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Image and Symbol => Literature => Topic started by: flowerbells on August 21, 2012, 11:27:35 PM

Title: Jungian Active Imagination
Post by: flowerbells on August 21, 2012, 11:27:35 PM
As I have stated in my  own Introduction, I have been privileged to have had about 2 years or intensive Jungian based Art Therapy.  I cannot tell you how wonderfully helpful this has been.  I'm not good at doing Art Therapy without a qualified Jungian or Dream specialist.  That's one reason why I am here at, to learn more about Jungian thought and practice.  I have a blog I call "A Jungian Blog for You and Me."  A good title, I do admit it, but I'm not really sure if my blog lives up to its title.  I focus more on dreams, and have written 3 short stories on some repetitive dreams.  Is this an example of using Active Imagination?  I suspect that it is.  Also, since I wrote the stories, mostly the last month, my dreams have become much more benign and pleasant.  I also dream less, and find it harder to remember my dreams.  Since studying Robert A. Johnson's book a couple of months ago, Inner Work: Usinig Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth, I wrote down 9 very detailed dreams. The last one was 6 pages in my dream journal.
Title: Re: Jungian Active Imagination
Post by: Matt Koeske on August 22, 2012, 09:47:26 AM
Marian, you should be able to find a lot of different thoughts on active imagination by Googling something like "Active Imagination Jung".  I found various blurbs, articles, a video and a podcast.  I'm not promoting any of them (I didn't follow the links), but they might be worth exploring.

You can always begin with or return to Daryl Sharp's Jung Lexicon definition of Active Imagination (  From that definition:

The object of active imagination is to give a voice to sides of the personality (particularly the anima/animus and the shadow) that are normally not heard, thereby establishing a line of communication between consciousness and the unconscious. Even when the end products-drawing, painting, writing, sculpture, dance, music, etc.-are not interpreted, something goes on between creator and creation that contributes to a transformation of consciousness.

Always a bit of Jungian oddity, I've never been that drawn to active imagination, although I do agree with its principles and support its practice for many people.  But for me personally, it has proven less effective at "establishing a line of communication between consciousness and the unconscious" than other things.  For instance, either my poetry writing or my more theoretical essaying have always felt to me like they reach deeper and more related spaces.  I recognize, though, that the ability to reach these spaces by these means is significantly influenced by a kind of (for lack of a better word) "mediumistic" or trancelike state I seem to be able to enter into fairly readily while writing.

I have read and known many writers for whom something quite the opposite occurs, i.e., they start writing and become shut off from their autonomous inner voices or "unconscious".

I have also had more success with dream work and come to trust it more than active imagination.  Dream work has always been more challenging to my preconceptions and complexes.  It also has a more differentiated dialog between "conscious and unconscious".  The Other is more clearly other, and the self (as conscious dream worker and interpreter) is more conscious, robust, and familiar.  I mean to say that there is a true dialog in good dream work.

In active imagination, there is a much greater risk of falling into a monolog and eclipsing the Other.  That, at least, is the problem I've had with it.  The conscious, interpretive mind (perhaps something to do with the brain's left hemisphere?) has not shut down enough when I have tried to do active imagination.  I've found it difficult to do AI with the fairly extensive knowledge of Jungian thought and symbolism I've acquired over the years.

A similar problem would present itself in my poetry writing, but I placed very strict ethical objectives on my poetry writing.  I kept working at something and revising and rewriting it until I felt like I had managed to break through to the Other and make some kind of gracious and welcoming appeal.  Poetry writing for me was filled with oscillations between "inspired" channelings of phrases, lines, and images that "just came to me fully formed" and more intentional and strategical attempts to places these into an "artistic mechanism" that best allowed those "inspired" pieces to express themselves and do what they do.

This involved a battle of grinding away at the failed attempts to facilitate this Otherness and the places where I felt there was too much "ego" in the way.  Ultimately, the poems become true dialogs . . . but it is the act of craft, like a kind of devoted prayer and study, that enabled the dialog.  In essence, as a poet, I needed to have a specific value system in order to move away from active imagination into art.  Where I accomplished that, I felt there was much richer communication with the Other, and that I learned a great deal from that communication.

Even now, when I reread my poems, it feels as though they were co-written by someone else who had amazing insights into my psychology and sense of meaning.  It continues to educate and reorient me from time to time . . . even as in other ways I have probably moved on from the mindset of the poet I once was.

Although I think many others (and other Jungians) probably have fewer troubles reaching an authentic enough place of communication through active imagination than I do, I have also noticed a lot of Jungian misuse of active imagination.  And that combined with my own experience with AI has probably made me a little more cynical than I should be.

By "misuse", I mean that images from active imagination fantasies are taken up as "truths" and indications of profound insights, revelations, and spiritual realities.  Jung himself, who was generally very good at tempering active imagination with an ethic and self-analysis, could get a bit carried away with thinking that, because he imagined something during AI, it was profoundly "true" and indicative of a genuine, revealed psychic Other or object.  Yet, to me, his Red Book does not really read this way.  It is powerfully shaped by his expectations and interpretive consciousness.

In fact, as I have written on my blog (I think Keri linked to it in another thread), I find the thrust and ultimate conclusion of the Red Book problematic and entirely in line with my own experiences of the limitations of active imagination.  In short, the Red Book is largely made up of dialogs between Jung and imagined or inner psychic characters.  These dialogs are usually characterized by extreme defensiveness on Jung's part, and only grudging and half-hearted acquiescence.

At least that is the way the dialogs with female characters play out.  Jung always acts very oppressed and does everything he can to weasel out of the relationship.  In the dialogs with male (mostly "senex"/old man types), Jung begins by being fairly attracted to the other's position, but eventually comes to "transcend the father" and detect the one-sideness or limitation of that position.

The Red Book concludes with a final identification that Jung seems to accept: with the character of Philemon, who has been re-crafted as a powerful Gnostic-pagan wizard.  As soon as Jung accepts this identification (and does not transcend it), all of the other voices in the Red Book are silenced and expelled.  Exorcised.

That is the real problem with active imagination that I have seen.  In the hands of a clever, intellectual, and knowledgable person, it may begin as an approach to the Otherness within but it usually ends with the exorcism of that Otherness.  Otherness, like the alchemists' Mercurius, is extremely volatile and difficult to "fix".

Of course, I am talking about extremely "high level" active imagination here.  The kind that Jung did.  The kind that a spiritual seeker might use with the intention of attaining some kind of ecstasy or potential enlightenment.  That is where AI becomes problematic.

Where AI is used just to tap into "creativity" and a little bit of communion with the Other, a small taste from that wellspring, it can be extremely helpful and should not be discouraged.  But Jungianism attracts many spiritual seekers and enlightenment/transcendence groupies, so many of these people are in danger of misusing AI.

It doesn't sound to me like you are running that risk in your own use.  And perhaps it is the "naive" approach you try to take that aids this success.  I see no reason for you to increase your vigilance or resistance to AI.  It may be that at some point AI becomes more than just an orienting mechanism or healing wellspring, when it becomes a problematized ethical issue.  There is a loss of innocence in that, but those Falls are also part of journey.

Title: Re: Jungian Active Imagination
Post by: flowerbells on August 22, 2012, 01:02:31 PM
Thanks for your analysis, Matt.  You did not comment on the fact that my dreams have improved -- I mean they aren't so scary now -- since writing the dream stories.  Anyway, they have.  I don't have much to add right now...I sort of "absorb" what you write rather than taking it in with my "left brain."
Title: Re: Jungian Active Imagination
Post by: Matt Koeske on August 23, 2012, 04:54:14 PM
Thanks for your analysis, Matt.  You did not comment on the fact that my dreams have improved -- I mean they aren't so scary now -- since writing the dream stories.  Anyway, they have.

It's a common experience for analysis to unlock psychic doors and seemingly release pressure.  Scary dreams are common and not necessarily indicative of trauma or even unusual anxiety.  On the other hand, trauma-sufferers often have recurring dreams of torture, terror, and other persecutions.  It depends on the individual's situation and the individual dreams.  There are no universal rules.

But it is also common for dreams to be frightening or to contain frightening elements before we find a language or outlet in which to express or relate to their content (which certainly art therapy would count as).  A very common dream motif is the person/animal/thing that chases the dreamer.  There is always "unconscious content" that seems to seek to become conscious.  In many such dreams, once the chaser catches up to the chasee, the dream situation changes.  Sometimes, the chaser even ceases to be a monster or a threat.

In general, paying attention to dreams (even if they are not seriously analyzed) has a therapeutic effect.

I also have difficulty recalling my dreams, although there have been periods of abundant dream recall for me (e.g., around the time I started Useless Science).  The last couple years have provided few dreams I can remember.  I don't know if I would consider these few dreams "benign" exactly, but there does seem to be less of a deluge.

I've observed that my dream recall has been higher during times of psychic transition and increased anxiety.  The last few years have held relative contentment for me with steady change, but no "cataclysmic" surges (which did occur in prior years). 

I've been curious about any effect my creative activity might have on my dreaming and whether, perhaps, I have needed less reorganizational urging from my dreams because my creative work has been more open to reorganizational urging form the autonomous psyche. But I don't have enough data to make a study (let a lone a useful hypothesis) on that.

Any dream that I remember (which usually means it would have to feel significant and intriguing to me), I write up and post in a private space at Useless Science.  But I don't usually make an extreme effort to recall and record my dreams (no pen and paper or other recording device by my bedside, etc.).

Now, if I didn't write constantly and abundantly, I suspect I would be in pretty bad shape and quite inundated with big dreams.

I sort of "absorb" what you write rather than taking it in with my "left brain."

That's appropriate.  I write these things in much the same manner.

I read Jung's whole Collected Works the first time when I was 19.  Jung is a heavy writer, but I just absorbed him in the way you note.  The writing never seemed burdensome or heavy or beyond my intellect to me.  I just swam in it.  It was as if I was reading my own thoughts spoken back to me by an older version of myself.

And I actually managed to understand and process Jung's writings pretty well.  Of course, years later, I discovered that I had read a Jung that not all or even most Jungians seem to have read . . . and no doubt "my" Jung was subject to a great deal of my projection.  Due to that projection and a kind of resonance I had with "my" Jung, I seemed to have insights into certain ideas of the actual Jung's that other Jungians struggle to wrap their minds around.

At other times, "my" Jung seems to have had more robust and forward-thinking versions of his ideas than the actual Jung did.  Those versions or revisions eventually became the stuff of my own theoretic endeavors.  Now, I cultivate these revisions consciously, but for many years I assumed these were entirely Jung's ideas (until other Jungians disabused me of this).  I still feel like he deserves the bulk of the credit for any seeming "innovations" in my thinking.  All I feel like I did was re-contextualize his ideas.

The most curious thing to me is that I was able to intuitively construct these revisionary ideas at 19 and during my early twenties . . . and I am still just contextualizing and cultivating these seedlings where I would expect to be weeding many more of them out of the garden.  There is something to be said about the wonders of intuition . . . although its greatest value emerges retroactively, curiously enough.  When the intuition is fresh, we don't always know what to do with it.  Later on, we can say, "Oh, that's what I was supposed to do!"

I mean the subtler, more complex intuitions . . . not the one's that daimonically say, "Leap now!"

Title: Re: Jungian Active Imagination
Post by: flowerbells on August 23, 2012, 09:09:40 PM
There is something to be said about the wonders of intuition . . . although its greatest value emerges retroactively, curiously enough.  When the intuition is fresh, we don't always know what to do with it.  Later on, we can say, "Oh, that's what I was supposed to do!"

Thank you, Matt, for your clear and excellent message!  I didn't even have to "absorb" it, as I understand everything you wrote this time.  Maybe that is because you responded directly to me and my earlier post.  Yes, intuition is really marvelous.  I have resisted "outside-to-inside" thinking in both my visual art work (amateur), and music (semi-professional). I am a degreed specialist in the field of Developmental Education, and also trained to learn and teach music in that way. That's inside-to-outside.   It can be "slower" and more -- shall we say chaotic?  certainly complex -- than the so-called "traditional" way of left-brained teaching/learning, but it is much deeper and presents a thorough, personal grasp of the subject/s taught and learned in this way.  In my later years -- about the last 20, actually -- I like to either work on my own or with a group of peers.  However: when I get stuck, I find a teacher I can work comfortably with until I overcome whatever it is that's causing me trouble.  For instance, I will learn some very basic watercolor techniques in a 5-hour one-day workshop in September.  I expect this to open many doors.  And, I am taking very intense mandolin lessons.  My teacher took me off the many beautiful tunes I knew for about 2 months until I got a handle on the new technique that I wanted.   My practice sessions are so intense that I sometimes break out in a sweat, playing ONE NOTE as well as I can.  This is paying off with large dividends, however,  (-)appl(-) and now I have about 10 of my tunes back, but slower.  I told my teacher that when I get two tunes clean and fast, I'm throwing a party -- for just him and me -- and bringing candy.  Oh, and I had to put my band on hiatus for a year.  I expect to be up and running by then.  That's either 9 months or a year from now.