“What’s the difference between Jung’s Active Imagination and guided imagery,” that was the question put to me the other day. A good question. Let’s look at the various types of Imagery Practice out there.
Guided, From Heavy to Very Light
When people think about imagery they go to the “see a beach, you are walking on a beach” form of imagery work. Certainly that is the most used form most people have been exposed to. It is an important and easy practice to work with. If we are instructed in an imagery experience with very specific guidance on the location for our imagery, what we are to see/hear/taste/touch/smell once we draw the place up in our mind, what we are to do there, and why we are doing it—this is heavily-guided imagery work. Good stuff but there is more as your abilities grow and our interest in going deeper expands.
In the middle range of guided imagery is guidance that lays many details for us out but also leaves a fair amount unspecified. It is up to us to fill the gap with what we want to add. For instance, using the beach again, we can be guided to go to that place and open our all of our senses to soak up this or that. Next, we can be cut loose to explore the beach and to go in search of a note in a bottle. “Take a few minutes to head off and explore. Let me know when you have found the bottle,” would be typical instructions for middle-range guided imagery.
Lighty-guided imagery practice usually involves working out what you want to do in an imagery session before that session begins. In other words, you pick a theme, an event, an idea, or other thing to work on and your guide will give the time and freedom to do that. Your guide (in-person; on Skype; or on a recording) takes on: talking you into deeper relaxation, asking you to find a place of your choosing, and then reminding you of what you want to work on. They may also, from time to time ask you : “What are experiencing now? Or let me know if we want me to take some notes so we are sure to capture the ideas and insights that pop-up.” The guide is also watching the clock and at the time you picked to end the session, the guide will guide you out of the experience. Very open and with light touches, that is lightly guided imagery work.
Of course, there is unguided imagery. The work is on our own shoulders to determine what works for us and what we want to do once you get into imagination. Typically, most of us have started off with guided imagery so we have developed a habit of borrowing from that form. For instance, we may always start off on some beach or in some “safe” place and then depart from there to do free exploring of the experience of being in touch with the unconscious or exploration of themes, ideas, events, etc.
The freest form of open imagination is simply closing our eyes, getting in touch with the imagination, and hanging out and observing what is coming up at that moment. Simple observing can include: noting images, hearing words, getting in touch with sensations in the body, maybe even being moved to make some sort of physical gesture, feeling feelings, watching ideas/concerns pop up. The unconscious is always busy at work cooking up something to respond to a conscious concern or an unconscious reaction to something that has happened or might be coming up, or to resolve something that has been left undone. In other words, in this form we go into the “unconscious factory” to see what is being created for us today. We can go with the flow, simply observing as your images/sensations/feelings rapid change or one or two might grab your interest and you can decide to focus on those. Focusing on them will require “holding” them in imagination and restraining new imagery from taking over. Either way, this is free-form imagery work.
There is a form that is a bit of lightly-guided and free form imagery work. This sounds like a contradiction but it isn’t. practitioners of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) lead clients into relaxation and then they play specific selections of music during the session. GIM gives the guide the responsibility of moving the person into relaxation, selecting the right music for the session based upon what the client wants to do, asking the client from time to time “What are you experiencing right now?” and bringing the client out of imagination at the end of the session. The middle part of the session, when the music is playing, it is up to the client to experience it as they wish. GIM people see that the real guide of the session is the music itself.
Drumming remains a popular way to help people to go into imagination. The drumming tradition says that we need to find specific inner helpers, objects, and locations and sets us free to do that as we get carried with the specific beat that many people find imagination inducing. Here we have two guides: the goal we carry with us as we are imagination (i.e. find a power animal) and the power of the drumbeat.
Back to the Question
“What’s the difference between Jung’s Active Imagination and guided imagery?” Well, Jung mainly had his clients use moderately or lightly guided imagery when he worked with them. Over time, though, he expected many people to get good at free-form imagery work and to use that between sessions and when they left his care.
That’s a start on answering this question, but we will look further at Active Imagination in another blog post here, entitled: Target Imagery.