Active Imagination * How Meditation For Self-Knowledge Led To Shamanism, and Psychic Readings

My mother and I never practiced meditation in the Hindu or Buddhist sense. We spent about an hour every day in light trance, engaging in what we came to see was a guided spiritual and psychological program which, paradoxically, appeared to have no real beginning or ending.

It seemed that the material that could arise was infinite; it ranged from womb and childhood experiences to past-life dramas driving those in this life, reconnections with trauma in this or other lives bringing tears of transformation, and explanations about the deaths and rebirths of planet Earth.

Symbol is the language of the Psyche – we speak it all the time in our lives but seldom connect to its power in a conscious way. In active imagination, we move “ritual” – with its energy-shifting power – to an internal site, to Mind, both at the conscious and unconscious levels.

Though we tend to associate the practice of active imagination with psychiatrist Carl G. Jung’s pioneering depth psychology and frankly psychic, occult experiences, Active Imagination was described by the great Islamic philosopher Avicenna who lived from approximately 980 to 1030 AD. He taught that in the trained imagination we can access a ‘nonspatial fabric’ which mediates between the empirical/sensory and the cognitional/spiritual realms”.

It is not clear if Avicenna understood the implications of his insight to apply in quite the way it has come to life in the depth psychology pioneered by Carl Jung. However, active imagination points to a level of Mind which is nothing less than magical. That is, when we reach that “nonspatial fabric” it seems to be both a bridge and a transformer, capable of transforming reality – first within the psyche, and then within the outer world, as a consequence of inner change.

And, as a mystical bridge, active imagination has great implications for understanding the true nature of Shamanism and the source of its healing, creative, transformative power. For the journey of the shaman always involves traveling to other dimensions, and shamans have often explained that their work is done entirely through symbol.

It was my mother who introduced me to the practice of Active Imagination, though neither she nor I called it that, nor did we know then that it had been made famous by the great psychiatrist and western shaman, Carl G. Jung. We had no idea that it was part of an ancient tradition in early Islam, before being relegated to the hidden, mystical and often-persecuted Sufi tradition within Islamic culture.

My mother simply told me that her spirit guide had introduced her to the practice in her early morning meditations. She had met her guide because she turned out to be the medium at psychic sittings held in our old Ontario farmhouse, Hillshore, on the shores of the Bay of Quinte.

These were the beginning years, the early 1960’s, of what would be thought of as the dawning of the New Age of Aquarius. During these small weekly sessions with friends who shared their interest in psychic research, it was my mother’s guide who mainly spoke, although others “came through” her from time to time.

The topics always returned to reincarnation, karma, dreams, the unconscious, the Mind, and myriad other things such as the connection between tears and special, definitive healing at the level of DNA. One theme that came through strongly was the importance of understanding the magnetic, persistent influence of pattern in thought and deed. Self-knowledge always seemed the goal, and it always led back to this recognition of patterns, ingrained deeply, it seemed in the mind’s own fabric, and related to the springs of karma.

I was considered too young (in my teens and exploring Catholicism) to attend these sittings, but mom showed me the transcripts she prepared of the recorded sessions. I remember how the group drifted apart eventually, largely because some of those present were a little dismayed at what they felt was more moralizing and teaching, more self-examination than they had been looking for – they were looking to prove life after death, survival of the personality, and so on, which was such a popular quest in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Later on in the early 1970s, I read the writings of the so-called sleeping prophet Edgar Cayce and Ruth Montgomery, and later the wide-ranging work of Carl Jung. It all resonated and fit with my own early psychic experiences. In fact, on looking back, I realized that long before the Hillshore sittings, when I was about 9, I actually had my own experience with active imagination which I describe in Beginnings * First Psychic Pictures. I knew from that day on that we lived many times and that all our experiences were interconnected, and all meaningful.

Much later, in my 30’s, the Life Readings I gave to clients seemed to be very similar to the Cayce readings, with their emphasis on reincarnation and karma as the connecting threads between lifetimes, the explanation for various illnesses and life patterns, and above all, in the way they were presented to me – and thus to the client – in the same “guided imagery and commentary” – as came through in the meditations mom and I were taught in those early years.

For when it all began, my mother would be awakened at dawn, and sit quietly for meditation which she assumed would lead into inner silence. However, her light trance state soon turned into active, indeed interactive, meditation, in which spontaneously, images and teaching would arrive. She could sense that she was not guiding this process herself, but could feel an order and Presence behind it all.

She would find herself moving through a multitude of inner happenings – unfolding in pictures, often with subtext – which seemed to be strung together on a chain of meaning, a path of self-healing. Self-healing was the central dynamic in this process. As mom described it, she found herself going back over what seemed to be a time-line of certain key life experiences linked by a specific common theme.

The imges seemed active, in that they were change and she could follow a drama presented; some were in clearly symbolic form, while others emerged exactly as they had played out at an earlier time in her life, and occasionally in a former life. She would always be shown not only the original trauma, but a sample of others cast in that original mould – how they then unfolded, over and over. She would sense or see a kind of “text” explaining how that original problem could and did manifest in many ways but always centered on the same original theme.

The Higher Self At Work

1929, Srinagar, India — A man works at his potter’s wheel — Image by © Franklin Price Knott/National Geographic Society/Corbis

So what or Who was behind the calling up and unfolding of these images? Clearly there was an Intelligence at work here, because over days, weeks, and then years, we could see that the various meditations often linked to each other, resuming a theme which had come up, and then been seemingly dropped in early sessions. Jung would conclude that this kind of process was directed by an essence he called the Higher Self. I felt I not only sensed this Higher Self in my own meditations but “met” the Higher Self of clients both in Life Readings and in the dream workshops I offered from time to time.

Yet mom and I discovered ourselves to be more than mere spectators. We observed and recorded, but also intensely participated, drawn into the stream of spontaneity arising with such obvious meaning from with. This often, but not always, involved old trauma with its strong emotions released for the first time – and one needed commitment and courage to keep going, to not terminate the meditation. And sure enough, as these sessions came to a close – again quite spontaneously – they almost always ended with intense crying, tears of recognition, followed by a final phase of new symbols of hope and peaceful resolution.

At other times, a meditation would not deal with what we would call self-guided psychotherapy but might induce prayer for a particular state of mind, or old-fashioned virtue, such as patience in the face of frustration, or a warning to be aware of and on guard against deception. I used to refer to these kinds of morning meditations and going ahead to sweep the day with a broom, as in curling…a gentle swish of energy sent forth to help clear the path or strengthen awareness and response to an upcoming, unforeseen challenge. Such “premonitive” images and actions within meditation turned out many times to be extremely apt.

And, especially as the years moved on, certain kinds of growth and development emerged. It was in these morning meditations, for example, that I received generalized information as to how reincarnation and karma actually worked in time-space. I learned that there is a kind of psychic/psychological plastic surgery possible – to transfer certain gifts or personality strengths between lifetimes, between two selves of the same OverSoul.

I began to feel and see in pictures the presence of animals such as Bear, Eagle, and one wonderful day, the Buffalo. I was baffled by these appearances, as I believed shamanism to “belong” to indigenous peoples and would not have sought out the path of the shaman on my own. Yet as time went on, I was traveling more in my morning meditations, sometimes connecting with people I knew, or had known, working on various kinds of healing/prayer – often involving dramas enacted in images. I had no idea most times how these events related to the lives of those I thus “visited”…but the more I studied world shamanism, the more I realized that the animals appearing and the visits to others I was making were now part of who I was.

All this while, I was still giving psychic readings to clients, wherein the pictures I channeled for them were very similar to the kind I received in my own meditations. I began to realize that all those early years of morning meditation had been training me to give these special kinds of readings.

And, within the readings themselves, more development for me was occurring. I had been encountering small personalities sometimes which I called “fragments” and with whom I felt myself to be interacting. They appeared to have a small but vital story to tell, involving their age, and usually a kind of trauma, which seemed responsible for their existence somewhat separate from the overall personality. Shortly after this development in the Life Readings, I picked up my first copy of writings about and by Carl G. Jung, called The Portable Jung.

I had taken an introductory course in Psychology when I was at university for my B.A. However, the professor was all about physiological psychology at the time, and hated analytic or depth psychology, so gave short shrift to most of the classical psychologists. Now, I wanted to meet the great Jung and see why he was so seminal.

His work fit my work perfectly – I began to understand my Life Readings better; I was obviously using active imagination as the bridge to transfer information from another realm – the Akashic Records – and working at the levels both of consciousness and unconscious. I realized too that I was likely connected to the client’s Higher Self – and with my own Higher Self.

And amazingly, I discovered that Jung had identified these small personalities which he called subpersonalities and, just as I had discerned, recognized that they had consciousness, identity and will. It seemed possible – and I was hopeful – that in these psychic readings I was helping clients reintegrate these parts of themselves by giving them recognition and a compassionate hearing.

As time went on, my Life Readings seemed almost too much to be contained in one session; it seemed perhaps unwise to engage so deeply with someone and then leave them, as it were, to their own devices. People came for predictions, mostly, yet I had always been renowned for the deep, psychological realities and past experiences I could discern within someone. I had so many clients tell me that I could never, in a million years, have known certain things about them or their families – feelings, experiences, dreams, past-life memories.

As I evolved myself, I began to feel, in some cases at least, the Shaman arising within me.  I was not only describing, but in some sense striving to change (if negative) – what I saw.  It was an experience I was a little uncomfortable with, and I was rather relieved when the years of doing Life Readings came rather naturally to a close.

Those years remind me of the quotation from Dune, which I have here at Aquarian Reflections, about prophecy, prescience (foreknowledge) and the role of the psychic.  In the event into which one has somehow been projected, how indeed can one be sure of the moment of crossing over from role of psychic or prophet to the role of the Shaman, who intervenes, who transforms?

As yet, the journey into shamanism has been one I have taken alone, at least in terms of development. There is, I have discovered, a close relationship between shamanism and active imagination. Now, as in the psychic readings, I also find that there is a shamanic dimension – at least potentially – to working with the symbols of a client’s birth chart. I am sure a Tarot Reader would feel that same movement – from describing events into helping a client transform their karma and their life.

© Carol Leigh Rice 2024

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