A Guide to Dream Interpretation
Active Imagining 

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                            Active Imagining


Emotions are attached to our personal and collective realities. There are also images to be found within our emotions and can be activated through the dream, or a meditative vision—even song, dance, poetry and art activate the images from the unconscious.

Therapeutically, an individual can contact these images and interact with them through a process known as Active Imagination, a term used by the Swiss psychotherapist, Carl Jung. It has been said that he learned this technique by watching the rituals of some shaman.

Certain events, smells, and feelings can stimulate visions from our past—not just visions i.e. the memories of the bygone, but actual transport back to an earlier time. It is moments like these that we might look to see what information about our world and our self they have to offer. Magic, fantasy, awe, significance, and mystery are things searched for and that we try to live out of throughout our life. They are also the beings that live within us that help to define our existence. They work through us as much as we work through them.




Active Imagining (allowing the unconscious to express through the imaginal)— connecting with your inner wisdom?:


You might think, don't we all have an active imagination? Well, yes, that's probably true to varying degrees, but that's not what this is all about. Active Imagination is a dream study/therapeutic technique used by some analysts to assist people in their exploration of their unconscious motivations. Song, dance, poetry and art activate images from the unconscious and are often used in active imagining sessions, therapeutically as well as by individuals doing personal dream work.


In this technique the ego remains fully conscious. The ego gets to observe and even feel unconscious content, but gives up critical content so as to be open to what might be available. Once the unconscious has downloaded its content with respect to certain dream images, the ego can then elaborate (activate its imagination), then after doing so as completely as possible, it then determines the meaning. This last part is critical, just enjoying the elaboration isn't enough.


If done properly, the process can lead to a transcendent experience where as Ibn Arabi suggested, "Spirits embody themselves through the power of imagination." He thought that form is related to spirit in a significant way and to relate to the forms within the imagination can lead one to go beyond the boundaries of the psyche. If there is no difference between spirit and the imaginal form then this technique can actually lead one to the divine. We all have this potential within the latent self.


Key to this technique is to not allow the ego to manipulate the process. To do so would cause a degeneration of the outcome. Which is why I would recommend doing it with a qualified therapist. Some groups can also be helpful if they understand the parameters and possible outcomes of this self-exploration technique. Note, however, that beliefs can determine the material that comes from the unconscious.


At first the material will be comfortable for the ego, but later the unconscious will begin to challenge the boundaries of the ego, thus becoming an important psychological and spiritual healing tool.

There is also the possibility that the ego will resist the process because it can be threatening to the ego's status. Many objections might show up, "This doesn't work!", "It's too boring!", "It's stupid!" and other ego impatience and critiques.

Stick with it and wonders can unfold.


This is an incredible technique for exploring that, which troubles us. So don't wish your troubles away, show the courage and grace to transform them. This way, as Carl Jung suggested, one can transform oneself as an inner partner.


For more on this technique the website of Tony Crisp might prove useful.

I have also touched on Active Imagining in the book The Dragon's Treasure: A Dreamer's Guide to Inner Discovery Through Dream Interpretation(2010, pgs 87-88).

Another form of this dream working technique is Dream Tending (2011), a technique championed by Dr. Stephen Aizenstat of the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California. Dr Aizenstat believes that there are medicinal properties of living dream images. He encourages bringing your dream images into the present as though they are continuing to happen in the here and now and then engaging them i.e. to activate (or enliven) them so as to develop an interactive dialogue with them. This form of dream work can be an adjunct to standard medical treatment and be very useful to the dreamer to better understand his dreams and his/her unconscious mind. In a way, it is a means for the dream tender to enter the timeless dreamlike state and become part of someone else's reality—the mundus imaginalis.

Basically, this technique is asking the dream images that are visiting the dream two questions, 1) Who's visiting now?" and 2) What's happening here?" as opposed to the two standard questions of, "Why is this happening?" and "What does this mean?"

Bottom line: we are affected by our images e.g. what is below is the same above, just as the Solar world is affected by the lunar world.

When tending a dream you might ask the dreamer, "What dream brings you here?" note that this gives responsibility to the dream image for the purpose of its visit.


In Dream Tending one can activate the imagination to

• befriend the dream

• learn to interview embodied dream images and to diagnose the wounded image within a dream, or even within the waking dream, then

• create imaginal potions that meet the needs of the wounded dream image.


This technique is particularly useful in working with nightmares, by meeting the threat in the way of the threat (vs trying to destroy it) in order to gain their wisdom toward our health and well being. When working with nightmares, Aizenstat suggests that the dreamer "stand their ground" what I call "meeting the image as an equal."

When embodying an image, especially one that is wounded, it is in this image that its healing can be found. Sometimes it's in the personified image that is our own body's illness that healing can be gained. It's as the ancient Greeks used to say, "The Gods are in the disease."

Both forms of the active imagining concept are part of "Depth Psychology."


I have received training in this technique and will report from time to time in The Book of Dreams Blog as I learn how to use it.





                            Dream Tending with Dr. Stephen Aizenstat,PhD