Jungian Active Imagination & Hypnagogia

"the royal road to the unconscious"
-C.G. Jung

Going Deeper with Active Imagination

"Beyond the limited circle of light bounding our conscious mind is the vast darkness of our unconscious mind. The very ground upon which consciousness stands is the unconscious mind." - Stephen LaBerge

Active Imagination practice is as challenging and robust as any other Soul or Spirit discipline used throughout history and throughout the world. While several disciplines have had far and wide promotion (i.e. prayer in Christianity and meditation in Hinduism/Buddhism), the proponents of Active Imagination have not been so well organized or powerful in conveying their message. Active Imagination has frequently been an "accidental practice" such as in Alchemy when these early chemists had their deeper imaginations activated by their dedication to finding gold in their retorts and chemicals. Many artists (visual and performing) turn to Active Imagination with little awareness of its history or relationship to Soul and Spirit work to get the insights needed for outstanding creations.The following steps are offered to heighten awareness of just what is involved with consciously applied Active Imagination practice and outlines much of the work that is necessary to make this an important discipline.


1. Pick a time to do quality work. This is very important. So many of us have tried to relegate inner work practice to the time after we get everything else done. All of our obligations to work, to house, family, friends, to bills, are done first. Only then do we sit down to do inner work. By that time we are too tired to do anything. Do not use "junk time," that time left over once everything else is taken care of to do quality inner work. It won't work. This does not mean giving up your day job but it does require awareness of when your energy is appropriately high for this sort of work. Find the means to carve out good time for this important work.

2. Use Pre-Active Imagination work to turn inward and to create the ambiance for Active Imagination.
3. When the ambiance is right, introduce a topic to be explored or allow a topic to show itself.

If it feels right to introduce a topic, try:
  • an image or feeling from a very recent dream
  • an image from a very recent time during your day world
  • a mood from your day world
  • a powerful image/feeling from other sources (i.e. the Tarot, art, film, literature)
If it feels right to allow a topic to come up, try:
    • to trust the process
    • to allow for more depth so that an important topic can up (avoid the "chit-chat" that we so often face when not going far enough)
4. Once a topic has been agreed upon, stay with it. Try to stick to the central image. This doesn't mean that it can't change, it will. Try to let the topic's full drama unfold rather than expecting/seeking a cascade of images/feelings.5. Get into the image (physically, emotionally, intellectually, and intuitively)6. Remember. It is too easy to let everything just pass your eyes without reflection, but remember that one of the primary aims of this practice is to learn. To learn requires remembering. To remember requires not a passive approach to what one is experiencing but a very active one. This is the main reason this practice is called Active Imagination. To remember you will need to:
  • Take notes
  • Tell someone else what you are experiencing so that they can record the action
  • Or, make the session last no longer than your ability to remember the inner events. This can mean that the session (once you are warmed up with Pre-Active Imagination) will only be five minutes long. That's fine, no harm is done with short sessions.
7. Dialogue with inner figures. If you can meet or call forward inner figures, do so. Become come engage in realistic dialogue; personification is one of the most powerful and important aspects of Active Imagination. Trust the process and listen and learn.8. Wind down. Sessions do not need to be very long. Ten to fifteen minutes can provide a tremendous amount of material. Develop a simple process of inner and outward steps that communicates to your psyche that you are now leaving this process. Some peple prefer to use an inner image such as walking down a path towards their home to make this transition.9. Emerge and do any needed additional recording of your experience.10. Settle back into your everyday world.11. Do Post Session Work
Do Research As Needed
Frequently a special image or motif will come up demanding exploration after you leave Active Imagination. Do what research you can and you want to do either on-line, at a university library or through the help of a Jungian Society. One note: for this type of work, most research only requires a light exploration of the topic. For instance, if a goddess figure appears, look at goddess images, get some sense of how historic and wide spread these images are, and find one or two that attract you. Also get a general idea of what these goddesses represent. Note that it is not necessary, and frequently a hindrance, to go into too much detail. Going into detail tends to turn a poetic inner experience into a head trip. Nothing against head trips, but if heavy intellectual analysis is used too early, before one has mastered accessing the unconscious, it will be an obstacle, pulling you away from the work you need to do. Once a reasonable level of mastery is achieved, then deeper research will not only not interfere with Active Imagination, it will serve to deepen it. However, in the beginning, try to keep to the gut level nature of what you experience. This will keep you motivated and connected to the ambiance created by Active Imagination.
Do Something With It
Many Active Imagination practitioners and teachers recommend doing something with you experiences. Writing, journaling, sculpting, painting, and dancing are just some of the means of taking an experience and bringing it into this world by giving it form. Giving it form will give it a greater place in your life and will further activate the unconscious.
Keep To Your Promises
If one is going deep enough in Active Imagination one encounters inner figures (either from a dream, spontaneously, or from an exterior image such as a Tarot card). Inevitably, a promise is made (or should be made) to these personifications of unconscious processes. This promise tends to be around some attribute of the inner figure and some attribute you hold or wish to hold. Robert Johnson in his fine book on Active Imagination, Inner Work, tells of a woman who cuts a deal with her inner artist. If she makes room in her busy life for a greater connection to beauty and art, the inner figure will not pester her through bad dreams and compulsions. Her life takes on a new vitality and sense of meaning, but Johnson warns, she must keep to this promise or this gift will be lost. When you make such deals, keep to your promises. This will increase your ability to hold meaningful dialogues with sometimes reluctant inner figures.
Keep Quiet and Be Humble
While you may now have a new understanding, an understanding that is well beyond your friends and family, don't be arrogant. Treat whatever you have received as a delicate gift. If you hold it just right you can possess it and learn more from it, but if you are not careful, this gift can become beat up and distorted. You don't have all of the answers---you just have another piece of a very large, complex, and when it gets down to it,---a very mysterious, puzzle.
You have been presented with insights about life and these insights must be applied to open your perspective on the inner and outer world. Insights gained in Active Imagination tend to expand one's view by showing a new side to an issue. They weaken our old certainties, making room for new understandings and receptiveness. Active Imagination is synthesis and we need to carry this synthesis forward in our choices, our expectations, our demands.
12. Start Again

If you have any psychiatric condition or suspect that you might have some difficulties handling your dreams, work with the imagination, or maintaining a comfortable grasp on the requirements of everyday living, please do not work with Active Imagination alone. Work with mental health professionals who can advise you on how best to approach this sort of work.For those who have no such problems, Active Imagination should make for a helpful and exciting way of learning how to live a meaningful and more expansive life.
  • Go to Learning Resources for a list of books outlining this technique.
  • Johnson, Robert A. Active Imagination - Tapes. A good supplement to his book, Inner Work.
  • There are two books, not specifically on Active Imagination, that convey the general tone of this sort of work. See:
    • Listening to the Oracle: The Ancient Art of Finding Guidance in the Signs and Symbols All Around Us - Dianne Skafte.
    • Solved By Sunset: The Right Brain Way To Resolve Whatever's Bothering You in One Day Or Less - Carol Orsborn (Available in the bookstore).

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