Learning to use active imagination can be a game-changer for inner growth
by James Eke
from Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #129
You might think talking to an imaginary friend is not necessarily the best way for an adult to live life but as a tool in our training toolbox, psychological genius Carl Jung’s process of active imagination can literally change your life. Or at least, active imagination is a powerful tool for training and development if you learn to use it right.
The best part of it is that you’ve likely done this before back when you were a kid and your imagination brought to life conversations that few of us adults even think about on a day to day basis but were key elements of the universe we lived in when we were small.
Now you might think to yourself, are you suggesting that I have an imaginary friend-like conversation as part of my training?
What we have to remember is that the levels to our minds are a much deeper ocean than we understand – even those of us who have spent decades or likely even a lifetime meditating only really are aware or understand a bucket or two of that ocean, some people, the Einsteins of the mind – people like Jung or Dogen – they might have a bucket or two more of understanding but that extra insight is worth listening to and hoisting aboard. The insights that Jung received through active imagination revolutionized not just psychology but how we view the mind.
When we are actively integrating active imagination into our toolbox of techniques the important thing to remember that just like a physical workout or working on your Jiu-Jitsu positions, if you don’t work at it, active imagination’s actual potential for you won’t be realized. It will be like that person who says they want to learn to meditate, tries it a time or two and then says they ‘can’t meditate’ or ‘can’t find the time’ or simply don’t get the point.
Active imagination is a tool to help you to tap into the collective unconscious which is a place in our deepest depths of the mind that is likely inherited from our ancestors and isn’t shaped by our personal experience or egos – it is a place of memory and impulses that is not just common to all of us but which the individual isn’t even aware of in our walkabout life. We can get in touch with this through our dreams and interpretation of them but we can also get there with active imagination.
The practice of active imagination is to plumb the collective unconscious for contact with archetypes and allow for a non-forced conversation with aspects of these archetypes. There are lots of different archetypes, the father, mother, wise old person, trickster, hero and others. These archetypes can blend with each other or take on different faces. The important thing with this training tool is to not force it but to make it something somewhat similar to meditation where you are watching thoughts arise without attachment to them and with active imagination, using the same tack and see what the conversation brings.
Ever one to go back to Star Wars analogies, I like to think of it is our chance to take part in actual conversations with our own versions of Jedi Force Ghosts. Heck, for that matter, have a conversation with Yoda about your training. See what he says and what he suggests.
What I’ve found is that it is easiest to allow this form of training to evolve in an organic sort of way. Sort of just reach out into that ocean of the mind we were talking about and allow some suggestions about who to speak to and what you’ll usually find is something – or someone – will come to mind. It could be someone from a dream, maybe a grandparent, maybe a classical archetype, a religious one, a Buddhist Bodhisattva, or some Jedi master for that matter.
The thing is, the thing you are talking to in your active imagination meditation is not actually an entity like we think about. It is a process that is helping you to translate in a way the knowledge and memory that is transmitting out of that collective unconscious. A collective unconscious that speaks in a bit of a different language of sorts so that conversing with an archetype figure allows for some of that innate wisdom and knowledge that is under the surface of that ocean to come out in a way that you can understand it better.
What you might find in these conversations my surprise you. Maybe you’ll get a different outlook. Maybe you will get some advice to live in a more conscious and compassionate manner. Maybe you might even find that talking to what is really just an aspect of yourself you haven’t noticed before will give you the ability to see life in a way that you haven’t before that is more real, more healthy, and more present.
What I have found in my life and my training is that it is far greater to have multiple ways or a number of tools that I have to access to both examine my life and not just help with my training but help to navigate this life and who I am.
Socrates said an unexamined life is not worth living and what we need to understand is that training and living itself are one and the same massive ocean – we are all standing on the beach looking out. Sunset is on the way and it is our choice how far out we want to wade into that ocean and explore it and find its potential and undiscovered amazingness. I for one want to learn as much as I can. How about you?
Listen to the full podcast episode here