Trying to get a good handle on what the Jungians mean by “active imagination,” I have been reading Robert A. Johnson’s Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth this past month. And I am learning some things. One is that active imagination, while a good technique, is definitely a product of the modern era. For starters, it requires a room of one’s own, quiet time, and literacy, even if done without an analyst.
My professor side started thinking of this as analytical topic for a paper — which I do not intend to write, but maybe someone else can. Take active imagination, scrying, creative visualization, and guided meditation.
Could you do a four-cell diagram with two axes, such as ego — unconscious or guided — unguided?
Johnson himself says this, after stressing that active imagination deals with the surprising and unexpected:
We need to grasp this clearly because there are no so many systems around that can be confused with Active Imagination but are completely distinct from it. The main difference is that they work with a prepared script; everything is determined in advance. These systems are sometimes called “guided imagery,” “creative imagery,” or by something else. What they have in common is that everything is predetermined. You decided in advance what is going to happen in your imagination. The ego decides what it is trying to get out of the unconscious and prepares a script. The idea is to “program” the unconscious so that it will do what the ego wants it to do. In one system, the whole avowed purpose of using the imagery is to get what you want.” (Italics in the original.)
Coincidentally (“there are no coincidences,” my old teacher said) Christina Hoff Kraemer posted recently on similar topic.
Often people use the terms visualisation, meditation and pathworking interchangeably, but they are different techniques, with different purposes and histories of development.
That would be part of my hypothetical paper too: what are the intellectual roots of these practices? Some go back (in the written record) to the Middle Ages, at least — think of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, who prescribed a guided imagery (or meditation) exercise where you place yourself as an observer of Jesus’ crucifixion and other significant events of his life, attempting to experience them through all your senses (there is more, of course).