Active Imagination

In my previous blog post on inner conflict I neglected to describe how to explore an inner conflict. For the sake of dramatic writing, an inner conflict requires you to split various sides of your self into characters. The characters then dialogue with each other and in this way you interrogate yourself. This process was developed by psychologist Carl Jung as a means of exploring the unconscious mind. The idea was to personify various aspects of the unconscious mind as individual entities. If the self is indeed divided, then you need to create characters to represent aspects of your self.

The goal of active imagination is to communicate with or give expression to deeper parts of your self which may be oppressed or buried. In everyday life the deeper self is never heard from. The deeper self is neglected as you go about your business which means you do not attend to your innermost needs. When writers and other creative people talk about the need to express themselves we should realize that they are yearning to speak for the mute soul.

In the theater, the unexamined life is put on display for our consideration. The theater is where consideration is given to aspects of ourselves that are not given enough attention. For example, bitterness is not something that most people feel comfortable expressing in conversation or in public. Really any strong emotion is likely to be suppressed. What first got me interested in theater was seeing a film version of Hamlet in a high school English class. I was really struct by the eloquence of Hamlet’s bitter words with his parents. That showed me that theater was where it was permissible to express what has to remain hidden in all other spheres of society.

The unconscious mind doesn’t just keep things hidden from polite society. The unconscious mind also keeps things hidden from you. By definition, the unconscious mind is everything going on inside you which your conscious mind is not aware of. So when I personify and interrogate my unconscious mind I become aware of things about myself that I did not know. Never engaging in even a moment’s self-reflection is a good way to keep a lot of things from yourself, but it is not healthy. Your unconscious mind will actually begin to tell you things if you approach it with respect and try to listen to what it has to say in the guise of an imaginary being. However this process can be very tricky because the conscious mind in the form of the intellect is always trying to interpret the vague symbolism used by the unconscious mind. Many of the post-Jungians emphasize that you must be careful not to over-interpret your dreams and other manifestations of the unconscious mind. The ego likes to assert its own understanding of the imagery and misses the true meaning of the symbolism. Nobody knows why, but the unconscious mind appears to boil life down into potent symbols. Nothing is clear in the unconscious mind. Everything appears in symbolic form. Everything seems rich in multiple meanings so you are never certain about what it all means. Ultimately the unconscious mind is like some unfathomable genius which knows all the secrets, all the secrets that matter the most to you. But it will not divulge these secrets, these insights, without a lot of coaxing. In fact, I’m convinced that the unconscious mind will not cooperate with your probing at all unless your conscious mind is on the same page as your unconscious mind. In other words, you better be striving to get what you need and not just using your unconscious mind to get what you want.

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