Active imagination



The following are quotations from Joan Chodorow’s Encountering Jung: Jung on active imagination ( Princeton University Press 1997):

Jung discovered active imagination during the years 1913–16. Following the break with Freud in 1912–13, he was disoriented and experienced a time of intense inner turmoil. He suffered from lethargy and fears; his moods threatened to overwhelm him. He had to find a way, a method to heal himself from within. Since he did not know what to do, he decided to engage with the impulses and images of the unconsciousness. In a 1925 seminar and again in his memoirs he tells the remarkable story of his experiments that lead to self-healing. It all began with his rediscovery of the symbolical play of childhood. As a middleaged man in crisis, Jung had lost touch with the creative spirit. A memory floated up of a time when he was a 10- or 11-year-old boy, deeply engrossed in building games. The memory was filled with a rush of emotion and he realised the child was alive. His task became clear: he had to develop an ongoing relationship to this lively spirit within himself. (p. 1)

The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, a characteristic also of the child, and as such it appears inconsistent with serious work. But without this playing with fantasy, no creative work has ever yet come to birth. (p. 5)

An active fantasy may be evoked when we turn our attention toward the unconscious with an attitude of expectation; something definite is about to happen. Passive fantasy is always in need of self-reflective, critical evaluation from the conscious everyday standpoint. (p. 6)

Sometimes an image or idea appears first in the mind’s eye, but it may or may not want to come out. More often than not, images arise in a completely spontaneous way as we work with an expressive medium. (p. 8)

Active imagination has two parts or stages: First, letting the unconscious come up: and second, coming to terms with the unconscious. Sometimes it takes a long time to assimilate the material. In the second part of active imagination, consciousness takes the lead. As the affects and images of the unconscious flow into awareness, the ego enters actively into the experience. This part might begin with a spontaneous string of insights; the larger task of evaluation and integration remains. Insight must be converted into an ethical obligation – to live it in life. (p. 10)

The major danger of the method involves being overwhelmed by the powerful affects, impulses and images of the unconscious. It should be attempted only by psychologically mature individuals who are capable of withstanding a powerful confrontation with the unconscious. Lesser dangers described by Jung include the patient getting “caught in the sterile circle of his own complexes” or “remaining stuck in an all-enveloping phantasmagoria” so that nothing is gained. (p. 12)

Jung often points out that active imagination is not so much a technique as it is a natural process. (p.13)

After an unconscious affect or image is given form, Jung generally encouraged his patients to live with it, relate to it, be with it. The image has everything it needs; allow the meaning to emerge from it. (p.14)

Although he preferred not to interpret the images of active imagination, he was fascinated by their meaning. In his writings, he amplifies the symbols by linking them to the images of archaeology, myth and the world’s religions. (p. 14)

In his final great work, Mysterium Coniunctionis, he shows how active imagination is the way to self-knowledge (“Know Thyself”), and the process of individuation. From this mature perspective, he is describing much more than a specific meditative procedure or expressive technique. In the deepest sense, active imagination is the essential, innerdirected symbolical attitude that is at the core of psychological development. (p. 17)