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Carl Gustav Jung argued that dreams and other unconscious images can be particularly vivid when these images attempt to make their way to the conscious mind. Through the process of active imagination, these images may become less vivid and allow the contents of the unconscious mind to healthily integrate with the conscious mind. Jung cautioned that the process of active imagination had to be done carefully because it could cause a disconnect from reality.
Active imagination is intended to bring about a state of hypnagogia. This is the state in between sleep and wakefulness, where people may be partially aware that they are dreaming. Jung (buy his books from Amazon) argued that active imagination could be achieved naturally during intense states of relaxation, such as when listening to a story or drifting off to sleep.
When we start meditating, our minds are usually very active and restless, so our first step is to calm the mind and get a hold of our stream of attention.
As the mind relaxes, we become aware of our small beam of attention “witnessing” all our rushing thoughts, our conscious mind.
Focus on the Dream
After the mind has calmed and we feel we are present, we then move our attention onto an image from a recent dream of our choosing.
The trick is to keep our attention held to the dream for as long as possible. We might lose our attention to more mundane things, but we calmly bring it back to the dream image when that happens.
Allow the Unconscious to Speak
When we focus on the dream image we are peering into the unconscious mind. To “get the message” that the unconscious is trying to communicate to us through our dream, we need to start allowing the unconscious to speak through the image.
To do this, we need to loosen our focus just enough so that the unconscious can start to animate the dream image, but we need to be careful not to loosen our focus too much, or we may get absorbed and find ourselves thinking about mundane things again.
This is the crucial step; as we allow our unconscious mind to speak, we may enter back into the narrative of the dream, or we may end up talking to one of the dream characters. Dream characters might embody archetypal structures in the lower parts of our psyche that want to make us aware of specific information that can help us in our waking lives. Learning more about archetypes, such as anima and animus, the shadow, the persona or the wise old man is very useful.
Sometimes the process of communicating with the unconscious may even be dark or weird, especially if we’re using this to understand nightmares, but this is alright; it’s just something we might have avoided facing in the past. This is a good moment to face our fears and accept our aspirations. We must not forget that the ultimate goal of active imagination is, in Jung’s perspective, to aid the person in engaging and completing his or her own process of individuation, which never promises to be an easy task (on the contrary).
Whatever the form this “manifestation” takes, engage with it and try to remember it as vividly as possible because the fourth step is to bring it to life.
Create an Artifact
Now it’s time for writing, drawing, or painting whatever we just experienced in the silence of our minds.
The goal here is not to get caught up in making a masterpiece but merely to make that unconscious image into an artefact we can try to decipher in our next step.
Anyone suffering from writer’s block can benefit from the hidden bonus of active imagination. This step is a way to tap into an insane amount of creative potential. It also teaches the crucial lesson of creating first — criticizing second.
Become your own Analyst
Now we take a break. We take our minds out of the imagination and back into normal consciousness.
When we’re ready and grounded, we turn to our intellect and see if we can find the message contained within the piece of artwork we just made.
You can go even Deeper
Try the technique out several times, and when you reach a comfortable level of playing with its various concepts, you can begin experimenting with multiple alterations such as:
- Focusing on a dream feeling instead of a dream image – can help you better connect with deeper feelings that were suppressed or unacceptable.
- Create using plasticine, pottery, or a random medium instead of paper – different materials offer a distinct sensation and call for often contrasting modalities of interaction, which leads to the peeling back of the defence mechanisms that keep you from having a more precise view of yourself.
- Interact verbally with the characters, give them accents or create a different scene that seems more appropriate for your interaction.
Remember that the principle is always the same: to allow the unconscious to manifest into consciousness and then try to integrate its lessons, thus making significant progress towards achieving what Jung called individuation.