by Jessica Macbeth
Go back over the imagery journeys that you have done and choose one in particular to work with. It might be one that you felt a bit unsatisfied about, particularly as far as your interpretation was concerned, or it might be one that stood out for some special quality of intensity or for some other reason. In any case, it should be one you want to work with now.
Choose three simple images from that journey. These images should be primary ones, images that are especially vivid in your mind, that particularly impressed or puzzled you, even though they might not sound special to someone else.
When you have chosen your three images, make up a very short story in which all three of the images appear. You may bring any other images and ideas into the story as it unfolds when they are needed by the story. Tell the story quickly, using the first ideas that come to your mind. Don't fiddle around with it, trying to be clever. If you aren't sure how this should be done, find a four or five year old child. Give the child three images - a cat, a tall tree, and a small dog would do - and ask the child to tell you a story about them. Almost any child can do it, unless it has been severely deprived of stories in its life. Now, you might think a story about a cat, dog, and tree would obviously have the cat chased up the tree by the dog, but a young child may surprise you, because children have not yet learned to avoid creativity by the use of cliches. This is the kind of story you want - spontaneous and free of preconceptions about what a story should have in the way of plot, beginnings and endings, logic, et cetera.
I wanted an example of this, so I just stopped writing for a bit and went for a Walk in the Forest. I find it a useful exercise to do every once in a while anyway. In this particular Walk, I encountered three things I don't understand very well. There was a bear flying above the trees. He just appeared of his own accord, without being looked for. The container was a little varnished oak keg, which seemed to be empty, but perhaps wasn't. The water was a fountain with a wren playing in it. So, I have a bear that flies, a rather nice little oak keg, and a wren. I shall tell you a story about them, just as it comes, and I promise not to cheat by rewriting and 'improving' it. Here it is:
One day the bear was sitting in a sunny meadow in the forest, reading an especially exciting story to his friends. It was about some gods and goddesses and their problems, which they solved by magic.
"I wish I could do magic", sighed the bear, when the story was over.
"I'd make meself invisible!" exclaimed an old rabbit.
"I'd magic an oak tree so that it always had bunches and bunches of ripe acorns, all lovely and luscious and ready to eat," said a young squirrel.
"What would you do, if you could do magic, Only Bear?" asked the wren.
"I'd make myself able to fly," answered the bear decidedly.
"Not an endless supply of honey?" asked the wren.
"I don't think honey would mean much if I had an endless supply of it," the bear responded thoughtfully. "It's probably the better for a few stings."
"You're a wiser bear than you look," said the wren, and he flew away, his wing tip just brushing the crown of the bear's head as he flew past.
A little while later, when the bear was walking alone, thinking about magic, a very strange feeling came over him. He felt like he had bubbles inside himself. He felt like giggling. He felt bouncy. He bounced once and then twice for the fun of it. On the third bounce he found himself soaring over the treetops.
"Oh, my!" said the bear. "Oh, dear!" said the bear. "Oh, wheeee!" said the bear. "Oh, ouch!" exclaimed the bear as he blundered through the upper branches of a particularly tall tree. And he flew and he flew, dizzy with excitement, blundering and soaring, enchanted, delighted, and frightened nearly out of his wits. At last he came to a giant sequoia, and he managed to grab one of its huge, high branches. He clung to it, panting. "Oh, dear! Oh, my! Oh, oh, oh!" he gasped. "'Swonderful! How did I do it?" he wondered. "Will I be able to do it again? What if I can't? I'm miles in the air - what if I never get down again? Oh, dear. Oh, my."
Looking around him, he saw a small golden oak keg sitting on the branch a few feet away. He crept carefully over to the keg and picked it up and sniffed at it. "Smells of honey," he muttered. "Sealed tight, can't open it." He shook it experimentally. "Feels empty." He shook it again. "Or maybe it's full." He thought and he thought. Finally he said, "Either it's honey or it isn't - I can't tell. Either I can fly or I can't. Only one way to find out!" And, clutching his keg, he jumped.
And the last I saw of him, he seemed to be flying - or maybe he was just falling slowly. I can't be sure which.
In this case, the wren, which was associated with my energy in the original Walk In The Forest, can do magic, and it does it with discrimination and great discretion. I really like that.
The keg, which in the Walk in the Forest imagery represented the way in which I unconsciously felt others see me, either contains honey or it doesn't. No one can tell because it's sealed shut. I don't like that, because it tells me that I am feeling that I've shut myself off from others. I may contain sweetness or I may not - no one can tell. I need to take steps to connect more with friends, to be more companionable, to open myself to others.
The bear, the wonderful bear! Whenever an image appears without being invited, as this one did in my Walk In The Forest, it usually has something especially interesting, perhaps even important to tell us. These spontaneous images are often hard to interpret, partly because we don't have a ready-made context for them. From the unfolding of the story, I recognise this bear. It's me whenever I do something new, especially something I doubt I can do, where I question the actual possibility of doing whatever it is I'm attempting. I have plans for some big changes in the next few months, amounting to a major restructuring of my life. Can I pull it off? If my ideas get off the ground, will they continue to fly? Or will I strand myself out on a limb?
The story doesn't answer this, doesn't give me any assurances that it will all work, but it does give me some hope. It tells me that my own energy is capable of magic, of making dreams come true - discreetly and with discrimination, even without my noticing that it is happening. And it tells me that I am going to need to open up more to others if I want my wishes to magically come true. The bear was sharing himself with others when the wren decided to help. On another level, it would seem to imply that I need to pay more attention to my own desires - both the wren and the bear are, after all, aspects of myself. And there is the bear/bare sound-alike - is this in some sense my naked self? A more real self than people often see?
There are some other interesting things in the story - the difficult relationship of the bear and the bees, for example. I'm not certain what that is trying to tell me, but it may have something to do with that closed keg. Later on, when I have mulled this one over a bit longer, it might be useful to tell myself a story about bees, a bear, and a closed keg.
It also comes out in the story that the bear is wiser than he looks. He has a quality of childlike wisdom that I quite like. Perhaps it is the part of me that has that quality - that understands that honey is the better for a few stings and that belief is more fun than disbelief - perhaps that is the part of me that will actually achieve my plans and dreams in the future. This is also the part of me that is willing to hope and trust and jump. The doubter in me wouldn't even try.
Do you see how this all works? By making up a story (just any and every story will be the right one), we evoke our unconscious imagic to give us a deeper view. We are letting our imagery tell us another story, a bit further in. We are going further down the mountain, the Sun God with his light at our side, learning more secrets, bringing the light of insight to bear (an unintentional, probably not very significant pun) on the things we don't let ourselves see, and the Earth Goddess guiding our steps. We are using a kind of freeform imagery to enhance and clarify information given in our interactive imagery journeys.
This technique improves rapidly with practice. The more stories you tell yourself, the more meaningful and powerful they become. The more your creative energy/impulse/magic is used, the more creative you become. Creativity is like a muscle - if it is never used, it becomes weak and feeble. One of the wonderful things about these little stories is that they are just for us. We are not setting them up for judgment by others, although we sometimes might want to share them with someone who can be trusted to treat them with respect and love.
These stories don't have to follow any rules. They don't have to be logical or to have proper endings or beginnings or plots. They enhance our spontaneity as well as our creativity. Anything can happen in one of these stories - magic, jokes, tragedy - anything is possible. There are no limits. We learn best when we are having fun. We are most spontaneous when we are playing. Creativity arises from play and joy. It also arises from sorrow and grief. Basically, though, it comes from being alive.
The whole world tells us stories about our images and gives us messages about them, if we listen. I was playing this imagic game recently, working with three symbols - sand, eye, wind. The story that immediately came to mind was very short. It was:
And that, my dear, is what inner work is all about - discovering a new and living world, seen through new eyes by one who has endured and creatively transcended old limits and darkness, one who has discovered the divinity in all that is. In the end, of course, the only thing you can truly create is yourself, and whatever self you create manifests in the world through everything you do.
Copyright © 1991 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
Published by Gateway Books.
Your comments will be read with interest.