Anyone familiar with lucid dreaming knows the power of control in a dream. But what if you could simply pluck a person from your dreams and talk to them while you are awake? What questions would you ask? Could their answers help to make us better people?
It might seem farfetched, but Carl Jung developed the technique of doing just that. He called it ‘Active Imagination’.
What Is Active Imagination?
Active imagination is a way of using dreams and creative thinking to unlock the unconscious mind. Developed by Carl Jung between 1913 and 1916, it uses images from vivid dreams that the person has remembered upon waking.
Then, whilst the person is relaxed and in a meditative state, they recall these images, but in a passive way. Allowing their thoughts to remain on the images but letting them change and manifest into whatever they happen to become.
These new images can be expressed through various mediums, including writing, painting, drawing, even sculpting, music, and dance. The object is to let the mind free associate. This then allows our unconscious mind the chance to reveal itself.
Jung’s active imagination technique takes dream analysis one step further. Instead of looking directly at the content of a person’s dream, the idea is to pick one image from a recent dream and just let our minds wander.
By doing this Jung theorized that we are gazing directly into our unconscious minds. So then, active imagination is like having a bridge from our conscious to the unconscious self. But how is this helpful?
Both Jung and Freud believed that only by delving into the deepest recesses of our unconscious minds could we address our fears and anxieties.
So, is active imagination really any better than dream analysis or any other type of therapy for that matter? Well, as psychotherapy goes, it can be pretty effective. Of course, first, you need to know how to use it.
How Active Imagination Works and How to Practice It
1. Getting started
Active imagination is best attempted alone, in a quiet space where you’ll have no distractions. You will be essentially meditating so find somewhere that is comfortable and warm.
Most people use dreams as a basis for their active imagination starting point. However, the point of the exercise is to bridge the gap between your conscious and unconscious mind. As such, you can also use an emotion such as a recent frustration or a sad feeling to kick-start your session.
You might not be a visual kind of person, but don’t worry. You can also use talking or writing to begin your session. For example, sit quietly and ask a person you feel might help you connect with your inner self. Or write a question on a piece of paper and then relax and see what happens.
2. Delving into your imagination
So, to begin, recall a figure or object or feeling from a dream or situation that is important.
For those visualizing, the image of your dream may start to shift and take on another form. If you’ve asked a question you may hear yourself, answer it. If you have written a question, you may find the answer coming to you.
For example, you might have had a dream and witnessed your neighbor in a cabin on a boat sailing away. You can ask your neighbor why she is on a boat sailing away from you. Or you can simply watch to see if the image changes into something different.
All the while these changes are taking place, you should be relaxed, calm, and receptive to what is happening.
Whatever happens, you should note down the details. Again, the way you note the details down is up to you. You can write, draw, paint, record your voice, in fact, you can use any medium that allows you to express what you are feeling.
It is important to note a couple of points at this stage. Jung stressed the importance of not falling into the trap of watching a passive fantasy.
“The intent should not be to control the image but to observe the changes that will arise from spontaneous associations. You yourself must enter into the process with your personal reactions…as if the drama being enacted before your eyes were real.” Carl Jung
You should also keep in mind your own personal values, ethical codes, and morals. Don’t let your mind wander into the realm of something you would never do in real life.
3. Analyzing the session
Once you feel there is no more information to be gleaned, you should stop the session and take a short break away. This is so that you can return to a normal conscious state. You will need all your faculties for the next part, which is the analysis of the active imagination session.
Now it is time to interpret the details taken from your session. Take a look at what you have produced in a new light. Does anything immediately strike you as obvious? See if there is a message within the writings or drawings.
Does a word or picture remind you of something? Is anything making sense or clicking with you? What feelings or emotions are you getting? Try and interpret the message from your unconscious mind.
If and when a message or answer comes to you it is equally important to acknowledge it. After all, what’s the point of all this self-introspection if you don’t now act on it?
For example, your neighbor and boat active imagination session may have led you to realize you’ve been neglecting your own family. In that case, why not make an effort to get in touch with them?
Or maybe a shape formed that was dark and frightening to you. This could be a reflection of your shadow self. Your session could, therefore, indicate something inside you that you are not willing to accept consciously.
It makes sense to me that we find the answers to our inner turmoil by looking inside ourselves. Thanks to Jung, we can use active imagination to learn about our unconscious mind, allowing it to speak to us and making us better people.
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