James Hillman writes that we must return to the image. He thinks of images as being like animals, alive and vital; a phenomenon that can be engaged with. Therapy, too often, is the art of interpretation rather than the art of IMAGination. The image might refer to whatever ‘presence’ is to the fore in the psyche at that moment. Feeling, sensation, pictures, words. An OTHER entity, which visits us. The aim is not to find the meaning of the image, not to introspect or reflect upon it, but to dialogue with it, to interact and engage as you would another person or being.
Hillman gives the example of an image of a colony of ants crawling all over you. The interpretation is ‘I’m going crazy’, but engaging with the image might be pushing the ants off, running away, watching them. It is engaging phenomenologically with what the psyche is presenting. The psyche is always communicating, not sending messages as much as images, not information but imagination.
In the same way we might dialogue with trees, animals, even ‘inanimate’ objects like a street, a car, a room. This is referred to as animism or anthropomorphism; and makes no sense if you think the world around you is dead matter. Likewise, it makes no sense to dialogue with ‘parts’ and presences within ourselves if we think there is no ‘soul’ or interior life. So, it may seem a bit strange to talk to these presences given the dominant narrative or worldview. But what we are left with is a wasteland. No soul in self, no soul in the world, a meaningless void. By engaging with the image, just like we do an art painting – not trying to figure it out, but being present to it, letting it speak, watching it unfold, we reclaim ‘soul’, we dance with the psyche, allowing it to guide us. This is the resurrection of the imagination.