The Healing Power of Images

Painting the Inner World: Part Two“Our images are our keepers as we are theirs.”

JAMES HILLMAN, A Blue Fire

There are three paintings I will share to illustrate my own engagement of painting in relationship to dreams: the feelings they bring up, their images— all that can arise from the non-ordinary state of being.

The first is a dream I had of a visit from my father.

I dream I am at a resort or a place like that with my parents and family. (Both of my parents are deceased.) I am outside in nature. I see my father coming toward me but on a semi-circular pathway, on higher ground on the other side of a partial iron fence that curves between usand the feeling is that he has the intention of imparting something to me... He is dressed in a green silk jacket with gold pants and he is carrying a large green feather that is an unusual shape, somewhat like a branch. When he gets close to me I say to him, “You look so beautiful! I want to paint you with your green feather.” He says in response, “I would love it if you painted a painting of me.” The feather is unusual– in size and color and form. My father has dropped it by my feet and kept walking. I pick it up and am conscious of wanting to hold onto the image of the feather in my mind. End of dream.

vidi in sogno
vidi in sogno

When we receive a visit from our parents in our dreams their behavior and our relationship to them can seem other worldly, or unusually restorative or be unlike how we remember them. Sometimes this reflects our own evolution of the childhood relationship and sometimes it reflects a new potential that is being presented to us. A potential  by itself can be therapuetic because we have an actual experience of it in the dream state that imprints us, as it were, with "new information". Rarely is the imprint complete but it provides a new template with which to work in some arena of our childhood. At the time of this dream I had been in the process of some intense inner work for 15 years. In the dream, my father is walking toward me—he is on the 'other side of the fence' (which is often included in a dream of someone who is departed from us—so we can see them in their unique new state set slightly apart from us). Even the words "on higher ground" denote a distinctive way in which these characters are traveling and may call us onto that higher ground with them. The setting of the dream is that we are out in nature which is more emotionally neutral and a higher vibrational atmosphere, and so it would seem that this dream was not associated with the past. We were in fact on holiday, relaxing at some kind of resort,  a restorative place. Alluding to the remedial potency of the dream.

In real life I am a lover of birds and I find myself collecting their feathers. So the fact that my father was carrying a large green feather to drop at my feet was felt as a very supportive gesture that bypassed the need for words–in the dream I felt the utter magic, love and paternal guidance in it. My associations with the color green are with Healing and with Nature. And in exploring my association with the feather, I find a deep connection to an ancient, wilder part of my self — I see the feather as a symbol of freedom and elevated seeing. The fact that I expressed my desire to paint my father within the dream and the fact that he heartily agreed with this desire spoke to me afterwards. I was to paint my father "anew", to allow my father this new image in my eyes.  It was like a direction that was being given straight from my dream character to follow. I saw that the painting of it would continue the healing in a more profound way than simply processing the dream through my writing of it. If it is true that we keep evolving after we leave the life of the body, then in that way all that we do in our lives affects the lives of others even if they have passed on.

While painting this dream I was very surprised how clearly I remembered my father’s face that I had not seen since 1993. This too alerted me to the timeliness of the dream and the significance in painting it.

“Draw near to the dream with respect and attention, enter its culture like a foreigner open to new ways. Befriend it, participate in it, enter into its imagery, and mood, want to know more about it, understand, play with, live with, carry, and become familiar with it – as one would do with a friend…Stay with the dream, let it take you to places rarely glimpsed. “— JAMES HILLMAN, A Blue Fire

In the next dream that came a few years later it was revealed that a part of myself had been muted in childhood. I retained very few visual details of the actual dream but the feeling sensations were vivid and clear when I awoke. The feelings were of having been silenced by my parental figures.  And the silencing carried the sense of a threat to my safety if I did not capitulate.  I felt quite young.

So for this dream painting, I painted the feeling of the dream rather than the literal scene of the dream. I was drawn to paint the entire painting in green and I understood from that the recognition that this aspect of myself had begun to heal. When we look at these images we have painted, especially if they depict some aspect of our selves or our history that we did not know or remember, the images flood us with compassion for ourselves, they imbue us with the same innocence we inhabited at birth.  We are new again in them.

I display paintings like this, whose images are suffused with the medicine of the dream in my visual arena for a period of time. And sometimes, I can put away the painting, even for a number of years and then suddenly bring it out again when the memory of it arouses some need I have to be re-impacted by the curative energy of the dream-infused icon.

The depth of even the simplest image is truly fathomless. This unending, embracing depth is one way that dreams show their love.

JAMES HILLMAN, Dream and the Underworld

A third painting arose from an experience in which I was in a deep state of awareness and suddenly I was being rushed to a “Center” by a force outside myself and as I was being ‘taken’ there I passed by an image of myself – a head with his mouth open — talking. I identified it as myself even though it was a man’s head. It was like I was passing some scenery in a car that was being driven by someone else and I said, “Oh, there’s Patti.” The experience eventually stopped on its own and I was left with a very real sense of having been dipped momentarily into the ineffable.

When I painted this painting, I felt my potential as a Human Being in a way I had not acknowledged as deeply before, that I was someone other than the familiar Patti, talking— that “s/he” was in fact off to the side of the screen and the true “I” was in the hands of a larger force taking me to the “Center”. After I had painted the head off to the side, this huge egg shape appeared and then the image of the hand appeared, like a shimmering apparition within the egg coming to the surface—When it appeared it felt almost like the cave paintings of hands I have seen. To paint and experience it I actually laid my hand in dark pigment and swiped it across the belly of the egg — the egg that for me was the symbol of an unknown potential I was experiencing in real time in this state of awareness.

man with egg
man with egg

In the end the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world irrupted into this transitory one. That is why I speak of inner experiences, amongst which I include my dreams and visions.

CARL JUNG, Memories, Dreams, Reflections