Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Bottomless Bubbling Cauldron of Imagination

Every writer/artist knows the pleasure of the Creative Rush. I love the exuberance that comes in the “ah-ha” moment when your imagination sparks an insight or revelation that enhances the work. These moments always feel “just right.” And intoxicating (and addictive).

I’d never heard a psychological explanation of this Creative Rush that truly resonated with me. Then I read a chapter in Jungian psychologist, Erich Neumann’s book The Origin and History of Consciousness.

Neumann discusses “libido” (think general psychic energy here rather than the limited Freudian notion of libido as primarily sexual) in relation to the creative process. The italics below are mine.

“Whereas in an illness the activation of the unconscious content by an afflux of libido manifests itself in the form of disturbances, symptoms, and so forth, and in the creative individual this content spontaneously combines with consciousness and expresses itself in creativity, the act of conscious realization consists in the ego deliberately leading the mind and the free libido at its disposal towards the focus of fascination. The libido activating the unconscious system as its emotional component, and the libido of the recognizing and realizing ego system, flow together in the act of recognition into a single stream. This confluence is perceived by the ego as pleasurable, and this is so in any genuine realization, in any new recognition or discovery, and again whenever a complex is broken down or an unconscious content assimilated. It is immaterial whether the fascinating content is consciously realized as an image, a dream, fantasy, and idea, a “hunch,” or a projection. The assimilation of unconscious contents, in whatever form, leads not only to an enrichment of the conscious material but also to an enrichment of libido, which makes itself felt subjectively, as excitement, the vivacity, and a joy that sometimes borders on intoxication; and, objectively, as a heightening interest, a broadened and intensified capacity for work, mental alertness, etc.

In the process of realizing and assimilating an unconscious content, the ego makes a “descent,” from the conscious standpoint, into the depths, in or order to raise up the “treasure.” 

(p343 The Origin and History of Consciousness)

 Neumann goes on to explain why the “Creative Rush,” brings up ever more ideas, linking, linking, ever linking.

“…Simultaneously with the alteration and enrichment of consciousness, the splitting up of the content leads very frequently, if not always, to an activation of the unconscious as well. We may explain the mechanism as follows: a certain proportion of the liberated libido cannot be absorbed by consciousness and flows off into the unconscious, where it “libidinizes” associated groups of complexes or archetypal contents. These contents are then brought up by association and are produced as random ideas etc. –in so far as they appear at all—or else a new unconscious constellation is effected. The combination of this new constellation with the original activity of realization is what constitutes the continuity of all creative work, essential elements of which are always prepared in advance by the unconscious, and are then elaborated and enriched before being produced. 
“The continuity of these processes is manifest not only in creativity but in all dream series, visions, and fantasies where we always find an inner consistency, web of associations deposited around one or more nuclei, is though around a center.
(p344 The Origin and History of Consciousness)

This brilliantly explains why many writers declare that a large part of their job is just showing up. Half my work happens if I just show up and keep writing day by day. Creative work begets more creative work in the Bottomless Bottomless Cauldron of Imagination. Imagination fuels more imagination.

This is why all the sages advise the artist to simply begin, and say that the most powerful act is simply beginning. Your conscious mind may not know where you are going, but your unconscious mind does. So the next time you are stuck, my creative friends, be comforted, you are in good hands. (And keep showing up to work.) Because your conscious mind is mere steam, arising from the bigger, grander, vaster part of yourself below—the Bottomless Bubbling Cauldron of Imagination.

P.S. For artists, I highly recommend Erich Neumann's Art and the Creative Unconscious. It is more targeted to the creative process than The Origin and History of Consciousness.

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