What is Active Imagination & What can it do for You?

Floating in air. Relaxed girl in vintage ruffle dress levitating keeping eyes closed, sleeping while flying mid-air having comfortable peaceful dream in sky. collage composition on day cloudy blue sky

Active imagination is a meditative technique that a psychiatrist created you may have heard of: Carl Gustav Jung. 

Very long story short, young one day, he realized that he could communicate with various aspects of his psyche that he did not fully understand or that were unconscious by actively engaging with his imagination – hence the term “active imagination.”

Why does Active Imagination work?

Most people go to therapy because there is something about their psyche or their psychology that they don’t understand. It might show up in a behavior that is somehow harmful or unwanted and yet the behavior persists, or perhaps it’s a thought process that causes emotional strain, or it might be an obsession that takes up a lot of mental energy and causes distraction. 

Whatever it is, when we don’t understand our behavior, emotions, or thoughts, that likely means there’s some aspect of ourselves that is unconscious to us. In other words, it is unknown to us: it is not in our conscious awareness.

Inner Workings, Inner Dialogue

Here is an example of how this process can work from the book Inner Work by Robert A. Johnson. In the book, he reports on how a woman who has become obsessed with decorating her house and can hardly think of anything else begins a process of Active Imagination with the part of herself that is causing her to obsess. She doesn’t know what part of her it is, but she calls it forth by asking, “What is happening here? I’ve been taken over by an unknown force. I can’t sleep for the barrage of hues before my eyes. What are you doing? What do you want? Who are you?”

She allows her imagination to unfold and hears a voice respond. The voice then reveals its form as a Japanese Artist – her psyche’s representation of her inner artist. This part of her reveals how much the colors excite her, and the woman notes, “at this point, I began to realize that the feminine voice inside me was not so much obsessed as thrilled at the colors.”

The inner dialogue continues, and the woman realizes that by focusing on all of the practical matters of life and giving no space for creativity and play, she has been neglecting this inner artist. As a result, this part of herself jumped at the chance provided by the situation of needing to decorate the house and was acting out with a vengeance all the stifled energy.

She, then, not only understood where all this seemingly strange hyperfocus was coming from, but she also was able to begin communicating with this part and addressing the neglected need within herself. She concludes the Active Imagination session by striking a deal with this aspect of herself, asking that it ease up and allow her to focus on other matters; in return, she made a promise to herself that she would make space for her inner artist, identifying and coming to agreement within herself as to the specific ways she would make that happen.

This gives only an introductory overview of what Active Imagination is and how it can be used to heal. I don’t expect anyone to try it based on this blog post alone. I’d recommend reading Inner Work by Robert A. Johnson, and if you’d like someone to guide you through the process, you please reach out to our intake coordinator and set up a free consultation with me to discuss how I could help you with that.

May your journey be filled with creativity, healing, and wonder.

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