Back in May of 2017 I wrote and article on Embodied Cognition a means for “acting out” material to be learned or discovered and thought I would catch up to myself and expand on the usefulness of this as a dream tool.
What do I mean by Active Imagination? You might think, don’t we all have an active imagination? Yes, that’s probably true to varying degrees, but that not what this is all about. Active Imagining is a dream study/therapeutic technique used by some analysts to assist people in their exploration of their unconscious motivations.
In this technique the ego remains fully conscious. The ego gets to observe and even feel unconscious content, but gives up critical content to be open to what might be available. Once the unconscious has downloaded its content with respect to certain dream images, the ego can then elaborate (activate its imagination), then after doing so as completely as possible, it then determines the meaning. This last part is critical, just enjoying the elaboration isn’t enough.
If done properly, the process can lead to a transcendent experience where as Ibn Arabi, 13th century Andalusian Muslim scholar, mystic and poet suggested, “Spirits embody themselves through the power of imagination.” He thought that form is related to spirit in a significant way and to relate to the forms within the imagination can lead one to go beyond the boundaries of the psyche. If there is no difference between spirit and the imaginal form then this technique can actually lead one to the divine. We all have this potential within the latent self.
Key to this process is to not allow the ego to manipulate the process any more than it usually does. To do so would cause a degeneration of the outcome. Which is why I would recommend doing this process with a qualified therapist. Some groups can also be helpful if they understand the parameters and possible outcome of this self-exploration technique. Note, however that beliefs can bias the material that comes from the unconscious.
At first the material will be comfortable for the ego, but later the unconscious will begin to challenge the boundaries of the ego, thus becoming an important psychological and spiritual healing tool.
There is also the possibility that the ego will resist the process because it can be threatening to the ego’s status. Many objections might show up, “This doesn’t work!”, “It’s too boring!”, “It’s stupid!” and other ego impatience and critique. Stick with it and wonders can unfold.
This is an incredible technique for exploring that, which troubles us. So don’t wish your troubles away, show the courage and grace to transform them. This way, as Carl Jung suggested, one can transform oneself as an inner partner.
“Active imagination requires a state of reverie, half-way between sleep and waking.”
For more on this technique the website of Tony Crisp might prove useful.
A dream dictionary is basically a book of symbols to aide a dreamer in interpreting a dream. I say “aide” because symbolic meaning is fundamentally unique to the dreamer i.e. the dreamer projects subjective meaning onto the dream images.
A dictionary can help with meaning, but it is not the ultimate meaning because as with any dictionary the author of the material attaches various emotions, memories, and cultural significance to a word in such a way that every word takes on several layers of meaning beyond that which is included in the dictionary. So the symbols in a dictionary can help, but they can’t ultimately define for the individual exact meaning.
Not too long ago I came across a number of dreams that included symbolic drawings that defied definitive meaning, so I decided to experiment with these “dream sigils” to see what they could reveal.
What’s a sigil? Essentially, they are symbols of ones “intentions” and in the process of creating a sigil the “will” of the person creating it is infused into the drawing thus reinforcing the intention. It is a “thought form” designed to giving “being” to an idea.
Before going any further, intentionality should be distinguished from intention because in intentionality the thought creates a reality within itself–a representation of something that has objective existence vs. intention that is the purpose or anticipated outcome of some action.
A sigil can be both in that it can represent an objective reality while it also can be used for some specific outcome.
In the mystic tradition of the Tibetan Buddhists it was thought that one could bring an object or being into reality through sheer will i.e. a materialized thought (the Tulpa). These thoughts could summon into existence a demon, or object of desire if delivered into reality in the appropriate manner.
For modern use the sigil may be similar in purpose to a mandala that may focus the mind, or in the development of a trance state. Some Buddhists suggest that certain deities live within a mandala and can be communicated with when focused upon.
This idea is not altogether unlike the reanimation technique used with dream material as a means of broadening the work and meaning of a specific dream. The dream itself becomes the mandala whose meandering designs pull the dreamers consciousness into its center. Carl Jung labeled the technique Active Imagining where the images of the dream can be brought back to life and interacted with within the context of the therapy session.
As with all things brought to consciousness their reality is pretty much a function of the material projected upon them by the observer. Thus in the creation of a sigil one can observe the associations that present themselves during the process.
For example, note the sigil on the left that I created for the word “Spirit”. In this representation I removed the vowels and left the remaining unduplicated consonants “SPRT”. The drawing took no time at all to produce, seeming to flow from the pen without much thinking on the part of the brain. I felt excitement laced with a happy feeling and a sense of success while producing it. The result exhibited a bold strength combined with a sense of purpose and confidence. For me, when I’m in touch with the Spirit, everything just flows.
Energized by this success I tried another and chose the word “Dreams” (what else?). Eliminating the “e” and the “a” and combining the DRMS I started to draw, but after several iterations I became frustrated, yet determined and wondering why there was such a difference. Then I realized that for the last two nights my dreams had been confusing and frustrating with me failing to get ahold of enough material to extract any meaning. This sigil also reflected the chaos and vulnerability experienced in my former nights dreams.
The very act of creation was a projection of myself in relation to the symbols! In both cases my attention was brought to focus on my real world experiences with the concepts being represented. It had been my intention to use this process to gain insight to the meaning these words implied and indeed they did just that–the subjective intention was realized in the objective creation. Hooha!
Though my sigil may not have charmed something or brought a demon into existence it did objectify an inner demon (my tendency to easily frustrate) and enable me to broaden the experience of the former night’s dreams. And again, by bringing the demon shadow into the light of consciousness I was able to deal with it and thus banish it. Now that’s magic!
Not too long ago I was reading an article in the Jan/Feb 2011 Scientific American Mind Magazine. The subject was how body movements and fleeting sensations affect our thinking. This is called “Embodied Cognition.” It reminded me how when I used to give seminars and workshops in the 70’s and 80’s I used to always wear a light colored pastel sweater with audiences that I thought might be resistant, or even hostile to my message. My own research, though narrow, seemed to reinforce the calming and trust inducing effect this had on the audience. Mr. Rogers and his blue cardigan seemed to have it right.
In the article, researchers at Yale University found that rough textures in the environment tend to make social interactions go roughly and that while touching hard/cold objects in the environment would affect the perception of rigidity. The article implied that drinking something warm on a first meeting between people would increase the feeling of warmth toward each other vs. the drinking of something cold.
Physicality has always played an important role on our perceptions and our learning. Educators have known for years that children learn their letters and words easier when they use large arm movements to ‘draw’ the letter, or word in the air.
Using “manipulatives” while learning math principles has also proven effective in elementary learning situations. Adults build models of chemical reactions to extend their learning and to enhance the discovery process.
We also know that simulating an action while reading a story increases the comprehension of that story. This concept is one of the generating principles behind the effectiveness of Gestalt therapy and Active Imagining, both of which I’ve mentioned in earlier Blogs. Mentally simulating body movements has been a technique to help embody a routine in gymnastics or on the field of various sporting activities. When I was in community theater the director would have us go through all our movements mentally before the play so as to help build the action into the body’s memory.
Re-embodying a dream after you have awakened by selecting a prominent image from the dream and bringing it back into the imagination while quietly meditating can allow one to interact with the image and gain greater insight as to why it has visited the dream.
The embodied cognition effect also shows up when you journal a dream. The mere act of writing a dream down immediately after waking stimulates and reinforces the recall of that dream and in many cases the recall of many subsequent dreams.
We get so involved in survival we often leave our soul behind and the everyday battering we are subjected to can bury it ever deeper into a protective layer so that we lose sight of who we once were. Soul recovery and healing is probably the single most important task you’ll ever undertake in this life because without a healthy soul that difference that you’re so desperate to make and experience cannot actualize.
There are many soul healers in the world, but there’s a soul healing technique I learned from a book written by Robert Moss* that brought me back to an earlier dream I had titled “The Blue Fresco”.
In that dream a woman floating above the ground invited me to leave the world I was in and to travel down a path that lead into the distant hills (was I going forward or backward in time?). Angels climbed up and down a staircase to and from the sky while children ran up a grassy hill. This dream has afforded many interesting looks into my inner world. I offer it here in hopes that you will be able to use it for your self.
Moss suggested that I enter a meditation where I re-envision the dream, giving it life once again and entering it with the intention of getting answered two important questions: “What do you want when you reenter the dream?” To which I answered, “What’s down the road?” The second question was, “What do I want to find there?”
What I wanted to find was the “powerful child”, the once competent and confident child, and its whole and undamaged soul. As suggested I also put on a shaman’s drum CD and focusing on my breath I counted four breaths in, hold, and four out and doing this until my body rested and my mind began to quiet.
Re-envisioning the dream I began to talk to the woman in blue, who clearly was my mother. She invited me to walk with her down the path and into the hills where I once again saw the story of my life, and all those events where I had felt loss and defeat. “You chose your meanings long before you ever experienced them and thus limited your self, Robert.” She said. She then encouraged me to shift their meaning so as to see another side of their reality.
As I did this, each event began to transform into something new, betrayal turned to love, abandonment either disappeared altogether, or became the prequel to an embrace. I began to see that every interpretation could have yet another hiding behind it and even though I once had chosen one meaning, I could as easily choose another.
This would become easier, I thought, if I were to shift the context of my life from “me” centered to “us” centered–from I to thou.
Further back into the hills I found a young boy sitting with a drum quietly tapping out his rhythm.
As I approached, this toe-headed boy turned toward me and smiled then rose from the grass and crawled into the lap of a large mama bear and nuzzled his head under her chin. Wrapped in her embrace, warm, and secure he was loved. He was in the power of the mama, the power of the bear. Everything began to fog and I found myself in the embrace of the bear. I had become the boy.
Soon I found myself running beside Onoma the she wolf, with my breath frosting like steam as we panted through the snow-covered forest. Suddenly I was lifted and rose above the trees as the she wolf looked up grinning at me. I twirled and spun with my arms outstretched like a da Vinci Vitruvius and flew higher while racing headlong through a tunnel of lightly falling snow then reached for a star that was quietly waiting at the tunnels end. With outstretched arm I grasped for it and pulled it in to me, this light, with its warmth, and its power held close and finally mine.
The drum, its rhythm, my rhythm, my song, my dance, the beat of my soul, pounded out every step to show me the way–the way back home. My soul was in the trees, the bear, the mother, the wolf, and the light that was mine to claim once again.
Once again on the ground I looked down and to my right and there was the boy looking up at me with a worried look on his clear, bright face.
“Where’ve you been?” He said as he took my hand and we strolled across the mudflats of his world. “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too”, I said.
“You’re always welcome you know.” He said encouragingly.
“I know. Can I come any time?”
“Yeah! Any time.”
Many of you who have been reading my Blog or website will recognize the meditation as a form of Active Imagining, or Dream Tending. I offer it here as another means for lucidly reentering a dream for the purpose of not only understanding the message of a dream, but to also heal the soul and re-enliven the child who has never left any of us–to see the world through the visions of childhood.
“The appearance of things change according to the emotions, and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves.”
–Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese Poet
For this article I have used the image of the Tarot card of the Sun** for it is representative of the unification of opposites through the Mother and the Father where the conscious and unconscious unite to form a self-conscious being, that is a being fully aware of itself i.e. the Child.
Psychologically, in this meditation the man also unites with the boy and together they become more than their sum. It is this unity that helps to heal the soul and recapture its power.
Actually all the major and minor arcana of the Tarot can represent the unification of opposites, thus bringing forth psychological wholeness.
Animals whether they show up in dreams or in meditation make statements about our own vitality. Often they are messengers from the deepest part of ourselves. The Greeks, according to Robert Moss, considered the sender of dreams the “Mother of Animals”. The condition of these animals often reflects your condition in your waking life.
* Moss, Robert, Dreaming the Soul Back Home, Ch 5 “The Royal Road to Soul Recovery”, Pg. 99
** I use the Tarot to illustrate psychological principles not as a means for divination, though I do believe that they can be used as images for the process of Active Imagining.