Sally McLaren Jungian Analyst and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist
Horsham, West Sussex

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'Reveries toward Childhood'

'Within us, still within us, always within us, childhood is a state of mind' (Bachelard 1969, p.130)

'Childhood is not a thing which dies within us and dries up as soon as it has completed its cycle. It is not a memory. It is the most living of treasures, and it continues to enrich us without our knowing it.......Woe to the man who cannot remember his childhood, recapture it within himself, like a body inside his own body, a new blood in the old blood: he is dead as soon as it leaves him' (Hellens, 1958, p.167)

In 2012 I completed a two year Jungian Infant Observation Course during which I observed a baby in his home each week from birth to two years in order to build up a picture of his developing inner world and relationships. My paper, 'Birds, Beasts and Babies - Notes from an Infant Observation', was awarded the Rozsika Parker prize by the British Journal of Psychotherapy and was published in the Journal in November 2014. This prize focuses on a critical engagement with creativity.

My experiences with the baby and his family and with the process of writing my paper have had a considerable impact upon me. Indeed I would say that they were, alongside my analysis, transformative. I have pondered much on those experiences since then in the light of my further studies, my reading and my clinical work with adults.

I am particularly interested in the role of imaginal processes in those very early experiences before language is available, and the implications of this for later life and in the consulting room. I am also interested in the impact upon the observer of the very intense experience of being immersed in the developing world of an infant regularly over a period of time without verbal interaction. Indeed, the majority of observers would attest to the lasting impact of this experience.

I have wondered when in one’s life is one at the most sensitive to creative and imaginative living? Perhaps it may be in those very early days in one’s life before the acquisition of language and before the development of conscious and rational thought, when we first make an appearance in the world in bodily form. Can that state of being be reconnected with in later life but in a more conscious and mature form? And if so how?

It is interesting to me that in order to embark on the period of intense ‘self exploration’ or his 'search for soul', to which I refer elsewhere (A Local Legend), Jung realised he needed to recover the emotional tone of childhood. A memory came to him of how he played with building blocks as a child. This memory was accompanied by a good deal of emotion. He writes, '“Aha,” I said to myself, ”there is still life in these things. The small boy is still around, and possesses a creative life which I lack. But how can I make my way to it?”’ And then he continues, ‘It was a painfully humiliating experience to realise there was nothing to be done except play childish games.’ So he started to play, building with stones. (1963, p. 197-199). And thus began the long and difficult process of intense introspection, of inner turmoil and conflict, taking him to places within himself which he did not know existed beforehand, and which led to the writing of the Red Book and laid the foundation for all his ideas.

I think however that in the writing of his autobiography towards the end of his life Jung realised that the 'numinous' beginnings of his life's work went further back than even this period of 'confrontation with the unconscious'. Memories emerged, at this late time in his life, of his earliest days in the pram. He writes, 'One memory comes up which is perhaps the earliest of my life, and is indeed only a rather hazy impression. I am lying in a pram, in the shadow of a tree. It is a fine, warm summer day, the sky blue, the golden sunlight darting through green leaves. The hood of the pram has been left up. I have just awakened to the glorious beauty of the day, and have a sense of indescribable well-being. I see the sun glittering through the leaves and blossoms of the bushes. Everything is wholly wonderful, colourful and splendid' (1963, p.21).

The poet T.S Eliot writes in 'Little Gidding':

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
(1944, p. 43).


Bachelard, G. (1969). The Poetics of Reverie - Childhood, Language and the Cosmos. Boston: Beacon Press.

Eliot, T.S. (1944). Four Quartets. London: Faber and Faber.

Hellens, F. (1958). Secret Documents. France: Albin Michel.

Jung, C.G. (1963). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. London: Collins and Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Jung, C.G. (2009). The Red Book. London: W.W. Norton & Company.

My page heading 'Reveries toward Childhood' is the title of a chapter in the book by Bachelard which is listed above.

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