View Full Version : Active Imagination as a meditational technique

David Guyatt
04-06-2013, 04:05 PM
I don't know if the following will be of any interest at all. Possibly not. But it's of interest to me, so here goes anyway.

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, was not informed about western meditational techniques. But he didn't really have to be. As a trail blazer, he found his own method of achieving much the same thing. Eventually, he called it "Active Imagination" and honed the method until others could learn to practise it.

It is not, however, something to undertake on your own, unless you are already skilled in delving into the Collective Unconscious, and have the means to protect and ground yourself. Or undergoing analysis and have an Analyst to guide you. In those circumstances it is an extremely powerful procedure that harnesses a persons deep imagination and uses that, if you will, as the filter between a state of consciousness and the unconscious.

Below, I am pasting some relevant pages from Jung's autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections where he details his own experiences with active imagination. The images are powerful. They always are.

Page 179:

It was during Advent of the year 1913 December 12, to be
exact that I resolved upon the decisive step. I was sitting at
my desk once more, thinking over my fears. Then I let myself
drop. Suddenly it was as though the ground literally gave way
beneath my feet, and I plunged down into dark depths. I could
not fend off a feeling of panic. But then, abruptly, at not too
great a depth, I landed on my feet in a soft, sticky mass. I felt
great relief, although I was apparently in complete darkness.
After a while my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, which
was rather like a deep twilight. Before me was the entrance to
a dark cave, in which stood a dwarf with a leathery skin, as if he
were mummified. I squeezed past him through the narrow entrance
and waded knee deep through icy water to the other end
of the cave where, on a projecting rock, I saw a glowing red
crystal. I grasped the stone, lifted it, and discovered a hollow
underneath. At first I could make out nothing, but then I saw
that there was running water. In it a corpse floated by, a youth
with blond hair and a wound in the head. He was followed by
a gigantic black scarab and then by a red, newborn sun, rising
to replace the stone upon the opening, but then a fluid welled
out. It was blood. A thick jet of it leaped up, and I felt nauseated.
It seemed to me that the blood continued to spurt for an
unendurably long time. At last it ceased, and the vision came to
an end.

I was stunned by this vision. I realized, of course, that it was a
hero and solar myth, a drama of death and renewal, the rebirth
symbolized by the Egyptian scarab. At the end, the dawn of the
new day should have followed, but instead came that intolerable
outpouring of blood an altogether abnormal phenomenon, so
it seemed to me. But then I recalled the vision of blood that I
had had in the autumn of that same year, and I abandoned all
further attempt to understand.

Six days later (December 18, 1913), I had the following
dream. I was with an unknown, brown-skinned man, a savage,
in a lonely, rocky mountain landscape. It was before dawn; the
eastern sky was already bright, and the stars fading. Then I
heard Siegfried's horn sounding over the mountains and I knew
that we had to kill him. We were armed with rifles and lay in
wait for him on a narrow path over the rocks.

Then Siegfried appeared high up on the crest of the mountain,
in the first ray of the rising sun. On a chariot made of the bones
of the dead he drove at furious speed down the precipitous
slope. When he turned a corner, we shot at him, and he plunged
down, struck dead.

Filled with disgust and remorse for having destroyed something
so great and beautiful, I turned to flee, impelled by the
fear that the murder might be discovered. But a tremendous
downfall of rain began, and I knew that it would wipe out all
traces of the dead. I had escaped the danger of discovery; life
could go on, but an unbearable feeling of guilt remained.
When I awoke from the dream, I turned it over in my mind,
but was unable to understand it. I tried therefore to fall asleep
again, but a voice within me said, "You must understand the
dream, and must do so at once!" The inner urgency mounted
until the terrible moment came when the voice said, "If you do
not understand the dream, you must shoot yourself!" In the
drawer of my night table lay a loaded revolver, and I became
frightened. Then I began pondering once again, and suddenly
the meaning of the dream dawned on me. "Why, that is the
problem that is being played out in the world/' Siegfried, I
thought, represents what the Germans want to achieve, heroically
to impose their will, have their own way. "Where there is a
will there is a way!" I had wanted to do the same. But now that
was no longer possible. The dream showed that the attitude
embodied by Siegfried, the hero, no longer suited me. Therefore
it had to be killed.

After the deed I felt an overpowering compassion, as though I
myself had been shot: a sign of my secret identity with Siegfried,
as well as of the grief a man feels when he is forced to
sacrifice his ideal and his conscious attitudes. This identity and

Confrontation with the Unconscious

my heroic idealism had to be abandoned, for there are higher
things than the ego's will, and to these one must bow.
These thoughts sufficed for the present, and I fell asleep again.
The small, brown-skinned savage who accompanied me and
had actually taken the initiative in the killing was an embodiment
of the primitive shadow. The rain showed that the tension
between consciousness and the unconscious was being resolved.
Although at the time I was not able to understand the meaning
of the dream beyond these few hints, new forces were released
in me which helped me to carry the experiment with 'the unconscious
to a conclusion.
In order to seize hold of the fantasies, I frequently imagined a
steep descent. I even made several attempts to get to the very bottom.
The first time I reached, as it were, a depth of about a
thousand feet; the next time I found myself at the edge of a
cosmic abyss. It was like a voyage to the moon, or a descent into
empty space. First came the image of a crater, and I had the
feeling that I was in the land of the dead. The atmosphere was
that of the other world. Near the steep slope of a rock I caught
sight of two figures, an old man with a white beard and a beautiful
young girl. I summoned up my courage and approached
them as though they were real people, and listened attentively
to what they told me. The old man explained that he was Elijah,
and that gave me a shock. But the girl staggered me even more,
for she called herself Salome! She was blind. What a strange
couple: Salome and Elijah. But Elijah assured me that he and
Salome had belonged together from all eternity, which completely
astounded me. . . . They had a black serpent living
with them which displayed an unmistakable fondness for me. I
stuck close to Elijah because he seeme 1 to be the most reasonable
of the three, and to have a clear intelligence. Of Salome I
was distinctly suspicious. Elijah and I had a long conversation
which, however, I did not understand.
Naturally I tried to find a plausible explanation for the appearance
of Biblical figures in my fantasy by reminding myself
nothing at all. For what did the old man signify? What did
Salome signify? Why were they together? Only many years
later, when I knew a great deal more than I knew then, did the
connection between the old man and the young girl appear
perfectly natural to me.
In such dream wanderings one frequently encounters an old
man who is accompanied by a young girl, and examples of such
couples are to be found in many mythic tales. Thus, according
to Gnostic tradition, Simon Magus went about with a young girl
whom he had picked up in a brothel. Her name was Helen, and
she was regarded as the reincarnation of the Trojan Helen.
Klingsor and Kundry, Lao-tzu and the dancing girl, likewise
belong to this category.

I have mentioned that there was a third figure in my fantasy
besides Elijah and Salome: the large black snake. In myths the
snake is a frequent counterpart of the hero. There are numerous
accounts of their affinity. For example, the hero has eyes like a
snake, or after his death he is changed into a snake and revered
as such, or the snake is his mother, etc. In my fantasy, therefore,
the presence of the snake was an indication of a hero-myth.
Salome is an anima figure. She is blind because she does not
see the meaning of tilings. Elijah is the figure of the wise old
prophet and represents the factor of intelligence and knowledge;
Salome, the erotic element. One might say that the two
figures are personifications of Logos and Eros. But such a definition
would be excessively intellectual. It is more meaningful to
let the figures be what they were for me at the time namely,
events and experiences.

Soon after this fantasy another figure rose out of the unconscious.
He developed out of the Elijah figure. I called him Philemon.
Philemon was a pagan and brought with him an Egypto-
Hellenistic atmosphere with a Gnostic coloration. His figure first
appeared to me in the following dream.

There was a blue sky, like the sea, covered not by clouds but
by flat brown clods of earth. It looked as if the clods were breaking
apart and the blue water of the sea were becoming visible
between them. But the water was the blue sky. Suddenly there
appeared from the right a winged being sailing across the sky.
I saw that it was an old man with the horns of a bull. He held
a bunch of four keys, one of which he clutched as 'if he were
about to open a lock. He had the wings of the kingfisher with its
characteristic colors.

Since I did not understand this dream-image, I painted it in
order to impress it upon my memory. During the days when I
was occupied with the painting, I found in my garden, by the
lake shore, a dead kingfisher! I was thunderstruck, for kingfishers
are quite rare in the vicinity of Zurich and I have never
since found a dead one. The body was recently dead at the
most, two or three days and showed no external injuries.
Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to
me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which
I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their
own life. Philemon represented a force which was not myself.
In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said
things which I had not consciously thought. For I observed
clearly that it was he who spoke, not I. He said I treated
thoughts as if I generated them myself, but in his view thoughts
were like animals in the forest, or people in a room, or birds in
the air, and added, "If you should see people in a room, you
would not think that you had made those people, or that you
were responsible for them." It was he who taught me psychic
objectivity, the reality of the psyche. Through him the distinction
was clarified between myself and the object of my thought.
He confronted me in an objective manner, and I understood
that there is something in me which can say things that I do not
know and do not intend, things which may even be directed
against me.

Psychologically, Philemon represented superior insight. He
was a mysterious figure to me, At times he seemed to me quite
real, as if he were a living personality. I went walking up and
down the garden with him, and to me he was what the Indians
call a guru.

Whenever the outlines of a new personification appeared, I
felt it almost as a personal defeat. It meant: "Here is something
else you didn't know until now!" Fear crept over me that the
succession of such figures might be endless, that I might lose
myself in bottomless abysses of ignorance. My ego felt devalued
although -the successes I had been having in worldly affairs
might have reassured me. In my darknesses (horridas nostrae
mentis purga tenebras "cleanse the horrible darknesses of our
mind" the Aurora Consurgens says) I could have wished for
nothing better than a real, live guru, someone possessing superior
knowledge and ability, who would have disentangled for
me the involuntary creations of my imagination. This task was
undertaken by the figure of Philemon, whom in this respect I
had willy-nilly to recognize as my psychagogue. And the fact
was that he conveyed to me many an illuminating idea.