Tag Archives: active imagination

… dreams …

Photos by Ashen

Photos by Ashen

I used to host regular dream groups. We did not so much set out to analyse our dreams, but we played with them by engaging with their images, characters and objects. Sometimes we enacted scenes to widen associations and deepen our insights. While there is some excellent literature on working with dreams, a lot of it is boring, misleading and superficial. For me, the main purpose of valuing dreams lies in befriending the unconscious and the bringing to light what is timely and meaningful.

When we have no obvious explanation for events, dreams may bring subtle messages, offering glimpses of dynamics usually hidden from our awareness. A staggering 90 percent of personal and collective psychic dynamics trigger and compel our actions in life, and for good reason. The self-regulating psyche protects us from too much awareness. When encouraged, respected, and left to do its work, much like the immune system, the psyche can encapsulate runaway viruses of the mind by blanking out anxieties and obsessive thoughts, unless a trauma results in an ongoing inner storm. The processing of traumatic experiences is vital for the health of the individual, the family, the tribe, and our collective psyche. Something equally important to consider is that as adults our natural childlike curiosity about life may have become flattened by engrained habits and obsessive needs for security and control, both diminishing the meaning of our lives.

Note: Each embedded link here will not lead you away from this post but bring up a fresh page.

In an earlier blog post Joe Linker’s comment led me to an article by Oliver Sacks on altered states in The New Yorker  where Sacks pointed out a long tradition of ceremonial drug-use to stimulate the brain. Drugs certainly relax jaded attitudes by activating the senses and bringing insights and fresh perception. Sacks, and many like him, were admiringly fearless and creative, before there was a clamp down on drugs and they became illegal.Dreamseries 2

In dreams as in trance, induced or not, the mind can kick up imaginal representations of feelings, and metaphors. We shift to another realm, escape the logical structure of time and also tap into the collective psyche. We may hit a T junction, one path leading to an illuminating visionary state and the other to a schizophrenic state of confusion, which is why science sticks with rationality and is generally not keen on the imagination. The question as to what pulls us towards Heaven or Hell has no easy answer, yet all inner state, when approached with respect, patience, and most of all, wisdom, can have a healing and effect on our personality, and, in instances, as we know, result in significant works of art.

Dreamseries 3

Freud’s iceberg metaphor illustrates that our individual psyche swims like a mountain of ice in a vast sea, only to reverse into its fluid state once its coherence dissolves back into the sea. As a simple and more intelligent map of various unconscious states I prefer the egg diagram by Alberto Assagioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis.

Active imagination is a gentle way to befriend the unconscious and build bridges towards consciousness and daily life, and a way to explore dreams without messing with the dreamer’s unique meaning. I share here some practical tips:

Remembering dreams:

You can ask for a dream, especially when you feel stuck and ponder a question. You might even write the question on a slip of paper and put it under your pillow.

Try not to move your head after noticing a dream. Place holds memory.

Have a notepad and a soft pencil next to your bed, maybe a microlight, so you can scribble down a memory facet before fully crossing the threshold into waking. Even a single image, phrase, number, colour or feeling can act as a key for recalling a dream later on.

To catch a dream – try disrupting your sleeping pattern with an early alarm clock setting.

Experiment with your head position while sleeping – north, east, south or west.

Towards understanding dreams:

The psyche does not care about logic. The meaning of a dream may however unfold like a seed when we attend to its poetry and rhythm.

Ask yourself … how do I relate to the characters or objects of a dream? What feelings and sensations are evoked? In what context did the dream arise? How does it relate to my present situation?

Write a story or make sketches of the images. Tiny fragments can offer connections via free associations.

Give a voice to the characters and objects appearing in the dream. What do they want? Allow them to express their thoughts and feelings. Such dialogues can reveal surprising insights.

Change the script, create a different outcome, face down a fear or a shadow and follow through to what wants to happen. This approach can move a dream to a different level of understanding.

Ask yourself: Where does the energy want to go? What is emerging?

Dreamseries 4

 

Dreams express the voice of the soul; they are our contact with our deepest self, our inner substance. The mere act of recalling, experiencing and consciously honouring our dreams connects us with our real selves and awakens previously unavailable levels of creativity and vitality, even without interpretation.

Carl G Jung

A related post on altered states.

And if the subject of dreams interests you, here are some more links:

Edward C Whitmont was a Jungian psychoanalyst, who deepened my understanding of the psyche through his exceptionally clear writing. His books may be out of print, which would explain why they’re so expensive:  Dreams – a Portal to the Source and The Symbolic Quest

Other excellent authors to look out for, apart from Jung, are Anthony Stevens, Private Myths – Dreams and Dreaming, and Marie-Louise von Franz – The Interpretation of Fairy Tales.

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… the child in us …

Close your eyes and imagine standing on a beach … warm sand under your bare feet – a light sea breeze brushing your skin – gulls sailing above the sparkling crests of waves. Breathe a while, to the rhythm of the surf lapping at the shore – in – out – in – out – in – out – and let your eyes rest on the silver skyline.

There is nobody here but you – and a visitor – a child you invite to appear as it will.

At what distance does the little person appear?

Observe its posture, age, gender?

What do you sense about it?

Does it look at you, or not?

Is it curious, shy, withdrawn?

Notice your thoughts and feelings, don’t draw conclusions – do nothing.

Sense the realm of consciousness this little person lives in, and still your mind. If the child plays with shells do the same, remaining where you are. If the child skips along the surf, wait. If it takes one step towards you, wait. If it turns its back on you or walks away, sit down and wait. All the while communicate silently – I’m here as a friend.

Yeshen in Surf, colour - lowresHe or she may come close – or not – play with you – or not. Be patient. This little one represents your essence and must be free to approach the strange adult you’ve become as it chooses and when it’s ready. Maybe next time. Don’t over-act. Even if the child is friendly, keep in mind it may try to please your expectations. Remain calm, interested, approachable.

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Visiting an imaginary coastline, metaphorically a boundary between the conscious and the less conscious psyche, brings insights even if no images emerge. Try and silence your usual thinking process. Enter the scene as in a daydream, or have a friend slowly read the text.

Insights change from day to day, according to mood. You could experience joy, get a glimpse of what’s important in your life, or be prompted to engage in frank reflections – a valuable process, helping us to develop empathy.

For example, if sadness or pain knock at the sight of this child, ask yourself … have guardians chided your curiosity and strong spirit, or humiliated your weakness and poor confidence? As a result your own adult may have unwittingly come to reject your child as unworthy, regarding it as ungrateful, stubborn, nagging, or awkward with the shame of buried secrets?  Consider – fear of abandonment, punishment or guilt about early fantasies may compel children to please grown ups in order to cope and emotionally survive. The legacy could be a distrust one’s own feelings. Signals received as pain, or love, might equally overwhelm.

Next time you hear a baby or toddler screams, let’s say, in a supermarket, observe what happens in your body, and watch other shoppers. It grates at our nerves at best, and can trigger physically embedded memories of helplessness, and sometimes more. Good to remember when we  judge people who shout and act irrationally. There are behavioural therapies to desensitize triggers that threaten to overwhelm people with rage. Then again, active imagination is more deeply transforming, and the symbolic expression of complex emotions (see later) frees energy and meaning, making a difference to our collective state of consciousness.

If some of these reflections ring true,  return to the imaginary shore as long as it takes to earn the trust of your child. Your adult’s task is simply to be present, reflect, and allow the younger being to initiate communication.

In daily life, begin to set aside pockets of time for that little person in you, encourage a symbolic process, without pressure, to write or draw about early joys, pains, hurts or dark thoughts, like having hated a parent, or once wished someone to drop dead. Children have such fleeting fantasies when they feel threatened and powerless. It’s normal. Holding on to self blame is the problem.

Suffering brought to consciousness lifts the spell of self blame. Despite appearances of confidence and adult bravado, the child in us is often anxious. Deep down may linger legitimate anger, and, deeper still, sadness and the longing for a precious moment of total acceptance. We call it love. It takes time to soften hearts.

Imagination serves multiple roles. It can draw us into habitual loops of negativity and self harm, or stimulate insights and enhance creativity. Artists know this. Imagination can also heal psychic wounds frequently handed down through generations. The healing aspect is especially powerful when employed consciously. Jung called it ‘Active Imagination.’

In this way, every imaginary journeys can be followed up by freeing condensed energy and meaning – symbolically – through drawing, painting, writing, movement, music or play, allowing what wants to emerge, be it forgotten wonders, or burdens, like unacknowledged anger a child had no means to express in early life.

And most significantly, nurturing a trusting relationship and rapport with our younger being invites the Beloved – our essence – and with it the light of intuition and inner guidance.

‘Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.’  ― Rumi –

Perhaps all the dragons of our lives
are princesses who are only waiting to
see us once, beautiful and brave.
Perhaps everything terrible is in
Its deepest being something
that needs our love.               
— Rainer Maria Rilke –

 

The imagery above is in continuation of my last post ‘journey into mystery.’

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/journey-into-mystery/

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… on awareness …

Magic or what? According to the Hindus everything is food, including sounds and visual vibrations – all kinds of impressions: stories, architectural proportions, union of forms and colours, harmonics and rhythms, dissonance, conflict and all the ideas with which we come in contact. All this, absorbed mechanically and mostly without awareness throughout the day, has made up our being and continues to do so, unless we wake up to this process and adjust our rituals.

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Psychological laws: excerpt from ‘The Act of Will’ by Roberto Assagioli M.D.

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1   Images or mental pictures and ideas tend to produce the physical conditions and the external acts that correspond to them. Every image has in itself a motor element.

2   Attitudes, movements, and actions tend to evoke corresponding images and ideas; these, in turn evoke or intensify corresponding emotions and feelings.

3   Ideas and images tend to awaken emotions and feelings that correspond to them.

4   Emotions and impressions tend to awaken and intensify ideas and images that correspond to or are associated with them.

5   Needs, urges, drives and desires tend to arouse corresponding images, ideas and emotions.

6   Attention, interest, affirmation, and repetitions reinforce the ideas, images and psychological formations on which they are centred.

7  Repetition of actions intensifies the urge to further reiteration and renders their execution easier and better, until they come to be performed unconsciously.

8   All the various functions, and their manifold combinations in complexes and sub-personalities, adopt means of achieving their aims without our awareness, and independently of, and even against, our conscious will.

9   Urges, drives, desires and emotions tend to and demand to be expressed.

10   The psychological energies can find expression: 1. directly, through discharge and catharsis, 2. indirectly, through symbolic action, 3. through a process of transmutation.

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After carefully contemplating these laws you will draw your own conclusions.

Here some practical examples:   Having experienced Feldenkreis work, and practices deriving from it  –  after doing a gentle physical exercise and repeating it in my imagination only, with eyes closed, the same physical reactions happen in my body. This  explains why active imagination can affect mind and body at a deep level and change physical symptoms as well as states of mind.

When I hit my toe, elbow or head on an object, I repeat the exact contact and, in my imagination, send the impact back. There remains hardly any pain and the usual swelling is mild or does not occur at all.

Therapeutically, if a tense or hurtful part of the body is listened to and  allowed a voice, the result can be  instantaneous,  much like when you lower yourself at eye-level to a toddler who has a tantrum, and do nothing else but acknowledge the rage, surprise, surprise, the tantrum stops.

What seems like magic, is actually simple and applies both ways: physical activity influences mood and mind,  active imagination influences mood and body.  Many of our modern-day ailments derive from people not being able to listen to their bodies and/or not being able to use their imagination in a constructive way.

Reading and, even more deeply, writing, are indirect symbolic expressions of psychological energy, which explains the incredible power of stories 🙂

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