Active Imagination

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Active Imagination is a therapeutic technique developed by C. G. Jung that uses some form of self-expression, such as a fantasy-image, to represent and analyze the contents of the hypothesized collective unconscious

Active imagination may involve artistic representation but this is secondary to its essentially internal character.

Jung says imaginary changes within active imagination should be carefully observed and noted because they indicate underlying unconscious processes.

In advanced stages of active imagination, Jung suggests a more direct engagement with imaginary contents, where one places oneself on the stage, as it were, of the unconscious to become one of the players. By doing so, one explores unconscious attitudes toward a person or situation by running imaginary trials – fantasy dialogue or interactions – that Jung says contribute to an overall integration of the unconscious within consciousness.

Jung, himself, practiced active imagination deeply, going as far to say that he was guided by a “ghost guru” called Philemon.² When Jung became bored with Philemon, however, he cut him off.

We cannot know whether Jung was dealing with a spiritual being, a personification of an archetype, or a mere product of his imagination.

Due to a hypothesized interconnectedness of all things, some depth psychologists and New Age enthusiasts believe that the internal dialogue of active imagination has real effects on other people and the visible world. But this claim is hard to prove in the usual scientific sense.

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The American psychologist/philosopher William James similarly wrote in The Varieties of Religious Experience about ‘thought insertion,’ where the power of thought apparently influences another person at a distance. Today, the archaic idea of ‘thought insertion’ is sometimes called Remote Influence within parapsychological circles. Or in a negative sense, some believe that the mind can be psychically “hacked” like a computer on the internet.

Jung mentioned but didn’t emphasize the of Remote Influence in his published works, perhaps to avoid negative repercussions from skeptics and the “medical materialists,” as he put it, of his era.

However, Jung did speak of belonging to an alleged “inner circle” of notable, mystically inclined thinkers like the novelist Herman Hesse and the Chilean diplomat Miguel Serrano.

The idea of Active imagination is similar to Shakti Gawain’s notion of creative visualization but is more about developing psychological balance instead of achieving external goals.

¹ Antecedents to Jung’s therapy can be found here:

² Jung’s father was a Protestant pastor and Jung, himself, had extensive knowledge of the Christian Bible. So a skeptic could point out that Philemon is a character in the New Testament. Would Jung have actively imagined Philemon had he not been steeped in the Gospels? In reply, one could ask, does it matter? Those sympathetic to Jung’s claims could say that God knew all about the preconditions leading up to Jung’s active imagination. The fact that his father was a pastor and that Jung knew the name Philemon from the Bible does not invalidate the idea that the collective unconscious (or possibly a spirit) spoke to Jung.

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  1. At any moment in time, we are always worlds more than we imagine ourselves to be. There is the self we know at the moment, and there is infinitely greater life of the future. The lesser is like a point and the greater like space. In the greater is hidden an infinity of unimagined possibilities. “Time,” relates to our limits, but timelessness, the infinite, leads us beyond all imagined limits.


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