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Imagination Never Lies

A man came to Carl Jung, seeking help interpreting his own dreams. But the man’s account of his dreams was so complicated that Jung couldn’t get a word in for the whole first session. So the man came back the next week, and the weeks after that, continuing to embellish his dream-stories with thousands of details and images. Finally, on the fifth session, the man said, “You’re an idiot, Dr. Jung. Can’t you see I’ve been making this whole thing up?” “Of course you have,” Jung replied. “It’s all made up. It’s also all revealing who you are.”

We tend to think of imagination as an escape from reality, but our inner worlds have just as many rules and consequences as our outer ones. A lot of people who practice positive thinking say, “I will visualize only lovely things.” But talk with them for five minutes and you’ll see how much pain their imaginations continue to carry. In spite of their efforts to seem positive, they still secretly imagine themselves as failures, burdens, or rejects. Because, of course, when it comes to the truth of our experience, imagination never lies. We are the ones who lie. And so, before we can tap into the power of our minds, we have to develop more truthfulness about what’s there in the first place.

The other day, I helped one of my clients imagine a conversation with her 11-year-old self. No matter how much she tried to imagine this inner child happy, she kept seeing a frown on the girl’s face. “Ask her what’s wrong,” I suggested. And sure enough, the answer came. “I don’t trust that you will take care of me,” the inner child said to my client. My client realized that she didn’t need more positivity. She needed a slow rebuilding of the self-trust that had been broken over many years. We have so many transformational tools at our disposal. Dreams. Visions. Art. But none of these has any power if we don’t tell the truth. So put truthfulness before all other practices, and the way ahead will become clear.

Painting by Leonora Carrington

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