Healing and Active Imagination: The Balance of Mind, Body and Spirit

Sheila Hutchinson, M.Ed. ( psych ), member of OACCPP

Sheila Hutchinson

Sheila Hutchinson

Healing and Active Imagination
 The Balance of Mind, Body and Spirit

C.G.Jung ( 1875-1961), psychiatrist, author and philosopher studied with Freud and devoted most of his life to the exploration of the unconscious domain of the psyche and its’ relationship to growth and development. His works synthesize the areas of psychology, mythology and philosophy in an attempt to understand the universal search for individual meaning and wholeness. In his psychoanalytic research he discovered that symbols and myths belonged to the language of the soul and the spiritual domain of one’s personality.

One’s body attempts to communicate to the individual via this symbolic language which includes dream images, psychosomatic symptoms, felt sensations and spontaneous visions.To understand the language of the unconscious we need to look at and explore the meaning of symbol.

For Jung, the symbol contained some inherent truth and represented a sign or a direction for the individual in his or her growth and healing.The dream may represent one aspect of the dreamer’s individual and personal story. The pictures in the dreams are symbols and may represent what is actually happening within the dreamer’s life.

Contained within the symbols and pictures there may be answers necessary for the dreamer’s growth. For Jung it was not necessary per se, to understand the meaning of the symbols and pictures contained within the dream. Symbols and dreams are non- rational forces and come from the subtle limbic and intuitive domain of the psyche.The limbic area of the brain does not respond to logic and reason. In working with dreams, Jung developed a process called active imagination. This method consists of entering the dream and its’ symbols from a conscious viewpoint.

One enters into a relationship with the various dream figures by being present with these images, getting a felt sensation from these images and as well creatively interacting with these symbols and images. It calls forth a certain kind of humility as one lets go of the need to control and welcomes truth from the creative aspect of the brain.

In the history of Christianity, Joseph listened to a dream and took Mary away to a safe place where she gave birth to Jesus. Einstein listened to his dreams and received an amazing scientific discovery.

The Journey Within

This process demands a certain amount of courage to face that which has been locked away within the confines of the unconscious. If a person dreams of a gorilla, this symbol or picture may be trying to communicate some underlying truth to the dreamer. Often, dreams seek to synthesize all dimensions of the person as we journey on the road towards harmony and balance.  For the dreamer to receive the message contained within the image of the gorilla, a certain interaction between the image and the dreamer is required. This image may be a link between the head and the heart of the dreamer.

The dreamer may draw the gorilla or visualize the gorilla with a certain amount of inquiry. Another method to interact with the image of the gorilla would be to imagine oneself as the gorilla.

In the act of becoming the gorilla, one might connect with the power contained within the gorilla. As well, this might provide a powerful way to connect with and process pent up, repressed or unresolved feelings.


The Act of Surrendering

As humans we feel we need to be in control. We run from pain and hide in various forms of addictions. Instinctively, pain is to be avoided. As children, we are taught the ways of the world around us and learn how to adapt in order to fit in. However, there is a price to pay in the running from pain and this may be the loss of one’s true purpose and identity.

Active imagination and visualization require an attitude of surrendering; of letting go of the need to control. Active imagination is a process of discovery. It is meant to complete the dream by bringing the dream forward or carrying the dreamer backwards into one’s personal history to the root of a specific problem. This kind of work recognizes that one’s conscious ego does not contain all answers. The dream’s source emanates from a central position within the psyche which Jung called the Self.

The Self is the driving force towards a discovery of individual meaning and purpose and seeks to synthesize opposing forces within the personality. Perhaps one may compare the process to an ongoing story: the more one becomes a part of the dynamics, the more the story is allowed to unfold in a process of liberation and truth. The dream brings chaos into form and seeks to unite divisive forces within the person. However, it needs permission and cooperation from the dreamer in order to accomplish this.

In active imagination one may ask the following questions regarding symbols contained within the dream.

  • What part of this is me?
  • Why am I reacting so?
  • What does this remind me of?
  • What are my feelings in this situation?

As Frances Wickes wrote:

“ The measure of healing is proportionate to the spiritual participation of those who take part, either actively or through receptivity. In all such experiences, the whole being is in a state of heightened receptivity, of intuitive awareness and of desire. As Yeats said : keep in your minds some images of magnificence, keep in your hearts some desires that can live in paradise.”

                                     Frances Wickes ( 1875-1970)

American Psychotherapist

“ The Creative Process”

In active imagination there is interaction between conscious ego and unconscious contents of the dreamer; an interplay between what is known and the unknown. Each individual must find a way which is compatible with his or her personality.The following is an incomplete list of forms which active imagination may include.

  • The artistic form which includes drawing or painting dream symbols and/or feelings. Modelling clay may also be used as a vehicle for the expression of the unconscious.
  • The written form, such as the writing of a poem or story about a dream and/or feelings. As well, recording one’s dreams, events, feelings or problems in a journal may connect the unconscious with the conscious realm.
  • The physical form, such as dancing and acting out events in the dream. This is called psychodrama.
  • The verbal form, which may include dialoguing with a dream symbol and/or feeling.


Elaine’s Story

Elaine is a thirty year old woman who came to see me with a very upsetting dream. She was feeling quite desperate and anxious.

As she shared the dream with me she began to cry and stated that she was afraid to deal with it for it touched a primal wound.

I invited her to focus with the dream and to gently hold it as she would a child. It appeared that she was afraid to disturb this festering wound and thus release its’ poison. Fear of the unknown was the monster which kept Elaine powerless. Her lack of self confidence and low self worth had been well developed and deeply ingrained within Elaine due to the underlying growth of this fear.

A Dream

In her dream Elaine bought a pillow for $6. However, when she arrived home she discovered that the pillow was empty. She went back to the salesman, however he refused to exchange it. Her pillow was flat.

Then the dream carried Elaine back to her home as a child. She was in a room on her bed and a neighbour, a man, was on her left side. On her right side were her parents. The man on her left had a razor blade and proceeded to cut her arm with it. The pain was unbearable and she experienced deep fear along with the pain from his cutting. Elaine’s parents sat by their daughter and passively observed the event.

I asked Elaine if we could move into the dream. I reassured her that I was with her and with her permission and trust she closed her eyes and visualized the dream. I asked that she imagine the room in her home and to picture what the dream presented her with. She focused on the man who cut her with the razor and remembered him from her childhood. He was a neighbour who continually hurt Elaine with his cutting remarks (the razor ) about her weight as she was somewhat plump.

Elaine experienced the humiliation, shame and disappointment in her parents as they did not defend her. They were aware of how this neighbour treated Elaine.

I then asked Elaine to remember a time when she felt loved and affirmed ; a time when she felt full of confidence as a woman and she smiled as she remembered the event.

With these feelings of love and strength, I asked Elaine to return to the man in the dream who sold her an empty bill of goods, the empty pillow, for $6. It was around the age of six that she remembered this man, a neighbour whose behaviour created deep shame and fear within Elaine.

I then invited Elaine to face the man, the neighbour, and find her voice. She told him that his cutting words were empty lies and that in fact she was a beautiful child and in reality a talented woman with a successful career and family.

Then Elaine faced her parents and shared her disappointment with them for not defending her. She asked them for a sign of their love and they embraced her. Physically, her body relaxed as she smiled.

I asked Elaine to recall a recent event where someone had made a cutting remark about her weight. She remembered an incident a few days ago, when her young son’s friend had made a comment about her weight. Again, Elaine faced this boy and with strength she addressed the issue and in so doing she confronted the ingrained affect from her childhood, fear and shame.

Some time had passed and I received a phone call from Elaine. She was so excited as she shared an experience when she attended her parents’ twenty fifth anniversary dinner. Many old friends were there including the same man she had dreamed about: the one with the razor blade cutting her arm. She had not seen him in years and suddenly there he was. At one point during the evening Elaine went up to the buffet for some food. She discovered that the same man was right beside her. He acknowledged her and then proceeded to comment on the necessity of her watching her weight. Elaine just looked at him and started laughing, stating that she did not need to be on a diet and that she was just fine. She experienced a new sense of strength from within. Her mind was at peace.

Elaine has taught us the power of active imagination and the breaking of deeply ingrained patterns of belief. As one enters into one’s inner life, via the dreams presented, and chooses to face what is presented, a shift occurs. New strength is actualized in the breaking of self destructive brain patterns. What is needed for the process to unfold is a sense of faith in the unknown and a willingness to surrender to a higher state of consciousness.



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