Active Imagination

June 30, 2013

My good friend Vyvyan Chatterjie has proposed the possibility of a week-long program dealing with art and the psychology of Carl Jung. Nothing definite has been set; we’re just considering the possibility. As Vyv is a graduate of the Jung Institute in Zurich, this has led me to investigate Jung’s work.

Until this year, I had read only one book by Jung. I was surprised and pleased to discover that Jung himself painted and encouraged his clients to paint. His paintings became tools in developing active imagination (a kind of conscious dreaming) and inner dialogue. I was first introduced to inner dialogue through the work of Ira Progoff – and I realized that I had used active imagination when I explored the possibility of remembering past-life experiences during a rebirthing workshop in California. I’m now using some of my drawings and paintings as a starting point for active imagination. The video on my May 27 posting, is an exercise in active imagination.

For Freud, psychotherapy was an attempt to cure neurosis and create a well-adjusted person. Jung wanted more. He wanted to experience God within himself, and he wanted his clients to experience this. The process of art, active imagination and inner dialogue became a way to this realization that I am now testing for myself.

B;ack and white drawing that looks something like a map.

Last night I sat naked in my cabin with this drawing in front of me. I started writing in my journal, but abandoned it in favor of recording my words. Today I transcribed what I had recorded. Here it is, with very little editing so that you can sense the spontaneous nature of the original story. The section where the explorer describes his experiences after drinking the herbal infusion seemed to me to come from somewhere deep in my being.


My guide spoke broken English. The native who had brought me up-river wore, like me, a khaki shirt and trousers but this man was naked except for sandals, a headband, and a penis sheath. I gave the man what I had been told was the appropriate gift or payment for a week’s services as a guide and interpreter. My boatman left. I brought out a map, or the only thing I had which might correspond to a map, drawn by some explorer many years ago. My guide studied it carefully. Then he pointed to one spot on the map. “We go here.”

He handed the map back to me, and I took it, ready to start off with him if that was what he wanted to do. But he took ahold of my collar, fingered it a bit, and said, “no good;” fingered the edge of my trouser pocket, “No good.”

I followed him into a hut.The smell in the hut had a vague sense of being something like turpentine. He rummage around in a basket. Everything in the hut seemed to be stored in baskets. Finally he pulled out a pair of sandals and a penis sheath. I could only surmise that he wanted me to undress. When I was naked he rather matter-of-factly took my penis and put it in the sheath and tied its cord uncomfortably tightly around my scrotum, but it stayed in place.

I followed him out of the hut and toward the river. I heard the sound of women singing. We found a small group of naked women weaving mats and headbands, singing as they worked. They stopped singing when they saw us and conversed with the guide in their native language – which, of course, I did not understand, but I heard him say, “white man” several times. Finally one of them got up and got a headband and put it around my forehead. They seemed to want to dress me. I don’t know if that was a way of welcome or they thought me incapable of using their clothing for myself.

My guide beckoned for me to leave, and I followed him to a hut where an old man, also naked except for a penis sheath, sat cross-legged in front of a small fire. Again much conversation in a language I did not understand. I asked my guide if this was a medicine man – got a blank stare – a shaman? – a healer? Finally I said, “What does he do?”

At which point the guide said, “Gets rid of evil spirits.”

The man, at this point, got up and went into the hut, came out with a clay mug, poured some herbs into it and some hot water. It was very clear that I was expected to drink this, and as soon as I had done this, my guide led me to the edge of the clearing where I could see that a trench had been dug for a latrine. All at once I suddenly wrenched and vomited into the pit. He picked up a near-by wooden shovel and covered earth over that, led me back to the medicine man’s hut where he had me lie down on a mat. I was feeling very dizzy. I didn’t know what was happening; but I seemed to, everyone once and a while, come back to some kind of consciousness and was very conscious of needing to defecate so I stumbled to the latrine pit, used it, and covered my watery excrement using the shovel, went back to my mat, and lay down.

I found myself shaking, and I seemed to be hot and cold at the same time, or maybe sweating and chilled. Suddenly, I could see my mother, laughing, the way she had of laughing that when I was a kid almost made me cry. I knew she wasn’t laughing at me; she was just amused by something I did or said, and loved every bit of it, but she had that kind of fast little laugh, and then I saw her collapse right in front of me and turn into kind of a pool of blue water.

I looked down into the water and saw the face of a girl I knew once, in high school. And she also suddenly laughed, and then she was standing in front of me laughing, and I seemed to laugh myself. I couldn’t help it. But then she too seemed to disappear, sort of melt down into a blue puddle, and I stared long into the puddle, wondering what would come next but northing did.

And I seemed to find myself falling, going into the puddle. And again, finding myself shaking – couldn’t stop. I sensed suddenly that it was raining, raining hard, Someone was moving me inside the hut. A blanket was placed around me, as it seemed to be getting cold and dark.The fire seemed one moment right on top of me and one moment miles away, like a distant beacon. I felt I should get up and walk to it. I think I did get up at one point and felt someone helping me over to the latrine, back to the hut, back to the mat, back to looking into a blue pool, diving into the blue pool, seeing my father, seeing the house we lived in, seeing a fire, seeing the time the house caught fire, smelling the smoke, seeing myself running out, looking back at the house, burning, burning, burning, and then suddenly that burning became bright orange, seemed to envelope everything around me; I was back in the house. The house was burning, and I didn’t know how to get out, and I yelled and I screamed, and I felt myself being bathed with a wet cloth, and I found myself relaxing again.

The burning was gone. I did not know what was happening. I don’t know how long I stayed in this, and I can’t remember what happened – and then I felt it was dawn, a new day had been born – or had I been several days in the hallucination? I had no way of knowing. My penis sheath lay on the ground beside me. I picked it up. My guide offered me some fruit. He looked at me and said, “Evil spirits gone.”

I thought that perhaps I had been cleansed of some parasites I had picked up in the jungle two years ago, which modern medicine had seemed to be unable to get rid of and which caused me trouble and diarrhea from time to time, alternating with constipation. I made a note that when I got back to civilization – ah civilization, it seemed a thousand miles away, it was a thousand miles away – I felt weak, all I wanted to do was sleep.

I stayed for a week with my guide. We took walks in the forest, but I never saw anything that remotely resembled what was on that map, if indeed it was a map – and with all the walks the week passed. I wasn’t even counting the days, but I heard a cry of children evidently signaling the fact that a boat had come up-river. It was my native boatman. I went back to the hut where I knew my clothes were, gave the penis sheath back to my guide, and left with the boatman.

As an aside: I was tested, and the parasites were gone, I regretted that I had no way of knowing what herbs I had been given, but I had not reached the degree of confidence with the medicine man that he would show me what he had collected.

6 Responses to “Active Imagination”

  1. It is also the idea I had of making a series of “family pictures” that may differ according to one’s mood, current background etc.. and portrayal of family (actual and of choice) as animals. So we do this workshop each day and in group explore and share the interpretation. The active imagination is indeed deeper work.. Let us see what interest there is and how we could construct a week that could work from a number of angles Iintended for Edward Carpenter Community in 2014 probably at Laurieston Hall, Scotland if the bid is developed and gets accepted.

  2. The response above is a comment from Vyv.

  3. […] I had put in the painting. I’ve transcribed it and present it here as another example of the active imagination that I discussed in my previous […]

  4. […] June I posted something about active imagination and gave an example of how I had used active imagination, based on a drawing, to develop a story. […]

  5. […] my posting of June 30, 2013, I introduced the practices of active imagination and inner dialogue as tools for spiritual […]

  6. […] As I have written in an earlier post, I am working with active imagination and internal dialogue.  Some of this revolves around an explorer.  The following dialogue (really a monologue) is in the words of the medicine man that the explorer visited – part of the active imagination posted on June 30, 2013. […]

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