What is Active Imagination?

Whether or not you consider yourself to be a creative person, everybody has an imagination that they make use of on a daily basis. The imagination is an incredibly powerful tool that can profoundly affect your mental wellbeing, whether that’s positively or maladaptively. Harnessing the power of your imagination for good can significantly improve your quality of life and mental health. One of the most effective ways in which to do this is by using active imagination.

Active imagination is defined as “a conscious method of experimentation that employs creative imagination as an organ for perceiving outside your mental boxes”. It was conceptualised by psychologist Carl Jung in 1913 to translate the contents of one’s unconscious into concrete mental images and narratives. In this way one is able to perceive the things that are in their mind that may be causing distress as separate entities, making them easier to process. He believed that this bridged the gap between one’s “ego”, or sense of self, and the unconscious mind.

One of the main ways in which this is done is through dream analysis. In more modern contexts it is practised through meditation and guided visualisation, which does not necessarily have to be done with a psychologist present. Invoking the unconscious mind is the first step in this process. This can be done effectively by sitting or laying down in a comfortable position. Playing some relaxing music softly in the background may help you to hone your focus and put you in the right space. Consider what it is that you want your unconscious to tell you – is there something bothering you that you’d like to process? This can be anything from a past experience to a present anxiety. Take a few deep cleansing breaths, and then begin to interrogate where your feelings around the subject come from and what particular part of you is feeling them. It may help to create a character to attribute these feelings to.

Notice any images or symbols that come up and try not to analyse them. Detach yourself from them as best as you can and see them just as they are, with no attachment to them. Simply focus on what they look and feel like so that you can create a dialogue with them. Notice if there’s any changes in the images and try not to fall into passive fantasy. Stay present with what comes up. This invocation of the unconscious mind will affect you in ways that you may not be consciously aware of, but after a few sessions of this practice you will start to notice a difference in your daily life.

Active imagination will not only help you to process emotional issues, but is likely to activate your imagination and improve your creativity as well.

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