Active Imagination

Active imagination and the journey to wholeness

Active Imagination

Characters in our dreams can be seen as a meeting between our everyday waking Self, and parts of our Self normally outside consciousness.

The unconscious mind is vast and it functions much faster than the conscious mind. It isn’t controlled by the ego, and, very often, it has very different perceptions about our experience and lives than does the waking mind.

In dreams there is an encounter between the waking ego, or, at least a subset of it that we can call the 'dream ego' and the unconscious mind.

What do these characters in our dreams want?

That’s often the biggest and most important question to ask of characters who appear in our dreams.

We can expect that they want something different from the ego.  The dream is acting as a corrective on the perspective and attitude of the ego.  We need to incorporate part of that perspective into consciousness.

We must take dreams seriously, but combine them with the awareness of our ego.  We need to connect the ego’s perspective with the perspective of the unconscious mind presented in dreams.

Dreams lead us to meet the unknown or forgotten parts of ourselves.  The dream bids us to take a certain crucial kind of responsibility, by finding an attitude that takes the ego seriously but also considers the deeper self.  This is a fundamental part of the journey to wholeness.

One of the very striking aspects of the meaning of dreams is the on-going dialogue between the conscious and unconscious minds.  If we start to understand and have dialogue with our dreams, we often find that subsequent dreams reflect our understanding and actions.  Often the encounter with the 'other me' in dreams is only one of a series of connected dreams. The dialogue goes on, as we take in more of the perspective of the unconscious mind.  As we practice conversing with our unconscious with time we become more and more attuned to the meaning of that dialogue.

The things we see in our dreams are not signs that represent one specific idea, but rather fluid images to which we ascribe meaning based on our individual experiences. Dreams may reveal truths, philosophical revelations, illusions, fantasies, memoires, plans, irrational experiences or even prophetic visions.

The images in our dreams are ultimately representations of our own unconscious. Although they come from our individual minds, many images are manifestations of universal archetypes that represent unconscious attitudes hidden to our conscious selves. 

In his last major work, written when he was 81, titled Mysterium Coniunctionis, The Mystery of Conjunction, or unification, the bringing together of opposites (CW 14, paragraph 706), Jung gives a careful description of active imagination and dreams. He sees active imagination as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious. The following are five direct quotes from the long paragraph in Mysterium Coniunctionis simplifying it to five suggested steps that we can follow in our own active imagination.

Five steps to active imagination:

  1. “Choose a dream or some other fantasy-image and concentrate on it by simply catching hold of it and looking at it…”
  2. “You then fix this image in the mind. Usually it will alter as the mere fact of contemplating it animates it…”
  3. “A chain of fantasy ideas develops and gradually takes on a dramatic character… At first it consists of projected figures and these images are observed like scenes in the theatre…”
  4. “If the observer understands that his own drama is being performed on this inner stage…he will take part in the play instead of just sitting in a theatre…”
  5. “Fix the whole procedure in writing at the time of occurrence for you then have ocular evidence that will effectively counteract tendency to self-deception…”

To simplify, the five steps are:

  1. Choose a dream or other fantasy image.
  2. Fix it in your mind.
  3. Watch it take on a dramatic character
  4. Take part in the play
  5. Write it down

To do this effectively you must be in a meditative state. Your conscious mind needs to be relaxed, and ready to let you enter the inner world of your imagination. Sit quietly and let go of your worries, thoughts, and preoccupations. Once you are in this state, choose an image, hold onto it, watch it take life. Put it on the stage of your imagination. Take part in the play and then write down what happened. It is important to write it down because this helps us remember and learn from the experience.

When we speak to our images, they surprise us. And when we write it down, we are writing a story, the story of our encounter with our soul.

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Using Active Imagination to reprogram the unconscious

Dreaming

I had left the comfort of my home. It was a dark night and, when I looked to where I had come from, the warm light shining from the windows tempted me back into my comfort zone. When I looked the other way it was dark and nothing could be seen other than the darkness. A man drives up in his car and starts verbally abusing me. Afraid, I hide behind an oil tank. I nervously glance both ways – to the house (my comfort zone) and into the darkness (the unknown). I am dreaming and before I can decide which way to run I wake up.

Using a technique called ‘active imagination’ I meditate and go back into the dream. I ask myself, “Why are you hiding from him? Why are you letting him have power over you?” I stand up and look directly at the man and ask him what he wants and why he thinks he has the right to talk to me like that. His face changes, he doesn’t know what to say, and he drives away. I realise that standing up to him took away his power.

The unconscious manifests itself through a language of symbols. It is not only in our involuntary or compulsive behaviour that we can see the unconscious. There are two natural pathways that we can go down to bridge the gap between our conscious and unconscious minds – one is by dreams and the other is through the imagination. Both are highly developed channels that have developed so that the unconscious and conscious levels may speak to one another and work together.

Active imagination is not a ‘visualisation’ technique in which someone imagines something with a goal in mind. Active imagination has a different relationship with the unconscious, one based on recognition of its reality and power. In active imagination, you go to your unconscious to find out what is there and to learn what it has to offer to the conscious mind. The unconscious mind is not something to be manipulated to suit the purposes of the conscious mind, but an equal partner to engage in dialogue that leads to a fuller maturity.

In my dream, the man was my animus – the blueprint in my unconscious for how I could expect the typical man in my life to treat me. This was set in my unconscious mind by my narcissistic father and reinforced with the narcissistic relationships that followed. I had been programmed early on to believe that it was normal for men to treat me badly. Bringing this unconscious belief into my conscious awareness helped me to reprogram my unconscious and instruct it that this behaviour is not acceptable and something I will no longer tolerate.

"In each of us is another whom we do not know. He speaks to us in dreams and tells us how differently he sees us from the way we see ourselves." Carl Jung.

Please support my work by visiting my shop at Jane Redfern Art or by making a donation through Paypal With much love and appreciation. Thank you ❤️