The Intuitive Flash

An actual photograph of my unconscious sending me a poem via an intuitive flash,
Syd Weedon 2020

The last half-dozen poems I’ve written have appeared in an almost instantaneous flash. A couple of them required no editing at all, at least to my eye. Other people seem to like them. This group of poems has received more than my average of likes and retweets on WordPress, Twitter and LinkedIn, and while it’s a mistake to read too much into social media responses, I’ve noticed a definite uptick in them. Additionally, they have been pleasant and powerful to me. I cried when I wrote a couple of them. I went “Wow” when I opened my notebook in the morning since I hardly remembered writing them. One was jotted down quickly just before we set down for supper and forgotten. A couple of them sort of happened when I was in the middle of writing something else.

I don’t want to over analyze it – like Daddy used to say, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” At the same time, it has been a delightful episode and I’d like know enough about it to keep it going, or at least to return to it from time to time.

For a writer, this is the good stuff: when a piece erupts from your unconscious whole and complete and you look at it and say, “Yeah, that’s got it.” Maybe it’s complete, or maybe it needs a couple of edits, but the edits flow fluidly and come naturally without force – that’s almost as good as sex. Most writing isn’t like this; it’s a slow, plodding slog from one idea to another with multiple edits (like this article). The intuitive flash is the exception rather than the rule.

In the psychology of Carl Jung, “the shadow” is a metaphor for the unconscious self, that part of our identities which operate beyond the management of our conscious minds. The shadow is the hidden part of us which is the repository of memory and experience, and the source of our dreaming, creative activity and neurosis. It is the opposite of our conscious personality. We can’t look directly into our shadow to see what is there. We have to use indirect methods such as dream analysis, art, religious practices, and intuition to get a sense of what the shadow holds. The Great Work of life for Jung is the “mysterious conjunction,” an idea he picked up during his symbolic study of alchemy. It meant for Jung a uniting of the opposites, a resolution of self into wholeness through a transcendence of the dichotomy of the human person.

I don’t want to go down the Carl Jung rabbit hole. People have spent whole lifetimes doing that. I bring him up because Jung gives us a model and a vocabulary for speaking about the unconscious that I find helpful. In particular, Jung gives us at least a partial answer to the question of the intuitive flash. The intuitive flash, while seeming to come out of nowhere, is actually a gift from the unconscious, and, far from being instantaneous, the intuitive flash may represent years of work done in the unconscious, even the totality of one’s experiences. It may be the result of a synchronicity apprehended by the unconscious and kicked upstairs in the form of a dream, symbol or image. Jung’s definition of synchronicity is “A meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved.” It is the unconscious, the shadow that spots synchronicity and presents it to the conscious mind.

Recently I wrote an article about my deceased parents and grandparents visiting me in my dreams. I made a new blog page and hit the “publish” button. Then I stepped out on the porch. A mourning dove flew in and landed on a cable wire so close that I could see the details of her eye. This might not mean anything to anyone else, but for me, the sound of a mourning dove making its lovely cooing sound is the sensation that more than any other evokes my childhood in Texas, the time when I lived with those people in the article I had just written, and I heard that sound constantly. She sat on the wire for a few minutes cooing. I was transfixed. Then she launched herself off the wire and seemed to fly straight at me, so much so that I ducked. At the last instant she swooped up and landed on the roof above me where she continued to walk around and talk to me. On another occasion, I spent a pleasant evening drawing cartoons of sexy little mermaids. It got late and I went to bed. In the morning when I opened the local newspaper, it was covered with drawings of mermaids, not quite as sexy as mine but similar. The paper had held a writing contest for its readers and the winning story was about mermaids. I had no connection with the newspaper, and no way to know that mermaid drawings would be in the paper that morning. These are two examples of synchronicity in which the unconscious communicates with the conscious personality in the language of symbol. Jung said:

“The creative process, so far as we are able to follow it at all, consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image, and in elaborating and shaping this image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present, and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life.” – Carl Jung

The practical question for the artist which comes out of this is, “Can we get better attuned to the unconscious and improve our creative output?” The answer here is yes to an extent, but we cannot take our brains out and play with them. The key to it is to listen to the intuition and be open to the synchronicity, recognizing it for what it is, but without trying to manipulate and exploit our own souls. I’ve seen a number of articles and videos on YouTube which offer methodologies for opening up the unconscious to make ourselves better artists. I Googled “unconscious + creativity” and got 13,900,000 hits. I would offer a few caveats on this question.

The famous patient, Mrs. Miller, who Jung refers to in many writings and lectures, did go completely insane after Jung treated her. She was the one who had the dream of the golden scarab. This is the psychological deep water. Especially for those with sensitive dispositions, old trauma and those prone to emotional problems, digging into one’s own personality so deeply can raise conflicts. It can be extraordinarily painful. It’s not something I would try to do alone.

Also, it just doesn’t work that way. You can’t dig into your head using some kind of meditation technique to get something that your conscious mind thinks it wants out of the unconscious. The unconscious is, by definition, unknown. One can’t make it do this, that or the other thing. If anything, it is the unconscious, the shadow, that is in the driver’s seat, not the conscious mind. The experiences in life which bring out the unconscious most clearly are the big, stressful things: love, death, fear and rage. We all live that way sometimes, but few can stand it as the price for creative work. One reason religion continues to be seen as valuable is that religion, with its rich symbol system, is a carefully moderated method of dealing with the unconscious on a large scale.

If, after all of these caveats, you still want to try to open a dialogue with your unconscious, I will tell you of one system that worked very well for me. It worked so well that I quit doing it. That method for me was the dream journal. You keep a little notebook by your bed and the very first thing you do upon rising is to quickly jot down the dreams you remember. Don’t bother to get literary. Just take notes in a paper notebook with a real pen, not a phone. I found that the more I dream-journaled the more I dreamed. It worked for me, and like I said, I quit it. Sometimes a good night’s sleep is more helpful than an army of archetypes rampaging through our dreams. She who has ears let her hear.

To me, the saner and more natural approach is to watch for the synchronicities, and like the dream journal, the unconscious will toss up more symbols and strange coincidences when it knows that you are watching. The language of the unconscious is symbol, so synchronicities always have a symbolic nature, and for these purposes, colors are also considered symbols. Actually any mundane activity which sidelines the conscious mind can allow the intuition to speak. Playing music, good food, exercise, sex, photography, and drawing can all do this. Picasso once said something to the effect of “In order to draw, you have to start drawing.” I hear this as saying that thinking about doing art is not the same as doing art, and we must do the activity to bring the intuition into play.

“Intuition is perception via the unconscious that brings forth ideas, images, new possibilities and ways out of blocked situations.” – Carl Jung

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am… [but] I would have been surprised if I had been wrong.” – Albert Einstein

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” – Albert Einstein

According to the Jungian model, we spend our lives making peace with the unconscious. It is most truly a life’s work which we each pursue. It’s not a force to be trifled with. You can’t make it dance to your conscious tune, but it can become a muse and an oracle.


“Synchronicity: A meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved.” – Carl Jung

“Intuition is perception via the unconscious that brings forth ideas, images, new possibilities and ways out of blocked situations.” – Carl Jung

“Intuition is one of the four basic psychological functions along with thinking, feeling, and sensing.” – Carl Jung

“The creative process, so far as we are able to follow it at all, consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image, and in elaborating and shaping this image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present, and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life.” – Carl Jung

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” – Carl Jung

3 comments

  1. I think I will keep this as there is a lot in it which I’d like to dwell on.I have had some experiences like you.
    And what you say about religion and symbolism is often ignored
    Usually I flit about uneasily for hours before an idea seems willing to come up.I do complain to the management saying it’s nearly midnight, Can’t you send it earlier?
    Katherine

    Like

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