"Imagination is the highest kite one can fly." --Lauren Bacall
"Many of us are living out the unlived lives of our mothers, because they were not able to become the unique people they were born to be." -- Gloria Steinem
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
"Imagination is the highest kite one can fly." --Lauren Bacall
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
In the most recent issue of Publishers Weekly the new book by Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl, Living Your Unlived Life, earned a starred review, which follows:
Starred Review. As one grows older and life's choices seem to diminish, it's easy to regret the roads not taken, which then lead to an inability to embrace your life as it is now. A remedy can be found in Johnson and Ruhl's wonderfully insightful, possibly even life-changing book. Jungian psychologists and the co-authors of Contentment, Johnson and Ruhl believe the roads-not-taken needn't be cast aside; they can—and must—be integrated into present-day life and used to find new opportunities for fulfillment and wholeness. How? By engaging in what the authors refer to as active imagination—a disciplined, spiritual form of inner dialogue. The book is intelligent, refreshingly free of psychobabble and best of all heralds the power of the imagination to transform and possibly keep you out of trouble. (Oct.)
Imagining the Roads Not Taken
by Marylyn Donahue -- Publishers Weekly, 8/27/2007
Two Jungian psychoanalysts suggest an inner dialogue called “active imagination” as a way to deal with unrealized dreams in Living Your Unlived Life (Reviews, Aug. 20).
Why attend to your unlived life? Why not just put it to rest?
Ruhl: You can’t just ignore or forget that which is urgent in you. If you try to shut it down, it comes back up as a mood, or an acting out, or some type of illness. To try to ignore it and to think these powerful feelings will go underground and vanish is the arrogance of consciousness. Sometimes it’s just a matter of making it conscious, devising some simple way to respond to it on an inner basis. Then you can put it to rest.
In relying on active imagination as a way of experiencing unlived moments, is there a danger of fantasizing away the life you are actually living now?
Johnson: My favorite vulgar quote is, Fantasies are like masturbation: nothing comes of it. Imagination is creation. I engaged and comforted myself with the same fantasy for years in my youth: South Sea island, girl, sunshine, palm trees. Dr. Jung taught me active imagination, and that fantasy got, so to speak, unstuck, and it immediately began to be a creative evolution in my life.
Dr. Johnson, having studied with Jung, do you find anything left unlived about that experience?
Johnson: It would take 10 incarnations, if one believes in such things, to explore what Jung opened up in me. He changed my life. He gave me tools wherein I could grow out of the childhood and adolescent mess I was stuck in.
Was there something in your own lives active imagination helped you with?
Ruhl: It was no accident when Robert and I met at a conference 20 years ago—we seemed to understand each other. We both limped across the room to each other. Robert lost a leg when he was eight and hit by a car. I suffered from polio when I was 18 months old. When you are wounded in an obvious way such as this, then you are confronted early on with obvious unlived life. In Robert’s case, it was an inability to run, and in my case I could run sort of but not well. So one begins searching for answers about suffering and meaning.
Johnson: The most encouraging thing I think I know is, on some level we can live any aspect of life which is presented to us. If you can't run, then all right—if one will pay the price of consciousness, one can find something to do with that energy. Most people want to drop the limitation. Well, you can’t, but you can transform it.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 1:30 PM
Thursday, August 23, 2007
It is doubtful that human beings can live outside the yoke of necessity for long. Much of one’s life is set; most people have to get up in the morning and go to work. We complain and have daydreams, “If only I could win a million dollars things would be great,” but in fact they grow worse. The meaning of life often falls apart for those individuals who actually win the lottery or unexpectedly come into a great sum of money. Recall this recent news item:
CHARLESTON, West Virginia (AP) -- The wife of the lottery winner who took home the richest undivided jackpot in U.S. history says she regrets his purchase of the $314.9 million ticket that has thrust her family into the public spotlight.
"I wish all of this never would have happened," Jewel Whittaker told The Charleston Gazette for Tuesday's editions. "I wish I would have torn the ticket up."
Since winning the lottery two years ago, her husband, Jack Whittaker, has been arrested twice for drunken driving and has been ordered into rehab. He pleaded no contest Monday to a misdemeanor assault charge for attacking a bar manager, and is accused in two lawsuits of making trouble at a nightclub and a racetrack.
There have been several thefts involving Whittaker's vehicle, his office and his house. One of the thefts occurred at his home in September on the same day an eighteen-year-old friend of Whittaker's granddaughter was found dead there. The death remains under investigation.
Last week Whittaker, 57, reported his granddaughter missing. Putnam County sheriff's Sgt. Lisa Arthur said the granddaughter is not considered a kidnapping victim.
It is true that too much grinding necessity dulls a person and reduces him or her to the lowest common denominator. But not enough necessity is a guaranteed ticket to neurosis for most people. So we complain – about our family, about our job, about where we live, about the weather. Instead of homo erectus, the human species should have been called homo complingere, which means man the complainer.
It is difficult for us to accept that contentment grows out of a willingness to surrender preconceived ideas and affirm reality as it is.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 3:58 PM
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Once there was a devastating drought afflicting a village in China. The villagers sent for a rainmaker who was known to live in the farthest corner of the country, a great distance away. (Of course that would be so, because we never fully appreciate or trust a prophet — or a consultant — who lives in our region; it is best if he or she comes from far away and charges a sizeable fee).
So the wise rainmaker arrived, and he found the village in a miserable state. The vegetation was dying, domestic animals were starving, and the people were greatly affected. The villagers crowded around the rainmaker hopefully, and were very curious about what he would do.
He said, “Well, just give me a little hut, and leave me alone for a few days.”
So, the rainmaker went into this little hut, and the people were nervous and wondering what might happen. A full day went by, and everyone waited with considerable expectation. Two days passed, and the villagers were growing increasingly anxious. On the third day, everyone was about to give up hope, but toward sundown it began raining, and it rained all night.
Everyone was overjoyed. The people cheered and crowded around the hut waiting for the rainmaker to come out. When he did, they beseeched him: "It worked, it worked! It’s so wonderful. What did you do?”
“What are you talking about?”
“The rain, what did you to make it rain?”
“Oh, that,” he said, “I did nothing.”
“But look, “ the puzzled village chief insisted, “before it was a disaster, and now it rains. What happened?”
So the rainmaker explained, “I come from an area that is in Tao, in balance. We have rain; we have sunshine. Nothing is out of order. I come into your land and find that it is chaotic. The rhythm of life is disturbed. Soon I, too, am disturbed. The whole thing affects me, and I am out of sorts. So, what can I do? I want a little hut to be by myself, to meditate, to set myself straight. I listen to the disturbance within myself until it resolves. And then, when I am able to get myself in order, everything around is set right. We are now in Tao, and since the rain was missing, now it rains.”
The greatest use of inner work (such as dreams and active imagination) is to put us, like the rainmaker, into harmony with the Tao (the West has no equivalent word, but this term often is translated as “the way” or “meaning”), so that the right things may happen around us instead of the wrong.
Reference to the Chinese notion of Tao lends an exotic flavor to the story, but this is a simple matter of everyday experience — we find the same intent in the expression, “He (or she) must have got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning.” This describes a psychological condition in which we did not arise in harmony with the unconscious. We become disagreeable. On other days life seems to flow smoothly.
The art of letting things happen is the key that opens the door to the Tao. Generally we try to push reality around and force it to go our way. Instead, we must be able to let things happen in the psyche. Unfortunately, consciousness is forever interfering, helping, correcting, interpreting, negating. One must learn when and how to surrender conscious agendas and listen to the underlying patterns of the unconscious.
Whether the state of one man can actually influence the weather is not the point of this story. It is aimed at getting us to consider what proceeds from a harmonious versus a disordered relationship between man (or woman) and the unconscious. This is what inner work can help us to achieve. In the deepest sense this imaginal work developed by the Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung becomes more than a technique, it expresses the inner-directed symbolic attitude that is at the core of psychological development.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 9:51 PM
Friday, August 17, 2007
The whole business of trying to figure out what a dream means is secondary.
Just live with the dream and lay yourself open to its mysterious forces for as long as you can. Keep the dream going in your imagination; just savor it, don’t be to quick to jump in and say it means this or that, or I’m doing it right or wrong. Dreams aren’t much concerned with what’s right or what’s wrong or whether you are doing well, they are much more interested in a kind of cosmic dance that each of us is involved in.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 1:35 PM
While looking through a picture book on Greek mythology, one of the authors (Jerry), was recently asked by his son, “Dad, what is a myth.” After struggling to reduce the answer to the simplest of terms, I replied, “A myth is a story that is sometimes true on the outside, but is always and forever true on the inside.” The boy thought about this for a few moments and then replied with satisfaction, “So, it’s like Santa or Grandpa (who died sometime back); they’re always there in our hearts,” and he moved on to his next game.
Children have a natural, intuitive understanding that reality takes place at more than one level. This is an appreciation that many of us lose track of as adults.
If you accept the concept that reality has to do with different levels, then you never have to stop believing in Santa. St. Nicholas is the spirit of giving, the joy of surprise, the feeling of goodwill. There may be a time in early childhood when you understand Santa as externally true, that a jolly man in a red and white suit will come by on Christmas eve and leave presents for you — if you have been good. But this doesn’t need to become a childish illusion. When we appreciate that there is more than one level of awareness, our appreciation of Santa need not be lost, it just shifts to a different conceptualization. As a symbol of an inner reality, Santa is powerfully true for us at any age.
What are these inner and outer aspects of reality?
It is interesting to ponder the many dimensions of inner and outer. Every inside also is an outside to somewhere else. Our experience extends inward and outward into realms where “in” and “out” join to create some greater whole.
To facilitate an understanding of levels of experience, try a simple exercise: You are currently holding a computer keyboard and you see typed words on the computer screen. As you read, you probably don’t distinguish the individual letters because your mind is focused more on the meaning of the words and trying to understand them. Take a moment to notice this process of reading. It involves outer experience (holding the objects, moving your eyes) but as you think about the words, it shifts to an inner experience. Even as you are thinking about the words your body is sending you signals, with only minimal awareness. You click the mouse button, shift your posture, blink your eyes, perhaps wiggle your toes. Just notice all these little shifts that surround the outer activity of reading. The entire way that you engage with the world is your outer experience, some aspects of this are more conscious than others. A working definition of “outer” is the manner in which we "do" our lives.
Now suppose you take a break from reading and check in with how you are feeling just now. Notice your energy. Ask yourself, “Why am I reading this stuff? Notice any feelings that come up such as curiousity, irritation, unease, boredom. Remember things that you need or want to do, such as eat, go outside, run an errand. Sustaining your thoughts and feelings and sensations is a pattern of connection, a way of organizing the content of your inner world. This is subjective personal experience — this is your inner process.
If you take the outer and the inner processes together they make up our ordinary sense of who we are in life. The outer constitutes the active, objective aspects of existence while the inner is the subjective sense of self. They are closely intertwined. Outer events effect who we are, and who we are affects what we do. But there is more — there are other levels of experience that must be accounted for.
If you now stop reading and gently close your eyes and allow your mind to drift you will find that your attention becomes more fuzzy and diffuse. Just take a breath and notice how ideas and feelings float by in a dream-like way. They float up from somewhere and then move on like clouds in the sky. Recall drifting off to sleep last night, that in-between place before sleep. Sensations, images and memories arise in a fragmented way.
If you can witness this letting go of attention you will notice that your experience becomes increasingly fluid and ambiguous. This is the territory of imagination, symbol, dreams and it is what we call deeper experience. This deeper realm is critically important because it provides the infrastructure for all our physical, emotional and mental experiences. It is a place where inner and outer come together. It is a dimension of experience that unites the apparent oppositions that tear us apart in daily life. It is the dimension of whole making, in which aspects of outer reality that have been keenly differentiated and set in an endless stream of conflict and opposition, come back together again.
We must learn to better appreciate how these different levels of awareness — outer, inner, and deeper — exist simultaneously in every experience of our lives. By learning, first, to distinguish different levels of awareness, and then to apply them to our perceptions and our decision making, our lives can become much more vital and meaningful. Each of these forms of awareness are available in every moment.
The goal of psychological development involves developing the capacity to shift awareness states. There is yet another level of awareness that we call the “greater,” or divine consciousness, or grace … but that is the topic for another time.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 1:23 PM
A few years ago a friend from a small village in India was brought to America for a visit. After landing at the airport in San Diego, one of the first things we had to do was visit a supermarket to buy food for meals. We arrived at the market, parked the car, and walked inside. Surrounded by aisle after aisle of produce, canned goods, bakery items, deli snacks, toys, drugs, clothes, our humble rural visitor became so dizzy that he literally had to sit down on a bench outside the store to regain his equilibrium. He was overwhelmed by the multitude of choices that a Westerner takes for granted and finds at every turn. In traditional India life is ordered by necessity.
Too much grinding necessity dulls a person and reduces him or her to the lowest common denominator. But not enough necessity is a guaranteed ticket to neurosis for most people. Necessity relieves us of consciousness because it settles so many things. This is a tradeoff that we have not made consciously. As modern society has less necessity and more choice, there is correspondingly increased tension in the human psyche.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 1:15 PM
As modern people we have come to believe that we can have it all. In the closing decades of the 20th century men and women in the West struggled to balance careers, maintain intimate relationships, raise children, keep up with dramatic social and technological changes, and still find time for leisure, personal growth, and spiritual development.
In our rush to accomplish all of this, time has become the enemy. Harried by “deadlines,” rushing from appointment to appointment, we struggle to defy limits with an intensity that has become “twenty-four/seven.” The term “quality time” was coined in the 1990s to justify what was actually less time with our children. The popular expression “your biological clock is ticking” is another indicator of our struggle to have it all and beat back the inherent limits of time.
A society’s relationship to time is an interesting and telling barometer of its happiness. There is a timeless quality to heavenly experiences. For example, when you fall in love it feels like clock time has stopped or is suspended. People report a dramatic alteration of their sense of time when they are in a life threatening situation and their ties to this world are tenuous. In many traditional societies time seems to move much more slowly, ebbing and flowing with the seasons and the rest of nature.
Why is time such a problem for us? The popular myth — driven by advertising and the media, that we really can have everything we desire without limits or tradeoffs or loss — is a lie. The truth is that you cannot have it all — at least not literally. For every path taken there is another path forgone. Every thing you choose precludes some thing not chosen. It is instructive to consider the root meaning of the word decision. Just as an incision is a cutting in, as when a surgeon operates on you, a decision is a cutting out. Life is filled with decisions, and every selection results in potentials not realized, experiences deferred or cut out.
You can try to get around this basic reality by cramming in more quantity of experiences, but not without impacting the quality of your life and turning time into your enemy. Kids don’t want "quality time," they want to be with us, play with us, learn at our sides—they want quantity time, as much as we can give them. But, of course, that requires modifications to adult schedules and priorities. It forces us to admit that important aspects of our lives must be sacrificed in parenthood. This is a bitter pill to swallow if we are in denial of the fact that we cannot have everything. Into each and every existence a great deal of unlived life must fall.
An extension of our problems with time is the pattern of trying to keep all our options open for as long as possible. This attitude creates all kinds of neurotic suffering. Many individuals come to the consulting room with this kind of dilemma: the man who says, “I do really love her, we’re very compatible, but I just can’t commit. What if there is someone else out there who is even better?” Or the new mother who says, “I want to be home with my new baby, but the demands of my career won’t let up. I’m being torn apart!” Or the aging baby boomer who complains, “I feel depressed most of the time. I’m sick of the rat race, but I can’t afford to leave it. I want my freedom, but nothing seems to really satisfy me for long.”
A deferred life is tragic, filled with lots of possibilities, none of which are fully realized. Dating three women rather than committing to one means you don’t have deep intimacy with any of them. Juggling competing demands of children and work often leaves women feeling guilty and exhausted — no matter how many balls they are able to keep in the air at one time. The former Beatle John Lennon captured the dilemma of deferred life in his lyric, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Keeping your options open is a symptom rather than a solution.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 12:41 PM
Monday, August 13, 2007
It seems that once there was a man from heaven sojourning on the face of the earth. He was walking along when he came across a yogi sitting by the roadside. The yogi had meditated for thirty years with such austerity that birds had built a nest in his hair and his right arm was encased in a beehive. The yogi sensed the presence of the enlightened one and so he came out of his meditation and said, “Oh man from heaven, please inquire for me how long before my liberation from this vale of tears.”
The man from heaven agreed to do this, and the yogi went back to his meditation.
The enlightened one walked on and found a young man dancing under a banyan tree. He inquired of the young man, “Tell me sir, what are you dancing for?”
“I am dancing for my liberation,” the young man replied. “When you return to heaven could you please ask how long before my liberation?”
The man from heaven agreed to do this.
Some years later the man from heaven returned to the face of the earth, and he went to discharge his duties. First, he went to the old yogi and said, “I have inquired in heaven and you will be liberated in seven incarnations.”
The old yogi, with the bird’s nest in his hair and the beehive still on his arm, moaned loudly and said, “So long! How can I endure for seven more incarnations?”
The man from heaven said, “That is the voice of heaven,” and then he walked on.
Next, he came across the young man still dancing under the banyan tree. The dancing man spotted the man from heaven, and without losing a step, said, “How long?”
The man from heaven said, “I have inquired of heaven, and you will be liberated in as many incarnations as this banyan tree has leaves.”
The young man yelped with joy and said, “What, so soon?”
At that instant a voice was heard from heaven saying, “Young man, your liberation is this instant.”
The young man dancing for his liberation was more to the liking of the Gods than the old man in his vice grip of asceticism. India delights in such stories, which give so much hope and encouragement to anyone suffering from a seemingly unbearable burden. The story can help remind us to dance, that there is only the dance.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 5:49 PM
Think of a time when you have followed a determined path, doing everything possible from a conscious standpoint to reach a goal but still fallen short. Recall what that felt like. Ask yourself, who or what in you speaks against letting go? Why does it need to be in control? Spend some time getting to know this aspect of yourself. Then reimagine the situation again, this time with you letting go of your willful agenda. How might your experience have been different?
Try to imagine how life might be if you were able more often to let go of a determined course of action and instead accept what life presents to you. Ask yourself: what situations in life require more letting to, and how can I achieve this state of mind?
Posted by ruhljohnson at 5:43 PM
(The following topic is discussed at length on The Golden World, a series of recordings made in January 2007 of conversations between Robert Johnson, Jerry Ruhl, and Tami Simon, the publisher of Sounds True. Sounds True will publish a six-CD set that includes this material in October 2007.)
Alchemical gold is a metaphorical way of talking about an interior process by which a new center of consciousness emerges or shows forth as a psychological power. Jung wanted to explore this subject and differentiated the word self with two spellings by which self refers to the ego or personal “I,” and Self with a capital “S” is a way of talking about your soul or the organizing principle of wholeness. Such language is clumsy but useful when one wants to consider growth in consciousness, which we all have as our divine potential. The Self often appears in dreams as images such as a king, a chalice, a circle or other containing shape, or something that is golden. The ancient alchemists were concerned about the development of inner gold. It takes a great deal of work to align the ego and the Self, working alchemical gold into greater consciousness.
The earliest development of this maturing begins in childhood. Early on, this golden potential for greater consciousness is invested in your parents. As you grow and learn language and gain faculties of reason and differentiation, you almost always project your potentials on someone nearby. Perhaps it begins with an older brother or sister or someone in the neighborhood. We all select other people to project our potentials upon, and these people become our heroes. A child will follow that person around, worshipping him or her. When you are eight, you choose the 10- or 12-year-old. Then as you incorporate such qualities into yourself, you move up the ladder and worship someone else.
When I was about 10 years old a distant relative of my father graduated from West Point and came to visit. I had lost a leg in a car accident at the age of 8 and was very vulnerable and sensitive, and along came this impressive young man in his uniform who was heroically going off to war. I saw this man only once in my life, yet he impressed me deeply. He was kind and saw that I was tagging along and attaching to him like a dog looking for a new master. He was a hero to me for many months. One has many heroes in life, hooks to hang our projections upon. A year later this man was killed in World War Two fighting in Bataan — he took a part of me with him.
Hero worship is an important and necessary part of our development. The 16-year-old sees divinity in the 20-year-old sports hero or musician or celebrity. The 20-year-old worships the college graduate students or a professor. This goes on throughout life. Almost everyone puts his or her own heroic nature (or God image, if you can stand that terminology), upon someone.
Another way that this alchemical process functions in our time is that of romantic love. Hero worship evolves into romantic infatuations. An adolescent boy sees the feminine side of creation in a flesh and blood girl – and he falls in love with her. He is generally clumsy as a clown, but this is how he learns something about femininity and his own incipient potentials. The parallel thing happens to a girl – she projects her inner gold upon someone else.
You can begin to talk this language of alchemy and projections to someone in their 40s or 50s who has been through the cycle a few times. Then I can explain that instead of falling romantically in love every time someone comes along carrying a bit of your gold, you must make conscious an unlived aspect of yourself. You must ask yourself: What makes this person sparkle for me? Life is not long enough to live out love affairs with everyone we fall in love with.
The divine function of projection is a chief tool for development of a human being. If it is handled with integrity, it can be the brightest thing that one experiences, but so often it goes wrong because the projection of “in love” qualities has much to do with the person doing the projection and little to do with the poor mortal who the projection has landed upon.
There are so many misunderstandings that can go on between two people. We carry around the wounds for years. But if worked with consciously, this process of projecting alchemical gold upon others can be a step up the ladder of consciousness. If only we could remember that others carry our unlived potentials, incubating them for us until we are ready to carry them ourselves, and not blame our loved ones when it is time to take back what is rightfully our own.
Posted by ruhljohnson at 5:19 PM