26 Jan 2013 The Practice of Active Imagination

Lately I’ve been writing on my book about how to use Active Imagination for creating fiction. I’ve specifically been dealing with how to come up with ideas for a story. Then last night I was reading from Jung on Active Imagination [pages 167/8] and I don’t know how I missed it before, but I ran onto the best description of how to practice the art of Active Imagination I’ve read so far.  The original source for the material is Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis, paragraph 706. In the beginning it address how you produce the initial images and get them to animate. It comes directly from Jung:

This process can… take place spontaneously or be artificially induced. In the latter case you choose a dream, or some other fantasy-image, and concentrate on it by simply catching hold of it and looking at it. You can also use a bad mood as a starting-point, and then try to find out what sort of fantasy-image it will produce, or what image expresses this mood. You then fix this image in the mind by concentrating your attention. Usually it will alter, as the mere fact of contemplating it animates it.

This is a marvelous description of the initial process. The notion that it will spontaneously animate if you contemplate on it, although it may seem mundane, is quite profound for anyone who has attempted the process and run into trouble getting it to work. Jung continues:

The alterations must be carefully noted down all the time, for they reflect the psychic processes in the unconscious background, which appear in the form of images consisting of conscious memory material. In this way conscious and unconscious are united, just as a waterfall connects above and below. A chain of fantasy ideas develops and gradually takes on a dramatic character: the passive process becomes an action.

For someone trying to come up with an idea for writing a novel or screenplay, this is like hearing the voice of the prophet. There’s more:

At first it consists of projected figures, and these images are observed like scenes in the theatre. In other words, you dream with open eyes. As a rule there is a marked tendency simply to enjoy this interior entertainment and to leave it at that. Then, of course, there is no real progress but only endless variations on the same theme, which is not the point of the exercise at all.

This is quite an analogy for someone trying to write fiction. It gets directly at the process. I might add that simply to be entertained isn’t the point of writing fiction either. The point of fiction is to fully develop the central conflict and resolve it. He continues:

What is enacted on the stage still remains a background process; it does not move the observer in any way, and the less it moves him the smaller will be the cathartic effect of this private theatre. The piece that is being played does not want merely to be watched impartially, it wants to compel his participation. If the observer understands that his own drama is being performed on this inner stage, he cannot remain indifferent to the plot and its denouement. He will notice, as the actors appear one by one and the plot thickens, that they all have some purposeful relationship to his conscious situation, that he is being addressed by the unconscious, and that it causes these fantasy-images to appear before him. He therefore feels compelled, or is encouraged by his analyst, to take part in the play and, instead of just sitting in a theatre, really have it out with his alter ego. For nothing in us ever remains quite uncontradicted, and consciousness can take up no position which will not call up, somewhere in the dark corners of the psyche, a negation or a compensatory effect, approval or resentment. This process of coming to terms with the Other in us is well worth while, because in this way we get to know aspects of our nature which we would not allow anybody else to show us and which we ourselves would never have admitted. It is very important to fix this whole procedure in writing at the time of its occurrence, for you then have ocular evidence that will effectively counteract the ever-ready tendency to self-deception. A running commentary is absolutely necessary in dealing with the shadow, because otherwise its actuality cannot be fixed. Only in this painful way is it possible to gain a positive insight into the complex nature of one’s own personality.

Here Jung has touched on what is so powerful about writing fiction and what draws many to practice the craft. The writing of a story, what we view as creation, is very much a participatory process. Writers are supercharged psychically and emotional rise or fall with the fate of their characters. They cry at the demise of their protagonist or rejoice at his/her triumph. Of course, it still isn’t quite the same as engaging in Active Imagination as a part of therapy, but it is so close that it borders on being a distinction without a difference.

Anyway, this is the best description of how to get into Active Imagination I’ve read. I’m actually surprised that in his DVD on Active Imagination, Murray Stein didn’t mention this particular paragraph in Jung on Active Imagination. He did recommend the book, but in my mind he provided a superficial answer to his audience’s question concerning the problem of feeling as though you are simply making stuff up. It is also a much better explanation of how to get into Active Imagination and how to make the process actually work.

What other gems are lurking within the 695 pages of Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis, one can only imagine, unless of course, you read it word for word.

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