Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Images as energy carriers

"The ability to generate images and relate to them is a measure of mental health." I would love to see that thought on the wall of every therapist, physician and healthcare practitioner. It is simple, sharp-edged truth. It comes from an important new book by Yoram Kaufmann titled The Way of the Image. [1] Here's more of what we need to know, and to make an integral part of healing:
One could construct a nosology [2] of psychology based on the facility with which a person is able to let images bubble up from their unconscious. In true depression, for instance, there is marked constriction of the ability to produce images. Obsession, or addiction, can be seen as a fixation on one image (or set of images), as the bulimic is fixated on the image of the thin body, or the fetishist is fixated on the high-heeled shoe. Boredom, which is an attentuated form of depression, is also a temporary suspension of the spontaneity of images. This ability is so vital to us that its blockage can lead to suicide.
In his respected career as a psychoanalyst, Kaufmann devoted himself to helping to release the energy and objective meaning of images. He views images as energy delivery systems. The more we learn from current research in mind-body medicine about the power of imagery to bring us down or make us well, the easier we'll find it to agree that our task, in the presence of an image, is to help the energy carrier do its rightful work. For Kaufmann, this requires getting to the meaning of an image, not by "interpreting" it to mean something other than what it is, but by "translating" it so it can operate in the contexts where it is needed.-
Kaufmann takes a "just so" view of the images produced in dreams. "The image is not there to hide anything, but to reveal, to bring to light." True to Jung, he counsels against the "classic" Freudian method of encouraging the patient to embark on lengthy free association, noting that this can lead far from the specific and fresh-minted truth of an image, into thickets of self-masking and evasion. The trick is to let the image reveal itself. This requires us to be faithful to the material. Let's start by assuming that a dream image means what it says. Instead of looking for hidden meanings, let's check out the objective facts about that image.
Kaufmann's practice is to look at dreams on both the "object" and the "subject" level. The "object", or interpersonal, level, treats all dream figures and situations as referring to actual people, objects and events in the dreamer's life. When dreams are viewed on the "subject" level, all the elements are treated as "partial inner aspects" of the dreamer. Kaufmann offers the salutary advice that "as a matter of clinical practice, it is dangerous to bypass immediately the object level and shoot for the subject level" as if external reality does not exist.
David Rottman, who is Kaufmann's publisher as well as the president of the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York, gives a wonderful example of the practice of the "orientational" approach. Someone dreams that his boss is a skunk. We might think we know what that dream is saying, that the boss is a stinker. But notice what happens when we do a little research and discover that, contrary to his reputation, the skunk isn't a willing stinker. Before he lets off his odor bomb, he'll give warning signals that you shouldn't bother him, like growling and tail-twitching. Once we've learned this useful information about the skunk, maybe we can apply it to the dreamer's job situation and come up with a very practical application. The action statement to be derived might be: watch out for warning signs from the boss to avoid a big stink.

As in this example, studying the objective dimension of an image - what Kaufmann terms the "orient" - is central to this approach, which requires more than study, because every dream is a call to action. I would love to see both analysts and dreamworkers everywhere orient to the objective meaning of images in this way. We stand to gain immensely by following the specific clues in a dream, in the manner of sensitive detectives, rather than muddying the evidence or trampling it down under standard-issue analytical boots.
Following the "orient" of what lives in the physical world, whether a skunk's warning display or the structure of a piano, is fairly straightforward - if we remember to look beyond our first associations. But does this method also apply to the creatures of psychic reality, to dragons or angels? Kaufmann insists that it does, and gives an example in an essay on angels. A woman patient gives a one-line dream report, describing an angel hovering between earth and sky. Those who know the meaning of the word angelos might observe that there is an important "messenger" in the dream. But Kaufmann wants us to go further, by recalling, to begin with, that when we look at the attributes of angels, we find that they tend to govern specific territories, and represent laws and patterns of energy that precede us. It's helpful, of course, to know what angel is in play. I often refer to the Library Angel, that excellent spirit that makes books turn up in unexpected and significant ways, but I learned from Kaufmann than in Hebrew the Library Angel has a name: Harahel.
Perhaps it's his influence that is orienting me to think about applying the Kaufmann approach to words that he and his publisher use. The English word "orient" derives - a long way back - from the Latin orientum, the East in the sense of the place of the rising light. To orient or seek orientation is to get our bearings, turning back towards the place of light. Though Kaufmann's usage of the word is idiosyncratic, it does relate to finding the right direction and turning towards the light. The name of his publisher, Zahav, means "gold" in Hebrew, and I think there is gold in this book.
I am struck by the depth of love and respect Yoram Kaufmann inspired among fellow-analysts I respect, especially in the Jungian community. He was born in the land of Israel before it became a state; he died last summer. He liked to say that though he could not speak with authority about reincarnation as rebirth in a different body, he did believe in the possibility that we can reincarnate ourselves within our present lifetimes, and I agree with that profoundly.

1. Yoram Kaufmann, The Way of the Image: The Orientational Approach to the Psyche (New York: Zahav Books, 2009) may be ordered direct from the publisher: The website also contains a biography of Yoram Kaufmann, testimonials, and a radio interview with David Rottman on his work.
2. "Nosology" relates to a field of medical science every patient, as well as every doctor, needs to examine closely: the classification of diseases. (Nosos is the Greek word for "disease"). Diseases are classified by their cause (etiology), their supposed origin (pathogenesis), by their symptoms or by the name of the organ affected. We often hear of complaints that are named after a person who suffered from a certain set of symptoms whose origin and cause is not understood - and whose treatment may be equally uncertain. One of the gifts of dreaming and active imagination is that we are given fresh ways of seeing and naming our dis-eases. Kaufmann's suggestion that we construct a nosology based on the patient's relationship with images is inspired.


Alla said...

Thank you for a very interesting post, Robert! I wondered why sometimes at the midst of some dream work my images just blur and stop, turning into a black screen. I thought that it's not very good, probably. Once I had a different experience, though. It was in a dream; I was standing facing some ample, deep blackness. Nothing was there at all. I asked,'Probably, is it something negative?' - and the Voice answered, 'No, little one, it's the majesty of the Universe'. After that I began to dissolve in this darkness, loosing myself in there. I woke up very curious about that and surprised.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Thank you for this brief orientation on a very down to earth and practical way of working with images. Thanks also for the name of the Library Angel, Harahel, an important clue for a piece of writing I am doing, and now I have the name to go with the image. Interestingly enough Harahel is also one of the seventy-two names comprising the Shemhamphorae. When I get a chance I'll write the word out in Hebrew and then I'll really have the image and the name.

Nancy said...

Working with dream or imaginal images is a favorite topic of mine, especially as it relates to healing. I've mentioned to 2 separate people in the past few days, both seeking vision help, that I use a dream image of pudding settling into a dish. I see my eyeballs softening and relaxing, maybe emitting a sigh of pleasure, as they settle back into their sockets, to counteract that straining-forward myopic stare. I have so many of these, but I always encourage people to come up with their own. Maybe pudding is stressful to them!

Thanks, as always.

Savannah said...

This is so interesting Robert, and nice to meet the library angel by name at last! I remember reading some time ago about PTSD and corresponding neurochemical changes in the visual cortex that interfere with the ability to produce healing images... I very much relate to grounding dream material in the earthy specifics of object-reality. I may have played that game with a waking dream shard when I heard white porcelain dishes clatter to the ground at a local restaurant yesterday, wondering who dropped the plate and could be losing their meal. A short while later I learnt that particular staff person had accepted a counterfeit $100 bill earlier had offered to repay management. And since a broken plate doesn't spontaneously reassemble I suppose the epoxy glue would also qualify as a stinker? Though despite the broken dish there's always more stew where that came from... And I am grateful for more food for thought, as always!

Olive, The Gentle Reader said...

Hello Robert

Now you've really captured my attention. (Not that this hadn't occurred before, mind you, but... but...) every light bulb in my head went on at once with the idea that Kaufmann believed, as you do, that we reincarnate ourselves within our present lifetimes. Why this intuitive and visceral reaction, all at once, I can't say; and I'm not even certain I understand it fully, but I will certainly have to investigate this further. Unfair, probably to ask you to "tell me more" in the space of this blog, but I would appreciate any references to this intriguing topic ... as I walk, nay start running ... to the nearest library. (I'm very new to this forum, in every respect: both in topic, and in medium.)

Robert Moss said...

Olive - I don't think you'll find the answers you are seeking on this question in Kaufmann's book, except by inference. I was quoting those who had the privilege of knowing him and working with him. I do know, from my own experience, that some of us succeed - rarely without pain and great challenge - in reincarnating ourselves, in the sense that a tremendous sea-change in our lives changes us in fundamental ways, bringing in an aspect of the larger Self that may not have been embodied before, and dismissing, at least for a time, aspects of the persona that may previously have been dominant. When this happens in a positive way, it means a shift from valuation (i.e. valuing what the world and the little self judge important) to value (i.e., orienting to a larger purpose) , and is a sacred experience. In ancient and indigenous tradition, such a change is recognized as a deep initiation and may lead to the initiate taking a new name. The further challenge remains of recognizing and integrating the previous life story, with its gifts and its karma. I am writing now about something I have lived, and that I think Jung, among others, lived also.

Robert Moss said...

Alla - I think I like the voice that spoke to you about the "majesty of the universe". To move from one level of consciousness and being (notice I don't separate the two) to another often involves the passage through some kind of divider, which may appear as a wall, a blank or dark screen, a cloud, a net, or a kind of membrane. An old exercise in the Western esoteric schools brings you up against a blank wall in which you have to create - really create - a door that is not initially there. Timing and right preparation are of the essence here. We are blocked or challenged in these journeys by obstacles and gatekeepers - and "dwellers at the threshold" - to ensure we are ready to go further, and that we are headed in the right direction, and that we are traveling at the right time, with permission. When we are allowed through, we are required to change our senses and our undertanding to grasp the logic of a deeper reality. I write about such things in some detail in my book "Dreamgates".

Robert Moss said...

Justin - I'll be most interested to hear whether using the name of Harahel adds to your experience of the Library Angel!

Robert Moss said...

Nancy - In my native Austalia, I grew up with a strange and wondrous story titled "The Magic Pudding". May that pudding image work magic for you and those you help as a vision trainer. You clearly know, from your own experience, that the body believes in imagery - indeed, it seems that the body does not distinguish a vivid imaginal event from a physical one - and this can be the key to great healing.

Robert Moss said...

Savannah - There certainly seems to be some synchronicity at play in the incident with the broken dish. I'm not familiar with the stidy on PTSD that you quote, but I've had some success with war vets who have images that are initially only horrible and recurring - by going with them into that dark forest of images and helping them to find a way through.

Marika said...

Hi, Robert!
When I participated at your workshop I noticed that you are using images and imaging in the same way as it is done in Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola.
It is very powerful thing!

Robert Moss said...

Labrīt, Marika - I am glad you mentioned Loyola and the Spiritual Exercises. The "composition of place" that he taught and practiced is indeed a very powerful thing. Jacques LeGoff, the great French historian of l'imaginaire has argued (in "The Birth of Purgatory") that such techniques have generated collective belief territories in nonordinary reality.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

For the curious-
When I got home last night I looked up Harahel in David Godwin's trusty "Cabalistic Encyclopedia". It gives Herochiel as a variant of the name. Personally, Herochiel rolls off the tongue better for me personally so that is the name I will adress this angel by -and the one by which I will build up its telesmatic image.

Olive, The Gentle Reader said...

Thanks, Robert. And perhaps that was a question of putting the fingers to the keyboard a moment too soon, in my case. After I posted my comment, as I mused upon the implications, I thought... Well, what he "probably" meant was the type of reincarnation that we all experience when something lifechanging occurs -- like the snake, sloughing off the old skin, and crawling off into a new life. Transformation, then, rather than reincarnation? But then, of course, if the impact is great enough, life changing enough, it would indeed be a reincarnation. (I am musing now about your previous life, before delving into the world of dreams -- miles apart from the professional life you led for so many years, and yet, in a way, returning to it, to the realms and experiences of your childhood.) Yes, point taken very well. I'm too much of a hair splitter, and dwell in the intellect more than I should. More than my spirit tells me I should.

diane said...

Hi Robert, Your wisdom, the scope of your knowledge and your experience astound and inspire.

As it happens, I enjoyed a visit from Harahel today at the Ultra Violet Cafe, of all places.

Patricia said...

It is certainly true that the body believes in imagery. I heard about an experiment where one group of people were exposed to a very loud noise, loud enough to result in them becoming deaf for just a short time. The second group of people were given a creative visualization exercise which involved putting on imaginary, industrial type ear muffs. They were then exposed to the same loud noise. None of the second group exerienced any deafness at all.
Yesterday, I worked with a lady who has been afraid to go into her backyard. After a session using classical music and her spontaenous images, she now has a little dog who will make it feel safer for her.
Do I believe in the power of imagery, I sure do.
Much love
Patrici from Oz

Robert Moss said...

Patricia - I enjoyed your description of the experiment in imagining putting on those industrial ear muffs. I'm tempted to recommend this to a friend who frequently complains about noisy neighbors, but I guess we'd need to give her clear working instructions about how and when to take those imaginal ear muffs off :-)

cobweb said...

Nosology Could equally have been called Gnosology the art of Enlightenment nes pas?

Irène said...

Thanks Olive & Robert for the exchange on reincarnation.

Early last Spring I began going through an unexpected lift shift that continues today.

I was in Pennsylvania, looking south towards the Blue Mountains and above my head in a clear blue sky I saw three hawks fly out from behind me in a perfect arrowhead triangle form into the horizon. (This is the only time in my life I can remember seeing hawks as a sign.)

When I came back to France, I saw three hawks in the parking lot where I work. A colleague, a bird-watcher who photographed the hawks, explained to me that they were in transit and that the mother bird had most likely had her baby "en route" which would explain why these birds were settled on lamp posts and not in trees. The birds stayed three days.

Shortly afterwards, I participated in a "Renaissance" workshop that ended a chapter of my life. Upon leaving the workshop, I had no idea what I was going to do but knew with utter certainty that everything, every single thing to the smallest detail in my life would change.

And it did and my dreams were the only source to answer my question, "And if my life were mine? And I could do anything; what would I do?"

And my name did change. Not a lot -I just added an accent to the "è" for the French pronunciation of my name has significant meaning for me.

Robert Moss said...

Dear Irène - Hawk signs have been very important to me since I moved to North America. A sign from a hawk influenced me, more than 20 years ago, to purchase the farm where I was drawn into the dreaming of an indigenous people of these parts. Three hawks in arrow formation would seem like a most significant pointer.

I strongly believe that we must claim our names. This is a primary level of self-definition. In many indigenous culture, a significant vision or change of status will bring a radical change of name. In all phases of my present life, I have found that the name I was given suits my energy; all I've neded to do was recall its original meaning and defend it against abbreviation or trivialization (I get dangerous if someone calls me "Bob"). I like the idea that adding a grave accent has been sufficient to keep your name in harmony with your deepening life.

Olive said...

Goosebumps, and I don't quite know the reason. I've only encountered a hawk, as a "guide" once in my life, and I am still puzzled over the meaning of its presence. Here is the context: I live in a place which my spirit rejects. Put simply, I hate living here. Circumstances are such that I can't move, at present. One day, three years ago, when I was returning home (to this place) down a dusty country road, and musing how much I hated going back there, a hawk swooped down low in front of my car -- so low that I had to slam on the brakes because I thought I would hit him. He did not rise again, though. Instead, he continued his trajectory down the middle of the road, low enough that he was always in my sights, without having to raise my eyes. Every time I would slow down, so would he. This continued for the better part of two kilometres -- almost the entire length of the concession road I was driving on. I have never experienced anything like this -- before, or since.

He led the way until I came to the intersection where I would turn left to go home. He made one big swoop above the car, and then up -- up -- up he went. Just as I was turning, he swooped down again, and then swooped back up and was gone.

I was riveted. Puzzled. "goosebumpy" even then. Can't for the life of me know if he meant for me to stay (guiding me home to the place I hate) or whether he was saying, "fly away, ... like this ... like me..."

In another vein, I have often struggled with name/identity. I adopted a new name when I was quite young, feeling the new identity suited exactly who I was. And yet, now, I turn to wanting my old name back, my birth name, because I find this new "adopted" name of mine no longer suits my identity. Interesting topic. I always felt that my birth name described who I was, but didn't suit me for a time -- because I had to get away from all that connected me to the old life. Now, as painful as that old life was, I need to reconnect to it.

Thank you both for a most interesting reflection. (I would add the "accent grave" on your name Irene, but I've forgotten how to re-engage the French keyboard. A peculiar thing -- for someone of French-speaking origins. Voila.... le mystere de la vie.

JaneE said...

Hi Robert,
I saw first-hand how a shift in self-image (and a little chocolate cake) changed my energy for the better last weekend. I love this, "images as energy carriers". I tried it with my neighbor who was stuck in the energy of illness and saw her change before my eyes when she began imagining herself as feeling better. You taught us well- to bring a dream to someone in need of one-and this discussion of imagery relates beautifully to what I've learned in your dream teacher training program.

Robert Moss said...

Thanks JaneE. So much in life depends on whether we remember that we want to CHOOSE, at every turning, where we turn the energy of our attention.

Robert Moss said...

Olive - The unusual "in your face" behavior of that hawk would lead me to slow down and think, very carefully, about the possible consequences of my present mode of thinking. If I go on telling myself that I hate the place were I live, while denying myself any present possibility of moving, it feels to me like I am condemning myself to a very unhappy situation. I might try a different approach. This would involve, retending every day that my home situation is actually fine, and seeking to find one new good thing about it every day. That would not prevent me from putting out new feelers in the course of effecting a change, and those "new feelings" might include asking my dreams for specific guidance.

Olive said...

I appreciate your thoughtful response to my situation, Robert, however, I would like to elaborate. This is not simply a "boo-hoo-woe-is-me" rejection of this place, but rather a visceral renunciation that occurs quite without my conscious participation. I feel I don't belong here -- not just in this house, but in this landscape. As much as you felt (from your book I take this info) that upstate NY was where you "should" be, at a certain time, I feel equally that this place is where I should "not" be. And try as I might -- for indeed I don't take to pouting -- I cannot reconcile myself to this place. I'm not saying I go around wringing my hands everyday, because I do acknowledge the good, and the beauty, in this place whenever I can, but still the heart and soul longs to be elsewhere. That's what I meant, when I said I "hate". (And truly, I do feel it's the correct word.) This place has held too much sadness, and I'm a psychic sponge, I think. A year before I moved to this place -- long before it was even on our radar of places to move to -- I had a dream that I would die in this landscape. After we moved here, I was reading my dream journal, and gave myself a spiritual coronary, because I had described this specific place, right down to its skivvies! I stopped dreaming (almost) ... nothing that ever came together, in any case, until about 2 years ago, after (much after) the hawk incident, and now I barely sleep for the disturbing dreams. I have always listened to my dreams, and am good at interpreting my own, and helping others guide their own way through, but this latter phase has boggled the mind. I came to this blog, in point of fact, led by a quest to find an answer to this nightmare (pun intended) and led by Jung's memoirs. An internet search, and a radio programme led me here. Not "coincidentally" because there are no coincidences, Jung reminds me. :-) [I only feel compelled to explain further because I felt I opened this particular Pandora's box, but did not explain accurately what was meant.]

Robert Moss said...

Olive - Thanks for the clarity and depth of your explanation. Whatever the constraints, if I felt so deeply at odds with my home environment, and my dreams were reinforcing those feelings, it would be imperative for me to take a decisive initiative to get out of there, and trust that the universe will support me. If there are circumstances that make a move impossible for now, I would need to seek ways to make the best out of the situation. Again, the hawk sign is excellent counsel; I need to be fully aware that my attitudes are going before me on my life road, and help to generate what I encounter.