Lois: Lois Sekerak Hogan
and Field Theory: Framing the Question
Carol: In the summer of 2003,
when a small group started to work on the Declaration of Intent for
the Collective Wisdom Initiative, we initially came up with these
words, "We believe there is a field—a real, not metaphorical,
field of collective consciousness.” Looking at the words on
the paper, I realized that I had surprised myself. Each time I read
this sentence, I felt both a thrill of excitement and a jolt of doubt.
Do I really believe this? Is this just a nice metaphor, or is there
actually such a field? Could I truthfully say that I held it as fact
that such a field exists?
Recently I read Jean-Yves Leloup's The
Gospel of Mary Magdalene and Michael Conforti's Field,
Form, and Fate. Together, these works shed a new light on
my understanding of the connection between field theory and consciousness.
First of all, they reminded me of my very western assumption that
a field that cannot be proven scientifically cannot be said to exist.
Yet for at least the last thirty years of my life, I have been aware
through Jungian psychology of the powerful connection between my psyche
and what Jung refers to as archetypes. What these two books suggested
to me was that archetypes may actually be preexistent psychic fields,
and that, in time, the current research into field theory may eventually
verify this scientifically.
The phrase “psychic” has always
conjured up in me images of séances and other parapsychological
phenomena. But that does not account for even a fraction of what Jung
meant by the psychic realm. This realm includes ideas, thoughts, emotions
and fantasy motifs; in other words, it includes what we all experience
everyday as mental and emotional activity. As Jung ironically pointed
out, even the scientists who study and describe physical processes
do so through a “mental (that is psychic) medium.”1
I am quite certain, based on my own experience
and what I can observe in the world, that such a field exists at least
as a psychic reality and probably as a scientific reality once we
figure out how to verify it—a field that Jung called the “collective
unconscious”—a field which Leloup, and Henry Corbin before
him, calls the imaginal realm.
How would such a field function? For Jungians,
all psychic activity, from the most banal to the most mysterious,
occurs within an a priori, or preexistent archetypal structure. Scientists
theorize, in the words of Ervin Lazlo, that "matter emerges out
of the prefigured information fields."2
Archetypes are the same thing in the psychic realm. Jung defined an
archetype as "a preexistent, non-personally acquired information
field in the collective unconscious. The archetypes themselves can
never be fully known or seen, but only gleamed from their incarnation
as symbols, images, situations, and through synchronicity, etc."3
This sounds very much like Leloup’s description of what is in
the imaginal realm, “a vast intermediate realm of image and
representation that is just as ontologically real as the worlds of
sense and intellect,”4
not to be confused with what we think of as imaginary, that is, in
the realm of fantasy.
So it seems to me that Jung’s archetypes
would be the information fields within the larger field—the
imaginal realm in Leloup’s terms. I have long experienced the
impact of material from this imaginal realm on my psyche, particularly
through my dreams, but is it true that we can proactively engage with
this realm? Leloup asserts that we can—and must—do so.
He considers this the essential work of our time and maintains that
the language of sacred scriptures all comes from this realm.5
If so, then it follows that any new images that might emerge to heal
our battered world must come from this realm as well.
This is an exciting idea, but engaging
proactively with the imaginal realm, especially in groups, is new
territory for me. It goes way beyond working with archetypal
images as a pathway to my own personal growth. I find I have to go
back to the beginning and ask myself the following:
1) Am I correct in my belief that there is
a preexistent structure to the psychic realm that corresponds to
the scientific theory of fields?
2) If so, what can we learn about this realm
and can we engage with it?
3) What might a capacity for engaging in
this imaginal realm be, and how might it contribute to the emergence
of collective wisdom?
4) Are there dangers and, if so, how do we
recognize and contain them?
Lois, you have had a lot more experience
with the formation of group consciousness than I have. Does this idea
of the existence of an imaginal realm seem real to you? What are the
questions about it that have the greatest interest for you?
The Imaginal Realm: Origins of the Concept
term “imaginal realm” is a bit unclear, so as a first
step, it may be valuable to understand what the concept imaginal
realm means as described by the man who coined the phrase—Henry
Corbin, the French scholar and mystic known primarily for his interpretation
of Islamic thought.6
In his study of Sufi and Persian texts, he discovered that in these
literatures there was believed to be a realm that existed above our
ordinary three-dimensional consciousness. While some aspects of the
imagination are clearly contrived, these texts suggested that there
is also a place in our imaginations where things are “real,”
in the sense that they are not being “imagined” by someone
but are images that have some kind of integrity or existence on their
own. Thus, the imagination appears to have two aspects: one is intentionally
fabricated; the other presents itself to us intact. Corbin used the
term mundus imaginalis (imaginary realm) to differentiate
between the “imaginary”(i.e., something equated
with the unreal or with fantasy) and the “imaginal”
(i.e., a world that is ontologically as real as the things we see
or touch or know intellectually). Something imaginary is “made
up” and comes from us, whereas the imaginal comes to us from
another realm. It’s the difference, for example, between conjuring
an image of a man with a blue nose and green hair (imaginary) and
having a dream image of a man with a blue nose and green hair (from
the imaginal realm).
In Corbin’s view—and that of archetypal
psychology—the images that come from the mundus imaginalis are
a reality in some dimension other than the sensible and intellectual
dimensions that we are most familiar with and that we have been taught
to value and respect. This is difficult for those grounded in a rationalist
perspective to accept, but science—as you point out in this
paper—is beginning to provide a construct for our understanding
the validity of these other realms of being. These other realms can
be experienced in various ways—for example, through dreams,
or when we are touched by a sense of spirit in prayer or meditation,
and when we feel ourselves moved by some strong image in the culture,
such as an image from a film, book, or television news. When an image
does present itself to us, we may be awed, surprised, puzzled, confused,
or emotionally moved. Generally, it stirs something in us. It awakens
us to a feeling or an emotion. If we can just be with these images,
they will work on us in ways that are often inexplicable and mysterious.
In the view of archetypal psychology, the opportunity
in the work is to engage with these images—not to interpret
them, but to restore a sense of soul by immersing oneself in the images.
By just “being” with the image, we allow ourselves to
be touched in the emotional sense of the word. In many ways, soul
has been banished from our lives by busyness, by a worldview that
favors the sensible and rational over the nonverbal. Yet, when we
open to the imaginal, what comes is like water for the thirsting traveler
in the desert. It moistens, softens and lubricates us, giving us a
sense of depth and enriching our lives immeasurably. Without it, we
become arid; things feel superficial, a sense of meaning in life eludes
the Self from Carl Jung's Man & His Symbols48
Jung believed that soul and image are one and
the same and that they exist as a mediating factor between body and
mind. As a mediating factor, soul/image enables an integration of
body and mind, which have been separated in dualistic consciousness
most dramatically since Descartes, though the split goes back even
further. So the soul/image can make us whole again. It heals and restores
us. Corbin went further to say that images are the thoughts of the
heart and that the heart is the seat of the imagination, which is
the authentic voice of the heart. So to speak from the heart is to
speak imaginatively. As the English poet John Keats said, “I
am certain about nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections
and the truth of the imagination.”7
When considering the intersection of
these three ideas—the imaginal realm, archetypal fields and
“collective wisdom”—the questions that most interest
“What are the possibilities
when a group of people intentionally engage in the imaginal realm—through
dialogue, work with dreams, or other forms of group work?”
"How do the images that emerge
through these processes serve the collective as well as the individual?
And, in what ways do the images that are held by a group influence
"What kinds of processes or
environments can be created that are conducive to groups working
with the imaginal realm?"
Archetypal Fields as Understood by Jungian
Carol: That really helps.
I am still trying to deepen my understanding of the connection between
the concept of archetypes, which I know well, and the concepts of
fields and of the imaginal realm, both of which are relatively new
to me. I want to think out loud a bit here about current thinking
about archetypes and archetypal fields to see how all of these might
Michael Conforti says, “Archetypal fields
appear to function non-locally. Their influence is not space-time
dependent; and, from what we can tell, they are not subject to causal
limitations, as are fields in the outer, natural world.” Yet
thinking of archetypes as fields seems appropriate to him, because
of the ability, or power, of archetypes to “effect, transform
and possess individuals and cultures.”8
Archetypal fields underlie all of our psychic
existence. He says, “…pattern recognition is essential
for the preservation of life….Every individual is born with
and continues developing these highly tuned perceptual skills that
help to read patterns in the outer and hopefully in the inner world”9
Some examples of archetypes that appear in all cultures are: The Great
Mother, the Father, the Warrior, the King, and the Trickster. The
Great Mother archetype, for example, expresses itself in the following
ways: “the mother, the grandmother, the goddess, the Virgin
Mary, Sophia, the church, the forest, the sea and nonflowing bodies
of water, matter, the underworld, the moon, the tilled field, the
garden, the boulder, the cave; whatever is kindly, sheltering, bearing,
growth-fostering, fertility-bringing, nourishing-providing; rebirth;
that which is secret, hidden, dark; that which devours, seduces, poisons,
arouses fear; that which is inescapable.”10
The Father archetype shows up as: moving air,
wind, spirit breath, that which provokes possession, apparitions of
the spirits of the dead; things like pneuma, the psyche, sprites,
spirits, devils, demons, angels, the helpful old man, the wise professor,
the authority figure, the priest; the active, winged, moving, alive,
stimulating, provocative, arousing, inspiring, dynamic element of
the psyche, that which produces enthusiasm and inspiration.”11
Yet how do we know these archetypes exist as
fields? With no physical evidence of archetypes in our space-time
dependent world, how do we know archetypes are not just human mental
The most compelling evidence for me is Marie
Louise von Franz’s arguments about numbers. She says that some
mathematicians claim that the system of numbers was created arbitrarily,
that it was invented solely by the human mind. Yet once the system
came into existence, it produced some highly unusual and unforeseen
qualities such as prime numbers and natural integers which have properties
that can be triangular or quadratic. None of these properties were
invented but appeared later.12
Furthermore she points out that the arithmetic of the I Ching is the
same as the genetic code.13
How did this come to be?
This suggests that the idea of numbers already
existed is some form, a form which Jung called an archetype, and which
we are now speculating might be a field, and that the human mind is
designed to tap into it. Thus we experience ourselves making up theories
that we then test. But we probably do not “make up” our
theories out of whole cloth. Franz continues that all the important
scientific paradigms of Western natural science—for example,
energy, continuum and discontinuum, the uncertainty principle—were
anticipated intuitively by Greek natural philosophy.14
Jung came to believe that “the archetype is something we can
never get beyond; it is the ultimate, the most fundamental
structure of our psychic being,”15
What would you add here about the validity
of this idea of archetypal fields either from your personal experience
or from your study? Also I know you have spent a fair amount of time
studying about the relationship between Jung’s work and the
new science. Is there any evidence in the new science for the reality
of this archetypal field phenomenon?
and the New Science
was in active dialogue with several well-known physicists, including
Einstein, Niels Bohr and Wolfgang Pauli. It doesn’t seem surprising
to me that the underlying concepts of their ideas would cross the
physical science and psychological disciplines. Jung himself predicted
that one day the sciences of quantum physics and psychology would
come together. The work of some physicists is very close to Jung’s
ideas. For example, Jung’s idea of synchronicity, was influenced
by his conversations with Wolfgang Pauli, who consulted with Jung
for psychotherapeutic help and also collaborated with Jung in exploring
the idea of a unified reality that underlies both mind and matter.
These ideas are also related to Bell’s theorem of non-locality,
which explains how things can be interconnected even though not contiguous
in time or space. Thus, a person may have a precognitive dream about
an auto accident that later actually occurs, or people in close relationships
might communicate telepathically or through a dream. Another example
of similarity between Jung’s ideas and science is physicist
David Bohm’s idea of implicate order, which Bohm saw as a hidden
order carrying a pattern that is revealed in the explicate or visible
order. Similarly, Edward Lorenz’s concept of strange attractors
describes how order appears out of seeming chaos. Both of these examples
sound like archetypes to me!
I haven’t read Conforti, so I don’t
know how much he talks about the link between Jung and physics, but
there are other good sources. The journal Psychological Perspectives
has carried several articles on these topics (e.g., C. R. Card on
“The Archetypal View of C.G. Jung and Wolfgang Pauli”16;
May & Groder on “Jungian Thought and Dynamical Systems:
A New Science of Archetypal Psychology”17;
Rupert Sheldrake on “Mind, Memory and Archetype Morphic Resonance
and the Collective Unconscious.”18).
Jungian analyst Arnold Mindell, once a physicist at MIT, explored
these ideas in his book, Quantum Mind: The Edge Between Physics
Jungian analyst John Van Eenwyk explored this in his book “Archetypes
& Strange Attractors.”20
Theoretical physicist Fred Wolf has also explored the relationship
of quantum physics and Jung’s psychology in a number of books.21
Aside from theoretical similarity, I don’t
know what actual evidence exists for the reality of archetypal fields.
One of the problems implicit in your question is the attempt to “prove”
something about a level of consciousness that may be inaccessible
with the more limited tools from another level. Still, there is interesting
evidence for fields more generally. Biologist Rupert Sheldrake has
proposed a concept called morphic resonance, which developed
out of his observations that developmental biology depends on more
than just genetics but also is affected by the existence of organizing
or morphic fields that organize behavior. It is very much like the
collective unconscious, except that it applies to all forms of nature
and not just human beings.22
To illustrate the principle, Ken Keyes wrote
a well-known account of the Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon, which describes
results of some animal behavior studies. While there is question about
the accuracy of his claims, Keyes’ book describes how scientists
studying animal behavior in Indonesia had given monkeys sweet potatoes
to eat that had fallen in sand. One monkey discovered that by washing
the sand off in a nearby stream, the potatoes tasted better. Soon
this trick had been passed on to most of the monkeys on their island.
Then it was discovered that some monkeys on other islands, who had
had no contact with the potato-washing monkeys, were suddenly and
spontaneously all washing their potatoes. 23
The story seems to suggest that once a certain critical mass had been
achieved, the awareness was suddenly available to others —perhaps
through a field. Whether or not this is 100% true, there does seem
to be a phenomenon where occasionally the same discovery appears to
be made simultaneously by people who know nothing about each other,
perhaps suggesting the possibility of fields. It also makes me wonder
about the power of a single individual breaking through an accepted
pattern to potentially change the world.
In his book The Biology of Transcendence,
Joseph Chilton Pearce has written about the power of fields.24
He discusses the idiot savant syndrome in which an individual
who has low intellectual capability mysteriously can talk expertly
about one or two subjects in great detail. Pearce’s research
suggests that what causes this is that some event in early childhood
triggers a particular neural field in the individual which then seems
to become sensitive to a corresponding field of knowledge related
to that event. As he explains it, they tune into the frequency of
a nonlocal field, enabling them to speak knowledgably about things
related to it even though they have no access to such information
and probably wouldn’t understand it even if they did. What appears
to have happened is some kind of frequency resonance or alignment.
According to Pearce, the hierarchy of frequencies in which we live
affects how we experience our lives. Our resonance to particular frequencies
may partially explain why certain images or archetypes come to us.
Another fascinating example comes from a book
I’m currently reading called “A General Theory of
In their exploration of the psychobiology of love, the three physician
authors explore research on the human brain demonstrating that our
physiological systems are not a completely self-regulating, closed-loop
system but are in fact an open loop system that is affected by others
in a reciprocal process. Moreover, our stability requires
our continual interaction with others – a point that emphasizes
the need for humans to be located within a social system. This is
similar to research done at The HeartMath Institute, which has studied
the electromagnetic field around the heart. HeartMath scientists claim
this field is about 5,000 times more powerful than the field around
the brain and that it radiates outside of us, measurable up to 10
feet away. 26
This means that when we are in close proximity with others, there
is a kind of transfer that occurs between the electromagnetic fields
of the people. It is probable that this field also affects others
nonlocally. As a related example, Greg Braden suggests that heartfelt
prayer transcends time and distance. 27
One of HeartMath’s practices involves identifying an image or
experience that triggers a feeling of appreciation or love as a way
to transform negative experiences. The felt experience of the image
has an enormous power, and it strikes me that perhaps one purpose
of dreams is to bring us an image that will trigger healing feelings
(note: even so-called “negative” images can be healing,
because they are leading us to wholeness and a re-balancing of our
Two mandalas taken from Carl Jung's
Man and His Symbols.49
The Nature of Material Received from Archetypal Fields
Carol: Yes, I absolutely agree
that the experience of the image has enormous power and that the ultimate
purpose of this phenomenon is to heal by leading us to wholeness!
What actually is the nature of these images
and how are they encountered and used? In traditional Jungian practice
client and therapist work with these images to heal psychic complexes.
The material comes from the client’s dreams. However, many people
have encountered archetypal images in nature as well as in literature
and film and even everyday experiences. For many of us who initially
approached dream work in order to heal, the work quickly became an
on-going spiritual practice because it got us in touch with transpersonal
Which brings me to a provocative part of the
definition of archetypes— “preexistent non-personally
acquired information field.” What does it mean that an image
Conforti gives an interesting example. He points
the reader to a commonly used phrase, “every picture tells a
story.” But when we are considering archetypes he says, a more
important statement might be, “every story has a picture.”28
In other words, when we are dealing with archetypes, the expression
(the story) leads us back to an image, which is bigger than any individual
This doesn’t mean that one’s response
to and work with archetypal images and symbols are impersonal, but
that the images themselves are larger than we are. They do not originate
in us. The real challenge is to work with the images to find that
larger, archetypal meaning, which can provide powerful guidance for
both individuals and collectives.
Conforti also tells a story about a client
who dreamed about turtles coming up on the beach at night to lay eggs.
Both the client and her therapist felt good about the dream and interpreted
it as forecasting some form of new birth or new beginnings forming
in the client. But as Conforti pointed out, if you look more closely
at the image and ask what really happens when turtles lay their eggs,
you find that only a small number of the millions of eggs that are
laid actually hatch and survive. And so, another, probably more accurate,
interpretation of the dream would be that it had to do with an effort
to give birth to something, the odds against which are enormous. By
treating the image as an autonomous entity and researching its full
meaning, he suggests, we can come closer to understanding what the
image is trying to serve. 29
Coming into contact with material from archetypal
fields can be very powerful, very emotional. I don’t know anyone
who has taken dream work seriously who is not overwhelmed by the experience
at some point. Jungians refer to archetypes being “constellated,”
and Webster defines constellation as "a set or configuration,
as of related items, properties, ideas, or individuals." Archetypal
images do not just slide dreamily into the psyche. They often land
with an emotional power that is visceral—both positive and negative—with
a sense of elements configuring of their own accord and with the recipient
having about as much control as he/she would have constellating an
actual galaxy! Thus the word “constellate” describes this
I know that you have some questions
about the analytical (interpretive) approach to archetypal material
and that you believe a more powerful way to work with the image is
to immerse oneself in it in a very personal way—to feel it in
the body. Can you say more about how you have experienced that?
I also know that you have studied the
importance of emotions for some time now. How do you see emotions
fitting into this process?
Engagement with the Imaginal Realm
concern about a primarily interpretive approach to archetypal material
is because it is antithetical to the archetypal psychology perspective30.
I also worry about advice that suggests it is important to move beyond
the personal experience of an image into a larger, archetypal meaning.
Let me explain. First, although archetypal psychology is grounded
in the Jungian concept of archetypes, it differs in at least one key
respect. Traditional Jungian (analytical) psychology views the archetypes
as a way to understand the dynamics of an individual’s psyche
and link them with the universal. It likes to take an individual’s
dream images and match them up to themes in art and myth, which acts
as an amplifier for the image. In contrast, archetypal psychology
values the imaginal realm for what it is and how it makes one feel,
not for what it means or signifies. In archetypal psychology, interpretation
spoils the image; it is the image as metaphor that opens it up and
where the fullest individual experience of the image lies. The intent
is a deepening of one’s experience of the image, not a widening
of the image to the universal.
The way to deepen one’s experience of
the image is to fully engage with it phenomenologically, rather than
teleologically, i.e., the importance is not on where the image leads
or what it means, but what it feels like to be engaged with
the image. The image is something to experience, not something to
use. It is the experiencing of the image that enriches and fills one
with a sense of depth and soul. It reminds me of the quote “Beware
of heartless he who would dissect a kiss.” We aren’t able
to grab a dream, lay it out on the table, inventory its parts, and
analyze its contents. Working with a dream is more like how someone
once described poetry: like catching a glimpse of the white tip of
the tail as the deer disappears into the forest.
As I said earlier, Jung believed image and
soul are one and the same. What happens is that the felt experience
of the image elicits an emotional response in which one feels in a
very direct way what the image is conveying. The felt experience is
often unexpected and very different from what a superficial assessment
of the image might lead one to assume. Thus the danger of working
solely to amplify the image through connection with archetypes is
that you may miss the most important part! Another way to think about
the image is that it is not what one sees, but the way in which
one sees. It is a seeing of the heart, and thus the images cannot
be read in the usual empirical way of sense perception or in an intellectual
way that explains, but must be engaged with imagistially, poetically,
and metaphorically. Let me share an example. I participated in a dreamgroup
recently in which the dreamer shared a dream about waking up to find
herself facing a big hairy centipede. Now there are lots of possible
interpretations and archetypal associations one could make to the
image. But by going into her personal experience of the image, and
especially by going into the experience of the centipede in the dream,
what came across was the feeling of “being in the shadow of
the stranger.” The image was about a sense of deep loneliness
and the shock of being in unfamiliar company that the image presents
as difference in species and scale. This is a place that would be
difficult to get to without allowing the dreamer to fully re-enter
the image without pressure of interpretation.
An individual’s experience of an image
is uniquely personal. Let’s go back to Michael Conforti’s
example that you shared about the dream image of a turtle coming out
of the water to lay eggs on the sand. If we immediately try to mine
the meaning of the image by connecting it with an archetype, we lose
the uniqueness of that particular turtle in that specific
context and the particular mood or emotion of the turtle. The dreamer’s
interpretation about the image signifying giving birth to something
new could have been applied to dozens of dream scenarios, but why
this particular scene of turtles?! There is a particularity to every
dream image that adds important nuance, depth and texture to the surface
level of the image. Conforti suggests that the image may not be so
much about giving birth as it may be about the tremendous odds of
any one of the eggs (or “ideas”) surviving. My point is:
why choose that particular archetypal association? If we’re
going to consider the archetypal meaning related to turtles laying
eggs, couldn’t it just as easily be about the abundance of ideas
(turtles lay a hundred eggs at a time) or about being an endangered
species or about the amphibious nature of mothering which isn’t
warm and fuzzy but detached (some amphibians even eat their young!)?
Until we have spent some time in the personal
experience of the image, it can be diluting and even misleading to
direct someone to archetypes. At some point, amplification by associating
the image to archetypes is valuable because it opens up the levels
of meaning within an image and also creates a sense of connection
to a larger pattern. But this is problematic as a starting point.
To get the most out of the dream, the best starting point is always
the dreamer’s unique experience of the image. For example, in
the turtle dream image: Is it day or night? How does the water feel?
How is the turtle feeling (fearful, tired, impatient, in pain, joyful)?
Where is that felt in the body? What comes up as you sit with that
feeling? What does the turtle experience as it leaves the water, walks
on the sand, digs the hole, lays the eggs? These nuances communicate
enormously! And appreciating the nuances of the image is particularly
important because many dream images are reflecting some kind of growth
edge. When we’re at the edge of something, we’re at the
boundary of the unknown and this is often experienced as a somewhat
chaotic experience. At the edge, images often come that we would say
are “not me.” However, while we may claim that the dream
image may not be the “me” that my ego consciously knows,
it may be another part of me that is seeking to be experienced or
to grow more in consciousness.
I’ve emphasized the individual nature
of the image. Let me now say a bit about the relation of an individual’s
image to the collective. While the image begins as a personal experience,
the potential is there for it to be experienced collectively. The
individual and the collective are complementary aspects of a greater
whole. So an image that comes to an individual is in some way reflecting
– in the way that a hologram does – the experience of
the larger group. If an image emerges in a group – either through
a dream, metaphor, or some actual experience – the image and
its related affect can create a powerful sense of empathy and touch
each individual with their own experience of the image. By sharing
the experience of the image, a deeper connection occurs than is possible
in other means. Jungian analyst Robert Bosnak, whose approach has
significantly shaped my understanding, has pioneered a group dreamwork
process in which the groups assists the dreamer in re-vivifying the
dream image so that the dreamer can experience more deeply the metaphors
and feelings in the image. 31
In this process, the members of the group are more than witnesses
to a process; they are active participants who try to enter the image
along with the dreamer in a way that is similar to accounts of shamanic
traveling. Helping the dreamer to get in touch deeply with an image
allows others to feel deep empathy for the dreamer, but it’s
also more than this. It can create a kind of fusion of emotional fields.
Additionally, by deeply feeling the dreamer’s image, others
are then able to more deeply feel their own connection to the experience
of the image; it is enriching for all involved. Bosnak has said, “the
more intimate you can be with the individual, the more you get to
In other words, one way to reach the collective
or archetypal is by thoroughly savoring and experiencing the individual
image. Let me share an example. I shared a dream recently in which
I was driving a car and ended up going down the wrong road. By going
deeply into the experience of the image, I got in touch with what
the image was metaphorically saying to me about my “drivenness.”
I could feel the tension in my neck and shoulders as I hunched over
the wheel, in my hands as I clutched the wheel, in my eyes as I desperately
sought a familiar sign. And everyone else in the dreamgroup working
with me on the image could therefore feel this drivenness and the
connection to places in their own lives where they are driven. They
feel this more acutely as a result of sharing the image with me than
they would if I were just describing my current search for right work.
This drivenness is not just mine; it belongs to the collective.
Let me wrap this up by saying a couple of things
about emotions. Bosnak believes the image is a frozen emotion, so
essential to his process is “thawing” the emotion by easing
into an image and becoming aware of how it feels to be in this image.
However, we are not simply reducing images to emotions; that is not
the intent. As James Hillman has emphasized, it’s important
to remember the image and emotion are inextricably meshed and part
of the same experience. The image brings discrimination to the feeling
and helps articulate what the feeling is about. I believe the emotions
are essential to a change in consciousness and transformation. The
problem for many people is that they identify with or repress emotions
rather than just feeling them and letting them move through. The root
of the word emotion means “to move.” Emotions
“move” us, and they can also literally move us from one
state to another. I could go on for hours talking about this approach—and
the importance of emotions and being embodied because these are passionate
interests, but I’ve probably gone on way too far anyway at this
The Imaginal Realm and the Shadow: the
Failure to Develop Consciousness
Carol: Yes, I see what you
mean about the limits of the analytical approach. Rather than being
a question of a personal or non-personal interpretation, the point
is to “inhabit” the image in order to grow from it. And
as I look back at the definition of archetypes that I quoted above,
the phrase actually reads “non-personally acquired information
fields,” so Jung is really pointing to the source of
the images as being non-personal, not to the experience of them which
is extremely personal.
Perhaps for some people the analytical approach
is attractive because it is unconsciously perceived as safer than
being moved by emotions, but I am remembering that Jung said that
there is no growth without affect, and affect is about the feeling
of emotions in the body, the quickening of the pulse of the blood.
That is frightening to many people. What is
it that people might fear about images that have the power to move
our emotions individually or in group processes? I am thinking, for
instance, of Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany, lynch mobs, and cults
that engage in intense violence.
Jungians refers to inflation or grandiosity—when
individuals or groups become identified with an archetypal image.
When something comes to you so powerfully, it is difficult not to
conclude that you are somehow singled out for some great destiny—or
that you should hand over your total trust, or even your life, to
a group leader who is revealing images that have a profound emotional
affect on you. I worry about this in group process. History is full
of evidence of group violence at the behest of charismatic leaders.
Probably the best-known example of grandiosity
is Adolph Hitler, who, as Laurens van der Post describes, had a dream
that “he was about to be engulfed in an upheaval of earth and
mud” when he was in the trenches in World War I. Moments after
he struggled to wake up and got out of the trench, an enemy shell
hit the trench and killed all his comrades. He interpreted this dream
as a sign that Providence has saved him for a great destiny. Van der
Posts says Hitler tragically misinterpreted the dream. “It seemed
to be trying to tell him that he was in imminent danger of being overwhelmed,
not so much by the physical earth as by what the earth stood for in
the imagination,” that is, “an upsurge of some dark, instinctive,
unrecognized collective aspect of himself.” By interpreting
the dream in “the purely literal surface manifestation of the
dream, he neglected the cataclysmic warning latent in it,”32
Or perhaps, as you suggest, his mistake was in interpreting the dream
at all rather than experiencing it bodily and emotionally—and
then staying with that experience until it moved him in a way that
might have been less tragic for the world.
Similarly Conforti describes how material from
archetypal fields can take over groups and even nations. “Consider
the atrocities in Nazi Germany, which occurred under the sway of the
Wotan archetype…. In much the same manner as an attractor site—be
it magnetic or archetypal—serves to draw the trajectory of a
system into a specific region (or, as it is termed in chaos theory,
a basin of attraction), so too does the archetype work through the
creation of an attractor. The attractor is the complex….a quanta
of energy organized around a certain theme—for instance, a mother
complex, a father complex, a sexual complex, etc….It works by
creating alignments and entrainments with only those segments of life
that match the archetypal constants of the constellated archetype.”33
The Swastika illustrates what powerful emotions can be evoked by images.50
I understand fully why many people
are wary of such powerful attractors operating within group processes.
What have you learned about this? What makes the difference between
an individual or group being possessed by archetypal content versus
being made more whole by it?
question you’re asking relates to work by both Jungians and
psychodynamic theorists who explore group consciousness. In my understanding,
the answer to your question centers on the importance of consciousness.
There is both an individual and a collective nature to consciousness.
We can be endangered, both as individuals and as a collective, by
failing to develop consciousness. The more oblivious we are to “shadow”—whether
as an individual or a group—the more likely it is to bite us
in the butt. The shadow contains everything we don’t want to
see in ourselves, characteristics that we typically have somewhere
but either prefer not to acknowledge or are incapable of seeing in
ourselves. Thus, the way to avoid being possessed by archetypal content
is to be conscious, to surface shadow material, which by definition
leads toward greater wholeness or integration.
An important part of this for groups is accommodating
diversity of views. This can be difficult in groups. Some people in
groups won’t share their viewpoint out of fear (of being wrong,
of being ostracized, of being blamed, etc.). Others project the cause
of problems onto others, creating scapegoats. Getting people to share,
accept and explore divergent opinions in a group is a challenging
task! (Arthur Colman’s work in Up From Scapegoating
is a good reference on this topic.34)
As individuals, we may experience a kind of safety in siding with
the majority, while sticking out our necks to be different can get
them chopped off. This is why concepts such as the “dialogue
group” (see William Issacs, “Taking Flight: Dialogue,
Collective Thinking and Organizational Learning”35)
are useful. They create a container where divergent views can be expressed
and accepted, thus contributing to group consciousness. This topic
is really huge and deserves a lot more time!
Carol: I couldn’t agree
more that this topic is huge and deserves a lot more time. We have
so few concrete examples and stories about how the shadow works in
groups and how consciousness can help us deal with this problem. What
a gift it would be if people who have in depth experience with this
phenomenon in groups could assemble illuminating stories in a seed
paper for our web site.
The Magdalene Gospel and the Imaginal Realm
While I want to be ever mindful of the power
of the shadow in groups, I don’t want to throw the baby out
with the bathwater. So let’s go back to the power of images
to lead us to wholeness, I want to pick up on your description of
experiencing images phenomenologically, rather than teleologically.
I really resonate with that idea, and it brings me to an experience
I recently had when reading The Gospel of Mary Magdalene.
This text gave me great encouragement and a sense of possibility about
how we might develop the capacity to work constructively with the
The Magdalene Gospel offered a particular image
that evoked a powerful emotional response in me. Magdalene's interpretation
of the message of Jesus is subtly different from the conventional
version. Often she uses the same or similar words, but with different
emphasis. Her focus is on acquiring the inner peace and harmony that
is the presence of the "Son of Man" within the human psyche.
"Those who seek him, find him"36
means that once you are present to spirit, spirit is there, within
you. In this view human beings are the bridge between the physical/animal
world and the world of spirit. Our true desire is to be present to
spirit, to "be with" the world, but not to possess what
is impermanent. It is this desire for possession—to gain permanence
and security from what can never be permanent—that is the cause
of our “sickness of soul,” and ultimately what causes
hatred, conflict and suffering in human society.
Obviously this is not a new idea. This notion
of non-attachment from what is impermanent appears in almost all wisdom
traditions in human history. But this particular text and Leloup’s
commentary offered an image that really brought the point home for
From the text: "If you are out of balance,
take inspiration from manifestations of your true nature."37
From Leloup's commentary: "When your instrument
is out of tune, when you are surrounded by discordance, and you find
yourself in disharmony (perhaps to the extremes of fear, contempt,
hatred), then 'take inspiration from manifestations of your true nature,'
or, as it might also be translated, from images of your true nature—but
in the imaginal, not the imaginary, sense of the word....Allow yourself
to be inspired by manifestations of the fully human and incarnations
of the peace and harmony that we know is possible in ourselves....To
take inspiration from such an image is more than just receiving feelings
from an icon, for this icon is a window into the invisible, where
we see what humanness is capable of, where we see the incarnation
of love that is our true calling."38
About Magdalene, Leloup writes, "God activates the necessary
visionary, imaginal forms in her."39
Is this, then our work—to create the
intention and environments in which spirit can activate the necessary
visionary, imaginal forms in us?
The specific manifestation, or image, of my
“true nature” that ignited my imagination was the image
below of the human being as bridge to the divine by Patrice Van Eersel.40
Where my eyes (and soul) go to on this map are the dotted lines, which
symbolize the dynamic tension of human existence—dotted lines
between earth and spirit.
I have had much difficulty taking in almost all commentary
on non-attachment because it seemed to direct our attention away from
this world. But this image and Leloup’s interpretation of the
nature of being human allow me to understand non-attachment and hold
to something that I intuitively believe—that this world is worthy
of great love and attention.
It came home to me—which is to say that
I felt myself inhabiting rather than just thinking about the idea—that
I can cherish this world yet simultaneously know that my true self
is linked to something larger. In my mind’s eye I saw my garden,
which I labor over each spring and all summer long with such devotion
and pleasure. Yet I never expect the spring flowers to last beyond
their time nor the fall flowers to make it beyond the first hard frost,
which comes frightfully early in my remote section of Vermont. I may
be ecstatic if I get an extra week’s bloom, and I certainly
feel a pang of sorrow when the leaves begin to fall, but those feelings
are all short-lived, and none of them deter me from starting over
again in the spring.
I have even come to experience death with more
balance that I did when my sister died of brain cancer almost three
years ago. That was a primal experience, painful but also numinous.
From that experience I know something now of my connection with the
beyond that I could not possibly have known before.
But the area which still “has me”
is financial security. To me this is about character as well as survival.
The image of the bag lady is never far away no matter how far away
in reality. The details of why I feel this way are unimportant to
this discussion, but the scenario itself is not. Because I can sense
that in this complex of mine is the “sickness in my soul”—that
is, my attachment to what is impermanent. Within this attachment is
the potential for me to do evil to my fellow human beings in an effort
to control my circumstances. So one place where the spiritual rubber
hits the road for me is financial fear.
This past fall was a difficult time in my business
life, so my discovery of this image was timely. Focusing on the dynamism
of the dotted lines to imagine “my true nature”, I used
this image as I meditated. The image expanded as I contemplated it
to a sphere rather than a two-dimensional drawing. The words disappeared,
and the surrounding rings emanated light and energy. I used this image
over several weeks to keep myself conscious of my connections both
to my place on the earth and to the world of spirit.
Lois, how do you understand the experience
of non-attachment and how this relates to the role of emotions in
own understanding of non-attachment has been shaped by Buddhist thinking.
I particularly like Pema Chödrön’s writing.41
Non-attachment, to me, does not mean a lack of affect or passion,
but instead means not being attached to any particular form and being
with “what is.” Attachment to a particular form of experience
presumes that one is good and one is bad—or at least better
than another. This is all judgment, and the reality is that there
is a place for everything. Where there is pain, there is also pleasure.
If I am attached to pleasure, how will I remain open to experiences
that, while painful, may also be catalytic events for helping me grow
In this view, we do not try to avoid certain
emotions (anger, jealousy, fear, etc.) or experiences (hardship, defeat,
etc.), but we notice them and work through them in a compassionate
way, without allowing them to take over. In other words, I can feel
anger at something, but I don’t have to be my anger and act
out of my anger (i.e., the difference between attachment to my anger
and unattachment or simply observing my anger). Emotions occur without
our conscious direction. We do not “choose” the angry
feeling that we experience. We experience it, and if we are conscious,
we then choose whether to act out of that anger or not. We don’t
want to shut down or repress our experience of certain emotions by
deciding, for example, that it’s “bad” to feel the
anger. In fact, as Pema Chodron explains, our ability to feel compassion
for other people who may be angry, arrogant, mean, selfish, or whatever
depends upon our ability not to avoid those very same things in ourselves.
Feeling the emotions softens us and makes us more capable of being
There is also an opportunity to learn from
emotions and from people that trigger our frustration or other emotions.
Rather than leaning away from the discomforts of life or letting an
emotion carry us to a point where we seek revenge or indulge in self-hatred,
we simply notice the emotional reaction. We pay attention to what
is. It’s our Big Clue. By first stopping the chain reaction
of an emotion moving into a habituated action, we take the first step
in stopping the pattern. We then learn to drop the story, let the
emotion pass and stay centered. If we view emotions this way, we’re
essentially one big Transformation Machine! We start by transforming
our own reactions, which has a chain reaction of affecting others.
Pema Chodron’s books describe practices one can employ to do
Carol: Transforming my own reaction—that is
certainly what I felt the above image was helping me to do. I can
see the power of working with the imaginal realm in this way, with
archetypal material that strengthens my identification with my best
and truest nature. I can see how over time it can change how I consciously
hold my life and how I live in the world.
How we each live in the world can have a profound
influence on collective wisdom. It seems to me that the individual
and the collective are inextricably entwined here. Because few, if
any, of us are beyond having issues around which we are capable of
hurting others in order to save our psychic image of ourselves. It
is a small step from this individual behavior to collective behavior
where groups and societies have hurt and even destroyed one another
throughout human history. Our most fundamental interest in collective
wisdom is to find a way to transform that behavior so that human beings
can live in peace and create according to their highest potential.
Can engagement with the imaginal realm
as a discipline—an active cultivation of our capacity to imagine
our true nature—work as a countermeasure to the sickness of
our individual and collective souls? You have far more experience
working with images and symbols in groups than I do. Can you give
us some examples of how this has actually worked in groups? Also,
you have mentioned to me your interest in creating ecologies. What
does that mean and how can engaging with the imaginal realm contribute
with the Imaginal Realm
experienced working with images in groups in a variety of ways. As
examples, I’ve been a member of a Jungian dreamgroup for several
years; I’ve been a member of dialogue, median and Tavistock
groups and experienced how images emerge in these; I led a Montague
Ullman-type dreamgroup for members of a consulting firm for which
I once worked; I co-led a Social Dreaming matrix group, and I was
part of a two-year training program that incorporated myth and image
in many of its activities. These are all different approaches to working
in groups, and not all emphasize image—though images emerged
in important ways in each of them. Groups which do not focus on image
require a sensitive observer to articulate when an image makes its
presence known, usually through metaphor.
In a Jungian dreamgroup, many of the metaphors
that emerge through working with the images can begin to form a vernacular
unique to that group. For example, in one man’s dream of hiking
with a friend, he lifts a tree branch to help ease the way for his
friend behind him and a lot of emotion comes out for him in this image.
For all of us, “lifting the branch” becomes a meaningful
phrase we can all use when we mean doing something to help someone
we care about. These images and phrases become a living, breathing
part of experience of the group.
In the Social Dreaming matrix, originated by
Tavistock staff member Gordon Lawrence42,
the group meets to share dreams. There is no interpretation and no
working on any one person’s dream – just sharing as a
way to put the contents of the group unconscious on the table. Once
dreams have been shared, there is an opportunity to associate and
make connections. From the perspective of Social Dreaming, the dream
is not the private possession of an individual but relates to the
group or society. This is similar to concepts of some Australian aboriginals
and Native Americans who believe the dream is necessary to recognize
our roles and responsibilities to the universe. As an example, one
Social Dreaming group that I participated in shared a plethora of
dreams that revealed a common theme about being mothered and missing
mothers. The number of images shared suggested that the collective
need for mothering was mightily experienced in this particular group.
Recognizing this is an invaluable tool because it pinpoints a collective
feeling, allowing individuals to feel and more directly express their
I once led a dreamgroup for about 10 members
of a consulting firm of which I was a member. I used the approach
developed by Montague Ullman, who believes that dreams serve a sociological
function and are concerned with helping us enhance our connection
to others. The people in the dreamgroup involved everyone from an
owner of the firm to senior consultants to administrative staff. The
process required a lot of sensitivity to personal and professional
issues, but the end result was more trust, openness, affection, appreciation
of individual differences and willingness to help one another on the
job—all made possible by sharing and working with dream images.
One consultant shared a dream where she desired apples but was unable
to get them. As we worked on her dream, it became clear to her that
it was about not being recognized or seen for her abilities in the
firm. Within the next week, we created a spontaneous ritual for her
that involved each of us giving her an apple with a written statement
of what we saw as her contributions. We filled her desk and her heart
with apples and appreciation notes and made a notable impact on her
sense of self. Her dream reminded us all how important it was to give
positive feedback to each other on an on-going basis. We also ate
a lot more apples!
As a consultant, I’ve found that even
in traditional business settings, I can introduce images in a way
that helps the group. I do this by simply being aware of the metaphors
a business group uses in their language and reflecting those back
to them to help them see things more clearly and sometimes differently
than they assumed they were communicating.
These are just a few examples and there are
many more, but I’d like to shift to respond to your question
about my interest in creating ecologies. This is a tremendously exciting
concept for me which was influenced by Joseph Chilton Pearce’s
writing in The Crack in the Cosmic Egg. Pearce speaks of
the phenomenon that our realities are to a large degree shaped by
the beliefs of the collective unconscious with which we primarily
associate. Like the fish who does not know the water it swims in,
we live in a sea of beliefs and assumptions that create the lens through
which we view the world. These beliefs can confine us to a Procrustean
bed of unnecessary limitation unless we can see what confines us and
break out. As Pearce says, “If this social fabric tends to become
our shroud, the only way out is by the same weaving process, for there
is only the one. So we need to find out all we can about the loom
involved, and weave with imagination and vision rather than allow
the process to happen as a random fate.” Doing so allows us
to break out through the “crack in the cosmic egg,” enabling
us to see a whole, new world. 43
When I speak of an “ecology,” I’m
referring to the possibility of creating some kind of intentional
group that is open to possibilities so that it can help birth the
visions of its members. I’m still sorting this out, so I can’t
be as clear as I’d like. It’s not a support group per
se, but it does have some primary principles upon which it operates,
one of which is the belief that certain things are possible. This
belief in possibility is essential, I believe, in helping to create
an “ecology” where the visions of some people can take
root. It is important in a group of this type that visions and images
of future possibilities be shared both verbally and in a more direct
way of appreciating the image, so that a container for these possibilities
is constructed. I personally know so many enlightened people, people
with heartfelt visions for the world, yet who seem to be stuck in
an inability to manifest or do anything about their visions. What
I’m talking about is different from positive thinking and different
in some respects from creative visualization practices as espoused,
for example, by Robert Fritz (The Path of Least Resistance).44
The image—and sharing the image—is central to what I think
may be necessary.
What inspires me is hearing stories of how
things that were seemingly impossible were accomplished, and how once
done, triggered an avalanche of similar behavior, almost as if one
person’s ability to move beyond culturally imposed beliefs makes
a real change in the collective. As an example, Pearce talks about
how in the 1950s kidney transplants were just a possibility until
a doctor finally made an apparently successful transplant of one kidney.
He kept good records, publishing his approach, and immediately the
procedure was adopted and successful transplants began to be done
around the world almost overnight. However, the doctor later found
he had made a significant mistake in his approach and the only reason
his original patient was still alive was because he still had one
good kidney which had carried a double load. Still, the genie was
out of the bottle: because people believed transplants were possible,
they were! While some individuals may have a strong enough belief
on their own to propel their visions into reality, I believe some
of us can more easily manifest our visions if we are in community
with others who join us in believing our visions are possible. Feeling
vision through image and then being able to communicate that so others
can connect seems to be core, but I am still exploring these ideas.
I also absolutely agree with you that part of this work is about creating
intention and environments in which spirit can activate the visions
in us. This is just a tremendously exciting idea!
Cultivating Engagement with the Imaginal
Carol: Yes, creating intention
and environments in which spirit can activate the visions in us seems
to be the central task, doesn’t it? I am reminded of what Willis
Harman used to say about the importance of small circles of people
working anonymously wherever they are. Collectively, he felt, all
those local efforts would add up to a paradigm shift. So I
can see the groups you have in mind, working together to create context
and containers for their visions that come out of both their commitments
and the images that they receive to help them see what is possible.
What skills and capacities are required
to make this a reality? From
my own experience I would say that engaging the imaginal realm takes
great patience and trust in an often diffuse and amorphous experience.
Overall this seems to me to be a process of active receptivity rather
than intellectual initiative. First you receive, then you work, sometimes
for years, to integrate the material into your life. Conforti and
others use the word “metabolize” to explain how the psyche
integrates this kind of material.
Marie-Louise von Franz describes the difference
between active receptivity and intellectual initiative in her description
of symbolic thinking:
“When one has to do with …symbolic folklore, one can think
about it in one of two ways: one can think about it, or one can put
oneself outside, above, or beside the material and have thoughts about
it and see if they fit. You cannot get out of the first way, it is
the traditional way of thinking learned in school. But when one has
practiced the other way for a while, one’s thinking gets altered;
… (this altered) thinking process is rather like listening to
what the symbol itself has to say. Then thinking becomes an instrument
which lends itself to self-expression of the material.
“This is what Jung called symbolic
thinking. It is something difficult to learn and the more one
has learned the scholarly way, the more difficult it is to switch
to this symbolic thinking. But through it you have an invaluable instrument
for understanding raw material of the psyche and its new and not yet
known expressions, which we have to know if we want to deal with the
unconscious. I would encourage you to make an effort in this direction,
for it can bring out of otherwise unintelligible material a new light
and wealth of understanding.”45
The first experience I can remember when material
from the imaginal realm spontaneously broke through to my conscious
thought, outside of dreams, occurred when I saw the movie Jesus
Christ Superstar back in the 70s. I had long since left the Catholic
Church and no longer believed in the divinity of Jesus. Yet, as I
watched that movie I found myself identifying with him personally.
Then I felt myself literally shrink into my chair in the theatre as
a powerful sense of blasphemy hit me—that I should identify
with a God figure, even if I no longer believed in him. Over time
I came to see that what had broken through for me was not a God image
but the image of the fully developed human, not unlike the image that
came to me through the Magdalene Gospel. I was not seeking such an
image, instead it sought me. And it was only by allowing that image
to float in my consciousness, unattached to specific literal meaning,
that it revealed itself to me over time. So, you are right, while
I did spent time thinking about what this image meant, the central
experience was one of feeling what it might be like to inhabit that
image, to be someone capable of becoming a fully developed human.
As you wrote earlier, images evoke
emotions. Sometimes these emotions can feel too enormous for the body
and psyche to handle. How do we learn to tolerate such feeling in
the body without becoming possessed or inflated? What kind of group
intention and preparation is needed to receive and work with these
kinds of images in groups?
It seems apparent to me that a first principle
is to honor one’s own and others’ individuality. The paradox
of a mature group is that participants are both more wholly themselves
and more deeply connected to each other and to a collective field;
they do not surrender their thought processes and/or feelings to a
single leader nor confine their sense of connection to those with
whom they agree or feel a natural affinity.
To submit images and symbols from the
imaginal realm to reason, reflection and dialogue also seems essential,
but how do you do that without diminishing their power? How do we
develop the habits of “working with” the material over
time, of testing it against real experiences in the real world, of
holding the material as the property of the whole human species and
ourselves as only the midwives?
It is also important to hold in our minds and
hearts a respect for the different ways that archetypal material gets
expressed within different groups and cultures. The mother archetype
images in my dreams may look quite different from those of an African
or Indian dreamer. So, too, a Buddhist’s image of a fully developed
human would be different from my Jesus Christ Superstar experience.
What is the larger essence behind the various images?
How do you see this? What have you
learned from your group experiences?
emphatically agree with your point about the importance of receiving
and being receptive to the image. And I love the concept of “metabolizing”
the image! This seems like such an apropos term for what it means
to ingest, digest, assimilate, integrate, play with, incorporate and
generally let the image become a part of you. It is also important,
as you note, to find ways to “tolerate” such feelings
in the body. One of the impacts of the Bosnak approach to dreamwork
is that we use the images to help us become more familiar with a wider
range of emotions, almost as if we’re building an emotional
palette or an instrument capable of playing all the emotional tones
Bosnak’s approach also includes other
aspects, that upon reflection of your question, I can see helps an
individual to hold the emotion in the image. First, beginning with
an intention not to harm, the dreamworker is always sensitive to the
dreamer’s reaction. We check in and moderate the intensity of
the dreamwork based on the dreamer. We follow the dreamer. Second
we find a “safe place” in the image which can be returned
to. Third, we make no interpretations, no judgments; our role is entirely
supportive. We feedback their own language, listening intently for
metaphors. Fourth, we debrief at the end, sharing each other’s
personal reactions which shows the dreamer s/he was not alone in their
experience of the images. Fifth, we extend the container of emotional
safety beyond the dreamwork session by staying in contact and sharing
later reactions, associations, etc. in the weeks following the dream.
This latter step offers a place for sharing different viewpoints,
e.g., from other cultures. This occurs quite naturally in my dreamgroup
because we have members from the U.S., China, Japan, Australia, South
Africa, and Mexico!
Conclusion: the Imaginal Realm and Conditions
Enabling Collective Wisdom
Carol: One day as I drove
over the back roads of Vermont listening to the radio, I had the realization
that prior to the introduction of radio into the mass culture, ordinary
people had no way to imagine that the air might be full of the invisible
activity that we now know as waves. Why then, I thought, should we
be surprised if it turns out that our psyches are similarly affected
by invisible images and unperceived vibrations? The gift of the Magdalene
Gospel for me was the infusion of a new faith in this phenomenon—the
existence of an imaginal realm, out of which can come images that
will allow us to see our possible future and then make it real.
To sum up, I believe engaging the imaginal
realm is the most important capacity that groups need to develop in
our time. As Leloup says, the imaginal realm is the one "whose
keys the most liberated and informed minds of our era have just begun
I agree with him that engagement with this realm is the task of this
Conforti adds the intriguing insight that the
imaginal realm is made up of archetypal fields, fields which act as
attractors, entraining the psyche into behavior patterns consistent
with the activated field. This theory goes a long way toward explaining
both the magic and the tyranny that can be experienced in groups.
If it is a powerful experience for the individual psyche to be attracted
to an archetypal field, how much more so must it be for the collective?
Thus a key question for our continuing inquiry is: what kind of container
is required for groups to work safely and constructively with material
from the imaginal realm? Your description of your group dreamwork
is exciting to me because it involves a practical exploration of this
I sense strongly that engaging the imaginal
realm involves first and foremost becoming conscious of the fields
that have captured us by default, good or bad, just as you have alluded
to in your conversation about creating ecologies. Only then can we
open ourselves to and work with images that manifest our true nature,
moving ourselves to our growth edge and to collective wisdom. Over
time this work can result in the entrainment of new behavior patterns
that we cannot yet imagine and that we are not likely to develop by
conceptual thought alone.
In the Collective Wisdom Initiative
we have tried to identify the conditions that enable the emergence
of collective wisdom. Is it possible that these conditions make groups
more open to the imaginal realm and more able to engage with such
content in a constructive, non-grandiose way?
Some of these conditions include:
• When we are intentional, that is,
when we are committed to the greatest possible healing for all.
• When we gather in environments which
can be experienced as safe—physical and psychic spaces within
which each of us can reveal ourselves authentically and deeply.
• When we participate in practices
that engage the whole person and attune us to each other and to
what is present now: silence, intention, breath, tone, rhythm, reflection,
deep listening, mirroring, witnessing, encounter, and attention
to what is emergent.
• When we are aware of and cultivate
our capacities to love and to forgive.
• When we grasp as self-evident the
generative power of diversity when joined with a genuine respect
for what is foreign.
• When we are willing to notice and
continually reexamine our perceptions of the "other."
• When we believe that knowledge, or
knowing, is that which deepens our relationship with mystery or
• When we integrate beauty, which reveals
wholeness and coherence, into our lives, occupations, institutions,
and group processes.
Lois, what did we miss? Can you add some enabling
conditions to this list?
think this is a beautiful list, beautifully worded. I would just add
one more bullet:
• When we listen for and share the
images and metaphors that come to us both individually and as a
1. Franz, Marie-Louise von. 1992. Psyche
and Matter. Boston and London: Shambhala Publications.
2. Conforti, Michael. 2003. Field,
Form, and Fate: Patterns in Mind, Nature & Psyche (Revised
Edition). New Orleans: Spring Journal Books, xv.
3. Ibid., 1
4. Leloup, Jean-Yves. 2002. The Gospel
of Mary Magdalene. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 14-15.
5. Ibid., 16.
6. Corbin, Henry. 1972. “Mundus Imaginalis:
Or The Imaginary and The Imaginal,” Spring, 1-19. Dallas:
Spring Publications. Corbin, Henry. 1998. The Voyage and the Messenger.
Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
7. Letter to Benjamin Bailey, November 1817.
8. Conforti, 2003, op. cit., 40-42.
9. Ibid., 28-31.
10. Franz, 1992, op. cit., 15-16.
11. Ibid., 16.
12. Ibid., 13-14.
13. Ibid., 34.
14. Ibid., 11-15.
15. Ibid., 30.
16. Card, C. R. 1991. "The Archetypal
View of C.G. Jung and Wolfgang Pauli," Psychological Perspectives,
17. May, J., & Groder, M. 1989.
"Jungian thought and Dynamical Systems: A new science of Archetypal
Psychology," Psychological Perspectives, 29 (1), 142-155.
18. Rupert Sheldrake. 1987. "Mind,
Memory and Archetype: Morphic Resonance and the Collective Unconscious,
Part 1," Psychological Perspectives (Spring), 18 (1),
9-25. Part 2 (Fall), 18 (2), 320-331.
19. Mindell, Arnold, 2000. Quantum
Mind: The Edge Between Physics & Psychology. Portland, OR:
Lao Tse Press.
20. Van Eenwyk, John R. 1997. Archetypes
& Strange Attractors: The Chaotic World of Symbols. Toronto:
Inner City Books.
21. Wolf, Fred Alan. 1995. The
Dreaming Universe: A Mind-Expanding Journey into the Realm where Psyche
and Physics Meet. New York: Touchstone Books, 1995
22. Sheldrake, 1987, op. cit.
23. Keyes. Ken, Jr. 1981. The Hundredth
Monkey. St. Mary, KY: Vision Books.
24. Pearce, Joseph Chilton. 2002. The
Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester,
VT: Park Street Press.
25. Lewis, Thomas; Armini, Fari; and
Richard Lannon. 2000. A General Theory of Love. New York:
26. Childre, Doc and Howard Martin.
1999. The HeartMath Solution. San Francisco: HarperSan Francisco.
27. Braden. Gregg. 2000. The Isaiah
Effect: Decoding the Lost Science of Prayer and Prophecy. New
York: Three Rivers Press.
28. Conforti, 2003, op. cit., xxvii.
29. Conforti, Michael. 1999. Field,
Form, and Fate: Patterns in Mind, Nature & Psyche. Woodstock,
CT: Spring Publications.
30. Hillman, James. 1981/1982. “Archetypal
Psychology: A Brief Account,” Spring. Dallas: Spring
31. Bosnak, Robert. 1986. A Little
Course in Dreams. Boston and London: Shambhala Publications.
Bosnak, Robert. 1996. Tracks in the Wilderness of Dreaming.
New York: Delacorte Press.
32. Van der Post, Laurens. 1975. Jung
and the Story of our Time. New York: Pantheon Books, 19-20.
33. Conforti, 2003, op. cit., 23-26.
34. Colman, Arthur. 1995. Up From
Scapegoating: Awakening Consciousness in Groups. Wilmette, IL:
35. Issacs, William. 1993. “Taking
Flight: Dialogue, Collective Thinking and Organizational Learning,”
Organizational Dynamics, 24-39.
36. Leloup, 2002, op. cit., 27
37. Ibid., 27
38. Ibid., 64
39. Ibid., 15
40. Ibid., 73
41. Chödrön, Pema. 1997.
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.
Boston and London: Shambhala Publications. Chödrön, Pema.
2001. The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult
Times. Boston and London: Shambhala Publications.
42. Lawrence, W. Gordon. 1998. Social
Dreaming at Work. London: Karnac Books.
43. Pearce, Joseph Chilton. 2002. The
Crack in the Cosmic Egg: New Constructs of Mind and Reality.
Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.
44. Fritz, Robert. 1989. The Path
of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your
Life. New York: Fawcett Books.
45. Franz, Marie-Louise von. 1980.
Redemption in Fairy Tales. Toronto: Inner City Books.
46. Leloup, 2002, op. cit., 7
47. Firehawk Hulin. Fire is often experienced
as a symbol of transformation.
48. An image of the Self painted from a dream
by Peter Birkhauser. Jung, Carl, et al. 1964. Man and His Symbols.
NY: Doubleday, 199.
49. Two mandalas taken from Jung, Carl, et al.
1964. Man and His Symbols. NY: Doubleday: The Rose Window
of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris, (p. 159) and “sound waves
given off by a vibrating steel disk…produce a strikingly mandala-like
pattern” (p. 305). A mandala is a circular image, often enclosing
a square and a central figure. Mandalas are found in all cultures
and typically evoke a sense of wholeness.
50. An ancient and normally benign image, the
Swastika illustrates what powerful emotions can be evoked by images,
both negative and positive.
(For more on images and group work, see