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Many of us find our way to places like the pulse on a quest for understanding of the Astral
Projection experience. But, if you're at all like me, you didn't really know much about AP
besides what you read from people like Monroe, Bruce, Moen, Buhlman, etc. You may also be
like me in that you are interested in these kinds of experiences beyond the "modern
interpretation". What I mean by that is that I am really interested in the phenomena of "the
otherworld", which includes, but is not limited to just Astral Projection. Some people lump all
experiences of "the otherworld" as astral projection, which is true in a way. However,
experience of the otherworlds (whatever you call it) exist on an infinite continuum of varying
degrees of awareness and varying "locales". You will encounter many of these experiences in
shamanistic (which i use here to mean not only the indigenous tribal shaman, but also most
branches of paganism) techniques especially, and usually in the context of self-healing and
healing of the community (local and global). But these experiences aren't limited to the world
of mystics alone. In fact, some of the world's greatest scientists were doing a lot of research
into the nature of these other worlds. From physicists to biologists to psychologists and
everything in between. Even some researchers that conventional academia swears would never
be involved in such things, like William James (the father of modern psychology) for example.
Getting Started: Today I want to share a technique for self-healing/actualization that I
believe is very close to what we around here call phasing, put forth by Carl Jung. Jung
described this technique as 'Active Imagination' and believed it to be a crucial tool in healing
the psyche. Though Jung didn't really write about this much, he did practice it and many of his
students wrote about it. The following was collected from
You can find other information from a slightly more "scientific" perspective regarding these
types of experiences on that site. Anyway, lets move on with some basic techniques for active
Active Imagination is possible when one moves his/her everyday consciousness towards
the dream world. "Dream world" is used here to mean nothing more nor less than that realm
that we all experience when sleeping, falling into sleep, or coming out of sleep. Since we all
know this experience it is used here as short-hand to describe the major tone of Active
Imagination practice. The first step towards getting started in Active Imagination requires
spending time observing the "dream world" state.
* Try to observe yourself awakening in the morning (or if you prefer, falling asleep at night).
Allow enough time to carefully see how you emerge out of sleep and how it is possible to
remain half alert and half asleep. Do this several times over a week. If you have problems with
this, try the same process during a nap. From these observations, we learn that our dreaming
involves a state of mind where anything is possible. Dreams are free to follow all sorts of paths
and free to generate all sorts of images, feelings, and thoughts. Also notable, is the frequency in
which images, feelings, and thoughts are mingled closely together.Our daily way of being
typically requires us to be quite focused, goal oriented. Our thoughts and feelings are prescribed
around a relatively few major themes. We tend to exclude a great deal in this process and
freedom is not a word that can be used to describe this state of mind.
* Find the means that allows you to move into profound relaxation but with mental clarity
remaining. Try body relaxation methods. Try music. Use whatever method most slows down
the everyday mind and opens it to whatever happens.
* Find your own answers to these important questions: What do you need to do to move away
from being overly focused on your day's events towards the dream world? What does it feel like
to relax deeply? What does it feel like when you blend of the dream world with your quiet,
watchful, alertness?
* Also, try to increase your ability to recall your dreams. Record your dreams and study them
not so much to interpret their meaning but to recover the moods that they convey, the images
they use, the feelings they bring to the surface. Try to get a fix on the feeling of the dream
* Later, after you have mastered capturing the tone of the dream world, set aside time to move
from your everyday type of consciousness to the dream world. Watch out, you might fall
asleep, losing the awareness you need to do Active Imagination. Relax into it, keep alert, pull
up your memories of what the dream world feels like. Watch for the emergence of detailed
images, feelings, and insights. Work at making these images, feelings, and insights more vivid.
This is where the "Active" of Active Imagination comes from. You are required to become
engaged in your inner world, bringing yourself to this process in terms of alertness and
willingness to learn. Remain alert. You must remember what you see/experience or you will not
be doing "Active" Imagination. By necessity, this will keep your sessions short, maybe lasting
only ten minutes or fifteen minutes. Make notes afterward, especially on what you have learned
on what the experience feels like.
ADVANCED TECHNIQUES: Active Imagination practice is as challenging and robust
as any other Soul or Spirit discipline used throughout history and throughout the world. While
several disciplines have had far and wide promotion (i.e. prayer in Christianity and meditation
in Hinduism/Buddhism), the proponents of Active Imagination have not been so well organized
or powerful in conveying their message. Active Imagination has frequently been an "accidental
practice" such as in Alchemy when these early chemists had their deeper imaginations activated
by their dedication to finding gold in their retorts and chemicals. Many artists (visual and
performing) turn to Active Imagination with little awareness of its history or relationship to
Soul and Spirit work to get the insights needed for outstanding creations. The following steps
are offered to heighten awareness of just what is involved with consciously applied Active
Imagination practice and outlines much of the work that is necessary to make this an important
Swiss psychologist and major contributor to psychotherapy, Carl Jung cultivated the
ability to have visions from deep imagination. Some would label these explorations as mystical
experiences while others would say they are more akin to the sort creative thinking artists do.
In addition to these experiences, Jung had several spontaneous visions when he was
recovering from a heart attack when he was 69. All of his visions are described in detail in his
book Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Sick Bed Visions (1944)
"It seemed to me that I was high up in space. Far below I saw the globe of the earth,
bathed in a gloriously blue light. I saw the deep blue sea and the continents. Far below my feet
lay Ceylon, and in the distance ahead of me the subcontinent of India. My field of vision did not
include the whole earth, but its global shape was plainly distinguishable and its outlines shone
with a silvery gleam through that wonderful blue light...the sight of earth from this height was
the most glorious thing I had ever seen...
Something new entered my field of vision. A short distance away I saw in space a
tremendous dark block of stone, like a meteorite. It was about the size of my house, or even
bigger. It was floating in space, and I myself was floating in space.
An entrance led into a small antechamber. To the right of the entrance, a black Hindu sat silently
in lotus posture upon a stone bench...I knew that he expected me. Two steps led up to this
antechamber, and inside...was the gate to the temple. As I approached the steps leading up to
the entrance into the rock, a strange thing happened: I had the feeling that everything was being
sloughed away; everything I aimed at or wished for or thought, the whole phantasmagoria of
earthly existence, fell away or was stripped from me---an extremely painful process.
Nevertheless something remained; it was as if I now carrried along with me everything I had
ever experienced or done, everything that had happened around me. I might also say: it was
with me, and I was it. I consisted of all that, so to speak. I consisted of my own history, and I felt
with great certainty: this is what I am. I am this bundle of what has been, and what has been
accomplished. This experience gave me a feeling of extreme poverty, but at the same time of
great fullness." Over the next few weeks, Jung would feel gloomy by day, sleep the early
evening to midnight and then awaken to a feeling of ecstasy. "It was as if I were in an ecstasy. I
felt as though I were floating in space, as though I were safe in the womb of the universe---in a
tremendous void, but filled with the highest possible feeling of happiness. Everything around
me seemed enchanted...Night after night I floated in a state of purest bliss, thronged round with
images of all creation." During this time, Jung has visions of several images of "mystical
marriage." Mystical marriage is a complex concept that has been expressed in the writings and
artwork of alchemy, kabbala, Gnosticism, and some major religions. The marriage occurs when
two powers, such as the Chinese yin (the feminine) and yang (the masculine) are brought into
harmony; in this case to form the Tao. Since yin and yang represent many different attitudes
and ways of comporting ourselves in the world, a marriage indicates that we have the power to
be in balance with these two powerful forces. We are the "whole" person, not limited to one
side of the coin but instead enlightened enough to be able to employ whatever attitude or
behavior is appropriate in the moment. To Jung and Jungians, this was a vision of tremendous
importance and of a high achievement. (For a full retelling of these visions, see chapter 10 of
Jung's, Memories, Dreams, Reflections.) Cultivated Visions
Memories, Dreams, Reflections pulled together Jung's autobiographical recollections
from his lectures, letters, and conversations. Published after his death, this book provides an
inside view of Jung's own experience with Active Imagination. In Chapter 6, "Confrontation
With The Unconscious," we learn how Jung is thrown into his inner world when he finds
himself out of his mentors world. In his mid-thirties, he has a falling out with Freud and finds
himself out on his own without the professional connections he enjoyed through Freud's
connections. With time on his hands and with enough understanding of the inner world, Jung
decides to go as deeply as possible. Here, in very summary format, is what he experiences.
First Recorded Active Imagination Experience - December 12, 1913: sits at his desk
and decides to "just let himself drop." He finds having the sensation that the ground has
literally given out under his feet. He plunges into the dark depths. Not too long in his fall he
lands on soft ground, actually a "sticky mass." Once his eyes adjusts he begins to see some
details in the near darkness. Before him is an entrance to a cave, in which stood a dwarf with
leathery skin. Jung squeezes past this person and soon begins to wade through icy water
which is knee deep. At the other end of the cave he sees, on a projecting rock, a glowing red
Lifting the crystal he sees that that there is a hole in the ground allowing him to
see down to a river. He soon sees a corpse floating by (a boy with blonde hair). He is
followed by a gigantic black scarab and then by a red, newborn sun, rising up out of the
depths of the water. Blinded by the sun, Jung wants to replace the crystal in the hole to
block the sun's rays but a fluid starts to pour out of the whole. It is blood. Blood pours out
and Jung feels nauseated. On it pours until finally, it comes to an end. Jung's Active
Imagination ends. (p. 179, Vintage edition of Memories, Dreams, Reflections)
Second Recorded Active Imagination Experience - No Date Given: Jung
uses a visual technique that he has found helps him go deeper into Active Imagination.
This technique is a realistic visualization of descending a great distance. In this
experience he figures that he has descended about a 1000 feet. There he discovers a
"cosmic abyss." Next he sees something like a moon crater and then he has the feeling
that he is in the land of the dead. Near the steep slope of a rock he catches the sight of
two people, one an old man and the other, a beautiful young girl. He summons up his
courage and approaches them. He listens carefully to what they say. The old man turns
out to be the biblical figure Elijah and the girl, Salome. "What a strange couple," he
muses. But Elijah tells Jung that he and Salome belong together for all eternity. Along
with the two is a third, a large black snake. Jung sticks close to Elijah and keeps his
distance from Salome. (p. 181-182, Vintage edition of Memories, Dreams, Reflections)
Over time, Jung holds conversation with Elijah who eventually changes into
another figure, Philemon. Philemon teaches Jung about the nature of human
consciousness. Jung begins to see how autonomous inner figures can act. It is the inner
figure that seems to hold this knowledge, not Jung. (p.183). Again, Jung's inner figure
changes. This time it alters to take on the form of the Egyptian notion of spirit, Ka.
(p.184-185, Vintage edition of Memories, Dreams, Reflections)
1. Pick a time to do quality work. This is very important. So many of us have tried to
relegate inner work practice to the time after we get everything else done. All of our
obligations to work, to house, family, friends, to bills, are done first. Only then do we sit
down to do inner work. By that time we are too tired to do anything. Do not use "junk
time," that time left over once everything else is taken care of to do quality inner work.
It won't work. This does not mean giving up your day job but it does require awareness
of when your energy is appropriately high for this sort of work. Find the means to carve
out good time for this important work.
2. Use Pre-Active Imagination work to turn inward and to create the ambiance for Active
Imagination.3. When the ambiance is right, introduce a topic to be explored or allow a
topic to show itself.
If it feels right to introduce a topic, try:
* an image or feeling from a very recent dream
* an image from a very recent time during your day world
* a mood from your day world
* a powerful image/feeling from other sources (i.e. the Tarot, art, film, literature)
If it feels right to allow a topic to come up, try:
* to trust the process
* to allow for more depth so that an important topic can up (avoid the "chit-chat"
that we so often face when not going far enough)
4. Once a topic has been agreed upon, stay with it. Try to stick to the central image. This
doesn't mean that it can't change, it will. Try to let the topic's full drama unfold rather
than expecting/seeking a cascade of images/feelings.
5. Get into the image (physically, emotionally, intellectually, and intuitively)
6. Remember. It is too easy to let everything just pass your eyes without reflection, but
remember that one of the primary aims of this practice is to learn. To learn requires
remembering. To remember requires not a passive approach to what one is experiencing
but a very active one. This is the main reason this practice is called Active Imagination.
To remember you will need to:
* Take notes
* Tell someone else what you are experiencing so that they can record the action
* Or, make the session last no longer than your ability to remember the inner
events. This can mean that the session (once you are warmed up with Pre-Active
Imagination) will only be five minutes long. That's fine, no harm is done with short
7. Dialogue with inner figures. If you can meet or call forward inner figures, do so.
Become come engage in realistic dialogue; personification is one of the most powerful
and important aspects of Active Imagination. Trust the process and listen and learn.
8. Wind down. Sessions do not need to be very long. Ten to fifteen minutes can provide
a tremendous amount of material. Develop a simple process of inner and outward steps
that communicates to your psyche that you are now leaving this process. Some people
prefer to use an inner image such as walking down a path towards their home to make
this transition.
9. Emerge and do any needed additional recording of your experience.
10. Settle back into your everyday world.
11. Do Post Session Work
Do Research As Needed: Frequently a special image or motif will come up demanding
exploration after you leave Active Imagination. Do what research you can and you want
to do either on-line, at a university library or through the help of a Jungian Society. One
note: for this type of work, most research only requires a light exploration of the topic.
For instance, if a goddess figure appears, look at goddess images, get some sense of how
historic and wide spread these images are, and find one or two that attract you. Also get
a general idea of what these goddesses represent. Note that it is not necessary, and
frequently a hindrance, to go into too much detail. Going into detail tends to turn a poetic
inner experience into a head trip. Nothing against head trips, but if heavy intellectual
analysis is used too early, before one has mastered accessing the unconscious, it will be
an obstacle, pulling you away from the work you need to do. Once a reasonable level of
mastery is achieved, then deeper research will not only not interfere with Active
Imagination, it will serve to deepen it. However, in the beginning, try to keep to the gut
level nature of what you experience. This will keep you motivated and connected to the
ambiance created by Active Imagination.
Do Something With It: Many Active Imagination practitioners and teachers recommend
doing something with you experiences. Writing, journaling, sculpting, painting, and
dancing are just some of the means of taking an experience and bringing it into this
world by giving it form. Giving it form will give it a greater place in your life and will
further activate the unconscious.
Keep To Your Promises: If one is going deep enough in Active Imagination one
encounters inner figures (either from a dream, spontaneously, or from an exterior image
such as a Tarot card). Inevitably, a promise is made (or should be made) to these
personifications of unconscious processes. This promise tends to be around some
attribute of the inner figure and some attribute you hold or wish to hold. Robert Johnson
in his fine book on Active Imagination, Inner Work, tells of a woman who cuts a deal
with her inner artist. If she makes room in her busy life for a greater connection to
beauty and art, the inner figure will not pester her through bad dreams and compulsions.
Her life takes on a new vitality and sense of meaning, but Johnson warns, she must keep
to this promise or this gift will be lost. When you make such deals, keep to your
promises. This will increase your ability to hold meaningful dialogues with sometimes
reluctant inner figures.
Keep Quiet and Be Humble: While you may now have a new understanding, an
understanding that is well beyond your friends and family, don't be arrogant. Treat
whatever you have received as a delicate gift. If you hold it just right you can possess it
and learn more from it, but if you are not careful, this gift can become beat up and
distorted. You don't have all of the answers---you just have another piece of a very large,
complex, and when it gets down to it,---a very mysterious, puzzle.
Change/Enlarge/Grow: You have been presented with insights about life and these
insights must be applied to open your perspective on the inner and outer world. Insights
gained in Active Imagination tend to expand one's view by showing a new side to an
issue. They weaken our old certainties, making room for new understandings and
receptiveness. Active Imagination is synthesis and we need to carry this synthesis
forward in our choices, our expectations, our demands
ACTIVE IMAGINATION: MARY R. BAST, Ph.D. : Carl Jung, in Memories,
Dreams, and Reflections, described how therapeutic it could be to translate his own
emotions into images (this process is now referred to by Jungian therapists as active
imagination). At one point in his life Jung described being visited by a "friend of
Gandhi's... a highly cultivated elderly Indian whose guru was a 'commentator on the
Vedas who died centuries ago.'"
Jung was a bit embarrassed to talk about this, remarking on the irony that a
psychiatrist should discover within himself "the same psychic material which is the stuff
of psychosis." He was relieved to realize he'd only experienced "the sort of thing that
could happen to others who make similar efforts."We all talk to ourselves, but we
sometimes do that as part of a negative cycle of worry, blame, or guilt. Active
imagination personifies the "parts" of us that are talking -- to create more clarity or even
resolution that might not be possible with ordinary linear problem-solving. Anything
could stimulate active imagination. You might be seeking clarity on a key decision, or
puzzled by an emotional reaction you've had to someone, or curious about a dream
you've had. Here's an example of how a Nine used active imagination to help resolve her
performance anxiety. Sue had always loved giving pep talks to her own team, so when
she was promoted to Vice President, she was surprised to find herself "freezing" when
required to give formal presentations in the corporate Board Room. While agonizing
over this, she had a dream in which her aging mother wanted to die and asked Sue to kill
her. Sue imagined herself talking to the mother in her dream and wrote down the
conversation below. This dialogue is fascinating because it shows the creativity of active
imagination -- it can move in any direction if you just let yourself go:
Sue to Dream Mother: "Why are you here? What role are you playing in this dream?"
Mother: "Think of the pampas grass in your yard and how you're attracted to it, the way
it grows luxurious, seductive, how it feathers itself for attention, how it says, 'Look at me!
Look at me!'" Sue: "I know I want to be heard, I want to make a good impression. But
why are you showing up in my dream?"
Mother: "I'm the mother in you who tells you your wishes and what you have to say are
unimportant. Everyone loves me because I'm nice, because I hide my critical nature,
because I'm not aggressive, because I have no voice." Sue: "Why are you asking me to
kill you?"
Mother: "It's time for you to 'kill' your fear of speaking out, your urge to be 'nice' at the
expense of your own wishes and ideas. Meditate on loving what's within, discover your
voice is already there, you speak from it every day of your life. Speak to the part of you
who doesn't yet see that."
Sue: "It's hard to find that part, to give form to how hard it is to speak out. I picture a
murky cloud."
Cloud: "I'm murky because the sun feels blinding. I'm not sure if I can stand the
excitement. I've covered the sun so long I've lowered my tolerance for energy, for light,
for seeing things clearly, and for saying things clearly."
Sue: "So, how can I move past that?"
Cloud: "Picture yourself in the space where you're anxious. Imagine the light is set low
on a dimmer. Slowly turn the dimmer up until your eyesget used to the bright light."
This internal dialogue helped Sue better understand the nature of her anxiety. She also
used the visualization as she prepared her next Board Room presentation. She was
delighted (and a little surprised) that her anxiety dimmed as she allowed herself to shine.
Imagination & Hypnagogia. "the royal road to the unconscious" C.G. Jung] Active
Imagination is a fairly rare natural process that need not be so rare. It is highly treasured
by those who have mastered it and it has been used, in one way or another, in seeking
deep inner experience.
"We may worry about death but what hurts the soul most is to live without
tasting the water of its own essence." -Rumi The most direct way of explaining what
Active Imagination is is this: Active Imagination places us at the threshold between our
everyday sort of awareness and the dream world. If we can bring a degree of alertness
and openness to the threshold, the dream world will reach out to meet us. The dream
world provides us with its unique view on the world and we bring our questions, our
capacity for learning, and our ability to be surprised. This marriage, of inner world and
outer world, can provide our lives with much needed insight, energy, passion, and
Active Imagination is not hypnosis, contemplation, or meditation. Hypnosis asks
us to turn off our alert mind to enter into the world of unconsciousness. Contemplation
seeks to sharpen the mind's reasoning ability. Meditation asks us to move away from the
dream world and our everyday mind through focusing on a single word, our breathing, or
our movement. Elements of all of these practices are touched upon when practicing
Active Imagination. But, Active Imagination relies upon an alert mind, the non-rational,
and a high level of inner creative fludity. This is the only sort of environment that the
inner marriage of everyday consciousness and the dream world can exist.
Sometimes, Active Imagination occurs naturally, without utilizing a technique such as
was brought to the psychotherapeutic mainstream by C. G. Jung. Events that bring a
person to relax their everyday awareness (e.g. listening to stories, watching the flames in
a fireplace, listening to the sea) can move us into Active Imagination. To increase the
frequency of these experiences so that we may follow Rumi's advise, "taste the water of
the soul's own essence," we must use Jung's technique.
Ph.D. MARCH 2008: Active Imagination is a life-transforming process pioneered by
famed psychoanalyst, Dr. Carl Jung. It is a powerful tool to gain access into one’s own
interior life. With practice, it offers intuitives an added doorway to experience areas of
psychic functioning. Telepathy, synchronicity, intuitive flashes and insights are all
possible outgrowths of this work. In fact, this technique can also function as a method of
dream incubation.
It’s believed that we regularly access the unconscious mind while we’re sleeping
or in some form of hypnotic or artistic state. Dr. Jung asserted that it was the greatest
desire of the unconscious to become known, that is, to be heard, seen and experienced.
You can liken this to how we feel when we’re ignored. Few people prefer to feel
invisible, and will often “act out” to gain attention. If it is the unconscious (the unseen)
that drives our behavior, then certainly it’s in our best interests to create a dialogue
between our conscious goals and our unconscious directives. Active Imagination
provides this possibility. Though it requires some work on our part, this technique offers
the seeker unlimited opportunity to experience the brilliance that lives within. One of its
highlights is that anyone can do this process. However, Jungian analyst Robert Johnson
believes that most people won’t participate, because he contends, most of us don’t really
want to change. Moreover, he believes that while we can detail what we don’t like about
ourselves, we stubbornly resist the gold within. However, without our inner gold, life is
mundane. And no amount of shopping, drinking, T.V., or outside stimulus will ever be
enough to compensate for its loss.
Johnson consistently reminds us that life generally appears in opposing pairs and
the process of Active Imagination works wonders with this paradox.
With that in mind, I recently applied Active Imagination to an issue I was facing.
While I was away for a long weekend in Northern California, inner voices pulled me
sharply in two directions. One, to go home to Los Angeles and work on my business
(that is, constantly produce results and earn money), and the second voice pushed me to
stay in the Bay Area, rest, relax, play, and trust that more work would be available to me
when I got home. Feeling agitated, I took out my notebook before going to sleep and let
each voice have its full say. I also encouraged the two sides to dialogue together.
One voice told me that it didn’t want to be constantly moving and doing things.
“Your inner life is bubbling up from the core,” it said. “We need to speak to you and you
won’t listen.” “How can I listen?” I asked. “What do you want me to know?” “Stop
running around so much and stay focused on the psychic and on spiritual well-being,
starting with yours.” Thus, it urged me to slow down and enjoy what mattered to me:
art, music, spirituality. It even reminded me of the Buddhist art exhibit, Circle of Bliss,
I’d seen years earlier. As I’m writing today, I recall that this exhibit culminated in the
dismantling of the intricate and beautiful mandala the monks had just painstakingly
created. After I set my writing aside that night, I dreamt about a plant that needed water
and had outgrown, in fact, grown beneath its pot. This image stayed with me throughout
the weekend as I pictured myself as that unwatered plant growing a new plant beneath its
container. I asked myself and the universe, why have I neglected this plant? It’s sitting
beside the sink but not watered and it’s clearly confined.
I could have (and should have) gone on to dialogue with the plant to see how it
was feeling, what it wanted, and why it chose to come into my dream. The great thing
about Active Imagination is that I can always do this no matter how much time has
passed. However, as I focused on this dream symbol, I found myself able to relax and
participate fully in the weekend. While one voice insisted on the value of non-stop work,
the plant showed me that it needed a level of care that the intellect was ignoring. I could
also question whose voice spoke with such vehemence and fear regarding the need to
work without ceasing. In another more recent exercise, I was able to clearly hear my
father saying: “You don’t do what you want in life; you do what you have to do.” I asked
myself how his philosophy had worked for him. Had it paid off on any level? Was it the
philosophy I wanted to guide my life? We internalize parental voices and they can drive
us to live lives incongruent with our true selves. If we don’t take the time to consciously
listen then it’s possible to be endlessly and blindly driven, at least in some areas of
Here we have the opportunity to write, to listen and to allow our images and
inner work to authentically guide us. Poet Joy Harjo wrote that she had no peace until
she learned to live with paradox. Active Imagination can provide that powerful bridge to
this peace. Inevitably our lives are filled with paradox. One example that Robert
Johnson cites is the issue of impossible love, stating: I love this person who is married
to someone else. How can I symbolically experience that love and yet remain ethical to
myself? The Jungian model: Give each voice a venue to speak, to fully express itself
without fear of being judged. (Most people use writing but some prefer to speak the
different voices, or even dance or paint them out.)
“Suffer it through,” Johnson advises, informing us that suffering originally meant
“to allow.” “Be aware of [the problem]” he says, “but otherwise, leave it alone.”
In this context of trust, more is ultimately revealed, even healed in the divine
right time. Symbolic dreams, synchronicities, and unexpected insights are likely results
from this immersion. Though you may love someone, you’re not necessarily meant to
take outer actions on that love. What happens when you address the discomfort by
working with your own psyche? Do efforts on the unseen level end up influencing the
material world? I believe they do. They will certainly influence one’s psychic integration
and ability to choose. I notice this process is affecting me as I write this article.
While I’d normally send the first and all the successive drafts off to my friend
and editor, this time I’m letting the article sit and then I come back to it. The process is
teaching me to wait rather than rush, to allow myself to be with not knowing and
imperfection. Johnson laments that most of us will not take the time to investigate our
lives this way. He asserts that active imagination is a primary key for living a deeply
fulfilling life. Certainly it is a safe, easy way to start strengthening ourselves, to become
aware of what wants to express from inside, and to gain consistent access to the voices
that determine our lives. Moreover, it teaches us how to be with our fears and discomforts
without racing to alter or “fix” them. This allows us greater mind space and a wider
range of actions that we might ultimately take. While psychologists advise us not to take
this into practices of telepathy, for instance, but to remain with the psychological, I
believe that once you are strong enough in yourself, you can extend this process into
areas that provide greater psychic and intuitive understanding.
For this article I asked my fantasy version of Carl Jung what he would like you to
know. His response: Everyone can do it and everyone should. Perhaps you can ask your
inner Dr. Jung whether he agrees and if this practice would be helpful to you?
WITHIN: As an adjunct to dreamwork, Jung developed a technique he called active
imagination that allows anyone to consult an oracle within themselves. Active
imagination is a process of consciously dialoguing with our unconscious "for the
production of those contents of the unconscious which lie, as it were, immediately below
the threshold of consciousness and, when intensified, are the most likely to erupt
spontaneously into the conscious mind." [C.J. Jung, The Transcendent Function]
Someone who has learned active imagination is thus able to take some degree of control
over his or her own growth process.
When the oracle was consulted at Delphi, the priestess -- the Pythia -- became
totally receptive to whatever flowed through her. Her role was simply to be a mouthpiece
for Apollo. In contrast, in active imagination, we have to alternate between total
receptivity -- to allow the unconscious to speak through us -- and a conscious
engagement with the unconscious. It is the alternation between the two which is unique
to Jung's method, and which makes it so useful a tool.
As with all oracular systems, start the process with reverence. Only use active
imagination when something significant needs to be discovered, and only when you have
already exhausted your conscious resources. Find a time and a place where you can be
alone, then take a few moments to calm your mind. Once you feel relaxed, use one of
two basic ways to access the unconscious -- visual or oral. For the visual method, close
your eyes, then begin with some visual starting point, perhaps a scene in a recent dream
that has significance for the issue at hand. Get this starting point as clearly in your mind
as you can make it, then let it unfold as it likes. If you are strongly visual, you may find
that the resulting fantasy is virtually as vivid as a dream. The difference is that, because
you are awake, you can consciously engage with the figures in the dream. As with any
other encounter with the inner world, you need to walk a narrow path so that you remain
receptive to whatever the unconscious produces, yet are able to react with conscious
In the oral technique, you engage in a dialogue with a person or object who you
feel might help you with the issue at hand. You can actually talk out loud, hold the
dialogue in your head, or simply write both sides of the dialogue. I normally sit at the
computer, slow my breathing and stop my monkey mind as much as I can. I then type a
question to, for example, an enigmatic dream figure from a recent dream. Having begun
the dialogue, I remain receptive to whatever emerges from within and simply type what
comes out. After allowing the inner voice to speak as long as it likes, I shift back to my
own personality and react to what has been said. The dialogue continues in that manner.
You may find that you actually hear the words coming from the unconscious, or
they may simply come out in the writing, without any intermediate process of hearing.
When I use either the visual or oral techniques, I normally "see" only vaguely, or "hear"
not at all, but somehow fill in what is missing through "feelings" in my body. Jung
experienced the same thing: "Sometimes it was as if I were hearing it with my ears,
sometimes feeling it with my mouth, as if my tongue were formulating words; now and
then I heard myself whispering aloud. Below the threshold of consciousness everything
was seething with life."[C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections] Jung only came to
this method after a great deal of struggle. At first, you may feel foolish trying either of
these methods, but if you do, you will probably surprise yourself with how easy it is to
allow this process to occur. When using the visual technique, you will find that the initial
dream scene used as a starting point evolves in directions you could never have
predicted. Similarly, when using the oral technique, you will find that the voice and
character of the dream figure is sharply distinct from your own, and that you won't be
able to predict the direction the dialogue will take. This lack of control can make you as
uncomfortable as it did Jung: "One of the greatest difficulties for me lay in dealing with
my negative feelings. I was voluntarily submitting myself to emotions of which I could
not really approve, and I was writing down fantasies which often struck me as nonsense,
and toward which I had strong resistances." [C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections]
I've already said that one has to walk a tightrope in using active imagination. One danger
is that we don't open ourselves sufficiently to the unconscious, but instead edit what
comes out before it has had a chance to really emerge. Or we may start interpreting what
this all means instead of simply remaining open to what is emerging. We need to just let
what wants to come out, come out. The opposite danger is perhaps more prevalent. We
can become so enamored with the fantasies or dialogues that emerge from within that
we don't really take them seriously as something with which we have to struggle. This
can happen equally with dreamwork. We can simply become fascinated at an aesthetic
level and never realize that we are being presented with a challenge to our values.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that active imagination is exactly the wrong
method to use if one is already unstable and having a hard time separating reality from
fantasy. Most active imagination is with personified aspects of your own personality.
When you are encountering such figures, it is much like encountering others in the
normal course of life. However, as I've already indicated, as you access deeper parts of
the inner world, the people and situations become collective and cease to have anything
to do with your individual personality. It's not surprising that the ancients regarded these
messages from within as coming from a god without. The unconscious often speaks like
a god, which may make you feel uncomfortable or doubt that you can trust what is being
said. As a modern man, Jung initially found this irritating: "Archetypes speak the
language of high rhetoric, even of bombast. It is a style I find embarrassing; it grates on
my nerves, as when someone draws his nails down a plaster wall, or scrapes his knife
against a plate." [C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections]. But it is exactly that
quality that indicates that you are indeed tapping truly unconscious material. For
someone who is less stable, instead of merely becoming uncomfortable, they may
actually be possessed by the more-than-human energy that emerges. Jung says that
sometimes "the subliminal contents already possess such a high energy that, when
afforded an outlet by active imagination, they may overpower the conscious mind and
take possession of the personality." [C.G. Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the
Psyche]. To the extent, however, that "active imagination" is truly active -- that is, that
we engage consciously with the material, possession is highly unlikely. More likely is
that we fail to remember that what is emerging is not us, but some collective power. We
get inflated, puffed-up with the godlike energy that we feel. Or alternately, we may get
depressed; in that case, accessing the unconscious demands so much energy that there is
little left for consciousness. Cycles of inflation and depression are a normal part of life
for anyone who digs into his or her inner world.
But over time, we learn both to recognize when we are inflated or depressed, and
to dampen the extent of either. One excellent way to ground this process is simply to
take the time to write the active imagination down in some sort of a journal so that you
can refer back to it, just as you would a dream. I keep a combined journal of dreams and
active imagination, with short biographical journal entries as well for each date. Active
imagination is an incredibly powerful method for gaining access to information
unavailable to consciousness. Those who try it will discover that each of us possesses an
Oracle within who can be questioned in times of transition or difficulty.
About the Author: Robin Robertson is a psychologist, magician, mathematician,
and writer, who has spent a lifetime bridging the worlds of science, psychology and the
arts. He has written ten books and over a hundred articles and book reviews in
psychology or his hobby field of magic. His Jungian-oriented books include Beginner's
Guide to Jungian Psychology, Beginner's Guide to Revelation, Jungian Archetypes, and
Your Shadow.