Time for some detailed work with dreams. [We can also use active imagination without using dream material, in a process discussed later in the article.]
We’ll look at how to use Jung’s concept or approach called ‘active imagination’ in working with dream characters (people, creatures, animals). This process can be especially helpful when dreams are not resolved or when ego (or the alarm) wakes us up before the dream has ‘finished.’ As well, when we have recurring dreams, one can use active imagination to extend the dream and bring it to (or closer to) resolution.
Jung developed a method, some say an attitude, called active imagination in which a person induces a two-way dialogue with a dream figure while in a conscious state. It is a dialogue between the fully conscious waking ego and a dream figure. The experience is usually short-lived, even a mere flash sentence or two. I find (although not in full dialogue) it can even be a clarification word, look or a few seconds more of the dream to result in a resonating felt-sense moment – “Oh, that’s it! Got it!” The key is to let go of ego domination (so that it is not fabricating the dialogue or action) and yet not let the unconscious take over.
Jungian analyst, Robert A. Johnson, outlines four steps in active imagination. In the first step – The Invitation – we invite the figures from our dream to reappear and invite them to converse with you.
Start by getting very relaxed, sitting or lying down. Take a few deep breaths, relax and turn inward, going back into the dream. It is important to get into whatever emotional state you were feeling in the dream when it ended. Be there in your body and wait with patience and openness. Allow the images to rise up. One can either focus on a particular figure or visualize the whole situation where the dream ended. It is interesting to note that the dream may already being playing onward as you enter.
During the second step, called The Dialogue, when contact has been made with the figure, the waking person asks a question relating to the dream such as:
- Who are you? Why are you here?
- What is your gift-offering- lesson? Message?
- What do you want/ask from me?
- How are you here to shift my perception of myself, others, my current situation?
- What do you need me to do? To feel?
You give yourself over to the process of imagination, saying and doing what is practical and ethical. Remember, as Johnson suggests, one wants to show a “willingness to listen.”
Step Three – The Values – addresses the ethical and moral piece of this work. It is the task of the conscious ego to be guided by a sense of ethical limits to ensure the process stays within limits. The ego may have to face ethical choices dealing with values, attitudes and conduct that arise in active imagination. What an opportunity for holding the tension and for growth.
Of course, one has to be conscious of any ego inflation that may occur if ego takes on an imbalance of newly attained strength or power. A fine balance needs to be attained between being dominated and dominating dream figures. There is some truth and wisdom in every figure.
In step four – The Rituals – one does a physical acknowledgement or act, as one would with any dream work, of the learnings. This does not mean living the active imagination out. It means taking the essence of what was revealed – the insight – and integrating it into your practical day and/or symbolizing it in some manner. For example, we don’t purchase a lion because we’ve dialogued with one, rather, we may do a quick lion poise before the day, embodying its presence and being more assertive at the upcoming meeting.
For using active imagination without dream images, we will quickly look at Maria Louise von Franz’s approach called ‘emptying the ego-mind.” One clears the mind of all thoughts of the external world, relaxes and simply waits, “with an alert and attentive attitude, to see who or what appears.” The key is to wait and not to judge what or who shows up. Use the steps of ethical invitation and dialogue as noted above.
Johnson suggests that perhaps some priming can occur with this method by giving the imagination a starting point to focus on and then see what arises. This could be a current fantasy that has your attention, a (special) place or even a current mood (that is personified by an image and using that image as the primer).
As with any inner work, relax, be curious, and enjoy the company (you!).
Resource: Inner Work: Using Dreams & Active Imagination for Personal Growth, Robert A. Johnson.