Experiments with Active Imagination

Active imagination scares me a little. It's a psychological technique developed and promoted by Carl Jung. I've just started to explore it.

The basic idea with active imagination is that you focus on a fantasy of some sort, it can be something you make up or something from a dream, and then you watch it move. You watch what happens next. The mind occurs across time, it thinks in narratives, and it will naturally start to move this fantasy and develop a story, many times a crazy story, but a story nevertheless. Over time you develop the skill of being active in these stories yourself. Just like dreams where your mind is trying to sort information and work out problems that you're having, in active imagination we work out our problems in a symbolic world. Once we resolve these inner tensions and conflicts, and integrate our unconscious, we are then able to use all of our resources to confront our problems in the world. It's powerful stuff.

What scares me about it is twofold. 1 - It seems so easy for these things to turn into nightmares, and I don't like nightmares. I just woke up from one this morning about a cockroach and other bug infested house collapsing on me and a group of people. If it was a movie it would have been one of the most disturbing scenes I've ever scene. At one point these grubs came through the ceiling and one crawled into a guys mouth. All sorts of crazy stuff. These nightmares scare me. 2 - Also, I somewhat fear that I won't be able to solve the problems. And, if I can't solve these problems symbolically then it just goes to show that I won't be able to solve my problems in the world, which are manifold, and will thus fail in all of my future endeavors. These fears obviously need to be confronted.

I've had 7 different things come up in active imagination so far, quite spontaneously. I solved one of the situations. The others seem to be more complex.

1. This one is a pyramid landscape. It's a bunch of pyramids of a bunch of different sizes in a desert. There are people clinging to all of these pyramids at different points. Some people are moving, some are standing still. There are huge pyramids with more people than I can count, and there are tiny pyramids that barely have enough room for a single person to stand on without falling off. I am standing on no pyramid, not even that close to any of them, and I'm just looking around thinking about them.

It seems to me that this is about climbing the pyramidal hierarchies of social organizations. I've never chosen a social hierarchy to climb, or even to focus on and be a part of. I've liked visiting a lot of them, to see how they work, but I've valued the variety of experience more than the climb, and so I've never tried to climb one.

I haven't solved this yet, but I think it's very important that I do. There are several things for me to try: climbing a small one, climbing a big one, climbing one and somehow using that to get to another, moving pyramids, clearing a path to climb, finding an empty one, or (and this is that type of crazy that might be genius) building one.

2. This is a labyrinth. A classic labyrinth built from a bunch of hedges that you can't see through or over. It's kind of dark, and it's very thick. I am alone. I can't see very far at all and I can barely get started. I tried to go left, but the left path closed as I approached it. I tried using a machete to hack my way through, but as much as I hack I don't seem to make a dent. So, I need to go left. This I know. But, I've only turned. I've never actually started to walk in that direction.

This seems to have to do with my direction in life. The way I was going, being an adventurer and such, has been blocked at the entrance and now I must go the other way, which I'm not sure if that's business or art, but I won't actually take the steps to move in that direction. Another huge problem that I need to resolve.

3. This is about jewels. Diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, oh my! I'm wandering around this open outdoor market and when I put my hands together they just magically start to fill with gems. I don't know why. When I pull my hands apart it stops. So, I don't want to do that. But, soon my hands are overflowing and when the jewels fall from my hands they disappear when they hit the ground, like they just evaporate into the ether. I try to get a bucket or something, but I'm having a hard time finding something to catch all of these jewels, and when I do it fills so fast that it doesn't work. This is the one I solved, I think. Although now that I think about it I'm less sure. What happened is that people started coming to me with containers. I filled it up for them and they would take off, but there was already another person waiting in line, the line was quite long. This way the logistical issue was solved and no jewels were wasted. Maybe that's an okay solution. Maybe there's a better one.

4. This is an angel that I saw while I was sick in Africa a few years ago. I was in Mombasa and was told I was probably going to die, and it was reasonable because I was vomiting blood and not able to stand and such. At one point this angel like thing (non-distinct, floating, in white robes) appeared above me while I was lying on my back in bed. It was right in my face just staring at me. I think about it sometimes, it just pops into my head. I have no idea what this is about, but it seems like something that could and should be worked out in active imagination. I haven't tried it yet. Which is also true about the next one.

5. This is a demon that I saw (imagined, hallucinated) a number of years ago while I was working three jobs and one of them was third-shift security. It was at a college, he was laying on his side on these bench seats with windows behind them that open out onto a court with a river. He didn't say anything, or do anything, he just smirked at me. He was kind of a dull dark blue with these horns that curved back from the front of his head along the sides. That's it, that's the whole thing. It's just a non-moving scene. I haven't played with this one yet either.

6. This is about an ark. I'm sitting in a desert by myself. I'm sitting on a log standing on end holding a single plank of wood in my left hand and a hammer in my right hand. There are some nails by my right foot. That's all there is. The landscape looks like the salt flats. And, I'm thinking about how I'm possibly going to build an ark. I'm not even sure why I'm thinking about building an ark. This seems like such an impossible task I'm not even sure if I should pursue this one.

7. This is about the Gordian knot. There is this huge mess of rope in a giant knot sitting on a stone table in a cave and I'm standing alone in front of it, at least I can't see anyone, but it feels like people are watching me. Maybe there is a crowd behind me or something, and I'm supposed to undo this knot, to fix this knot. I'm aware that the legend is that Alexander the Great solved the Gordian knot by pulling out his sword and cutting it in half, and I'm thinking about calling for a sword, but I'm stuck in indecision. And that's where it stands currently.

Well, that was a pretty crazy discussion. I'm not sure anything can be more revealing than saying these things. And, I've written a full post before on a bunch of dreams that I had and wrote down, which I don't usually do, so this isn't too much different than that. Active imagination is like dreaming while you're awake.

The pyramid landscape, the labyrinth, the jewels, the ark, and the Gordian knot are all things that have presented themselves in the last couple of months. These are all from a first-person point of view where I can make decisions and act within the world (because I also have had dreams and such seeing other people from a third-person point of view). The angel and the demon are also first-person, but they are more stationary images that are actually memories from a few years ago. So there is something different about them.

I'm not sure how these will resolve, or even that I can resolve them, but active imagination is definitely an intense experience. Of this I am sure.


I've written three fictional pieces that I like so far.

"The City of Peace" - A future history science fiction utopia/dystopia action adventure in a framed story of a father telling his son a story about the child's grandfather. That was a crazy sentence.


"The Birth of Hanniba'al" - A dark, somewhat alternative, historical origin story for the Carthage General Hannibal.


"Matt's Eyes" - Don't read this if you don't like horror stories.


Here are three of my most popular posts.

"The Making of a Great First Line in Fiction"


"A Letter to My Niece in 2034"


"The Most Important Question in Philosophy - Part 4 of 4"


You can find more of what I'm doing here: http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

You can support this page at https://www.patreon.com/JeffreyAlexanderMartin


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