Unit VI. Imagination - The Great Form-maker

  1. Image formation
  2. Form-making
  3. Symbolism
  4. The Astral Realm
  5. Dreams
  6. Artistic Creativity
  7. Imagination and Desire
  8. Discrimination (Taste)
Materials needed: journal, tracing paper, collage material and/or clay, drawing paper and colored pens

Books Needed: (See references section at end of the unit for complete citations)

Recovering the Soul
The Upanishads*
Chakras: Energy Centers of Transformation*
Inner Work*
A Path with Heart*
Yoga and Psychotherapy*
The Tibetan book of Living and Dying
The Owl was a Baker's Daughter
Practices and Exercises:

Religious symbol
Active imagination
Food preferences
The Owl Was a Baker's Daughter
* You may already have these books

Have you ever been told, "It's only your imagination?" This is usually said when the speaker is denigrating an idea or fantasy you have just shared. Or it might have been said to you when you were little and had a nightmare. Or perhaps you had just made an observation that someone had lights around her head. The phrase is a "put-down" that implies the speaker knows better than you do and that his/her knowledge is somehow superior to yours.

Imagination most likely got downplayed when intellectualism took precedence in our ways of thinking because the activities and outcomes of imagination are not always observable and/or measurable. Imaginative activities also often distract people from their chores or dutiful work, so one might expect a boss to look upon fantasizing with a jaundiced eye. We also feature the intellect rather than the intuition when trying to solve problems although there is some evidence that the really great thinkers and inventors, such as Einstein, gave a great deal of credence to their intuition as a source of inspiration and ideas. We will see later on that there is a link between imagination and intuition in creativity. However, the two are found associated with different chakras: imagination with the second chakra and intuition with the fourth.

Imagination is also associated with creativity. Nowadays, creativity is often ranked second to problem-solving as a dominant means of processing information. This is probably another symptom of our preoccupation with materialism and observable, practical results. So imagination often gets bad press.

Imagination comes from the Latin word imago meaning a representation of a thing or person. Imagination, therefore, is the act of forming mental images of something that is not present. We call this by a number of different names: fantasy, daydreaming, being "out-to-lunch," visualization, hallucination, prophecy, trance and imaging, to name a few.


Let us begin with how the individual learns how to make internal mental images. Once again, our instructor will be Jean Piaget who spent endless hours observing infants and young children trying to understand their intellectual development. He says that the whole process is based on the reflexes, such as sucking, groping or looking, with which all children are born. These are patterns of motor movements that have a core meaning for the child and that are repeatable by the child. Piaget calls each one of these a schema (1952). You might call it a motor image because the pattern of movement is the representation of the meaning involved. For example, babies not only suck at the nipples of their bottles, they will turn their heads toward and suck at anything that touches their cheeks. This is a reflex action that happens automatically and is a schema. There is a photograph taken in utero of a fetus sucking its thumb, so we know that the behavior occurs very early on.

Very soon after birth, at about a month, babies begin to apply these schemata to other objects that are new stimuli. Babies will suck their rattles, their thumbs, and anything else that comes near their mouths. As soon as they learn how to bring their hands up to their mouths, they examine everything they are holding and even their hands by sucking on them. These activities help form linkages in the brain between the sensory cortex and the motor cortex, so this period of development is called the sensory-motor period. It appears that the development of cell assemblies in the brain depends upon repetition. So this process enhances the association of objects on the basis of similarity. Piaget calls this assimilation. To the extent to which objects of examination differ, children have to accommodate themselves, or change their behavior. For example, the first spoonful of ice cream a baby has may be experienced as unpleasant because of its intense coldness. However, the sweet taste and novelty encourage children to adapt in order to accommodate it. Here we see the beginning of a very powerful learning process, that of adaptation. Adaptation is composed of alternation between accommodation (change of behavior) with assimilation (taking in and integrating). In the process, we learn how to capture, hold and manipulate the world. One of the major outcomes of these activities is the ability to form mental images. But we are not there yet.

The next step is a deliberate repetition of the schema in order to try to make something (anything) happen or to keep something happening. Random hand waving may on occasion hit a crib mobile and that makes it swing. So the child keeps doing it and is entertained. This indicates the use of feedback to continue behavior. At first the child accidently hits the mobile. This may occur several times before s/he gets the connection between the hand waving and the swinging. The connection depends upon feedback. One does something (motor action), observes the result (i.e., notices the sensory feedback), then does it again (repetition); if it produces pleasant results, that is.

The next stage comes about the time an infant begins to crawl at 8-12 months. There begins to be evidence of true intentionality, this time in the sense of goal-oriented behavior. What the child wants to happen is known at the outset. There is a means-end relationship between what s/he does and the end result. There is an expectancy and a relationship between the child and the object. This development comes, in part, as a result of imitation, a form of accommodation, on the part of the child. Peek-a-boo is a good example. You can see that, in order for true intentionality to emerge, there has to be some form of representation working inside the child's mind. But it is not yet an image. The representation is held instead in the sensory-motor patterns like a form of body coding.

Next, children discover new means through experimentation. We now have a toddler who is getting around on two feet and who, therefore, ranges more widely through the house exploring everything in sight and finding a lot that is not. If hitting a tower of blocks with another block made the tower fall down, the child is likely to hit it another time with some other tool such as a teddy bear. Or s/he might hit another toddler on the head with the block to see if s/he would fall down like the tower of blocks. Here we have repetition with variations as well as trial and error learning.

And the true symbolic images emerge soon after at about 18 months. We know this has happened because children now do trial and error testing covertly, without any external motor involvement. Up until this time, out of sight meant out of mind for the child. Something that was not in the line of vision simply did not exist. This is why babies cry when their mothers leave the room. It is as if she is lost forever. However, when a mental image is stable in the mind children can, in a sense, hold on to their mother when she leaves knowing she will soon return. A test used by Piaget is to hide a toy under a blanket. Even though the younger child may see the adult hide the toy, s/he does not seem to know where it is and will not search for it. Not so with a child who has a mental image. S/he still "sees" the toy in his/her mind and will look for it under the blanket. This achievement of stability in the image is called object permanence and is evidence for the establishment of mental images in the mind. We will see in a later unit how play and imitation extend the functions of the image in its representative role.

Modern Research. Research based on Piaget's work is too extensive to summarize here. But it is important to know that psychological experimentation is still very active in the field of visual imagery. The invention of computers and computer memories also is based on what scientists have learned about how the mind processes information and how people remember.

Wagman (1996) in a recent review article, "Representation and Theory of Mind," says that "The behavior of an intelligent system, human or animal or artificial, is a function of the representation system" (p. 10) which means that a combination of operations is performed in the representation system. He goes on to say that there is a ".. mapping from external events to mental or neural variables that serve as representations of those events." (p.11)

In 1971 Pribram first published his book, Languages of the Brain, in which he presented the holographic model of representation in the brain. He put forth the idea that the brain encodes information by means of slow-wave potentials that flow through the neural networks of the brain. This explains why no one has ever been able to find a place in the brain where memories are stored. It seems that memories are, somehow, reconstructed when needed (Neisser, 1967). If the parts of the brain involved in this reconstruction work like a hologram, then memories can be reproduced instantly and flexibly.

Pribram says that the neural hologram explains both the psychological function of imaging and the distributed memory mechanism in the brain (p. 165). Neighboring interactions between the wave forms in the neural networks produce interference effects like those of holograms. These interference patterns store both amplitude and phase information and can be read out later on. "..Images are reconstructed when representations in the form of distributed information systems are appropriately engaged. These representations operate as filters or screens... Holography in this frame of reference is conceived as an instantaneous analogue cross-correlation performed by matched filters." (p. 152) There is a two-dimensional hologram for a fast search and a three-dimensional hologram for large storage capacity. The two-dimensional provides the signal instruction for generating total recall of relevant information. (p. 156) So this means that retrieval needs only repetition of the pattern that first initiated the storage; and that, therefore, there is a capacity to directly find the content without reference to location.

Pribram says of images, "..the patterns become to some extent independent of cells as units and become instead the designs imposed by the junctional anatomy, the synaptic and dendritic microstructure of the brain. These designs serve.. as the neurological equivalents of percepts." (p. 108)

Please notice the pervasiveness of the holographic model. It is as if it is one of the basic patterns used in creation of the universe. It certainly gives a three-dimensional character to our way of thinking about things that takes us a level above the linear kind of information processing attributed to the left hemisphere. We might also note, while we are on the subject, that Pribram describes feature analyzers and cortical columns in the brain that account for our ability to organize information hierarchially.

According to the holographic hypothesis, the mechanism of these correlations is not by way of some disembodied "floating field" nor even by disembodied wave forms. Instead, consider once again the construction of more or less temporary organization of cortical columns (or, in other neural locations, other aggregates of cell assemblies) by the arrival of impulses at neuronal junctions which activates horizontal cell inhibitory interactions. When such arrival patterns converge from at least two sources their designs would produce interference patterns. Assume that these interference patterns made up of classical post- synaptic potentials are coordinate with awareness. Assume also that the analysis given at the beginning of this chapter is correct in suggesting that this micro- structure of slow potentials is accurately described by the equations that describe the holographic process which is also composed of interference patterns. The conclusion then follows that information representing the input is distributed over the entire extent of the neural pattern just as it is over the entire extent of the physical holographic pattern. (Pribram, 1971, p. 152-3)
Incidently, this would explain why you can remember something better if you can connect it to something you already know. It just expands the holographic pattern you already have rather than having to create a totally new one.


If you have a dog or have access to one, you may have observed that it knows the minute you are preparing to go out of town. And it will follow you in an obvious state of anxiety from room to room while you pack. How does it know? Is it ESP, telepathy, mind reading? How can we account for the dog's certain knowledge, and for the extrasensory perceptions that all of us have experienced. Why do dogs, expecially, seem to have a gift for mind reading? And what does this have to do with images?

Whitmont (1994) says, "Information is the means through which implicate form transmits itself... Information is implicate-order awareness arising from some universal awareness.. That directs into form an awareness of formal intentionality to something able to receive that awareness and respond to it." (p. 14) Could our dog be the "something able to receive that awareness and respond to it?"


In this unit we will be using the word "form" in its more conventional meaning as a structure or organized, more or less permanent pattern.

Form, according to Whitmont (1994, p 15) ".. denotes a perception of visual or image structure. However, any process also expresses form, no matter on what level its sensory input happens to be received." Sheldrake (1989, p. 58), a renowned British biochemist, describes form as ".. A pattern or arrangement or structure of information that can be repeated more or less exactly in many individual [things]." He says it is more like an idea than a thing but is essential to things and objects and cannot be separated from them. The form is united with matter but the form and matter aspects are separable. "The form seems to be something over and above the material components that make it up, but at the same time it can be expressed only through the organization of matter and energy." Since it is separate from matter, we might conjecture that it is related to imagery which also is based on a pattern. Form, like an image, is also implicit. It makes things recognizable on the basis of their similarities in form to other things. It is like a mental structure that can serve as a skeleton for construction of something more concrete. It can be used to bestow order on chaos.

Imagination is called form-making because it gives some kind of order to what was previously just random energy. A vibration gives form to essentially neutral energy because it is a rhythmic pattern of movement in the energy which can vary systematically and which gives identity to matter. Such form-making coupled with naming gives rise to creation. "Let there be Light!" calls something identifiable out of the chaotic void. Light has regular and predictable frequencies of vibration that give it its identity and make it different from sound, for instance. One can assume that the Creator who said those words had an image in mind before the words were said. Someone has said, "Thought creates reality." Thought, in this case, was an image. Preschool children think in images and speech. Isn't that an interesting coincidence?

Morphic Fields

Entelechy is a non-material causative factor that directs physical processes toward goals inherent within itself, i.e., that creates form. The idea has been around since Aristotle, was named by Driesch in 1908 and has been picked up more recently as an explanatory principle by Jean Houston (1994), Whitmont (1994) and Rupert Sheldrake (1989). It forms the basis of Sheldrake's concept of morphic fields which do the same thing.

He began where we are now with a question about how things come into form. This coming into form he called morphogenesis from the Greek morphe meaning form and genesis meaning coming into being. And he asks us to keep in mind that ".. all biological forms have evolved" (Sheldrake, 1989, p 71) which must be accounted for in the answer to the question.

Sheldrake's theory begins with the idea of formative causation (p. 71) which is the inheritance of organizing fields that contain a kind of built-in memory. A field is a non-material region of influence that enables objects not in contact with each other to affect each other. So it provides a medium for action at a distance. A field, in this sense, is physically real but is not physical, i.e., it is energetic. It has no parts, has a holistic quality and is continuous. A morphogenetic field has these characteristics and in addition is self-organized and self-directed. It plays a causal role in guiding systems toward characteristic patterns of organization. It contains inherent memory and works as a probability structure. It is not static, but evolves and interacts with the structures it is monitoring. An example is the ability of some animals to regenerate parts of their bodies that have been amputated. Another is the fact that during physical development the initial DNA in the germ cell is able to create diversified organs and systems in the physical body out of essentially identical nutrients and identical germ cells.

Sheldrake says that the structure of these fields is not determined but results from actual forms of previous, similar organisms and depends on what has happened to their ancestors in the past. The action of such fields depends upon morphic resonance which though analogous to the resonance of sound does not involve a transfer of energy but is instead a non-energetic transfer of information that takes place on the basis of rhythmic patterns that are held in common. (p. 108) What this means is that past patterns of activity can influence subsequent fields of similar systems, and this influence is not weakened by distance. This sounds like a case could be made for thought transfer from one mind to another. And, indeed, it seems as if telepathy is instantaneous regardless of mileage.

Continuing, Sheldrake says that morphic self-resonance is more specific and effective if it originates in the individual's own past, in which case it tends to stabilize and maintain the individual in its characteristic form. We feel ourselves to be the same person over time even if the body changes, for instance. There are also resonances with the patterns of activity of similar past organisms which tends to stabilize the general probability structure of the field itself. An example of the first kind of resonance would be habits or neuroses, any pattern of behavior in an individual that tends to repeat itself. An instance of the latter would be the hundredth monkey phenomenon. It is documented fact that learning on the part of some animals in one place influences that of similar animals in another, apparently unconnected environment. Subsequent animals learn more rapidly and the rate accelerates. Even IQ norms have risen during the last twenty years. Both types of resonance involves formative causal connections across both space and time. The more repetitions, the stronger the influence becomes. (p. 134)

A morphic field is more general in meaning than a morphogenetic field because the principles are generalized to other kinds of organizing fields. It has all the characteristics of a morphogenetic field and, in addition, contains an inherent memory.

It is these fields that give form to matter. Whitmont (1994) says: and Whitmont goes on to apply some of these ideas to healing, growth and change. You might want to look up his article. In the same edition of the Noetic Sciences Review, Autumn, 1994, there is an article by Sheldrake called "Seven Experiments That Could Change the World" in which he deals with some implications of his theory. This article is taken from Sheldrake's book by the same name which purports to set out seven experiments any one of which, if confirmed, would rock our materialistic, corporate boat because it challenges our current paradigms of science.

This has been an overview of some of the research on image formation and form-making that comes from the field of psychology. We have seen how mental image formation is developmentally channeled and how forms of organisms, things and systems are at least in part determined by probabilities in unobservable morphic fields that even so influence every aspect of our lives. I cannot help wondering if these fields are not the two mental bodies or sheaths we have already met in Yoga, the manomayakosa and the vijnanamayakosa. Or perhaps all of the sheaths are instrumental in giving form to our lives and activities in this way. There is much to think about here.

Exercise: Form-making

1. Read chapter 8 in Recovering the Soul. How do you feel about Sheldrake's hypothesis? Can you find examples of it in your daily life? How would you apply it to the spiritual journey? Do you think there might be a morphic field that could be classified as spiritual? If so, what effect would it have on you? On our society? Make some notes about your reflection.

We will now turn to a more specific kind of form, the symbol, and see how it impacts our spiritual journeys.


A symbol is something that stands for or represents something else, usually something abstract. More often than not, it is a visual object although it can be a word. Since words as mediators will not be discussed until Book 3, we will stick to the visual and abstract characteristics of symbols here.

Visual symbols share the characteristics of the right hemisphere of the brain in that they are wholistic and simultaneous. That is, you apprehend the whole picture at once rather than in a linear fashion as one does with speech, for example. Symbols also have the quality of being able to hold and communicate several meanings and levels of meaning at once even if the observer may not be aware of all of them on a conscious level. Symbols may speak directly to the unconscious, and they are the preferred medium of intuition. A symbol is to intuition what a word is to the intellect, the basic unit of meaning. You might say that symbols are the language of intuition. You will find them in every aspect of spiritual practice and literature. They are also used in astrology, the Tarot, the I Ching and other forms of divination. Religions employ them to focus attention and to foster a contemplative mood. The statues in churches, candles on the altar, banners, and other artifacts are all symbolic and carry intrinsic meaning.

Dreams are conducted almost entirely with symbols and visual images though there may be some language and auditory imagery. Our psyches can produce archetypal symbols that originate in the collective unconscious and whose meanings are held in common with all humans. These archetypal symbols serve as morphic fields or patterns for the great figures of myth and legend. Creative art and music depend upon symbols to convey their messages. And last, come the logos and traffic signs of our everyday life which attempt to direct our attention to what we should do or buy.


A yantra is like a visual mantra. It is used in meditation as a focus for the mind. The idea here is that, if the mind is concentrated on a single, simple object, the mental chatter ceases. Eventually, the object is dropped when the mind can remain empty and silent without help.

Yantras usually are designed so that the eye is carried into the center, and more often than not they are symmetrical. In these respects they differ from mandalas. A mandala may have these characteristics, but not necessarily. Yantras also carry spiritual significance. There is a specific meaning that pertains to higher levels of consciousness.

Exercise: Yantra

Figure 2-5

Figure II-5 is a yantra I have drawn because I do not have a clipart source for one, so its meaning is probably not as inspiring as you would find in a genuine Hindu or Buddhist poster. But you can at least get the idea. You could do one of two things, either work with this one or draw your own. The latter idea is probably best as you could incorporate figures and shapes in it that have a personal meaning for you.

If you use this one, color it. If you will spend about five minutes in meditative preparation before you begin to work with it, that would give your psyche an opportunity to become involved. This should not be an intellectual exercise, but the inspiration should come from your inner Self. Let the colors reflect your higher level feelings.

If you draw your own, follow the same instructions, only create your own design. You may want to frame the finished yantra and keep it in your meditation space.


Paying attention to the manifestations of the timeless Mind was for Jung the redeeming life task for all persons." (Dossey, 1989, p. 42)

Johnson says that archetypes are ".. the characteristic patterns that pre-exist in the collective psyche of the human race, that repeat themselves eternally in the psyches of individual human beings and determine the basic ways that we perceive and function as psychological beings." (1986, p. 27) So here we have the patterning again. It sounds a bit like the lattices that Barbara Brennan (1987) sees in the human aura which form structures upon which the human form is imposed. The main difference is that archetypes are the models for mental, feeling and psychological structures. We experience them as symbols that may arise whenever the intellectual mind is relaxed or conditions are right. They may visit us in our dreams or even in our hallucinations.

Because archetypes originate in the collective unconscious, they have similar meanings for all human beings across cultures and levels of sophistication. Jung (1959, p. 153) says, "They are the ‘human quality' of the human being, the specifically human form his activities takes." Johnson (1986, p. 29) calls them the "..pre-existing ‘first patterns' that form the basic blueprint for the major dynamic components of the human personality." Some examples of archetypes fulfulling these roles are the soul manifesting as animus or anima (the masculine and feminine respectively), the hero, the great mother, the wise old person and the child. Archetypes may also manifest as qualities such as love, the daemonic, joy or compassion.

When Johnson talks about archetypes as analogous to the gods of ancient Greece and Rome, he says the gods could be thought of as ".. ‘fields of energy' acting on the human race" (p. 33). This reminds us of the morphic fields discussed above because archetypes function in the same way to create form.

Exercise: Archetypes

1. Read the chapter on Archetypes and the Unconscious in Inner Work, pages 27-35 by Robert Johnson. Can you relate to the notion of archetypes? If so, how do they manifest in your life? Can you think of others that are not mentioned by Johnson? How would you know they were archetypes and not just a personality type?

2. Give some thought to your soul as an archetype. If you are a male, your soul will be the feminine form (anima) and if you are female, your soul will be the masculine form (animus) according to Jung. Think about why the soul might be represented by the opposite gender. Does it feel that way to you?

Either make a collage or create a drawing of your soul. To do this, sit in meditation for at least 15 minutes or until you can calm your mind and begin to get in touch with the deeper aspects of yourself. Have your materials ready before you begin the meditation, so you can go to work immediately. If you are doing a collage, you can let your soul select the pictures to use and how they should be arranged on the page. If you are drawing, allow your soul to select the colors and work in the abstract, so you are not tempted to let the intellect take over and make something recognizable. If you would prefer, you can use the medium of clay instead.

When you are finished, set the creation up on a table or chest of drawers and walk across the room. Then turn and look at it. Notice your first reactions to it. Trying to maintain your meditative mood, see what the picture says to you. What is the message your soul was trying to convey? Was this a surprise or did you find yourself recognizing something you already knew perhaps on another level of consciousness? Make notes in your journal, so you can remember.

Religious Symbols

All religions make use of symbols from the masks of Polynesian tribes to the yin-yang symbols of Taoism and the candles on the church altar. In these cases, the symbol usually represents a core concept of the tradition. Light is a universal symbol of the Divine One and is represented by artificial light in a variety of creative ways. Hindus use a five-branched holder rather like a candelabra that holds camphor. Set afire, it blazes dramatically until all the camphor is gone. It is used to invoke the deity or to bless the participants, or both. Christian churches use many candles to celebrate Easter and Christmas because those were times that the "Light of the World" was born and resurrected.

Buddhists use thangkas, pictures of the Buddha or of special saints painted on fine materials such as silk, to hang in their shrines and temples. Jews have the Ark which contains sacred scriptures. Sufis use a heart with wings to remind us to be freely open-hearted.

To indicate how a symbol can contain many levels of meaning, let us look at the cross. It reminds Christians of the crucifixion and Jesus' sacrifice of his life to demonstrate his trust in the Lord and the consequent resurrection which is symbolized by Easter lilies. It may also be seen as a model of egolessness by Buddhists or as the renunciation of ego by Yogis. At a different level, one can see the cross as representative of the human being with arms outstretched. The vertical dimension is the connection with the Divine One that brings in Love. The horizontal dimension is the opening out to give this love to others. One could interpret Christ on the cross in the same way. In all cases, the meanings are the sacrifice of self-will that enables the giving of Love.

The cross is a universal symbol and appears in nearly all cultures, according to Angeles Arrien (1990). According to her, the cross means such things as relatedness, integration, conflict resolution, collaboration, coming together, intersection and the wish to connect with others. Taken with the interpretations given above, one can go to still higher levels of meaning and implication for human interrelatedness.

Exercise: Religious Symbol:

Select one of the symbols from your religious background, or you may simply pick a symbol that has spiritual significance for you. Copy or draw it, so you can work with it. Or you can use a statue or picture you already have. Sit with the symbol for a while concentrating on it until you begin to relax the intellect and chattering mind. Let the symbol speak to you and jot down the various meanings that come to you. When meanings stop coming, review the meanings you acquired. Is there any central focus point to them? How would you label that meaning? Is it superordinate to the others you jotted down, does it somehow include all of them? Or do you find that the meanings have separate identities? Could you design a new symbol that represents the central meaning, or does the one you sat with do the job adequately?

What are the implications for your life and spiritual journey of these meanings? Were you aware of them before? Do they give you a sense of direction or of new directions? Did the symbol carry its own energy? How might you use this for your benefit? Make notes in your journal about what you learned.

Active Imagination

There are many techniques for unlocking the secrets of the unconscious mind. Active imagination is one of them and twilight imaging is another. You may already be familiar with guided imagery from workshops you have attended. It is a fairly innocuous technique that gives instant results. All of these methods share several things in common. The first is that the participant must be in a relaxed body and mind condition. If someone else is guiding you, they will most likely have you lie down on the floor so you can completely relax. The next step is to progressively release tension in the body and surrender to the process. With eyes closed then, a person can be led by verbal suggestion into myriad domains of semi-consciousness where memories may be reclaimed, contact made with the Higher Self, archetypes aroused, etc. The process is completed by gently arousing the participants and having them write down and/or share their experiences.

This is also a process you can engage in by yourself. You can either employ Johnson's techniques as in the exercise below, or you can look up Progoff's (1975) twilight imaging procedure in At a Journal Workshop, chapter 6.

Exercise: Active Imagination

Read Inner Work by Robert Johnson, Part III on Active Imagination.

After you have read the material, try some of his exercises and see how well they work for you. Before you do any of the exercises, as he suggests, and this is especially important for people who are air signs (Aquarians, Geminis and Libras) as they tend to lift off fairly easily, find someone who can be around while you do it to help you ground yourself and to be there should you have trouble returning to normal consciousness. You may combine the steps listed above with Johnson's suggestions or simply go with his procedure. If you have access to Progoff's (1975) book, you may prefer to use his twilight imaging technique instead. Whichever you decide, stay with it until you find out how to get results. The process itself should take somewhere around a half hour, and you should be in a quiet space where you will not be interrupted. If you need a coach, that person can sit quietly and watch you and could also read the induction if you are using one - slowly enough to give you time to experience. I understand this technique originated with St. Ignatius, so his writings would be another possible source of ideas.

One thing you might want to attempt is to make contact with your Higher Self. You could write out a scenario (cf. Twilight Imaging in Appendix A for an example) in which you find some access such as a door, stairs or a well and go underground into the stream of consciousness and follow it to a meadow or outdoor landscape where you meet the Self. Include a great deal of detail to help your imagination get engaged. Use color, smells, touch and all the senses. You can write this out and tape it or have someone read it to you or just remember it in your mind as you journey. If you wish, take a question with you or ask for a gift or for information.

The Astral Realm

The astral plane of existence is one that most people prefer to ignore. One reason for this is that experiences of this territory are often very frightening since it is not under ego control. It is a place of swiftly-changing emotions that may run the gamut from very pleasant to hideously terrifying. The emotions are enhanced by vivid imagery that is also present. Nightmares fall into this category as do some of the Shaman's journeys, those to the underworld. In your dreams you may visit this terrain. Because it is the domain of the energy body, there are powerful currents of fear, desire, rage, hate, confusion and, perhaps, ecstasy.

People who experiment with Kundalini energy without a teacher to guide their way may find themselves stuck or lost in this realm and unable to resurface. Some people who have underdeveloped egos may also find themselves experiencing more of this realm than they would normally care to. Neurotics in therapy and those who are exploring the unconscious are particularly vulnerable, so it is really important to have professional guidance if you attempt to access this realm or at least someone who can call for help should you get stuck there. In fact, I would recommend that everyone leave it alone.

It is very important to make a distinction between the astral realm and the intuitive realm of the fourth chakra. The latter may provide you with visions and intimations of divine ecstasy and is governed by the intuitive mind. The astral realm is related to the imagination which, as we have seen, is not always under control of the conscious mind nor the ego.

Even with my extensive psychological background, when I first became aware of the practices of satanism, I found it difficult to understand how some people can get so lost in and controlled by hatred and rage that they can kill and maim others including children and animals completely indiscriminately and without compassion.. However, when I realized that the imagery and beliefs of those practices are related to the astral realm, the role of imagination in it became clearer.


The Buddhists have explored the astral realm pretty thoroughly, and there are some books about the Bardo. This is part of the astral plane, the first place a soul finds itself in immediately after death and, incidently, the locale of most of the out-of-body experiences. The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Fremantle & Trungpa, 1975) and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (Rinpoche, 1992) chronicle the journey through the Bardo from before death through all the passages. They also detail how one should navigate this territory in order to make a safe journey. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, in particular, is an excellent handbook for a dying person or someone who is close to a dying person.

Exercise: Phowa:

If you can find a copy of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, read chapter 7, pages 214-222, and chapter 14.

Give some thought to death as a gateway rather than an end of life. With this as a context, imagine yourself continuing your journey when you are finally out of your body. Consider that the fear of death may be only fear of the unknown or fear of the astral realm. If all of what has gone before is true, then mastery of your imagination should go a long way toward allaying those fears.


The symbols that arise in dreams are similar to those that would come up in any other relaxed semi-conscious situation. And, again, they will bear the stamp of your own personal experience in building connotations.

Dreams can vary in how conscious you are while experiencing them. You are most aware in daydreaming and can stop the action if you wish. Usually daydreams are devoted to wish-fulfillment, so they tend to be pleasant, a means of temporary escape from the realities of our lives. The usual night dream is one in which most of us are not conscious, nor can we awaken at will. However, if the dream is a nightmare, we may awaken when fear becomes intense. In night-dreaming, the body is paralyzed as we mentioned before. It is possible to become conscious during a night-dream. These are called lucid dreams, and one can learn how to achieve this experience. Instructions may be obtained in a book called Lucid Dreaming by Stephen Berge (1985). However, I urge you to use caution in attempting this since we do not yet know what the long term impact of this practice is. We need our REM (rapid eye movement) or dreaming sleep in order to process information left over from the day's experiences and for the bodymind's rejuvenation. So these may be processes that are better left uncontrolled to do their healing work. My advice would be to read about it if you wish, but to not attempt it until further research reveals more information about its impact on the bodymindspirit.

One can go further and say that life is a dream, and many do in Yogic circles. In fact, the whole of creation is said to be Vishnu's dream. As you go further and further into the Yogic disciplines, you may find yourself agreeing that the real reality is elsewhere, and that our everyday concerns with earthly pursuits have taken on an aura of unreality. This does not mean that you would not do your life, but that you might not take it so seriously.

An interesting thing about dreams is that they may be interpreted on many different levels. One is that they often use material from the previous day in which to wrap their messages. So we could recognize that form as simply information processing of the day's events. Then there is the level of interpersonal interactions. Conflicts or personal dramas of all sorts may follow you into sleep and continue to unfold. Or your subconscious may give you more information about the situation(s). You may meet key people in your life and have your wishes fulfilled - or frustrated. Or there may be messages from important people in your life. Then there is the spiritual level in which you receive communications from your Higher Self or information about how your spiritual journey is progressing. In nearly all of these cases, the ego has a stake in disguising the real meaning of what is going on. Hence the symbolism.

Freud said that the ego distorts the dream action in order to protect sleep or to get its wishes fulfilled. The way he suggested to discover the real meaning of the dream is to free associate to the dream images and action. And this is a technique used by all psychoanalysts (that is therapists who follow Freud and base their therapies on his teachings).

We will be using techniques designed by C.G. Jung who was a student of Freud, but who went his own way because he disagreed with some of Freud's tenets. Jung could probably be called the first transpersonal psychologist. He was fascinated by the unconscious and personality development. He was also in touch with the Higher Self, so we have much to learn from him. You will be reading about his ideas in the exercise attached to this section, so no more will be said about him now.

One last idea. You can think of all the characters in your dreams as representing parts of your personality. So, let us say you dream of your lover and a rival. Your first reaction could be to attach the meaning of the dream to your actual relationships. This might be a mistake if you want to learn more about yourself. Instead think about the characteristics of each person that stand out in the dream and ask yourself what part of your own personality they each represent. We all have multiple personalities and differ from people who are mentally ill only in that all of our parts know each other and are integrated by the ego (in one of its legitimate roles). So you have an intrapersonal family, so to speak. And the interactions between members of that family have a lot to do with your mental health and sense of well-being. If the internal family is harmonious, your energies can be applied to external challenges. So the people and other characters in your dreams symbolize parts of yourself. Likewise, the action in the dream tells you something about what is currently going on between these parts of yourself. A big dream, and you recognize those by their strong feeling tones and the sense of importance, is a strong message, usually from the Higher Self, that needs to be decoded. So you want to pay particular attention to those.

Exercise: Dreams

1. Read Part II: "Dream Work" in Inner Work and pages 134-7 and pages 161-171 in Yoga and Psychotherapy and the Mandukya Upanishad.

2. If you have not already done so, begin keeping a record of your dreams. If you cannot remember them, it is probably because you have not been honoring them with any attention. If you turn your attention to them with an attitude of gentle collaboration, they will soon begin to manifest. If you have many nightmares, you may be too afraid to remember them. In any case, a series of nightmares means you need to attend to subconscious or unconscious material that is secretly impacting your life. And you probably ought to address this problem first, if necessary with the help of a therapist.

When you have a dream or a selection of dreams recorded, try analyzing them using Johnson's methods. Keep a running log for a while to see if there is any continuous theme. You may find your dreams are prophetic over time, or you may discover an inner teacher you did not know was there.

Artistic Creativity

It is obvious that art, in particular, depends heavily on symbols. All good art has something to say about the universal experiences of human life. This would generalize to the auditory imagery in music as well. What you may not have had in the forefront of your mind is that the images in art, whether they are visual or musical or even kinesthetic, are all representative of something beyond the surface appearance. And this is so even if the artist was not consciously aware of how the images were being employed. Some artists create from an altered state of consciousness. In fact, you could probably say that it is not true creativity if all the action comes from the intellectual mind.

It seems to me that the best art is a meld of both forms of cognition. One receives inspiration from the intuitive mind and then uses learned techniques from the intellectual mind to put the inspirations into forms that can be understood by others. One popular model of creativity has the artist begin with inspiration or an idea, followed by incubation in which the idea is left in the unconscious to germinate. This is followed by illumination or emergence of the whole pattern generated by the idea. The next step is application or the putting into form. This pattern works with a whole gamut of creative endeavors from term papers to the inventions of geniuses.

The symbol is the key to the whole process since it represents the first idea with all of its initial potential as well as taking part in the finished product to convey all the fullness of the mature creation.

So far in this unit we have looked at how mental images are developed and how things are created or brought into form. We examined the various forms of symbols and discussed how an individual's system of representation can be used on the spiritual journey. All of this speaks to one of the mind's most important functions, imagination. Now we will look at how the imagination can betray us when it gets out of hand.

Imagination and Desire

All our human actions spring from desire which is born of emptiness
-- Swami Venkatesananda (In Thomas, Susan, Ed.,1973, p.31)

The crocodile-like animal in the second chakra is called a makara. It represents greed and grasping, clinging to people, objects, the world, wealth or anything of this world of names and forms. Desire. Wanting. Grabbing. Holding on and inability to let go. We all experience this - the fear of the unknown, wanting to control the future or other people or our own destinies. The crocodile has big jaws - "the better to eat you with, my child," to borrow a phrase from an old nursery tale. And these crocodile jaws are capable of tremendous strength in holding onto its prey. In addition, the crocodile is very quick. It is capable of grabbing an unsuspecting, unaware human being standing on the bank of a river. And that is probably our most telling metaphor.

Desire works the same way. It grabs us when we are not paying attention and refuses to let go until we are destroyed. It is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from the jaws of desire regardless of what it is that is wanted. And that is called attachment in Yoga, addiction in modern society. Everyone is familiar with the tentacles of desire that infiltrate every aspect of our lives. And most, if not all of us, know about how difficult it is to break the bonds that wrap themselves around our minds. What is your addiction? Sugar? salt? fat? sex? alcohol? running? work? losing weight? Enlightenment? You know the drill.

Furthermore, the Yogis have put this makara in the chakra that is governed by the element of water. Water is one of the symbols for imagination, so the implication is that imagination also furnishes us with objects of attachment. And it very likely provides the medium (like water) that supports the desires. Let us take an example.

Suppose you are addicted to food. It seems to satisfy some inner craving that nothing else can touch. So, even though you know overindulgence will make you fat, you continue to eat. Of course, you know that gaining weight is not good for your heart and arteries, so you resolve to go on a diet. However, the diet itself fans the flames of desire, and you find yourself able to think of nothing else but food as if you were starving in the wilderness. Well, perhaps you truly are. Maybe this is body language for something deeper inside that is not being nurtured. It is imagination that makes the scenario spin itself out so that it takes up much of your waking thought time. Your stream of consciousness that we met in the last unit takes hold of the images formed by your imagination, such as chocolate ice cream sundaes, and keeps stirring and stirring them until you may become frantic with need. Finally you cave in and eat again. The cycle has all the components of an obsessive-compulsive neurosis. Thoughts and actions are out of control and in the service of some unknown force within that is needy and greedy.


According to Yoga, self-gratification is a function of the ego that wants its own way. Interestingly enough, Freud saw the same process only he called it the Id. It is as if there is a hungry child inside that cannot be satiated. Rama, et al., (1976) say that the second chakra is associated with species survival, as opposed to the self-preservation of the first chakra. So this brings up all sorts of sensuousness including sexuality. And because sex is a basic drive what we are confronted with here is a kind of instinct that is going to be difficult to moderate. Freud was very familiar with the instincts of the Id and spent a great deal of time exploring how the ego learns to control it.

We are reminded of the disciplinary problems that are encountered with two-year olds who have just discovered they have a potential for controlling the environment and other people. Parents are then confronted with a primitive ego that wants to have its own way. Self-gratification. One of the very important things that has to be learned during the preschool period is how to control one's own instincts. That includes waiting for a reward or the self-gratification discussed above.

Exercise: Self-gratification:

1. Read pages 232-238 in Yoga and Psychotherapy and pages 83-88 in A Path with Heart. The first is the Yogic point of view on self-gratification and the second is a Buddhist perspective on one of the three poisons: passion which means clinging or grasping in this context. Compare these two perspectives and see what they have in common.

2. Do the "Meditation on the Impulses that Move our Life" on page 100-1 in A Path with Heart. Then see if you can apply what you have learned to one of your attachments that you might like to diminish.

3. There is nothing like taking a look at your likes and dislikes to get a picture of the ego's role in all of this. Sit down and make two lists, one of your likes (things you really like or like to do) and one of your dislikes (those things you hate to do or put off doing or truly dislike). These lists can include things, people, activities, events, leisure time activities, work-related events, chores, etc. Whatever comes to mind. When you are finished, look over your lists and see which, if any, of them are indispensible to your well-being and put those on another list. Take them off the likes or dislikes lists. They will have a different quality to them.

Now look over what is left. Then rate each one on a scale of one to ten (10 being most important to you to keep it). Make a note beside each "like" about what it would take for you to give it up. With the "dislikes," rate each on a scale of one to ten (10 being most important to keep because you have good reasons for it). Then go through that list again and put a star by the ones that you feel really disinclined to do or to have. There is a sense in which it is more difficult to have to do something you are disinclined to do or have than to give up something you would like to do or have.

Consider how your likes and dislikes impact your spiritual life. Which ones get in the way of your progress? In making this decision, remember the concepts of ignorance and duality. How do your evaluations about things and events and people create maya for you? Then think about the relationships between your two lists, and make notes about things you might want to change.


Another way to look at desire and greed is through certain behavior patterns that are called dependency. People who are dependent do not wish to take responsibility for their own lives or the things that go wrong in them. They would rather blame someone else for their troubles. Then it is no longer necessary for them to do something about them or to change their behavior or to thwart the ego, all of which may be unpleasant and may upset the comfortable habits they have well-established.

Of course it is important to explore and try to understand our early experiences and, in doing so, we inevitably encounter resentments against our parents or early caretakers who had the responsibility of socializing us. And we may feel anger or even rage about that. It is necessary to let these feeling surface so we can confront them and let them go. But, beyond that, to harbor and nurture them and to wallow in feelings of helplessness instead of releasing them and getting on with our lives is simply dependency. If we repeat these patterns of blaming others and continuing to expect them to take care of our needs in our present relationships, that is called co-dependency. Infants and young children rightfully expect the adults around them to meet their needs for they are too immature to do it for themselves. Grown up people who do this tend to whine and complain a great deal about how unfair life is to them. But it is irresponsible behavior in adults and tends to make the people who engage life in this way rather unpopular.

Exercise: Food Preferences

For several days keep a running list of everything you eat, expecially those mid-day or late evening snacks. Do not cheat. Even if it is just one bite of a cookie, write it down. Keep a time record too. It might be interesting to make two columns in your notebook and put the food and time in one column and what you are feeling at the same time in the other. When you have enough of a list to process, work with it for a while and see what you can learn about your habits. What do you eat most often? When during the day do you eat it? How often did you eat because you were upset? Was it a particular kind of upset? Who upsets you? Can you identify any food addictions? Is there a relationship between eating and loneliness for you? What distracts you from eating? Did you vomit any of it? Is not-eating an addiction for you? What patterns could you identify? Make some notes in your journal.

The Ratna Realm

In the Buddhist Wheel of Life there are six realms of experience: Human, Animal, Hell, Hungry Ghost, Jealous Gods and God realms. They represent principles that are extensions of ourselves, different fundamental styles or stances from which we perceive the world and work with it. In each of these realms, one can experience everything from the worst possible scenario to a blissful variation. But each realm has its own characteristic feeling tone, and the opposites enable us to see what the extremes bring in terms of psychological experience.

In the center of the wheel are three symbols for the three poisons: passion, aggression and ignorance because they are the hub, what keeps the cycle going. Each of these poisons is associated with two of the realms. The one connected to the Hungry Ghost realm is, of course, passion which means hanging on. If you can locate a picture of the Wheel of Life, notice the figures in the Hungry Ghost realm. They are naked creatures with tiny mouths and swollen bellies who are literally starving. So starvation or deprivation is one pole of this dimension. Ratna is the other.

Ratna (Ratnasambhava) is the Buddha manifestation in the Hungry Ghost realm who represents abundance and nurturance. This is the positive end of the spectrum. He has the wisdom of equanimity, expansion and enrichment. He is connected to the earth and his color is yellow, the direction is south, the symbol is a jewel. Ratna is rather like Laksmi the Hindu goddess of wealth and riches. The neurotic manifestations of this realm are obesity, ostentatiousness, heedlessness and self-indulgence. The implications are pretty obvious. Deprivation may lead to self-indulgence. Hunger.

Hunger for what? Might it be hunger for Divine Love? If we have separated ourselves from the highest source of love in the cosmos, why would we not feel hungry? Psychologists have been aware for years of the connection made right after birth between feeding and mother love. So, it is no accident later in life when we feel deprived of love that we would eat in an unconscious effort to retrieve the love that was lost in growing up. The unfortunate fact is that no amount of food nor any amount of attention from other people can substitute for the Love of God. The hunger for that is insatiable, and no matter how much we try to hide it from ourselves we will find that there are no good replacements. Perhaps that is the motivating force that keeps us on the path: that certain knowledge that cosmic Love is available somewhere. And we probably know that in the depths of our being because we have already experienced it. We want to go Home, and we cannot or we do not know how. So we eat or otherwise pamper ourselves.

There is probably not much you can do about this loneliness enroute on your journey except to be aware of it and of the fact that you are substituting something else for it. The antidote is, of course, worship or Bhakti Yoga. For it is in worship that we are able to forget ourselves momentarily and our struggles to be whole and draw closer to that Great Heart of Hearts who loves us no matter what.

Exercise: Owl was a Baker's Daughter.

If you can find a copy, read The Owl was a Baker's Daughter by Marion Woodman. Woodman is a Jungian psychotherapist who has worked for years with eating disorders. This book will give you some further insights into the foundations of food addiction and some ideas about how they are treated. See how much of what she says applies to you and your addictions. Whether they be to food or not, the principles are the same.


The last topic in this unit is associated with the sense that is connected to this chakra - taste. It is no accident that taste goes with the other symbols of this chakra. For taste depends upon the fluid of saliva. It is associated directly with food and eating. And it requires discrimination. In fact, we say someone has "good taste," meaning s/he is capable of good discrimination.

Now, we are used to thinking of discrimination in a perjorative sense. But that is not its meaning here. Discrimination means to learn how to make fine distinctions between things, a necessary basis for refining the senses. Discrimination is paired with generalization in psychological studies of learning. Generalization means to group things together on the basis of their similarities. And often, when we do this, we overlook some important other characteristics that might have important meanings. This is one of the problems with intellectual thinking. It overlooks the fact that boundaries really do not exist. The groupings are artificial and perception must be limited in order to preserve the boundaries of the percept or concept.

Discrimination is the counterpart. It means to keep things separate on the basis of their differences. This can result in a great deal of evil if it is used to isolate people or groups just because of their diversity. However, the principle itself is important because lack of discrimination can result in a sloppy life. It reflects carelessness and fuzzy thinking. Everything we do or say reflects our state of mind. So lack of discrimination means our lives are probably chaotic and disorderly. There is a difference between clean and dirty, between wholesome and dissolute, between asleep and awake. Which would you rather be? If you do not discriminate, you are likely to be ignorant in the sense of ignoring what life is all about. Maya.

An extension of discrimination is clarity. We need to be clear about what we want because that is what we inevitably get. Thoughts do create reality, and that which we focus our attention and wants upon will certainly manifest in some form or other. If we are not clear about the form we want, we may be sadly disappointed and surprised when it does make its appearance.

Clarity about the spiritual journey is essential. We must know who we are, what we want, where we are going, why and for what. Otherwise, we cannot recognize our inner guidance nor the signs that point the way. We wind up going around in circles blaming the universe for our lack of success. However, if we are clear, the signs will also be clear, the way open, and help will be available when we need it. Those things that obscure the way recede into the background, doors open, spiritual friends materialize and joy comes into our lives.

Clarity takes time and patience because we have to learn to discount all the distracting lures the world has to offer. This is not a journey for wimps. It takes courage, commitment and effort. It takes a strong spiritual Will (different from self-will) that is bonded to the Divine One. And it takes good old-fashioned hard work. The magnets that would hold us to the attractions of life are very strong and have been in effect for years and years of habit formation. So they must be dismantled one by one with infinite patience. If you are not willing to do this work, no amount of workshop attendance, study or interpersonal chatting will do it for you. In fact, those things may distract you from your focus on the Way.

One of the things that will help is a spiritual friend and/or spiritual support group. We take up those topics in the last unit of this book.

Exercise: Clarity:

1. For the next few days, keep the idea of clarity in the forefront of your mind and watch your daily activities. How often do you lose track of the concept of clarity? What distracted you? About what things and events are you truly clear? And what causes confusion in your life? Clarity and confusion are opposites. And confusion is often used as an ego defence as we have already seen in this chakra.

Find a time when you can sit down and think about your journey. Jot down some answers to the following questions: Who am I? What do I want out of life? How long can I wait for it? What is my long-term goal on the spiritual journey? What is the next step? How can I make my life more sacred? What is missing from it that needs to be present?

In this unit we have seen the necessity to develop clarity about our spiritual goals and who we are. Discrimination is an important tool for dealing with a runaway imagination and the attachments with which it is associated. Symbols are the basic units of the intuitive cognitive system, and they are invaluable because of their ability to contain and communicate multiple meanings simultaneously. They also represent unconscious processes and archetypes that figure importantly in the spiritual journey. Imagination is crucial for form-making and mental imagery, but it needs to be harnassed and governed to channel its energy into life-enhancing creativity.


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You are now ready for Unit 7. Female Sexuality. In this unit we will deal with biological cycles, maternity, sexual preferences, Sexual abuse and rape, creativity, and feminine individuation.

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