the dream-ego in the dream, the waking-ego in creativity

JSSS Conference presentation

Robert Sandford, M.A., June, 2018

In this talk, the dream-ego in the dream, the waking-ego in creativity, we will entertain the central image of a chapter of the same name from my upcoming book, A Jungian Approach to Engaging Our Creative Nature. Hillman writes in Healing Fiction (p.80), that Jung’s technique of active imagination establishes imagination as the middle ground where conscious and unconscious can meet, which heals psyche from the disease of literalism. Whether the intent of this meeting is therapeutic or creative (or both), relationship is the central concern and the root metaphor. Actively engaging what psyche offers is a relational gesture at the heart of creative practice. I argue in A Jungian Approach that creativity is more fruitfully defined not by the originality of its fruits but by origin-ality – an orientation toward, and sustained relationship with, the living, mysterious source of our creativity. Active imagination offers a way to meet psyche on its own terms. In the middle ground of imagination we can respond in kind to the source of our creativity.

Which brings us to this thought: engaging the figure of the dream-ego in the dream will offer something invaluable to the waking-ego in creativity. To receive this offering, we strive to meet the dream-ego on its own terms. Hillman establishes in The Dream and the Underworld (p.101-4) that the dream-ego is an image. And in The Poetics of Reverie, Bachelard writes “The phenomenology of the image requires that we participate actively in the creating imagination” (Bachelard, 1960/1969, p.4). Since the dream-ego image presents as a first-person subject, we can imagine our active participation in it as an act of empathy. Here is a glimpse of where we are headed: empathizing our way into the dream-ego’s experience of the dream will effect a transformation of consciousness that deepens our connection to our creative nature and opens the way to creating with collaborative intent. To be clear, though what follows has implications for dream-work, our focus is on a poetic encounter with the dream-ego as such for the sake of fostering a more fertile relationship with the source of our creativity (which is the source of dreams).

To find our way into the dream-ego’s experience, we start with Pat Berry’s essay, An Approach to the Dream from her book “Echo’s Subtle Body.” For one, the dream takes the literal metaphorically. So, to approach the dream on its own terms, we must shift from the perceptual to the imaginal; from the literal to the metaphorical (pp.58-59). As we shall see, not only does this shift aid our entry in the dream-ego’s experience, it exercises our creative nature. For another, she writes that the dream’s images are intra-related; they co-constitute one another, forming a whole (pp.60-61). The dream-ego too is an image among images in that whole. Being one-among-many is held in the dream-ego image. So, empathizing our way into its experience has a relativizing effect. It opens the waking-ego to the multiplicity of psyche from which it arises and in which it dwells as kin. Embracing this opens us to our creative nature. [I suspect this is why so many who feel called to a creative life are drawn to Jung: at the heart of his writing is the intent of opening us to the multiplicity of psyche, our source and our dwelling.]

On waking, the dream-ego is our way into the dream. On reflection, it is an image that presents as a first-person subject. As an image, the dream-ego is a seeing-through. As a subject, its seeing-through is available as an experience. Its metaphorical subjectivity is integral to the image, the effect of which is to transparently invite us into the dream. On waking, we feel we were there and, as long as it has a hold on us, we are still there. The dream-ego’s subjectivity delivers the visceral impact and immediacy of the dream. Its experience becomes ours. Empathizing, we share in the dream-ego’s conviction that we are personally implicated by the dream.

Again, the dream-ego is an image that presents the dream as the tangible experience of a first-person subject with whom we readily identify. The play of identity and difference is essential to our poetic encounter with the dream-ego as such. The impact of the encounter is diffused if we assume the dream-ego is literally us and thereby absorb the dream-ego into the ego-complex. We say, “I dreamt” or “I had a dream” and the impact of the image is bound up in the waking-ego’s self-defining narratives. This keeps us one step removed. Suspending the authoring and ownership fantasies of the waking-ego, we can draw a little closer and say “the dream dreamt me” or “the dream had me.” If we draw close in all intimacy to the life of soul, we can say that the source of dreams and creativity ever weaves our lives, awake or asleep. Dreams, life and tapestries arise from the selfsame source.

Our encounter with the dream-ego has drawn us into questions of the authorship of the dream and the created work. This passage from Hillman’s The Dream and the Underworld (pp.102-103) connects and differentiates the dream-ego and waking-ego along the lines of authorship:

“…the dream-ego and the waking-ego have a special ‘twin’ relationship; they are shadows of each other… But the ‘I’ in the dream is no secret stage director (Schopenhauer) who wrote the play he acts in, no self-portrait photographer taking his own snapshot from below, nor are the wants fulfilled in a dream the ego’s wishes. The dream is not ‘mine,’ but the psyche’s, and the dream-ego merely plays one of the roles in the theater, subjected to what ‘others’ want, subject to the necessities of the dream.”

This is more than a passage into the dream. Hillman is inviting us to release the waking-ego’s fantasies of sole authorship and enter into the dream-ego as a seeing-through that opens to soul.  This same move opens us to a fertile relationship with the source of our creativity.

So, the waking-ego tends to author, direct and star in its self-defining narratives whereas the dream-ego’s identity and circumstances are given. As we stay with the dream-ego as image and play out our kinship with it, we release fantasies of sole authorship and open to the question of our role and that of other factors in the creative process.

Jung writes in CW15 par.122, “[T]he nascent work in the psyche of the artist [functions] as an autonomous complex.” (Jung, C.G., CW 15, The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature, par. 122.) And in par. 115: “[t]he unborn work in the psyche of the artist is a force of nature that achieves its end either with tyrannical might or with the subtle cunning of nature herself.” Note for a moment the relationship in the metaphor: To the tyrannical waking-ego, the creative impulse asserts itself with tyrannical might. The broader point is that entering the dream-ego as a figure among figures opens us to the ways in which our conscious intentions are not the only ones that figure into creative acts. Softened to poetic presence, the waking-ego can operate as kin and advocate, image and agent. Here we can meet and honor the larger psyche, which has its own intentions.

The authoring fantasies of the waking-ego are only problematic when we imagine ourselves as sole authors. The relationship held in this Promethean image is one of theft and alienation from the rest of psyche. The fire of the creative impulse is taken up, as if by right, into the waking-ego’s self-defining activity. If instead, in all piety, we imagine ourselves as agents of the creative impulse, the relationship in that metaphor honors the impulse’s autonomy, intent and integrity and honors the waking-ego’s susceptibility and engaged involvement in the creative process.

Back to the dream-ego’s experience. Berry writes that the dream’s images are emotional, sensual, tactile and visceral (pp.60-63). So, empathizing with the dream-ego, we experience the imaginal as emotional, sensual, tactile and visceral. In a word, we experience first-hand that the imaginal is real–as real as so-called literal reality. The dream-ego’s conviction has transformed our own. In this space we are susceptible to the call of the creative impulse: we are personally implicated in the work. Encountering the imaginal as real inspires the waking-ego to real-ize the impulse. The waking-ego’s authoring fantasies find their fulfillment in acting on behalf of the impulse to deliver its full impact into the world. The desire and ability to create is not the waking-ego’s alone; it is an emergent phenomenon of the whole.

Our encounter with the dream-ego transforms consciousness. Favoring its experience of the imaginal, we awaken to soul. In The Dream and the Underworld, Hillman takes a similar path. On p.102 he writes of the work of “subjecting the ego to the dream, dissolving it in the dream, by showing that everything done and felt and said by the ego reflects its situation in the image, i.e., that this ego is wholly imaginal. Not an easy job, for the ego is archetypally an upperworld phenomenon, strong in its heroic attitudes until, learning how to dream, it becomes an imaginal ego.” After this passage he admits that there are differences between the waking-ego and the dream-ego, but here he subtly blurs the lines. He conflates waking-ego and dream-ego with rhetorical purpose. He means to dissolve the waking-ego’s heroic attachments by recovering the dream-ego as an image among images and a mode of presence to the life of soul. This engenders a waking-ego that is, in his phrase, “wholly imaginal.”

For our creative intent, Hillman’s figure of the wholly imaginal ego embodies a fertile relationship to creativity’s source–a relationship so intimate that any artifice of separation is deliteralized until even the waking-ego is consciously lived as soul stuff.

He goes on to say that “The imaginal ego realizes that the [dream’s] images are not his own and that even his ego-body and ego-feeling and ego-action in a dream belong to the dream image” (p.102). This should seem familiar. In lucid moments in the creative process, we realize that the images that give rise to the work are not our own and even our ego-body and ego-feeling and ego-action belong to the work. Our gut, our emotions, our actions and even who we imagine ourselves to be in the work are figured by the creative impulse. As the dream-ego in the dream is an image among co-constituted images that form a whole, the waking-ego in creative acts becomes like an image among co-constituted images that form a whole. When we give ourselves to the work, our figural identity in the work emerges from the work.

An example might help here. In writing multi-character fiction, each character has a life of its own—its own personality, complex intentions, contradictions and integrity—which must be honored for the story to hold. If the writer refuses to empathize with the characters, aggressively asserts egoic intentions, and insists on sole authorship, the characters rebel and the story falls apart or they withdraw and the story rings hollow like a persona detached from its roots in the larger psyche. Choosing instead to be poetically susceptible in reckoning with the story’s living elements, the writer lives in the narrative as a figure native to the story’s organic landscape.

Poetic susceptibility is a mode of imaginative engagement that allows the creative impulse to figure the waking-ego as an image and grants it passage into psyche’s images as kin and advocate. It opens the way for the creative impulse to unfold as a complex, organizing intent that coheres the work—process and product. The waking-ego is one factor among many by which the work holds together.

To one who encounters such a work, the writer’s figural identity lives in the work as an invitation. Like the dream-ego’s invitation; it transparently draws us into a seeing through—an empathic entry into a subject’s experience of the imaginal as real. Since the waking-ego is also an agent, the figural identity of the writer not only draws us into an imaginal landscape; it draws us into the very collaborative acts that birthed the work. Entering a created work, we participate actively in the creating imagination.

Being figured in the creative act is most apparent when we, like the dream-ego, are immersed in the imaginal that is real. That immersion is bodily. For our twin, the reality of the dream is bodily and, awake, bodily engagement is our way into the reality of the imaginal in which we are immersed. This works because our symbolic capacity is native to the body.

The dream-ego in the dream has become for us a symbol where conscious and unconscious, agent and source can meet. This symbol opens to a world where the source of our creativity lives everywhere and in everything. When I enter my workshop and hold in my hands the wood that lies in wait there, it entices, whispers, sings and shouts possibility. What lives in the wood desires; it calls to be tended and released into the world. In this middle ground of imagination, we know in our bones that the source of our creativity is native to things. We hear the call that issues from the heart of things because our flesh speaks the same language.

As we tend our creative nature, a world of dead matter becomes unsustainable. If things were truly dead, it would be impossible to create. [The egoic figure native to this strange world may protest, “I create by breathing life into dead matter.”  At home in a world alive, we answer: the fantasy that we are like gods who breathe life into dead matter reveals the egoic inflation that co-constitutes a world of dead things.] Lifeless, matter could not be home for what is alive. As advocates, we cry out “psyche cannot be divested from matter.” The matter at hand illustrates this point: Dead matter is a living image that, literalized, is driven underground. Unconscious, it dominates consciousness. As Bachelard writes in The Poetics of Reverie, (p.1), “a poetic image can be the seed of a world.” Recovering dead matter as the living seed of a world reminds us that psyche did not depart but dwells there symptomatically. We, who are of this world, suffer this repression as our alienation from nature, cosmos, the body and so, from our creative nature. A Jungian Approach to Engaging Our Creative Nature explores this in depth so, while there is much this specter of the undead may teach us, let us shake off its spell and return to the living.

Empathizing with the dream-ego in the dream, we enter the middle ground of imagination – a relational space where we actively and receptively engage with the source which lives everywhere: in the body, in things, in nature and cosmos. Through the encounter, we reclaim our home in psyche as one among many. We remember our authoring fantasies and creative desire as a calling coming from we-know-not-who. Immersed in the imaginal as real and open to the source which lives everywhere, we are inspired to real-ize the work. And, immersed, we are figured by the work as dwellers in its imaginal landscape who transparently invite others in.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top