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[John Beebe]Achieving the Image 2010-12-20


Achieving the Image[]

John Beebe[]

(337 Spruce Street, San Francisco, CA, 94118-1883, USA)

The Chinese language, as everyone knows, is made up of ‘characters,' a series of pictographs, word-pictures, that impress those who study them for even a short time with their integrity as instruments of communication. Written Chinese resembles the peculiar directness of our dreams, which put something the heart-mind wants to say into images that can be immediately recognized, even if they are not entirely understood. The image, in both a dream and a Chinese character, speaks to us before any other understanding takes place, and because it cannot be denied, carries its own meaning, apart from any other signification we attach to it. My own native language, English, is far more devious and difficult to understand, because it is so much more a language of will than of representation. English is driven, not by a desire to achieve psychological integrity, but by the ego purposes that can be served by communication. Thus its verbs are so much more interesting than its nouns. English concerns itself with ‘how to do things with words.' The linguistic results can be obtained when something is expressed in a particular way to achieve a certain result. This intention has enabled much in the way of interesting meanings to be achieved through the use of English, but the English language cannot claim to be the psychological achievement that Chinese is. Chinese, without concerning itself with what the ego wants language to do, has managed to come up with nouns conveying ideas that uncannily resemble the way the psyche presents its insights to us about the situations of our lives.

That the Chinese language is image-based is hardly a new insight, but it is not often enough recognized that this very rootedness in the image makes Chinese a psychological language. Defining the Chinese language as psychological is an idea that reveals its full value only if we reverse the proposition, as follows. If Chinese is naturally psychological, it has the potential to help us understand how the psyche works. Casting the insight that Chinese is psychological in reverse may be necessary at this time because Jungian psychology at present suffers from a poverty of ideas with regard to some of the processes that are central to its field of study. One of these is how the psyche is able to achieve the images that produce such profound effects on our lives. The images that Jungian psychology has particularly emphasized are so extraordinary that we speak of them as ‘symbolic' and ‘archetypal,' but when we consign them to ‘the unconscious,' we preclude the possibility of any real understanding of them. To develop our understanding of the process by which a psychologically meaningful image emerges out of its unknown source in the unconscious to become part of the heart-mind, we might want to learn from masterpieces of the image in the Chinese language. In classical Chinese philosophy and poetry, we repeatedly encounter simple but telling images that convey the psychological essence of things to the heart-mind, which is then able to contemplate these things with a measure of objectively.

Such an image presented itself to C.G. Jung when in the course of writing a Foreword to the English version of Richard Wilhelm's translation of the I Ching; Jung decided to ask the Book of Changes how it felt about his intention to present it to the Western mind. As is well known, Jung received Hexagram 50, the Caldron, which in Chinese is ting. Roderick Main[] has recently commented that “the nature of the I Ching, the Book of Changes, may indeed be appositely symbolized by the ting, the cauldron or vessel,” since Wang Pi had already written in the third century C. E. “The Caldron is a hexagram concerned with the full realization of the potential in change.” Main adds that a later questioner mentioned by Stephen Karcher and Rudolf Ritsema in the introduction to their own translation of the book asked the I Ching, “Who are you, how shall I use you?” and got Hexagram 50 as well. These translators translate the ting as “The Vessel/Holding,” and they relate its many meanings as container and ritual cook pot to the “imaginative process” that enables human beings to metabolize their experience through the use of symbolic formulations of it. The image of the ting has managed to stay vital for eighteen hundred years as a description of the I Ching's uncanny way of “cooking” our life experiences for us in such a way that we can digest them. Professor Liu[] has just told us that Dr. Shen received this hexagram as the starting point of his answer when he put the question to the oracle of how analytical psychology might develop in China. One can see Shang dynasty tings in any good collection of Chinese art; so we know the image is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. This ritual cooking pot, as Ritsema tells us, usually has “three feet and two ears.” We can pause for a minute to think why such an image would have become the standard depiction of “a sacred vessel used to cook food for sacrifice to gods and ancestors.” Are the three feet the great Triad of Chinese thought: Heaven, Earth, and Man? Are the two ‘ears' of the vessel the yin and the yang—the masculine and feminine ways of receiving experience when life tries to send its messages to us? No doubt, but is defining these separate features of the ting in such an analytic way really more powerful than simply contemplating the unified image of the Caldron? Was it really conceived with these allegorical features in mind? Or is its visual combination of hollowness, a triadic base, and two ears by which to lift it to ourselves or hold it out to others not the way the image gets across the practical uses of this image, as holding, ritual, and vessel? This is not an image that anyone could ‘think up.' It presented itself to Wang Pi, as if trusting his capacity to read it and, centuries later, again to Jung in response to his integrity in inquiring of the oracle how it actually felt about being presented to the West by him, and yet again to the anonymous questioner in Ascona, Switzerland who even more humbly allowed the I Ching, which he had discovered because of the Jungian interest in the book, to speak for itself to tell him who it was and how he should use it.

My conclusion is that the same image, the ting, presented itself each of these times as a metaphor for the I Ching because the image was the right one to do the job for the Book of describing itself whether the person asking it to do so was Wang Pi, Jung, or Ritsema's anonymous questioner of the oracle. That the same image came up in each of these circumstances may seem a bit miraculous, but such miracles are not mysterious to me as a working analyst. I have learned that reality regularly knocks at my door. Not only do appropriate images present themselves when needed, but the same image will present itself to different people who are trying to imagine the same thing. That's one definition of archetype, an image that is not just ancient, but accessible to all. Getting such an image to present itself requires relatively little work, because the image is already out there, waiting to be accessed. Other archetypal images can appear only through a more creative process of emergence,[] arising from the ability of the unconscious to synthesize images freshly. This is a more subtle understanding of archetype that has been advanced by Joseph Cambray and others. To access either kind of image requires what the I Ching calls modesty: to let it in, one has to suspend one's own image-finding capacity and instead allow the unknown thing one is trying to grasp supply its own image of itself, whether found or freshly created. Let us say, then, that the first step in achieving any image with the archetypal power to transform our understanding is to suspend conscious attempts to symbolize the thing we wish to understand. Only then can the image of the thing, whether already there in the unconscious or in need of its own emergent process to attain form, come forward. We have to practice allowing the image to present itself. That is the wisdom in the standard Jungian practices that so many people find dubious, accepting images presented to us by dreams and divination.

Let us be honest though: we have not necessarily achieved the image, that is made it our own and trusted ourselves to enter into its spirit, simply because it has presented itself to us and we have accepted it. The ting is exceptional in that it is an unusually clear symbolic image that at first impact conveys much of the transforming power of the Book of Changes. Many of the images in the I Ching are quite a bit more difficult to comprehend, and they require translation to be understood at all. When I was writing my book, Integrity in Depth, I became interested in a line from the I Ching, Hexagram 12, line 3, which Wilhelm translates “They bear shame.” “Standstill,” or “Stagnation,” the alternate names Wilhelm gives the hexagram as a whole, refers to a time when as he puts it, “The way of inferior people is in ascent; the way of superior people is on the decline.” Line 3, however, indicates the first stirrings of a countermovement within this situation. As the great translator explains, “Inferior people who have risen to power illegitimately do not feel equal to the responsibility they have taken upon themselves. In their hearts they begin to be ashamed, although at first they do not show it outwardly. This marks a turn for the better.”[]

This is a remarkably astute recognition of the fact that transformation of ethical attitude may be underway even when moral integrity is nowhere in evidence. But how did Wilhelm get from the image to this insight? The answer lies, I think, in his skill as translator. To be sure, he had the help of a Confucian scholar, Lao Nai-hsüan, who was able to give him the traditional meanings that had been assigned to each of the lines in the book. But how did even Mr. Lao and his teachers know that this line had this meaning? They too had to have translated it into their Confucian vocabulary. At the time I was writing Integrity in Depth, I heard of another translation of this line that a contemporary Confucian sage living in San Francisco, Professor Yi Wu had apparently shared with his class: “They embrace shame.” As I was writing about the necessity of a sense of shame for moral integrity, I naturally embraced this translation. I had fallen in love with a Confucian concept, however, not the I Ching's original image. I noticed that in Professor Wu's privately published translation,[] the line was translated somewhat differently. There the line appears as “embracing the shameful.” The Confucian “instructions” that go with this he translates as “(1) avoid the arrogance of the inferior and (2) change shame into greatness.”

I began to suspect the translation, much as I appreciated the moral idea. At this point, another translation came into my possession, that of Wu Jing-Nuan, where the line is translated, “Holding an offering in expiation for a wrong.” The translator had also included the ancient Chinese characters that suggested this idea to him. They were only two, bao and xiu. The translator tells us, “The ancient pictograph of bao, shows a fetus in the womb, a symbol of holding and caring for what is within. Xiu shows the offering of a sacrificial sheep.” Now at last I could see the peculiar juxtaposition of images the translator was struggling to makes sense of. And suddenly the choice made by Wilhelm (and his English language translator Baynes) to translate the implied verb into English as “bear” instead of “hold,” “offer,” or “embrace,” made much more sense to me. Wilhelm had recognized that the central idea of the line is based on the metaphor of a pregnancy, something that does not show at first, something that takes time before its baby is delivered. The verb “to bear” is the perfect English expression for this because it suggests not only carrying the burden but also “childbearing.” Juxtaposed with the image of a sacrificial sheep, the image of pregnancy conveys the idea that the thing that is now being borne (endured) and will eventually be born for the world to see is sheepishness, the attitude of an ego that is not proud of what it has done. In English, such sheepishness may be translated as “shame,” and it is at the heart of the sacrificial attitude that would be required for inappropriate rulers to give up some of their power. Wilhelm's “they bear shame,” I realized, is a marvelous translation of this two pictograph sentence that conveys such a complex thought, suggesting that there is something paradoxically promising about the act of presenting one's shame to Heaven. At present, says the line, this shame is merely incubating in the people who have misused power, but it is there and an actual atonement is on the way.

I hope this example conveys to you how images have to be translated in order to hold onto their power once they are taken up by the heart-mind. Translated, but not interpreted. The power of the image to transform is not served when we interpret it in ways that get too far from the actual contours of the image itself. We can see from the lesser translations of this line why we need to learn to preserve an image's resonance when we seek to achieve a psychological understanding of it. We can't hear how these people who are ashamed of how they have been misusing power are carrying that shame inside when we are told that they are already embracing the shameful, or already holding an offering for expiation of a wrong. You can only experience their ashamed inner holding of their recognition that expiation is called for when the line is translated, “They bear shame.”

An image is not completely achieved by the inquiring heart-mind, however, just because it has been translated in such a way that it can become accessible by that mind. The mind of the heart has also to be able to enter the image and live inside it. This is the way of inhabiting the image. To enter into the spirit of the image that has come to it, the heart-mind must suspend or even cede its own ability to symbolize its experience associatively. The focus must stay on the symbol presented.[] This was part of the education of the Confucian sage, who would study over and over again the same classics, including the I Ching and the Book of Odes (Shih Ching), to train his mind to think in terms of received images. Let me give you an example. When I was working on Integrity in Depth, I was amazed to discover a translation of the Tao te Ching that translated the central word of that so-famous title ‘integrity' rather than ‘virtue'. It was by Victor Mair, the noted sinologist at the University of Pennsylvania. I wrote him a letter, and he made it clear to me that he was speaking of the meaning the pictograph still had in the very early times of the Ma Wang Dui manuscripts, when both Taoism and Confucianism were young. At that time, it was easy to discern that the pictograph was made up of three elements, an eye, a heart, and a man walking.

Ezra Pound offered a famous translation of the character of te as it appears in the Great Learning[] when he called it “the process of looking straight into one's own heart and acting on the results.” Certainly, this matches the definition of integrity offered by Polonius's to his son, Laertes, in Shakespeare's Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” But the similarity between Pound's definition of te and Polonius's notion of integrity is present only because the translator has fallen in love with his own conception of the thing he is trying to translate; he has not taken the trouble to really inhabit the image he has translated. In the pictograph for integrity there is a man walking, which assuredly could be translated “acting on the results.” There is also the image of a heart, which can be interpreted as “one's own heart.” And there is the image of an eye, and it does have a “straight” line above it. Victor Mair sent this image to the Fay Series editor, David Rosen, for the cover of Integrity in Depth, and this allowed me plenty of time to live with it, and it was only by inhabiting this image with my imagination that I began to intuit that there was something wrong with Ezra Pound's translation of te. I couldn't believe the eye was there only to look into the heart, which would in effect reduplicate the heart image at the expense of everything else the eye could see. When I finally voiced this suspicion to my analytic colleague Paul Ruefli, whom I met in Zurich when he was still in training, and at that time working hard to secure his mastery of Chinese, Paul told me that I was right: because the upward straight line above the eye meant that the eye was looking outward, not inward as Pound had assumed.

Paul made this discovery through the care he brought to understanding Chinese in a Chinese way, which allowed him to get into the pictograph of the eye with its upward straight line in a spirit that allowed him to inhabit that eye, just as the image demands. Anyone who gets far enough into the same image will come to understand that the eye is intended to be outward facing, which means that we cannot be content with our subjective heart feelings, no matter how deeply felt. Rather we should be striving to use the eye to record, not what one feels inside oneself, but what is out there objectively in the situation at hand. To get to this level of insight into what an image intends, however, one really has to inhabit the image. One has to go the image's way, not one's own, if one really wants to understand it.

Being conscientious about doing that in my case yielded the insight that integrity is never a narrow being true to oneself, but a complex process. There are three elements in the picture which cannot be reduced to each other, just as most dictionary definitions in English cannot do with less than three distinct meanings intertwined in the word “integrity.” Those three meanings are given in the pictograph of te as (1) being aware of one's own heart (2) being able to see situations for what they are and not what one might subjectively imagine them to be, and (3) being willing to act in a way that not only respects what the heart feels but also what the eye sees when looking at the situation objectively. Contemplating these elements of the pictograph te, as translated by me, I am able to achieve a model of integrity in a single image. This was remarkable, for just such a model had eluded me all the time I was writing my book, and only impressed itself upon me when I began to stare at the cover of what I had created.

Let me close with a summary of what I have said that will also convey what I hope you have achieved by listening to this lecture to our conference on the image in Jungian analysis as an agent of transformation. Achieving an image that can influence the heart-mind in a healing way means to allow it to present itself, to translate it as accurately as possible without violating its own contours, and to live with it until it yields its capacity to become a new way of living. The image, in other words, has to be really seen, really felt, and really lived before we can say that it has been “achieved” by the heart-mind and is available to do human work. And are not these three realities the eye, the heart, and the walk of integrity, applied to the images that we turn to to transform us?

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