The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung made many incredibly important discoveries, such as the anima, the shadow, the persona, and the influence of archetypes in our daily lives. Another of his discoveries was a technique of psycho-spiritual meditation and development that he called â€œactive imagination.â€ The purpose of active imagination was to better understand the contents of oneâ€™s psyche, by using the imagination and the images conjured there, arising from the unconscious.
Jung developed this idea in 1913, and realized that it was a way to derive the meaning of latent unconscious drives and desires by activating the imagination and allowing the wellspring of images from the collective unconscious to spring up into the imagination. Then, these scenes are able to act themselves out in a way clarifying for the student.
Active imagination is extremely similar to many things we do in meditation in that one uses the image making faculty of the imagination in each in order to distill conscious meaning from the unconscious contents. They are also extremely similar in that they occur because of a basically free-flowing, spontaneous function of the mind at ease.
Jung thought that when engaging in the process of active imagination, we must temper our desire to control the outcome of the situation by imposing our own meanings or explanations onto them, at least for a time. Jung said that people should wait to extrapolate meaning from their active imagination practices until after they have observed the impact of them. Both depend on an image-making instinct we all possess, and which interestingly both provide insight into our deeper drives.
One way to utilize this activity is to compose something like a play, by automatic writing or by drawing, or purely in the imagination, whereby the impulses which are warring within us can have a stage, an arena, a frame within which to come to fruition, to experiment with outcomes, to experiment with the truth of oneâ€™s instincts. The imaginative faculty is the stage, at least in the beginning, especially when trained with simple yogic exercises of maintaining concentration.
An Example of Active Imagination
If you were in a situation where you wished to emotionally unbind yourself from a past lover, in order to move on and continue your life in a healthy way with someone else, you could use active imagination to tap into the deep complexes that are holding you back, and get to the root of the problem. One way would be to imagine yourself facing the person you are wishing to detach from, and then, moving away from them, watching them get smaller and smaller until they are a speck, and then invisible on the horizon. You can address the idea of moving permanently away from this person emotionally and psychologically, by focusing on this guided meditation in the form of a lucid dream, of purely own creation or aided by others.
This is only one example of how to use the technique of active imagination in our lives, and there are an infinite amount of ways to do this. Sometimes, the arts allow us to experience active imagination vicariously, such as in the connection to a character in a story, or a movement in a piece of music, or a scene in a film. The arts also allow us to experience this collectively, which can have a powerful affect on individuals and cultures.
Active imagination and meditation can be practiced together, and both work to the same end, which is our psychological, spiritual, psychic reorganization through symbol, the image-making faculty of the mind, and the practical experiment with a technique.
Anyone can engage these methods, at any time, in any place. They do not require deep knowledge of the mechanisms involved, but simply patient practice and a desire to heal emotional, psychic, or psychological wounds and weaknesses, which once appropriately cared for, turn into our most cherished assets.
About the Author
Benjamin Norris is a journalist from Bristol, UK, who spends his days lecturing Indian Cultural History at one of Europeâ€™s leading Architecture Universities. He is particularly fascinated by global spiritual cultures and practices, and by many subjects of an esoteric nature. His writing often reflects these interests, and he enjoys little more than delving deeply into unknown worlds of research. You can find more of Benjaminâ€™s work atÂ Omharmonics.com.
Please check out his recent articles onÂ meditation techniques for anxiety.