Saturday, January 21, 2006

Working with Images 2

Working with Images (2)

Possibly the greatest psychiatrist of the early to middle twentieth century, Carl Gustave Jung, popularised a great method of therapy called word association.  He realised early in his career the power of working with words and their associations. Here we have signalled clearly the birth of what we know today as “working with images.”  There have been many powerful books written since on healing the psyche by working in this very effective manner.  I am not that well versed in psychology and therapy to elaborate on this in any learned fashion, but being a poet at heart, being a writer by vocation, a teacher by profession, I have long been aware of the healing power of words and images.

A simply word can be so powerful.  It can destroy or build up.  It can put down or raise up.  A word uttered in praise or in kindness can bring many a desperate soul comfort on a bad day.  A word uttered in criticism or in anger can be shattering to a sensitive poor soul.   Words conjure up powerful images and images hit home – right to the heart of the individual.  Recently I was supervising a mixed group of adolescents in a computer lab.  One young girl had downloaded images of some animals from the internet and I marvelled out loud at a beautiful picture of an elephant.  A boy at the next terminal commented – “No wonder, look at the size of her – she is an elephant!”  Indeed, the poor girl was somewhat large.  I was very annoyed, but not surprised at the cruelty of adolescents to each other.  I was conscious of the poor girl’s embarrassment and hurt.  What a powerful image that elephant was – for me a thing of beauty, and yet for the boy a means to hurt and wound!  How powerful images are!

Some years back I had the pleasure of “counselling” or “helping” one of my students whose father had died in mysterious circumstances. (I have some knowledge of psychology and counselling and have done some courses in these areas, though I am not professionally qualified.  On the rare occasions when some pupil wants to see me I needless to say tell them this!)  Anyway, to get on with the story, I used some sessions of meditation which embraced the use of visualisations and imagery during our sessions.  His abiding memory of his separated father was that once he had brought him on a camping holiday.  We used this journey as a central visualisation in one of the meditations.  He informed me afterwards that this visualisation was both a happy and healing one for him.  As I have said in a previous post I have written a book on meditation based on practical exercises I have done in class with my pupils. ( See this link for further information:   I have always found people very open to meditating and to the healing power of visualisations.  Why?  Well, quite simply it is an exercise that can be done in the privacy of one’s own room at any time of day or night.  Also it can be engaged in with fellow meditators which is also a rewarding and healing experience.  But above all it is so non-invasive when used in any therapy or counselling session.  It is also gentle and slow, and allows the person to engage the depths of the psyche in a non-invasive way.

Enough said for today!  Beannacht leat a scríbhinn!

The image I have included with this post is a picture of the sunset over a fishing boat at Howth. I took this photo about two years ago.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Working with Images 1

Working with Images

Naturally enough we learn mostly through physically experiencing something.  A good site to visit about learning through the five senses is .  There is a plethora of other good sites on the net, just run a Google search and you will be amazed at the variety.  Abstract reasoning and thinking are very much secondary realities and derive from reflection on such experiences.  We have all heard our literature teachers rave about the vivid imagery in a piece of writing and we all remember those examinations asking us to describe the imagery in a poem.  Hence imagery describes all those realities experienced by the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste – the most obviously important of the five being the sense of sight.  Consequently when I’m teaching poetry at school I always ask the pupils questions such as:  “What do you see in this poem?”  “Do you hear anything in this poem?”  Smell, touch and taste are obviously extremely hard to describe in words or in images, but I suppose they can be suggested in a much lesser way.

The main question is definitely “What do you see?”  Any educationist or educationalist (you may prefer the longer word with that one extra syllable) will tell you that we learn more than 80% of our knowledge through the sense of sight.  Working with images always brings great fun and insight to a lesson.  Children, and indeed adults, are very open to working with images.  Pushing images to the limit, experimenting with them, inverting them, making them stand on their head – to use an image about images, if you pardon the expression.

Experimenting with prepositions and images can be very funny indeed, e.g., “I woke up this morning…”  “Could you not wake down?”  “There is nothing new under the sun” might become “There is nothing new over the sun” etc.  “He was under the moon with joy.  Such images are obviously ludicrous, but they illustrate how images work.  Playing with sounds is also a wonderful activity.  Does not that essential experience of “katharsis” which we find in all good tragedy (the word needless to say has its origin in the Greek language and means “a purging of the senses”, actually its etymology refers to the purging a laxative would have on constipated bowels.) sound like the very funny phrase and image “cats’ arses” in English.  Use this image in class and the pupils will never forget this word and its meaning.  Language is fun.  Images are fun.  Literature, which is written language, is consequently fun.

I’ll say a little more on images over the next few posts hopefully! The photo I have included above is one I took of the sunset at Howth Harbour some years back!