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The Method of Active Imagination.

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Modern Psychology: C. G. Jung’s Lectures at the ETH Zürich, 1933-1941

Lecture III 17th May, 1935

We spoke last time of the method of active phantasying, we will carry that subject further today.

I gave you the example of a young artist.

Perhaps it surprises you that just an artist should have this difficulty, because it seems as if this should be a simple matter for one of his profession, but this is not the case.

It is particularly hard to make a game of your profession.

A chemist would find it difficult to bring himself to play with the methods used in the Orient and in the Middle Ages when they were in search of gold.

A doctor would have the same resistance to playing with the thought of healing.

If one knows a subject well, one has particularly pronounced ideas as to what it is, and it is especially hard to allow a free rein to things which one feels do not belong; this picture method, therefore, is quite particularly difficult for an artist.

By this example we see that it is a question of allowing phantasy to play freely, but this is only a beginning.

This method of active phantasying has many possibilities, it can be used to dis cover complexes and contents of the unconscious and it is especially useful to establish a connection with the tendencies and possibilities which exist and will appear.

We always have prejudices and think we know what these tendencies are but in reality we do not know anything about them; it is the things which are the most surprising to consciousness that always appear.

Where there are complexes there are always phantasies, for complexes are continually trying to find a solution.

These phantasies are involuntary and spontaneous; we dislike them and have the same prejudices against them as we have against dreams.

This is not surprising for they are a froth-like substance yet, in order to see the hidden part of the psyche, we must turn to phantasies.

From the medical point of view this is necessary.

We are not concerned now, it is true, with the medical side, but with actually allowing these things to come to the daylight,
as a method of knowing ourselves and enlarging the horizon of the conscious.

Phantasies and dreams do not of themselves enlarge consciousness, they have to be understood and here the great difficulty begins.

The application of the method which I have been describing is related to Yoga; in principle they are alike, but with great differences.

In so far as Yoga is a method to extend the personality, we may mention it in the same connection.

The picture method is only one of many in Yoga.

In India free phantasying is not permitted, phantasying there is based on dogmatic pictures which are called Yantras, contemplation pictures, mandalas, which have the object of attracting the attention and forming a guide to phantasy.

Our method aims at allowing the complex to express itself and reveal its structure, but Yoga aims at fettering it in dogma.

This is almost universally the case in Indian Yoga.

The objects of contemplation are usually pictures that represent the real nature of the depths of the collective unconscious.

As we know little of these regions they appear strange to our western consciousness and to explain them we have to refer to texts little known
in Europe.

Fortunately Sir John Woodroffe had himself initiated in these practices and has published a great many texts referring to them.

I did not bring any pictures to show you, as at this stage they would only further bewilder you.

In China we find similar things, chiefly in Taoism which, as you know, is founded on the teaching of Lao Tse.

Taoism degenerated terribly but has lately undergone a renaissance while Confucianism is at present degenerating.

Taoism has also a kind of Yoga but it is less well known than the Indian.

The Chinese Yoga is very much less founded on dogma, the Yogin is left to find his own way through his difficult experiences.

I will quote a few texts to you out of “The Golden Flower”.

“Emptiness comes as the first of the three contemplations. All things are looked up on as empty. Then follows delusion.”

Delusion refers to these phantasy pictures.

Every fragmentary thought takes form and colour because you give it the right of way, whereas before it slept in
the twilight.

This phenomenon is characterised in the following alchemistic saying of the lapis: “Give me willingly my right and I will help you.”

This last is the symbol of the lapis, the philosopher’s stone.

These karmic traces appear under the influence of the creative energy.

The Book of Successful Contemplation (Ying Kuan Ching) says:

“The sun sinks in the Great Water and magic pictures of trees in rows arise .The setting of the sun means that in chaos (in the
world before phenomena, that is, the intelligible world), a foundation is laid: that is the condition free of opposites (wu chi).”

“Now there are three confirmatory experiences which can be tested. The first is that, when one has entered the state of
meditation, the gods (20) are in the valley . Men are heard talking as though at a distance of several hundred paces, each
one quite clear. But the sounds are all like an echo in a valley. One can always hear them, but never oneself. This is
called the presence of the gods in the valley”.

Karmaistic thoughts are here represented in the gods, in the neighbourhood of men’s consciousness.

This is almost like schizophrenia where each bit has its own voice.

The Yogin in Yoga-nidra, or Yoga sleep, is in a hypnotic condition empty of consciousness.

He is sitting stiffly, or lying rigid on the ground.

He may appear asleep, but he is not, for if you go to sleep the whole good of the exercise is lost.

“At times the following can be experienced: as soon as one is quiet, the Light of the eyes begins to blaze up,
so that everything before one becomes quite bright as if one were in a cloud. If one opens one’s eyes
and seeks the body it is not to be found any more. This is called: In the empty chamber it grows light. Inside
and outside, everything is equally light . That is a very favourable sign. Or, when one sits in meditation, the
fleshly body becomes quite shining like silk, or jade. It seems difficult to remain sitting ; one feels as if drawn
upwards. This is called: The spirit returns and pushes against Heaven. In time, one can experience it in such
a way that one really floats upward”.

We are not used to thinking that light comes from within as well as from without, it is as if the eye had an inward light of its own, if we receive a blow on the head for instance, we see stars.

This double light is normal in the Yogin consciousness, attention is directed on the inner possibilities.

Light phenomena play a great role where consciousness is empty.

In such deep meditation one feels drawn completely out of the body.

The levitation of St. Francis is a typical example.

You can see yourself from a foot above, from the ceiling or from the ground.

The Yogin himself levitates because he is so identified with his contemplation that he loses the
weight of his body.

The old master continues, speaking of emptiness and delusion:

“Although it is known that they are empty, things are not destroyed, but a man attends to his affairs in the midst
of the emptiness. But though one does not destroy things, neither does one pay attention to them; this
is contemplation of the centre. While practising contemplation of the empty, one also knows that one cannot
destroy the ten thousand things, and still one does not notice them. In this way the three contemplations
fall together. But, after all, strength is in visioning the empty. Therefore, when one practises contemplation of
emptiness, emptiness is certainly empty, but delusion is empty also, and the centre is empty. It needs a
great strength to practise contemplation of delusion; then delusion is really delusion, but emptiness is also delusion,
and the centre is also delusion. Being on the way of the centre, one also creates images of the emptiness, but
they are not called empty, but are called central. One practises also contemplation of delusion, but one does
not call it delusion, one calls it central. As to what has to do with the centre, more need not be said.”

“What has to do with the centre, more need not be said”.

This is truly Chinese.

The Yogin concentrates on the centre and not on the thing itself.

The Chinese do not say there is no content, but “we will not speak of it “, and they are so wise that they really do not do so, but we are so childish that we write thick books about it!

Nirvana, for instance is a positive non-being, this is something which you cannot say anything about.

It is just the same in modern psychology; in the background of the unconscious we meet things which it is impossible to talk about.

The twenty gods have no special importance in the East, Eastern man has no liking for being born a god, for the gods have to become men and this they think would only make the process last longer.

We have a western analogy in Ignatius of Loyola.

His practices consisted of several weeks’ meditation each of which lasted one hour.

The meditations were purely Christian, there is the same limiting of phantasy as in the Indian Yoga, it is kept strictly to the Christian pattern.

This is the opposite of our method.

We encourage active phantasying about just the things that these people throw out; this is trusting to nature,
but if we follow nature we do not err.

Perhaps this is truly medical for all doctors know that if nature will not help they are powerless.

Such phantasies are pure nature, but if we a r e in a difficult situation only creative phantasy can show us the hole through which we can creep.

In such cases phantasies, and as many as possible, should be encouraged. ~Carl Jung, ETH Lecture III, 17May 1935, Pages 208-211.