Essay: Imaginal Psychotherapy

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¶ … Red (-Violet) Book

The imaginal is the realm in which each one of us gets to be the hero of our own life. This is something that we each yearn to be much of the time and in most places, but often do not have the chance to achieve, or the courage to try. But when we are dancing in the world of Shadow and Light, handing off as our partners the archetypal lovers of our innermost dreams, we can imagine that we are always on the cusp of becoming ourselves.

As I imagine myself in this dance of the fundamentals, I imagine myself in a conversation with the man who has taught me about these ideas. The following is a series of snippets of conversations that I would like to have with Professor Jung. Not being a fan of or believer in seances and like events, I cannot quite see myself talking aloud to him in a literal way. But when I read his thoughts and look at his beautiful drawings in his Red book, I feel that he is indeed talking to me, speaking to me in intimacies through his words and drawings.

Feeling how close his ideas and precepts are when I read his work and look at the images created by his own hands, I feel the urge to respond in kind by writing about some experiences that have occurred recently in my own life that seem to have been touched by as well as informed by the core ideas of Jungian theory. Here I try to respond in kind, following the implicit path laid down in Jung's (2009) the Red book. While he could create his own images, I lack his artistic skill, and so have illustrated my writing with the kinds of imagistic scenes that he would have created if he could not paint, and had Google image search capabilities. He would, I think have very much approved of the synchronicity involved in such searches.

Each of the moments in time below is a moment that I have felt myself tottering on the top of a thin fence, on one side of the rails the Shadow, on the other side those parts of myself that I believe to be known, liked, and acceptable. I find myself drawn to images and ideas of houses: For Jung the house was a proxy for the psyche, for the human soul itself, a physical structure that -- like the image below -- provides a protective shell for emotion and thought. A shell that both protects and imprisons.


I went to buy boxes today to begin to pack up things that can be in storage for a while without causing too much inconvenience. This is the first step of packing up and moving my life. Given that the future is obscured this seems like a good strategy. Very rational and organized. Two attributes that (as far as I know) I generally exhibit and value. So I came back home with dozens of boxes and strapping tape and Sharpies and "FRAGILE" labels. And a nice, organized plan for packing up the first dozen boxes.

But metaphors (and analogies too) entangled me. I was sitting there on the floor of my bedroom with all these empty boxes and I had a distinct sense that I had no idea how to fill them. How do you box up memories? What kinds of things should one have to show for a decade in a house? A marriage? A child raised?

Pragmatics intruded, of course. The meaning of life is all well and good, I told myself, but for now there's a large house to pack up. Archetypes get in the way of life. It was not a day to be considering the meaning of things. Just a day to keep my head down and my hands busy.

But I kept sitting there. Running my hands back and forth across the hardwood floor. Half a life time ago I refinished all of the floors in the house (in case you've ever thought: What a jolly idea -- let's go refinish floors! you should rethink this plan) and so I'm rather attached to them. I breathed in the sawdust as I sanded so that the floors literally became a part of me.

And so I kept sitting there. Watching the sunshine come in as it was split into a piebald design by the apple trees that I planted as seedlings and that are now past the roof of this three-storey house. Shadows and Shadow. The light was illuminating the wood, bringing out the red of the stain. This house is a hundred years old, and the trees cut for the floor were probably at least a century old themselves when they were harvested so the seedlings of these trees were germinating at the same time that the Constitution was being born. How do you put any of that -- the apple trees that I grew and that I've made pies from, the floors I sanded and sanded, the perfect color of the stain that I mixed (after many false starts), trees in their infancy when Jefferson was in his -- into a box? And even if you could, what tape would hold it closed?


For Jung the apple tree like the one above was a symbol of the feminine, the maiden, the anima given embodiment and life. But it was also a symbol of the questioning of one's faith. It thus represents one of those moments of the opposition and balance of opposites that Jung found so powerful.

In the end I just sat there, remembering and wondering, and trying to be still and patient with loss until the sun shifted and the room darkened enough that it was not quite so enchanted (or rather enchanted by less kindly beings) and I began to do the practical kind of packing. This process does have has its rewards too, albeit much dimmer than the rewards that come with considerations of meaning, metaphor, and memory. One does tend to accumulate things, and getting rid of them (those favorite shoes that are falling apart; the oddly colored clothing that my mother sends, no doubt to convey something malevolent; dresses that were surely always an unfortunate choice) is freeing. A salutary reminder of how easy it is to become wedded to materialism.

Opposites, in my experience, do not attract but rather collide. They did this day. In the splinters of the collision, I found no answers. I worked on turning these fragments into a design, the ordered symmetry of a mandala. But I only cut my hands and blessed this house once more with the alchemy of blood. For Jung the winter solstice was -- as it is for so many others -- a time of the triumph of light, of the power of a handful of candles battening back the darkness.


And so, the yule season is upon us. And I am struck even more than usual by how much truly bad behavior one sees in the month of December. I would have thought that even many of those, like myself, who are secular in nature, would feel inclined to honor the solemnity of the season, as the world turns back toward the light and -- from the Neolithic onward -- we tend towards the ceremonial to thank the sun for its return. The fact that we are more sure of its annual arc now than were our earliest ancestors -- and the fact that we have a wealth of technology that allows us to believe (manque global warming) that we are inured from the natural world -- should not wholly diminish the rather miraculousness of the solstice. And this is not even counting those who celebrate holy days this time of the year.

And yet. It is difficult indeed to find an authentic way to honor a holiday celebrating the Light when there is too much jingle-belling to identify my shadows.

It's remarkable how much truly bad behavior one sees in the month of December. I try to avoid all places of commerce from Thanksgiving until Epiphany (and sometimes through Candlemas) but I do have to make exceptions. Such as my weekly emergency trip to Target to stock up on Diet Coke. (I'm tending more towards the lime variety lately, although of course there is always the lure of the ur-Diet Coke). So I'm there yesterday, taking as direct a route as I can from the door to the beverage aisle and thence to the cash register and back to my car. Even in this short voyage I am struck by three things. First, a mother yelling (verging on the edge of screaming) at a boy of about thirteen who had very politely -- and rather astonishingly politely, in my experience, for a boy his age -- said that he liked the blue shirt better than the green shirt. The woman (I… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Imaginal Psychotherapy.  (2011, April 5).  Retrieved November 14, 2019, from

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"Imaginal Psychotherapy."  April 5, 2011.  Accessed November 14, 2019.