Why Should We Actively Imagine?

by Philip Ruddy, MA, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist

All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then, to depreciate imagination?” -- Carl Jung

 “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.”  -- Steve Jobs

Are you a Los Angeles-based writer, artist, comedian, musician or performer?  Do you struggle with creative blocks?  Are there times you wonder whether you should simply stop?  Give up?  Leave Los Angeles and switch to your personal "Plan B?"  Before you do this, give me a call.  I have helped many creatives just like yourself, and would love the opportunity to help you, as well.  

The philosophy behind my practice is to Actively Imagine.  Not just day-dream, or fantasize about what could be. But to engage the process actively.  To create a genuine inner dialogue with our own personal shadow or critic.  Ask ourselves the hard questions.  And learn to truly listen to the answers.  To develop the courage and ability to to hear the wisdom coming from our psyche — our core guiding spirit. 

What does it mean to Actively Imagine, and how can it help us heal? As both Carl Jung and Steve Jobs remind us in the quotations above, all human creations must first be incubated in the mind or imagination before they can become manifest.  This applies to writing, art, composition and performance, as well as cutting-edge, technological inventions.

As a therapist, my clients often come to me expressing the desire for change.  They wish to eliminate creative blocks, reduce anxiety, or depression, or develop a closer relationship with their spouse, partner, or children.  As a first step, I often invite my clients to Actively Imagine their lives out loud, as they would ideally like them to be. Together we explore these  ideas, testing their merits, their potential, along with possible pitfalls or rewarding consequences.  We then dive a bit deeper — exploring some of the unconscious thoughts about these goals, which often express themselves via dreams, creative art or secret thoughts and wishes.  One of the most effective ways of tapping into the unconscious, is a process called Active Imagination. (Jung, 1997, 2009)

What is Active Imagination?

Known to many contemporary western minds through the writings and paintings of Carl Jung (1997, 2009), Active Imagination is actually an ancient process, with roots in early Greek, Egyptian, Japanese, Sufi, Aboriginal, and Native American tribal traditions (Watkins, 1984, 2000) — cultures which highly valued the use of waking visions, dream incubation, and hypnagogic states, to gain wisdom and insight.

In modern terms, Active Imagination is the process of creating a conscious dialogue with parts of our unconscious mind — our unvoiced hopes, wishes, dreams and desires, with the therapeutic goal of generating greater personal insights into past and present actions, and achieving a more fully integrated, balanced life.  This can be done in a variety of ways, but most simply and commonly, by physically writing or typing out an actual back and forth dialogue with our own unconscious (Jung, 1997, 2009).

Who can benefit from Active Imagination? 

If you identify as a writer, creative artist or performer, you may have already experienced versions of this on your own.  Consider the times when you have consciously or unconsciously entered a “flow state,” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008) — and story, images, dialogue, lyrics or music seemingly came to you through the ether, effortlessly and intuitively.

I wrote my master’s thesis on Active Imagination as a pathway through writer's block, and as a writer and now a therapist, who has at times struggled with such blocks, I enjoy sharing these techniques with other writers, artists and performers who are interested in exploring the practice for themselves.  

As with any modality, Active Imagination may not be right for everyone and I invite all clients to discuss the pros and cons of these techniques in detail, based upon their personal history, creative background and therapeutic goals, prior to embarking upon the process.  While it is possible to do this work alone with some training and practice (Johnson, 1986), working with a professional depth therapist, especially in the early stages, can provide a beneficial anchor — a mentor and guide, to support you. 

To learn more about Active Imagination, or for a free 15 minute phone consultation or to book an introductory appointment, please call (424) 354-3910, or email philipruddytherapy@gmail.com

Philip Ruddy, MA, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist #89594, works in private practice under the supervision of Jennifer Bergman, LMFT #44775. He helps creative artists, writers, producers, directors, punks, comics, rockers and film / music professionals explore and and master tools to transcend anxiety, depression, career / creative blocks, midlife transitions and relationship issues.  Call  (424) 354-3910 today for a free 15-minute consultation, and take the next step on your personal creative journey.

References & Resources

Chodorow, J. (1997). Introduction. In Jung on Active Imagination. (J.Chodorow, Ed.) (pp. 1-20). Princeton,  NJ: Princeton University Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.

Johnson, R. (1986). Inner Work: Using dreams and active imagination for personal growth. San Francisco, CA: Harper. 

Jung, C. G. (1997). Jung on Active Imagination (J. Chodorow, Ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Jung, C. G. (2009). The Red Book: Liber Novus (S. Shamdasani, Ed.) (S. Shamdasani, M. Kyburz, & J. Peck, Trans.) New York, NY: Norton.

Watkins, M. (1984). Waking DreamsDallas, TX: Spring Publications, Inc.

Watkins, M. (2000)Invisible Guests: The Development of Imaginal DialoguesWoodstock, CT: Spring Publications.