Discovering Maleonn

iStock_000002304708Small-lensMaleonn is a Shanghai based artist whose work I encountered for the first time last week. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I was introduced to it by this online article in the Guardian.

In 2012 he carried out a “Studio Mobile” project. He spent months preparing sets and costumes for use by those who would have their portraits taken, and then visited hundreds of provinces taking over 200,000 photographs of people who had asked to be part of the project.

The painstaking preparatory work, creating the costumes and the setting for these moments of fantasy and humour inspired me, and the importance of fantasy and art in everyday life seems validated by the huge response from people all over China.

I am fascinated by the photographs and by the process.

Join the conversation: How do you respond to Maleonn’s work?

The Dream Connection

Do you remember your dreams? Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. Earlier this year I was going through a period when I knew that I had dreamt yet had no specific memories when I woke up.

I wanted to recall my dreams again so I signed up for a dreamwork group with Trevor Simpson. The last session in the series of four was last week. Sessions were both interesting and helpful. Before they started I only recalled three or four dreams a month, but over the three months of the group I recalled over 50 dreams, and was able to explore a number of them in depth.

Remembering and exploring my dreams helped me clarify ideas, and provided new perspective on decisions. It also helped me remember that the parts of ourselves we don’t have conscious access to can be amazing, creative and funny.

Your dreams are gifts that you may not know how to open.

In the past I kept a dream journal for several years, using Ira Progoff’s Intensive Journal Method, and the genesis of my novel-in-progress came from a vivid dream I had during a nap one afternoon in 1974, so dreams have been a powerful source of creativity and self-development for me already.

Carl Jung’s work on dreams has also shaped my personal work. Dream Moods has a good overview of Jung’s theories about dreams. Active Imagination is Carl Jung’s tool for expanding dream work and creative work. This article by Lawrence Staples of the Jung Society of Washington, D. C., gives a good explanation and an example of the connection between dreams, active imagination, and creative work.

The list of articles on the International Association for the Study of Dreams website shows the extent of worldwide interest in dreams and some of the research currently being done. The list includes articles on a broad list of topics from the usefulness of problem-solving dreams to dreams of the blind.

Want to know more? Wikipedia has a good overview of Dreams.

Here’s the first description I wrote of the dream that is the seed for my novel:

A young girl wakes from an afternoon nap in the dormitory above the great hall of a dancing school. She is wearing a dancer’s top and practice skirt wrinkled from sleeping. She jumps up and begins to move immediately in response to a call from the hall below. She moves from the dormitory to the balcony above the hall and is dazzled by the light flooding the hall rotunda as the sun sets. The light gives everything warmth: the floor tiles, the fountain, the lush foliage in pots round the interior of the hall, and the small group of dancers waiting to perform the traditional grace dance before the meal.

The girl is suddenly filled with joyousness, with a tingling awareness of life, feeling, and the need to communicate the inexplicable. She runs down the stairs to the rotunda space where a fountain is at the centre of the circle the dancers are forming for the evening thanks dance. She doesn’t wait for the dance leader, simply steps into the circle and gives the signal for all to join hands.

 As the dancers join hands, she feels the circle form and the joy she feels begin to move through everyone in the circle. She has a vision of thanks for the day, gratitude that acknowledges each moment that brought the evening’s meal to them: earth, plowed, then planted, moistened by rain, warmed by sun, fronds of wheat waving gracefully, harvested and ground by the mill, brought in sacks loaded on a patient donkey to the school kitchens where it was mixed, baked, and set by the side of the fountain waiting to be blessed.

The energy she felt and her connection with the dancers let the scenes she saw be seen by others, covered the dancers bodies with a vision of the journey from seed to bread, but she didn’t have either the strength or skill to maintain the vision. She was suddenly returned to the hall, and and sound of water from fountain, as dancers broke from the circle.

She falls, crying, to the tile floor. The other students whisper, waiting to see what would happen to her. She broke the first rule for a student, that a student never leads a dance; only dance masters may lead.

 She overhears two kitchen servants called to the hall by the disturbance, “Ah, she’ll have to leave. She’s forgotten she creates the dance. The illusion took her and she broke down.”

The dance master approaches her, lifts her gently to her feet, and tells her to pack her clothes and prepare to leave immediately. She must wait by the gate for further instructions.

I am still working on unfolding the story and continue to be astonished by the amount of information packed into the dream, and the freshness of it so many years later. The novel is now 30,000 words and still growing.

Join the discussion: Have dreams ever played a part in your writing? Have you tried using active imagination?


Lessons From the Dark

When I think of the dark, my association is not immediately positive. I don’t often remember the importance of the dark, of down times, yet the dark is a part of dreaming, of the creative process, and often contains insights.

The first time my view of the dark was challenged was when I read M. Esther Harding’s The Value and Meaning of Depression. I read it more than forty years ago; it remains one of those amazing moments when a an idea opens a whole new way of perceiving the world. The need for times of darkness, the idea that darkness can be a source of nourishment, an incubator, a storeroom of nutrients, opened many possibilities I hadn’t seen.

It helped me begin to approach feelings i usually avoided: fear, anger, sorrow, low energy — feelings I’d associated with darkness.

Exploring the depths

The idea that depression could be a natural part of life gave me permission to explore my own depths.

We live in a world that constantly calls for our active presence and engagement. Our electronic gadgets have multiplied the calls on our attention and intensified the need to be constantly on, constantly giving out, constantly available.

All the more reason to spend some time dwelling in our depths and befriending our “dark”. Fleeing from our fears, anger, or sorrow means the insights they offer us and the energy they contain are lost.

If we learn to move toward our darkness it has gifts for us. Sometimes we don’t feel strong enough to do this on our own. Finding the right support is important, whether you build it internally, or seek it externally. You want your encounter with the dark to be healing.

Help befriending the dark

Look for someone who is

  • Trustworthy
  • Experienced
  • Oriented to supporting you
  • Aims to help you rather than do it to you or for you
  • Open to what is (doesn’t have a frozen point of view that all experience fits into)

While these qualities are ones you to look for in an external guide, you can apply them to yourself too:

Trustworthy: Do you trust yourself to explore? If not, why not. What do you feel you need that you don’t have? What areas need more development? What needs to be removed?

Experienced: What experience do you have with yourself or with others? What experience do you need? Are there experiences you need to heal before you start? What’s your track record with this? What patterns and habits help you deal and which ones get in the way?

Oriented to support: What’s your relationship like with you? Is your inner voice more likely to be critical or a cheerleader? Does your inner voice need an attitude adjustment before you start?

Lets you do it: Does your inner guide take over? Acknowledge and appreciate your progress and efforts?

Openness to what is: Are you able to suspend judgment and simply inquire without assuming?

Dreaming and the dark

The unconscious provides material for our dreams and our dreams can express the wisdom of the unconscious.

I’ve recently begun a four-session dream group with Trevor Simpson,and have found the process both fascinating and useful. I am back to remembering dreams and I love the sense that there are riches in dark each night.

Skills for working with dreams, openness and patience, inquiring without assuming, compassion, gentleness toward oneself, and the ability to use focused but soft attention (attention that isn’t trying to force meaning from what you are paying attention to) are useful in many areas, not only in working with my dreams.

The dream work session helped me remember M. Esther Harding and the need to befriend my fears, anger, sorrow and gain a better understanding of times when I feel less energy or interest in the world.

Dr. Jean Raffa is A Jungian Analyst who often references Harding. Her website is devoted to accessing our inner wisdom.

Join the discussion: What have you found helpful when exploring the dark or exploring your dreams?