel the need to seek out the divine feminine with a passion. Christine Downing says: “I soon discovered that my search was not mine alone, that in recent years many women had rediscovered how much we need the goddess in a culture that tears us from woman, and women from ourselves.” (Henking, 1991, p. 515)

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The heroine’s path is unclear but recent films, like Gravity with Sandra Bullock, represent a change in our culture that has a history of repressing the development of female power. As Frankel (2010) has pointed out, “to women, struggling to discover the Self, centuries of literature and symbolism that consider her man’s helpmate and support undermine her journey” (p. 175).

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Princess Leia from the film Star Wars is a famous example of a woman as helpmate-her small presence in corner reflects her supporting role. This story is about an archetypal Hero’s journey. Luke Skywalker is the hero (Campbell & Moyers, 2011). Don’t get me wrong, I love this film, it’s just not a heroine’s story.

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The lovers archetype complements the Heroine’s task of healing an internal split. Falling in love is the closest that most people come to the feeling of being inhabited by unwilled, unruly forces. Why does the artist wright or paint? The artist must be in love. (Prose, 2003, p.5)

What happens when there is an obstacle or block that separates two lovers?

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Love that is lost can be a matter of life and death. One famous story of tragic love is the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Unfortunately, these types of tragic love stories are not just fiction. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States (Knapp, 2013).

Tragic experiences, like death, are part of life. Paradoxically, it is traumatic experience that sparks a journey of psychological development. Carl Jung said, “The actual process of individuation—the conscious coming-to-terms with one’s own inner center (psychic nucleus) or Self—generally begins with a wounding of the personality and the suffering that accompanies it” (Jung, 2012, p. 169).

A key experience in my journey involved suffering.

My witnessing the death of a close friend made the preciousness of life clear to me.

My perspective of viewing all life as perfection gave me courage to pursue graduate school. This was a profound experience of unifying the apparent opposite emotions of loss and freedom.

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This led me to research the American Morning Painting tradition of commemorating the death of George Washington. The grieving goddess is an alchemical symbol and is part of the psychological journey women go through in their developmental process of individuation. Carl Jung used the term, alchemical symbol, to describe images that could enable psychological transformations, it’s unlike the basic term symbol that only points to the unknown (Rowland).

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The image of the Goddess, a woman fully empowered, has only recently been emerging from the shadows. This leads to the second technique I learned, dream tending. Contemplating and working my dreams is now in my daily creative practice.

I find it hard to make choices when I have complete creative freedom. Dreams offer a basis for my creative work. I circle back to my dreams for direction because they help me grow beyond myself. “[Carl Jung] found that, on the whole, they [dreams] seem to follow an arrangement or pattern. Jung referred to this pattern as ‘the process of individuation”’ (Jung, 2012, p. 159).

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One major dream I worked with was of a frightening a red mask. I made connections to a history of paralyzing fear, including the loss of my childhood home in a firestorm and nightmares of zombies. To work with nightmares I had to learn a third skill called active imagination.

Carl Jung, coined the term active imagination for his unique approach to therapy (Jung, 1976). There are various forms of but they all include imaginary dialog. Not all branches of psychology place the imagination in high regard. Mary Watkins’s points out that developmental psychology regards imaginal dialog pejoratively calling it “egocentric speech” (p. 13). It is indeed a challenge to hear the unconscious speak to you while awake.

It’s really a challenge to be an authentic individual. Often people get stuck playing a role in life and are trapped by it–they are egocentric so to speak. Carl Jung (1972) calls this a persona and it “is, as its name implies, only a mask of the collective psyche, a mask that feigns individuality, making others and oneself believe that one is individual, whereas one is simply acting a role through which the collective psyche speaks.” (p. 157)

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I made a mask and face cast of myself. Afterward I made face casts of my family and sat and listened to them. The only face that was silent was my own. My family told me to honor all ancestors by placing the four masks inside a miniature pyramid. I also decided to collage the sides of the pyramid with images I associated with each family member. This creative process was removing personas of mother, father, daughter, brother, sister, son and liberating each person to their infinite creative potential. I felt my vital creative soul with limitless potential. I was in dialog with my Self (capital S). This was another experience of the union in opposites.

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Mask work also brought into focus the fourth technique of art-based research. Mask making with classmates, aka the Mystic Sisters, and also hundreds of individuals at the Burning Man art festival informed this project. I have deep appreciation for the masks, the personas. It is important to be able embody roles such as mother, daughter, or grandmother. It is also vital to see that each person has a soul with infinite potential.

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I want to emphasize something that Campbell said best, “Let us accept the suggestion and recognize, then, that what is intended by art, metaphysics, magical hocus-pocus, and mystical religion, is not the knowledge of anything, not truth, not goodness, or beauty, but an evocation of a sense of the absolutely unknowable” (Campbell, 2002, p. 151). The unknowable has appeared in my work as an opening, a threshold for crossing between worlds.

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Pacifica provides a container or to borrow Farrell’s term a ‘collaborative circle’. It is a self-forming group of like-minded individuals with shared goals. The peak experience in the group activity result in a sum that is greater than its parts. The creative synergy of the circle helps an individual’s personal development and may also result in truly innovative ideas that benefit society as a whole (Farrell, 2003).

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This is the heart of what I feel, a deep need to heal what is seemingly beyond our powers to control. Hollister (1991) asked this question, “How often does one have to go through the sense of loss… to make it one’s own in order to grow beyond it?” (p. 49). A shift in perspective can occur that allows people to grow past limiting attachments, as it has happened for me in my creative practice these last two years.

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Until recently I have consciously focused on expressing positive emotions in my creative practice. I was unaware of the power of transformative images like the alchemical symbol of the grieving woman. The Self demands courage on our life long journey toward wholeness. The techniques of working with myth, dreams, art-based research, and active imagination, allow me play and create in a world where I inevitably get bumps and bruises.

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Jung poetically describes the union of opposites as a serpent. Jung (2009) says, “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. One cannot live with forethinking alone, or with pleasure alone. You need both” (p. 247).

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I feel connected to my Self and my creative practice is revitalized after these two years of study. I would like to return for a moment to Inanna with this quote:

Some women recount having had the feeling of being accompanied by the narrative (of Inanna) for years, of literally living with the myth for until one day the impulse to return to the narrative was gone, replaced by the sudden feeling of being whole, complete, as if an inner need, an inner call had been answered and eventually disappeared.” (Vandendorpe, 2011, p. 95)

My call has been answered. I am an artist, heroine, goddess, daughter, and sister. Inspired by art and psychology, my primary materials are dreams, active imagination, and art-based research. 
My art is best described as autobiographical. I continue to share my creative life journey with the world at miracline.com.

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