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Bring The Unconscious To The Surface

Some call it daydreaming; some call it wondering, or wandering (tomato – taamato). Often it may even take its shape as a specific meditation where the muscle I am trying to develop is my focus. I sit down cross-legged and hold my focus onto one thing, repeatedly bringing it back is my goal AND every time I slip into a distraction.

And then the distraction takes flight into my active imagination, I see none of this distraction as a lack of focus rather “a call to action.”

I practice meditation this way because it’s said that a powerful focus is the only thing you need to evolve the mind. I kind of call “bullshit” on this being the only way to find peace do this or else equal relaxation??

Often I hear clients say the focused meditation can be more stressful. That’s why I love this version of active imagination meditation.

Many people throughout history have searched for ways to evolve the mind. The practitioners of activities like education, drug taking, yoga, puzzles – (any puzzle over 25 pieces is transformational), and philosophy all hope on some level that these activities will work – to find transcendence or ascend to something – or at the very best protect us from the unset of dementia.

I love all these activities and a smorgasbord of all of them maybe just the answer. Yet, one of the most amazing healing experiences can come by just letting go, or continuing to explore… Walk the journey of the active imagination contradiction.

Below I am going to introduce you to one of my inspirations – Carl Jung and introduce you to an activity I use in my personal healing and therapy called Active Imagination Meditation that uses dreams and focused meditation to evolve the mind.

Who Was Carl Jung?

Carl Jung was a psychiatrist, psychologist and psychoanalyst who worked in private practice at the turn of the 20th century learning the minds of men and women who suffered from mental disorders. He spent his early years professionally trying to figure out was it possible to cure these people.

Around the start of WWI Jung himself began to have constant visualizations of Europe being destroyed by a sea of blood. As visions like these became more and more recurrent, he soon realized he was descending into the similar type of psychosis, which was plaguing the people that he was trying to heal.

After he overcame the initial shock Jung began to understand the he had been gifted an opportunity: Technically journaling in his black books and moving them into a red book.

SIDE NOTEThe Red Book – a written expression and experience done over the course of 7 years, which started as a diving into of sorts -exploring his mind and lived experiences. He used his own inquiry around his mental health and his active imagination. He let himself - meander, let himself go… If he could figure out a way to heal himself of his worry of madness then he could figure out a way to heal others.

This gave him the great purpose and hope he would need in the battle against his mind for the right to his own soul, and it was during this inner war that he developed Active Imagination.

What and Why Does Active Imagination Work?

He believed that the mind is divided into two parts: the conscious and the unconscious. The conscious part of our minds is that small bubble of attention that feels awake and aware of what we are doing right this moment, which in your case is reading these words. Do you hear that? See where your attention went. This “focus point” of awareness is called the ego.

The unconscious part of our minds is a much larger field of awareness that deals with all the other background processes and sensations, like keeping our hearts beating and storing our memories. These things are unconscious because they would be a distraction to our egos from concentrating on the present moment.

Active Imagination works by encouraging the conscious and unconscious mind to communicate through making our conscious attention explore down into the unconscious mind.

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.” — Carl Jung

It does this by focusing our conscious minds on the expressions of our unconscious minds -- Our dreams, Healingsouls DreamWork Group, other non-ordinary states of consciousness activities like psychedelics or Breathwork are active imagination experiences.

How To Do Active Imagination

The method I encourage is… different depending what your interest is.

For today, all you do is allow yourself to let go… Sounds simple, Sounds scary and confusing and completely insane all at the same time, I know.

Grab a pen and your journal, find a nice place to sit down, laydown and let your body, mind and emotions relax and wander. And please follow these steps:

Step One — Walking Contradictions. Find Focus and all the while don’t focus… let go…

When we start this exercise our minds are usually very active and restless, so my first request is to calm the mind and get a hold of our stream of attention. This is where all those hours of mind training come into use as you can deploy that big strong focus muscle. In other words… Fucking try to stop fucking thinking too hard, but focus, ha, ha, walking contradiction… Kindly, focus on breathing and letting go and falling into “what comes up?”

As the mind relaxes we become aware of our little pocket of attention that is there “witnessing” all our rushing thoughts. This is our conscious mind, and it is the tool, which we will use for our next step.

Step Two — Allow The Flood Gates to Open.

When the mind has calmed and we feel we are present, we move our attention onto an image, thought or emotion we are having at the very moment you are doing this exercise. For example… Candy – Ice Cream, sex and seashells… and oh my God I want to get into dreamland, I need to go to sleep so I can get lost in the world that doesn’t seem so stressed by the daily grind. Just keep following it.

The trick here is to keep our attention held to the consistent thoughts for a long time. Follow them like a rope down a dark hole, or up into the clouds. We may slip into thinking about grocery shopping or Jonas from Sweden, but when that happens we calmly just bring our attention back to the thoughts, emotions or images arising. No judgment.

Step Three — Allow The Unconscious To Speak

When we allow the Active Imagination we are peering into the unconscious mind. To “get the message” that the unconscious is trying to communicate to us through our state we are in and need to begin allowing the unconscious to speak through the archetypes, symbols and images.

To do this we need to loosen our focus just enough so that the unconscious can start to stir the image, and we need to be careful not to loosen our focus too much or we may get absorbed and find ourselves thinking about Sweden again. And if that’s the case, maybe a trip to Sweden is necessary.

This is the crucial step, as we allow our unconscious mind to speak we may enter back into the narrative of the world of your truth of the stories that may have been repressed; or we may end up speaking to one of the characters.

Sometimes it may even be dark or weird, especially if we’re using this to understand nightmares, but this is alright, it’s just something we might have avoided facing in the past. This is a good place to face our fears and accept our aspirations. Really it becomes a gentle and beautiful entry point to work with trauma too.

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” — Carl Jung

Whatever the form this “manifestation” takes engage with it and try to remember it as vividly as possible, because in our next step we are going to bring it to life.

Step Four — Create An Artifact

Now we must channel your inner Van Gogh, Bob Ross, or your 4-year-old self – in other words doodle your heart away. Remember no judgment –

Take a piece of paper in front of you and write, draw, or paint whatever we just experienced in the silence of our mind.

The object here is not to get caught up on trying to make a masterpiece, but simply to make that unconscious image into an artifact, which we can try, and assign a meaning in our next step. If it comes out like a shit on paper then so be it! Think the Rorschach inkblot technique

This step shows the hidden bonus Active Imagination has in store for anyone suffering from writer’s block, it is a way to tap into an insane amount of creative potential. It also teaches the crucial lesson of creating first — then criticizing.

Step Five — Assign A Meaning

Now we take a break. We may go make a tea. We may call Mike to see what he’s up to. We take our minds out of the imagination and back into normal consciousness.

When we’re ready and grounded we turn to our inner art critic, aka our intellects, and we see can we find the message contained within the piece of artwork we just made. The idea of this portion of the meditation exercise is to assign a meaning, don’t just label it.

For Example.

A label vs. assigned meaning.

A knife is the label we give the sharp instrument that cuts things.

What is the assigned meaning you give it? A tool to prepare a meal? Or a tool for defense?

Take Action: Try It Out For Yourself

Try the technique out a few times, and when you get comfortable experiment with various alterations such as:

  • Focusing on a dream feeling instead of a dream image

  • Create using another medium, dance or another physical embodiment.

  • Interact verbally with the characters and give them more narrative.

That being said, always keep the principal the same: allow the unconscious to manifest into consciousness and then try integrate its lessons.

As Jung himself said: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Dr. Ryan Westrum is a clinical psychologist and licensed marriage family therapist that specializes in healing spiritual emergency, psychedelic experiences and all things experiential. Contact Ryan at or


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