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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD candidate, DPhil., MA (Psychology), MA (History)

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The Mesa World Retreat: Active Imagination

Paul Kiritsis - Sunday, December 08, 2013

The series of self-development exercises also included active imagination, the narrative technique of unconscious projection pioneered by Carl Gustav Jung. The manner of induction was fairly simple. First, the inductee was made to lie on the double bed in the master bedroom covered to the chest with a woollen blanket. Second, he or she was encouraged to relax by taking deep oxygen-rich breathes whilst symbolically feeling the tension seeping out from the physical body. When the individual approached the hypnagogic state, the following instructional passage was utilized to make contact with the personal unconscious:

Now please try to imagine a meadow. Imagining is not difficult. Simply any meadow. If something else appears before your eyes, that’s all right, too. Everything that comes along is fine. (Pause) Wait calmly and patiently until something appears before your eyes, perhaps a meadow or something else too. (Pause) And when an image appears, please talk about it. (Pause) But even if this should cause difficulties, tell me that, too, so that I can perhaps help. (Pause) You can also nod your head as a first sign that you have something in view.”

This exercise was straightforward and uncomplicated for me given the fact that I frequently resort to active imagination in the exploration of personal desires and issues. On this particular occasion the induction dropped me into majestic farmhouse amidst hectares of corn. The imagery was comprehensive and vivid; I could see a rusted red windmill being maneuvered by a strong gust, bundles of golden straw gathered from oat fields, and a beautiful green tractor by the wooden fence demarcating the remote property. Everything looks whitewashed and oxidized, obviously deserted to the ravages of wind and water. Peering down, I realize that I have regressed through time; I am no longer a career-driven thirty-four year old man who descries his future to the last detail but a carefree ten-year old child unencumbered by the monotonous duties and responsibilities of adulthood. I’m wearing a checkered short-sleeved shirt and denim shorts with black braces. It’s impossible to discern my physiognomy however I intuitively feel that I have sandy, dark blonde hair, aquamarine blue eyes, and dimples. This is not the contemporary me, it is the raw emotional me that was a very long time ago.

There is another individual present, a young girl I recognize as my older sister. There’s a golden halo suspended over her head, as if she were my guardian angel. She beckons me to follow her into the old farmhouse. From a distance the residence looks completely deserted.  I’m not particularly enthusiastic about rediscovering this slice of archaic domesticity. The unusual architecture and tricolor scheme inspires feelings of dread and horror. Within the dilapidated walls are multifaceted memories repressed by the sane, rational, adult me. Safety and security are not internal compositions. I cannot be harmed in any way if I remain outside.

“We must go inside now,” my sister instructs. “I am with you; you have nothing to fear. There’s nothing inside that can hurt you.”

My stomach flutters as I peruse the entrance. “I don’t know.”

“If you come in for a quick peek I’ll take you for a ride on dad’s tractor!”

“Ok!” I exclaim, unable to resist the bribe.

Inside the place looks like it’s seen the lethal end of a very turbulent and destructive whirlwind. Furniture has been overturned and thrown across the living area and hallway, kitchen utensils lie broken and scattered on the floor, oil canvases have been ripped off walls, and mirrors have shattered into illimitable iridescent shards. I find myself wondering how it would have all looked prior to the natural catastrophe–majestic and noble, no doubt. My sister pulls out a rusted red key and unlocks the door of a minute crawling space underneath the staircase, indicating that I should follow. Swatting away low-hanging cobwebs we descend down a steep flight of stairs leading to a shadowy basement with shelves full of photo albums, framed pictures, books, letters, postcards, and other mementos. It also appears that the floor is unnavigable, cluttered as it were with Legos, electronic trains, puzzles, various games like Monopoly, Connect Four, and Scotland Yard, stuffed animals, plastic toy automatons, shelf-sitting clowns, and inestimable other things.

In a darkest corner of the basement likes a disheveled Cabbage Patch doll with beady eyes, frizzy hair, dimples, and rose-tinted cheeks. All of a sudden everything returns to consciousness like a Japanese bullet train; a present from birth, the doll had accompanied me on all my armchair expeditions to the most exotic and quixotic destinations around the world. Like an apotropaic amulet that hangs around your neck and protects you from the malevolent forces of the universe, it had been a ubiquitous companion each time I reached out transcontinentally in search of unconditional love, reciprocal affection and intimacy, self-honor, and the discovery of inner treasures. For some obscure reason, I had forgotten the critical and central importance of this invaluable part in my life, abandoning it in the old basement when I grew out of my prepubescent clothes and the trajectory of my life changed. I can’t seem to look at it without being overcome by sentimentalities, by a sharp melancholia and a wistful yearning for the past. A little squeaky voice inside me pronounces that the doll must be reunited with its rightful owner so that the innocent old ways may be re-membered. I scamper to the corner, scoop up the doll, and squeeze it tightly against my chest. No more shall we be disconnected and dis-identified; we shall simulate a religious procession and serenade out of the darkness and into the light of day, an interactive space where proactivity and insight mold brighter futures.

Without even looking, I know that my there’s a sheepish smile plastered across my sister’s face. She is contented; her task of reconnecting me with the Cabbage Patch doll is complete and she may now rest in peace. I, myself, feel that a numinous force has been unleashed inside me. I am whole, complete and as a consequence delivered to the Elysian fields of serenity and harmony. The image dematerializes from consciousness and I open my eyes, ready to interpret the fantastical narrative.

After thinking about it I decided that the farmhouse and property together must represent the ego-Self axis; the me-child is the state of my blithe, extroverted ego-conscious before suffering the primal wounding of unrequited love and subsequent rejection by a significant other; by virtue of her profound topographical knowledge, the older sister must be the anima; the farmhouse and basement are both layers of the personal unconscious; and the Cabbage Patch doll is a repressed aspect of self, perhaps a subpersonality incorporating superconscious qualities that was perceived as being responsible for the wounding and consequently jettisoned to thwart further wounding. Providing that the interpretation is valid, it would appear that the function of this particular narrative was to draw my attention to an inherent quality (i.e. self-sacrifice, altruism, etc.) which was erroneously perceived as ‘other’ when projected sentiments were not reciprocated. Contrary to my previous perceptions this quality was not stolen from me when sharp heartache shattered me into a million pieces, it was merely repressed in the service of ego defense. The scintillating fragment, it seems, is still hidden inside me somewhere. All I need to do is gather it up and glue it back with the rest of me. When I finally do, I shall be whole again.

 

 

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