As the clouds shift shape,
we are reminded that we too can change and move from a
seemingly fixed frozen place...
healing through the emergence in us
of new and vitalizing images.
years ago a friend of mine a scholarly, poetic collector of myths
shared with me a teaching he had received from his three-year-old
daughter. While in his study reading one day, he was interrupted by
a knock on the door. Knowing that his daughter had been outside
playing, he called to his wife to open the door. Twice more came a
disturbing knock. His wife, upstairs resting, had not heard.
The next sound he heard from his daughter was a loud wail. Closing
his book, he went to open the door and invite her in. To this
invitation she screamed, "No!" "All right, then, stay out," he
suggested. She responded again with an equally loud, "NO!"
Then he looked at her sternly and presented the situation to her
logically. "You cannot both refuse to come in and stay out at the
same time. You have to make a choice."
To his surprise, she stopped crying immediately. Standing very still
on the door step, she smiled at him, turned her head to the sky and
said, "Look, Daddy, look at the beautiful clouds."
The poet in my friend told this story with great appreciation of the
wisdom of his daughter. She had moved him, startled him, out of a
rational approach to a conflict of opposites and brought a third,
transcending option to the situation. These clouds
mist-gatherers, rain-bringers were seen as a beautiful source of
pleasure. Making no demands for rational decision-making, they could
be experienced as beyond duality: they just were. The third option
presented to the father was just to be in the presence of shared
Twenty-five years ago I was privileged to spend time with a little
girl of six and to learn from her poignant stories told in painting,
sandplay, poetry, song, and drama. She was first described to me by
her mother, who experienced her as "moody," "withdrawn," and
"explosive." More alarmingly, she had been talking of suicide
recently, although she was also afraid of death. Her mother
summarized: "She doesn't face reality and she doesn't want to grow
up. She says we aren't real that life isn't real."
concerned about the unhappiness of her daughter, the mother was also
extremely honest about herself. She had not wanted a child, but once
born, she had tried to raise her in the best way she knew: by
supporting the skills which would be required in life, as defined by
the cultural standards. She had taught her to read fluently by the
age of four, would tell her whenever she wasn't doing well at any
task, and would consistently scold her for not "speaking up."
Admitting that she was often too critical, the mother sincerely
explained, "But I am so concerned that she has no sense of what is
realistic in life."
The little girl's school report continued the same theme. "She is
not being realistic about being in school and in a group. Yesterday
she ran crying from the game circle because she didn't want to go
into the mushpot." The game was not familiar to me, but I wondered
how it would feel to a sensitive six-year-old to go into a "mushpot."
I remembered being asked as a six-year-old child to play the part of
the spider in "Little Miss Muffet" at a time when I had an enormous
fear of spiders.
important to acknowledge that the concerns of the mother
and the school were not necessarily "wrong" or of bad
intent. Preparation for living successfully in the
culture is fundamental to any training or educational
system. Emotional and psychological survival may depend
on it. For individual children, however, this training
may constitute a cacophony of demands to be more
"realistic" with realism defined only in terms of
collective values. Jung, at age 12, had to make a
conscious decision to temporarily leave behind what he
experienced as his real self and re-enter the world of
school, which he saw as unreal, in order to eventually
live and work independently in the world.
But here, as with Jung, is a child whose full reality
cannot be encompassed by the system. Her life vitality,
her individuality, her creativity are in danger of
suiciding. Such loss is profound, surely for her, but
for the culture as well. Among those whose reality does
not fit the shape of life defined by culture are many
who can bring potential change and expansion to the
collective. Thus not only her health is at stake, but
potentially the health and balance of the society.
Soon I saw her for myself. She was tiny, wore pigtails, and there
was a wise-owl look about her face. She had a self-conscious way of
talking with an adult vocabulary and style, which at times betrayed
itself in little giggles. Stiff in her body, there was little sense
of play in her movement. All seemed very cautious.
frightened and crying when she came in. I could imagine that she
anticipated another situation in which she had to do it "right." But
just as she entered, I took the cover off a sandtray and discovered
it filled with water, paint, and flotsam. In my surprise I said,
"Yuck!", sending her into a fit of giggles. My unexpected response
caught her humor and that yuck became the secret password throughout
Shyly, as if giving a report to a doctor or a teacher, she then
said, "I try to be realistic." I nodded in silence. Continuing
through the room, her eyes took in the possibilities of sandtray and
its figures, colorful paints and soft clay, and she suddenly
whispered as if to herself, "We can make believe in here, can't we?"
Deciding on paints, she began to make a lovely pallet, mixing colors
until she got just the right blends. Then another question came,
this time quite firmly. "Is it bad to pretend?" I knew then that the
pretender was still alive, sneaking cautiously out of its withdrawn
hiding place to see if this was a place where the "unreal" world of
fantasy and imagination could be lived.
Presumably she felt the safety confirmed, because she began to
record in her first painting a rush of imagery which grew and grew,
flowing outward as the floodgates opened. She called the painting
"Clouds, "naming each as its shape appeared:
"It's a cat
. . . a bird going higher. . . a rocking chair rocking. .
Grandma getting younger. . . a fish swimming and
it's getting longer. . . a dark blob creeping. . . a bat
wing. . .
a balloon blowing up. . . a wave splashing over. . .
a leaf falling. . . an old rock. . . a baby crying with
its mouth open. . .
a flower blowing in the wind. . . a clown hat and a
|Especially striking in this amazing series of images
corning from her was their movement. Growing older,
growing younger, splashing, falling, swimming, creeping
all were words of action, fluidity, and change. Here
is the gift of the imaginative function at work as it
shows the richness of potential options for growth.
Nothing need remain stuck, fixed or static. However,
when this enormously dynamic flow of images breaks
through a dam built of rigid definitions of reality, the
light of consciousness may be temporarily lost in the
flood. Just before going off to school as a young man,
Jung had a dream in which ". . . Dense fog was flying
along everywhere. I had my hands cupped around a tiny
light which threatened to go out at any moment.
Everything depended on my keeping this little light
Although these clouds can be full of
potential, they can also create a "dense fog." So it may
be with children who have had few means of expressing
this vital dynamic. The demand for survival can
overwhelm and flood the fragile ego which is needed to
adapt to the world as it is presented to the child. Here
an appreciation and validation of the world of images by
another can act like a lighthouse beacon. And, if the
worlds of "realism" and "imagery" can be reconnected,
the energies of body, mind and psyche become available
for the developing ego. Previously used to build up a
protective dam, the natural life forces can now lead to
growth and exploration. Instead of suicide, new birth is
The girl then moved to the sandtray to play. She created a hospital,
which she said was right next to the ocean. "You have to have a
hospital there when you are in danger of sinking in." Inside the
hospital a new baby had just been born. The whole family came to
visit brothers, sister, aunts, uncles, grandparents. Nurses,
doctors, teachers, and priests also came, as well as a mailman who
delivered flowers and cards of congratulations. An entire personal
and collective community celebrated this new birth. Not all was
totally paradisical in this scene, however. There was one small girl
visiting who wanted to sit on the new mother's lap. The mother
Here was a hint of this child's isolation from her mother and of her
feelings of smallness, vulnerability, and a poignant individuality.
Acceptance would need to come from some source in order for this
potential new birth of self to flourish. I could surely provide some
of this support to the child, as well as helping the mother to see
her child more clearly. There was also the possibility of
discovering resources of nourishment from her own inner world. The
archetypal forces which appear in personified images of mother,
father, teacher can serve to support, nurture, and instruct. This
action of the psyche provides great hope for healing when the outer
sources are not sufficient.
Stepping back from her play for a moment, she seemed to call upon
these archetypal forces when she announced, "Next time I'll make a
story called "Organization Goodness." It will be a place where
everyone comes to volunteer their help for neglected children. Each
person will do what they can do and like to do best each
different. There will be teachers, farmers, bakers, nurses, priests,
mailmen, policemen, bankers, musicians, and dancers. They will all
help take care of the children, including the teenagers, who will
try out many of the jobs."
It seemed that the acceptance of the "pretend space" from which the
moving, growing cloud painting had emerged was offering her a
potential for a new beginning a new birth which needed protection
against "sinking in." The protection was well pictured in an
organized system of support and nourishment.
Having established a sense of safety, she went back and looked again
at her "Cloud" painting. Reviewing all the images, she paused at the
final one of the monster. It was the one image that did not have a
moving quality; it was neither growing older nor younger. Indeed,
this last image was almost like a stop sign.
Pointing to it, she looked away from me and said in a small voice,
"You know, it's a Monster of Love. Besides, we can't be alive
because of the Monster of Love. It makes a rose that is so beautiful
that we can't help loving it. But if we pick it we die, and so it is
the Monster of Love."
In the next hushed moments it was as if a big secret had been
shared. The other images, moving and full of potential, had danced
around this last one. Behind the seemingly static image of the
Monster was its story a story which told in metaphor of the
experience this little girl had of love its quality of poisonous
seduction, a story of false promises.
As I was entering with her into this tragic sense of life's
betrayal, she spun around and, looking straight at me, said
passionately, "They won't let me be who I am!" In her one cry I
heard all the cries of all the children, the rich variety of growing
beings who were not being allowed to live their own stories. Her own
clear declaration of this issue set us both on a path of discovery.
Where could she find the way to validate this individual self that
she knew she was?
She chose the geography for the first stage in her journey in her
next story. She called it the "Strange Land of New," and described
it as a country of wild animals and sea creatures. These were all
given personified positions of authority and service, as in
"Organization Goodness." For example, the fox was the teacher, the
octopus the jailer. The peacock was the Queen and an owl was the
King, who treated his Queen with gentleness.
Having carefully established the structured organization of this new
land, she stepped back to look and said, "They don't look natural."
Picking each one up, she bathed the animal and sprinkled sand on it,
commenting, "I'm being a good mother to them. Dirty animals look
more natural. You only need to be clean sometimes." Looking at me
with a sly grin she said, "Like me, I don't always stay thinking so
well these days. Just only when I need to."
In her movement toward the "Strange Land of New" she begins to go
back to an early stage of development where, as Erich Neumann
describes in The Child,2
the animal and vegetative forces are most active. The
growth-producing forces are at the level of instinct. Here the new
birth shown in the beginning goes through a natural development.
However, because of the need for order and structure, perhaps to
keep her from sinking, the animals are personified in a human system
of law and order. Her sense of "mothering" also enters as she
actively participates in creating a more natural setting in which
the dirt of the earth is honored and accepted.
next chapter of her story returned the animals fully to their own
habitat, where the order became the order of the natural seasons and
growth, not the imposed order of organized government. Played out in
the sandtray, it was called "Rushing Stream." A stream began to
flow, making lakes for the animals. At first, the animals were
pleased and came one by one to drink freely. Then, knowing that
winter was coming when the waters would be frozen, they began to
burrow into the earth to sleep and wait. Bears, lions, apes, turtles
all dug themselves in. The baby elephant had to dig its own hole,
because it had no mother to do it. Some animals laughed at the
beaver, because he built his protective house over the ground. "But
he didn't care," she stated emphatically, "he did it his way."
Soon all was frozen and quiet. Even the Rushing Stream was silent.
Everything slept for "six years and a half hour." Slowly, slowly it
began to warm up, to thaw, and soon the Rushing Stream began to
flood the land. The animals stirred and awakened as they felt the
water and poked their heads out. Feeling the warm sun, they
stretched and went outside and saw that the waters had receded. To
their surprise, many trees and flowers were coming up. The seeds
also had been sleeping and were watered by the now flowing stream.
So many trees were coming up that each animal "eventually" had its
own kind, which it loved. Only the orphan elephant had no tree, so
the Father Bear gave it his tree. Now, all can continue to live in
this forest where there are so many differences and "everybody lets
it be so." Even the especially different beaver.
this story, hope is reborn. After "six years and a half
hour" of hidden protection, the natural forces are
awakened as winter 's frozen water of life thaws. The
flood, instead of overwhelming, nourishes the animals
and fructifies the land. In this grand spring awakening,
all can celebrate and claim this as their land. It is a
land in which differences in style (represented by the
beaver) and differences in fate (represented by the
orphaned elephant) are compassionately accepted.
The telling of this mythic story began to give reality
to her awareness of differences. As the animals are
different in nature, so is she, so are we. When the
story can be truly heard by another, it begins to
validate a reality which may not be acknowledged by the
particular story of reality which exists in a family or
a culture. Here in her story, she creates a flowing,
growing land which has as its basic law the acceptance
This story seemed to allow the creativity in her to flow even more
vividly, shaping itself now into poem and song. She came in one day
humming a tune and then proceeded to share two songs one about
winter, one about spring continuations of her "Rushing Stream"
I could never really go
Like those fluffy flakes of snow
Falling, trickling down the lane
My winter time was not the same.
All these snowflakes, different kinds
To different brains and different minds
Now my winter is just the same
As they trickle and fall down the lane.
Here again, the lesson of differences is learned from nature
different snowflakes, different minds. Where before she could not
join this reality of nature, now her awareness is "just the same" as
Having learned the lesson from winter, it too can change.
Flowers bloom in the springtime
Flowers bloom in the summer
Because of all these flowers
Winter's getting warmer.
In the springtime flowers bloom
You can hear the robins sing
In the spring the sun does shine
The robins mate, just like mine.
sang I kept thinking about the other flower, the rose which the
Monster of Love planted but which when picked, caused death. Was
there some transformation going on in these new flowers that the
animals seemed to love and that warmed the winter?
As I wondered, she began to mix two colors of paint together,
contemplating them as if to study the blend itself. Then, apparently
referring to the last line in her song, "The robins mate, just like
mine," she asked, "Do you know about mating? It's about two
different things coming together like a man bird and a woman bird
coming together to make a new bird. Like opposites, dirty and clean,
dry and wet, right and wrong do they ever get together and unite?
Do they ever have two babies in the same stomach?"
"Or is it like this?" she continued as she chose two new colors and
put some of both on each half of the paper. "Is it like good and
bad ? Perhaps there is a little good in the bad side and a little bad
in the good, and it keeps changing around and moving." (What a
perfect description of the symbol of Yin/Yang!)
"But perhaps," she continued, "something really new that is not good
or bad comes when they love and mate and make a new egg." Seeming
satisfied with her own answer, she used a new color to make a large
egg, calling it "New Beginning A Surprise."
Accepting the reality of differences, she now asks the
profound question, "How can differences relate?" How can
one move from the cold winter isolation of withdrawn
difference to the warm springtime of mating or
relating...to a community where love serves to bind and
renew, to blend and transform rather than wearing a
false face that separates and kills.
next time she came in joyously with a painting she had done at home,
and a song. Excitedly she showed me the image, saying, "It wasn't an
egg, it was a big seed you know, from mating! In the seed was this
big tree!" The painted tree was sturdy and tall, with strong,
overarching branches that were flowering at their tips.
"It is the
Tree of Love," she said, "and here is its song."
Me Under the Tree of Love
Meet me under the tree of love
The tree of love, the tree of love
Meet me under the tree of love
Under the tree of love.
Meet me under the tree of dreams. . .
Meet me under the tree of wealth. . .
If you walk with me
If you talk with me
Under the wonderful tree
We will love and dream and live
Till we're growing in the breeze.
Meet me under the tree of love. . .
This tree, like the cloud-looking of the little three-year-old, was
born out of the impulse of the psyche to move beyond dualism and
opposition to an experience of totality. The tree, neither good nor
bad, just is. This wonderful tree of love, dreams, and wealth was a
visionary picture of herself natural, rich and flowering. It was a
tree that could stand against the Monster of Love, under whose
branches others could join, taking her from the isolation and
loneliness of differences. It was as if her neglected being had been
given its own tree by this action of her psyche, just as the Father
Bear had given the orphaned elephant its tree.
she asked me to join her as she directed the painting of a
remarkable series of the six days of creation, each one mandalic in
form. Nothing was painted on the seventh day. She declared it not
only a day of rest, but one in which all creation could be carefully
looked at and appreciated "in the time off."
emergence of her own tree, she had touched the place of
ultimate human creation: the Self. This return journey
to her own original nature raised the fundamental
question, "How did it all begin?" This question took her
into the mythic realm of creation stories of
cosmology. It is a place children enter easily in their
search for answers to where they came from and where
life began. In many cultures, to tell the creation story
is to take one back into harmony, into the original
order which has been distorted in the particulars of
personal and cultural history. A favorite of mine is the
story of Vδinamφinen, a Finnish epic hero. He can only
heal his hand, cut by an axe, by the telling of the
creation of the axe from iron and wood, connecting it
finally to all organic and inorganic life.
Here, as she tells the creation story in image, she
connects herself to such an original order where
opposites take their balanced place in the totality and
are subject to change and renewal. It is a creation
process in which she is a participant by the retelling
of the story. The imagery comes out of her personal
interior world and out of the vast collective world of
the unconscious. It is a story begun in the creative
release of cloud-looking.
I remembered the closing statement by James Kirsch in an
article on clouds in Quadrant magazine: "The cloud is
one of the most important symbols in the collective
unconscious. Frequently its appearance indicates that an
intensive activity has started in the unconscious, the
final goal of which is to bring the realization of
These numinous moments when the individual self is
experienced in relation to the larger totality are not
only renewing arid strengthening, but also allow for new
perspectives on old issues and old wounds.
was evident in the play she now wrote and wanted us to perform,
called the "Evil Source." I can only summarize it, since it was
quite long, with clear dialogue and directions for stage sets and
and Queen live in their castle. The Queen hears noises
that frighten her. The King, mostly asleep, mumbles to
her, "It's only your imagination." The Queen enlists the
Joker, who takes her seriously. Together they explore
the basement of the castle, discovering a cache of her
"See there!" the Queen shouts. "Here lives the Evil
Source" It was night and she carried a candle.
dark they hear a cry, "Oh, no, not the light."
This made the Joker laugh, and they heard another cry,
"Oh, no, not laughter!" And, as if a wind had blown away
some dust, the voice disappears.
In celebration they all had strawberry wine in the Royal
Chamber. Then the Queen announced: "The first new law
will be to always carry a little light into the dark
basements, and the second is to keep the laughter
ringing. That is our best guard against the Evil Source.
And that, King, is not only my imaginationit
imagination," the Queen concludes as the curtain
enter light and laughter, elements of the human spirit
belonging to the true nature of childhood. The candle
carried by the Queen reminds one of Jung's little light
of consciousness, which he described as "the sole
treasure I possess, and the greatest. Though infinitely
small and fragile in comparison with the powers of
darkness, it is still a light, my only light."
And, here, the treasures that had been stolen and hidden
in the dark are reclaimed in the Kingdom of the
Imagination by a wakeful Queen and her wise Joker. How
frequently Shakespeare uses the Joker as the one who can
safely tease the King out of his narrow vision, his
mistaken and sleepy view of the realm. Here the King
acts as the ruling principle of this child's cultural
context which repetitiously proclaims: "It's nothing but
your imagination. Be realistic!" With childhood wisdom,
the Queen carries the knowledge that the Evil Source is
not vanquished forever but must be constantly guarded
against. I have seen this wisdom in many children: the
awareness that life's story does not "live happily ever
after," but is full of challenges and potential dangers
as well as victories. Growth thus includes both the
capacity to enjoy life and to protect it.
For this girl the establishment of the new tree of Self
and the acquisition of tools for dealing with the Evil
Source seemed to release much life vitality and
playfulness. There was a new freedom in her body and a
desire to be with friends.
joined the Girl Scouts and came in one day very upset about a girl
the others called "Fatso." "She's only different," she explained,
and she proceeded to paint for her a "teaching gift." It was a
tulip, "which all little girls like." This was a special flower
because it had a beautiful smell that wafted away in the wind but
came back again to the flower, so that it could enjoy being itself.
It also had nettle-like leaves to protect it from being picked and
other girls, she created a new set of rules, as the Queen had done.
In a triptych she painted three symbols. The first was a sun, for
FRIENDLINESS, as the sun was to the stars. The second panel had
several flowers and a butterfly for DISCOVERY. The butterfly
discovered something different about each flower, especially the
tulip. The third panel was a beehive representing HELPFULNESS. The
bees make something for everyone to eat and enjoy from the beauty of
all the flowers.
Thinking about this compassionate action for another
child experiencing the pain of her difference, it
occurred to me that this little girl's work had been an
initiation. The steps are common to all initiatory
processes: one leaves the old, dies to it, enters into a
sacred space for teaching, testing and renewal, and then
returns to the collective world to share what has been
for this girl, she had come with the pain of not being
able to be herself, not being able to live with her life
and its demands. And she had come with suicidal
feelings. Entering her own interior "place of pre-tend,"
her clouds had begun to take shape, her river to flow.
Tested by her capacity to deal with the Evil Source, she
was now able to reach out and help her friends, sharing
what she had learned. By this rich telling of herself in
story, she had been able to validate her differentness
in such a way that was not isolating but instead
strengthened her to enter the world of others'
This intuition about her return to the ordinary world was confirmed
by her own statement the next time I saw her. She said she wouldn't
need to come any more because she wanted to use the time to practice
jumping rope. Her best friend was the captain of the Jump Team and
wanted to play with her. She showed me how she had learned to jump
116 times now instead of just 43.
planned the celebration of our last meeting. I would bring the food
and decoration and she would bring the gifts. She came wearing her
own gift a small image of herself made in felt and worn on her
dress as if it were her signature. Her gift for me was a felt
mandala shape of many colors, which I was to wear. It seemed a
reminder of her own experience of the Self, an experience I had been
privileged to share, and an experience I had been able to validate.
Her gift to the sandtray was a new small ball, which she placed in
the center of the tray where she said, "The oceans meet the sand."
It was a simple and profound statement of the totality of her Self,
balanced and safe between the opposites. The story had come full
circle: now there was no danger of sinking in, and no danger of
isolation from the life-giving waters of the psyche.
The final gift was for both of us. It was a painting called, "Magic
Twilight Hour." As we looked at it she said softly, "I'll meet you
here between night and day, dark and light where we can see things
change like looking at the clouds."
In the deeply shared silence that followed, I remembered a lovely
Hawaiian legend about a small bird that carried a tiny light in the
dark, guiding those who were lost in the forest or whose canoe had
overturned in a stormy ocean. Most especially, the bird enjoyed
coming out at twilight to play with the children, who also carry
their own tiny lights.
For this moment of her life, the gift of the changing,
shape-shifting quality of the imagination which could take her
from suicide to new life, from the Self-denying stance of "I try to
be realistic" to the play of light and laughter had been received.
If a child can experience this dynamic, healing quality of the inner
cloud-watcher in a context which reflects back its value and its
reality, then this natural life resource can be used forever. This
gift is not given to solve all problems, but to bring options for
their solutions. It is not given to cure all wounds, but to unlock
Jung, C. G. (1965). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vantage
2 Neumann, Eric. (1973). The Child. New York: C.D.
3 Kirsch, James. (1977). "The Symbol of the Cloud in
European Literature of the 19th and 20th Century." Quadrant, 10,
5-16. Published by the
C. G. Jung Foundation of New York.
4 Jung, C. G. (1965). Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
New York: Vantage Press.
Edith Sullwold, Ph.D., was the Founding Director of the Hilde
Kirsch Children's Center at the C. G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles
and of "Turning Point," a professional group working with seriously
ill children. She also helped found the Center for Healing
Arts in Los Angeles.