Active Imagination, the Higher Self, and the Spiritual Life

The Meditative Process * Not Silence, But Active Imagination, a Faculty of the Soul.

(Please see note at the end of this article on the possible negative effects of various kinds of meditation.)

There is a unique meditative state which for lack of a better term, many have called Active Imagination. It is not imagination in the sense of conjuring up something fanciful, or unreal.

Active Imagination has been known to humanity as a distinct and rather esoteric state for a very long time.  The Shaman almost certainly lives within it at times continuously, and Carl Jung experienced it as a lively personal inner world of events, debates and conversations.  It is a state of being in which we enter a realm between conscious and unconscious, between waking and dreaming.

In ancient Arab and Iranian philosophy the term Imaginal Realm was coined to describe a space which bridged the worlds of matter and spirit – a place referred to in most world cultures, and associated often with being a causal plane, one in which changes made in the imaginal dimension of mind could effect changes in the material plane.

As noted, the famous psychiatrist, and father of depth psychology, Carl G. Jung, described entering into an altered state, almost a waking dream state, where he experienced lively encounters and dialogue with figures he felt were, in part, from his unconscious, sometimes the collective unconscious, and even figures we might consider from other realms altogether.

Jung wrote extensively about his experiences, which in my view were related to his lifelong development as a Shaman and may have been unique to him. The Jungian school of psychology which arose from his work talks about, and makes some use of, Active Imagination but not quite in the way Jung himself experienced it.

On the other hand, I am not sure either Jung or his followers are talking about entering the Arab and Iranian concept of an Imaginal Realm; the psychological contents of Jung’s work (and my own) would suggest perhaps a partnership with the Imaginal Realm and another faculty of the psyche altogether.

My own approach to this kind of meditation was encountered spontaneously over 40 years ago, inspired by my mother’s description of her morning meditations which were, she said, taught to her by a spirit guide whom she channelled in a set of psychic sittings over a period of 2 years with some friends interested in psychic research.

Her path and mine were identical, a blend to some extent of what I now know as the Imaginal Realm and involving events and dialogue similar to some extent with Jung’s Active Imagination.

However, the emphasis in both my own and my mother’s path was on the spiritual and psychological guidance which seemed to arise from the presence of invisible and silent figures of which we were aware as background ambience, never as the lively, talkative – even argumentative figures which Jung met. In fact, because of the at times problematic nature of the dialogues within Jung, it has been speculated that he was actually suffering from schizophrenia, a thought which occurred to him as well from time to time.

My form of Active Imagination did not present me with inner dialogue or conflict, nor did it involve figures presenting themselves as those from myth.  Nor did I explore my dreams in the state of Active Imagination – I set aside time for dream work as a quite separate activity.

Fragment Personalities

However, both my mother and I did find ourselves connecting with various persons as parts of our personality – such that I called these fragment personalities. These were often the elements of the self that needed healing and integration – but I first encountered these in doing deep state psychic readings for people whom I did not know, but whom recognized the “fragments” I identified as belonging to certain times and/or certain events..

Active Imagination As A Tool of the Higher Self

What my experiences with Active Imagination had in common with Jung’s is that the inner experiences unfolded within an order, conceived by Jung as the Mandala and were guided by a dimension of the personality and Soul which is known in most traditions as the Higher Self.

My approach, born of my personal experience during 40 years of daily practice, is to take Jung’s own advice, and let the interior life express itself spontaneously, in both symbolic and real forms, without attempting to guide or “manage it” in any way. It appears to have a dynamic, a life of its own, so that when a “session” is complete, one returns to an ordinary state of consciousness, similar in many ways to when a trance is ended, or a psychic becomes aware that the reading for a client has ended.

Here, in this dimension of reality, all holy ones, including indigenous shamans, have known that transformation – of the self, of daily reality, and even of past and future – is possible. This, amazingly, is done through “rearranging reality” one might say, through rearranging the symbols in which reality is presented to us.

So in Active Imagination, we are talking not so much about meditation aimed at emptying or stilling of the mind as we are of opening a door into one’s larger Mind – a willingness to look with ones inner, magical Eye. Once “in there” we wait, as if looking at blank blackboard, knowing that images, themes, feelings, and memories – relevant to us in some important way – will begin to appear on their own. As these appear, they seem to be expressing a point, helping us understand something.

That this can be discontinued one day and picked up the next day, while still keeping the threads of the tapestry all connected makes this all most amazing and it becomes evident that the entire process – over months and years – is more than mere random reveries and reflections.

There is clearly a Plan, and each small amount of “work” fits in, sometimes years later, to other parts. It is all guided and collated within the Mandala of the Soul by an Intelligence, the beautiful dimension of the Soul which we call the Higher Self.

Like dreams, this meditative form moves back and forth into one’s childhood, into family matters, current and past relationships, even past lives and how they are impacting this one.

A common thread is travel – back in time, or to engage with current events, current relationships. Hence the idea of Journey in Shamanism which seems, upon close study across cultures, to be intimately connected with, and make active use of, Active Imagination. It is not surprising then that all these inner experiences lend themselves to gradual development of many psychic gifts…though self-illumination and transformation are the main goals.

And then – and I stress one must be patient and let things unfold not only in one meditation, but over the course of many – under the gentle guidance of the Higher Self we learn to put together small Patches of learning…One day we recognize that Life is really a spiritual tapestry or quilt. In time we become alive to everything in our life, recognizing more and more how each small piece is fitting into the Whole.

Each experience is a self-teachable moment and synchronicities – those magical coincidences of random event with precise meaning and uplifting message – keep arriving like bouquets of flowers! And, as with real-life quilting, we can move the individual squares, or life patterns and events, into new positions when we realize, with an “Aha!”, that there were linkages there all along…

The Higher Self is teaching us how to read Life, how to knit together the delicate meanings of all our life experiences – as we delve into the Library that is deep within us, in our memories and in our very DNA.


Note:  I have come to realize that not everyone can or should undertake the Active Imagination-based meditation of the kind described here and in my Healing Tears In Meditation.  It appears that as psychics and mediums, my mother and I had certain abilities which insulated us from the shock of encountering past trauma or our own negative inner elements.  These gifts may have included, for example, the ability to dissociate and thus work on problems without being overwhelmed by them. 

The spiritual state one begins with is also important. Both mom and I had strong spiritual beliefs, not necessarily orthodox religious ones, but profound and ever-present. So we were open to the idea of a Higher Self or guides without being caught up in the drama of such presences.  

These abilities not only helped us get in touch with past trauma, but also to heal it and integrate past experiences into a growing transformative process.

I have been surprised and disappointed that I was not able to pass this process along to friends or clients, but in retrospect, there were good reasons why not. There are certainly anecdotal accounts showing the “Dark Side of Meditation” – problems which arise when the painful memories arise with intensity which overwhelms and does not result in healing but in possible emotional distress and anxiety leading to illness. 

Even mindfulness or other attempts at inner silence and stillness can, it has been argued, separate us from natural instinctive emotions which we deny or suppress at our peril.  I have often thought that the attempts to still the mind, as opposed to entering into partnership with it, was ill-advised. 

So reader, take your time, and remember that the spiritual path can be travelled only to the extent that we do not attempt to leave the psychological Self behind…it must be gently acknowledged and worked with, no matter how much this may seem to slow us down.  There is, after all, no hurry…that is what all the lifetimes are for.

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