Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Birthing a Book May 8, 2012

In response to queries about my new book—where I got the idea, how it’s progressing, when it will come out, if it can be pre-ordered, and so on—I’d like to share some of the process and answer your questions in this and the next post. I know you come here for the psychological content, but I assure you I’ll weave some of that in along the way. It won’t be difficult, since I always look for, and usually find, psychological meaning in everything! Plus, the book’s about psychology!

While certain basics never change, the details of the process—from the conception of a book, to the writing of it, to its publication—are as unique as each book. When I started writing my first psychological book , The Bridge to Wholeness:  A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth, in the fall of 1989, I had just retired from college teaching because of a restless discontent with my work and a deep knowing that I had something to say that was vastly different from anything I had written professionally. With no expectations for what would emerge, I followed my heart and for three or four days a week wrote a series of memoir-type essays via which I searched for meaning in my life’s most interesting and puzzling experiences. Essentially, I was re-mything my life from a Jungian perspective.

I’d been recording and working on my dreams for over a year, so I was delighted to discover that my unconscious self supported my writing by providing material at night that often inspired the next day’s work.  Six months into this project I was sitting in front of my make-up mirror one morning when a fairy tale wove its way into my awareness via a spontaneous session of active imagination. This story provided the focus that pulled all the essays together and a year later I sent a proposal and three sample chapters to ten publishers. With a hint from a dream and a suggestion from a Jungian writer, one was based in California. Three days later Lura Geiger of LuraMedia called and told me she wanted it, and my new creation entered the world in 1992!

My next book, Dream Theaters of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine Through Jungian Dream Work, underwent a very different gestation. Shortly after Bridge was launched I was again filled with restless discontent, so one day I began to explore ideas for a book to help others understand their dreams. Within a few hours I had an outline. Three months later the completed manuscript was also accepted by LuraMedia and it was published in 1994!

Encouraged by my previous successes and motivated by a powerful longing for answers to some pressing questions, in 1993 I began researching and writing the next book. Fifteen years later I had five manuscripts in my computer! Each had a different title and focus and none felt finished, but they were all related to my passion for understanding how gender and family issues, plus my religion, spiritual experiences, and psychological development had influenced my search for self-discovery and spiritual meaning.  By the summer of 2009 I had a new manuscript with a new focus that combined elements from all five. After another rewrite based on suggestions from three experts in their fields, I signed a contract with Larson Publications in March of 2011. That book will be formally launched this summer with the title, Healing the Sacred Divide: Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World.

Honestly? The others were deeply satisfying, but this baby feels special! More about it next time.


Active Imagination: A Tool for Self-Discovery May 4, 2012

I’ve used many tools on my continuing journey to self-understanding and internal transformation. One is called active imagination. This technique was invented and tested by Carl Jung during his deepest period of self-exploration between 1913 and 1916. Believing that our unconscious mind wants to communicate with our conscious mind, he conceived of a method to facilitate this. It is a process of visualizing unconscious issues by focusing on a concern, feeling or dream image, then entering a meditative state and inviting images to act them out.

An important difference between active imagination and ordinary fantasy is that far from being a random ramble into imaginary wish-fulfilling situations that give pleasure to the ego, the person enters the process as an observer who wants to understand, interacts with the characters and images as they emerge without censoring them, and records what happens. Jung recorded his experiences in writing and by painting beautiful mandalas, many of which can be found in his brilliant record of that time, The Red Book.

Wikipedia explains it thusly: “Key to the process of active imagination is the goal of exerting as little influence as possible on mental images as they unfold. For example, if a person were recording a spoken visualization of a scene or object from a dream, Jung’s approach would ask the practitioner to observe the scene, watch for changes, and report them, rather than to consciously fill the scene with one’s desired changes. One would then respond genuinely to these changes, and report any further changes in the scene. This approach is meant to ensure that the unconscious contents express themselves without overbearing influence from the conscious mind. At the same time, however, Jung was insistent that some form of participation in active imagination was essential: ‘You yourself must enter into the process with your personal reactions…as if the drama being enacted before your eyes were real’.”

Here’s how it works for me. I find a quiet, comfortable, private, and distraction-free place to sit, usually in front of my computer so I can record what is happening as I go along. Then I focus on an issue or concern or dream image that I have a question about and write it down. I light a candle to signify to my unconscious that I am setting aside a sacred time to listen to it, close my eyes, imagine myself in a beautiful, safe place, then, after clearing my mind, I ask my question and wait. When a thought, feeling or image shows up, even an unlikeable one, I don’t reject it. I just let it come, and without forcing the issue, I wait to see what happens. If nothing does, I might ask my original question again, or any other that occurs to me.

When I feel ready, I take a moment to write down what has happened so far, then return to where I left off. I write conversations like dialogues in plays, describing who’s speaking after brief designations like “Me” and “Stranger,” or maybe just the initials “M” and “S” so the writing takes up as little time as possible. Then I return and continue until I feel a sense of closure. The whole process usually takes me about a half hour.

One word of caution: if you are particularly impressionable this might not be right for you: the powers of the collective unconscious can be overwhelming. As Jung warned, “The method is not entirely without danger, because it may carry the patient too far away from  reality.” But if you decide to try, I hope you’ll let me know how it went and what you learned!  Enjoy.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.


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