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Engaging the Imaginal Realm: Doorway to Collective Wisdom
by Carol Frenier and Lois Sekerak Hogan


Image by FireHawk47


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Carol: Carol Frenier
Lois Sekerak Hogan

Consciousness 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

Lois: The 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 us.

Image of 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 me are:

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 the field?"

"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 Depth Psychology

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 fit together.

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 constructs?

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?

Archetypal Fields and the New Science

Lois: Jung 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 and Psychology.19 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 Love.”25 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 one-sidedness).

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 content.

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 is non-personal?

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 life.

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 process well.

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?

Phenomenological Engagement with the Imaginal Realm

Lois: My 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 the collective.”

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 point!

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?

Lois: The 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 Learning35) 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 imaginal realm.

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 me.

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 our development?

Lois: My 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 and develop?

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 openhearted.

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 this.

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 to it?

Group Experiences with the Imaginal Realm

Lois: I’ve 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 shared needs.

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 Realm

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?

Lois: I 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 and keys.

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 to rediscover."46 I agree with him that engagement with this realm is the task of this century.

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 question.

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 the whole.

• 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?

Lois: I 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 group.


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, 24, 18-33.
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.
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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: Vintage Books.
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 Publications.
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: Chiron Publications.
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 Carol Hegedus)

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