Psychology of Yoga and Meditation
1938 28 OCTOBER Lecture 1, Psychology and Yoga Meditation
In earlier semesters, I spoke a lot about dreams and attempted to outline how dreams are structured and how we can get at their meaning.
Now, in this semester I will follow up by describing the phenomenon of “active imagination.”
You will recall the dream of the concert where, at the end, a glowing bauble emerged out of the Christmas tree.
In particular, I said this:
This bauble is not an ordinary object, but rather it is a symbol that reaches far back into the intellectual history of humanity.
It is an example of how contents from the collective unconscious impose themselves upon consciousness until they become conscious.
If we were to proceed anthropomorphically, it could be said that it is as if these contents of the collective unconscious have a certain volition of their own to become manifest.
However, this is only a hypothesis, and I ask you not to take this literally. In any case, such contents appear first in dreams.
These are phenomena that take place at the edge of consciousness, contents that emerge into consciousness.
I was impressed by this fact very early on.
You see this phenomenon extremely frequently in patients, as well as in the mentally ill.
I asked myself if it might not be possible to make an impact upon that background where the unconscious originates so that it would give up its contents more clearly, or if it were possible to make these traces of the unconscious clearer so that one could discern them and understand them better?
I found that if one directs attention to these traces and concentrates upon them, a curious phenomenon of movement gets going, just as when one stares at a dark spot for a long time which then begins to become animated.
We are then suddenly able to discern the forms of one’s own internal background. “Gazing into the glass or bowl of water” opens onto the background to one’s own soul, to the extent that one ultimately perceives the images—though of course not in the water.
This is a technique used by the ancient Egyptian priests, for example, who stared into a bowl of water.
There is nothing present in the water, but the intense gazing arouses the soul into seeing something.
It has a hypnotic and fascinating effect.
For this purpose, the ancient magicians used a glass button or jewel, or Egyptian priests a beautiful blue crystal, in order to impart unconscious perceptions to their clientele.
It was not understood in this way back then but was employed for the purposes of prophecy, divination, and healing.
The ancients were well aware that to heal the soul, or even the body, a certain assistance from psychic experiences was necessary.
We find similar ideas in the ancient Asclepius cult.
That is why medical clinics in antiquity had incubation chambers in which the ancients would have a dream that proffered the correct diagnosis, or often even indicated the right cure for healing.
Similar practices are still used today by Indians and medicine men of primitive tribes.
If someone is troubled by an evil dream, the medicine man has them go through this process in order to bring them back into harmony with their psychic backdrop.
For it is well known that someone who no longer has this connection has lost their soul.
The loss of soul is typical for primitives.
It is absolutely imperative that the soul be recaptured.
This can be achieved by restoring the connection with the unconscious by capturing the psychic substratum.
With children, for example, images sometimes even start to come alive: the locomotive begins to move or the people in the picture book begin to do something.
It is thought these are only children’s experiences, but some primitives have much more experience with the background than we who live orientated to the external world.
We must get to know this. We live through our eyes.
However, that is not characteristic for all peoples, but simply a peculiarity of the West.
If one concentrates on such a fragment, it is necessary to clearly retain the initial perception of it in the soul.
This is where the Westerner has a tendency to inhibit the arousal of fantasy.
He can shut off something from the environment, i.e., he so holds to one and the same standpoint that noting disturbs him.
This differentiation is characteristic for Westerners, but not for people from the East.
It is almost impossible to acquire precise information from them.
They have no meditation on a specific area.
If I bend down over a specific blade of grass and ask what it means, the Eastern person will give me the entire meadow.
For them that’s a demanding task that wears them out.
This has also struck me about spiritually significant people from India or China.
They cannot concentrate exclusively on one tiny detail.
But active imagination does not imply such singular concentration, which kills off anything happening.
It must be possible that while the image stays firmly in mind unconscious fantasy can
also join in.
If this can be done, then something gets going.
If one observes with the most relaxed attention possible, then one can perceive that some other material enters in that enlivens the situation.
If one practices this, one can allow an entire system to unfold from any point of departure.
In doing so, one always thinks that one does it oneself, one is inventing it, but in reality these are spontaneous thoughts.
With such images one may not say that one created them oneself.
If a roof tile falls on your head, you have not made it happen, nor have you done it yourself.
These are “freely arising perceptions” as Herbart has already said.
If one gives up tense expectancy and only gazes at the emerging possibility, then one perceives what the unconscious is creating from its perspective.
In this way, an image is stimulated.
When this occurs, a glimpse into the unconscious can be gained.
People often dream in a very fragmentary way, or the dream breaks off in one place—then I ask the dreamer to imagine it further.
I sort of ask for the continuation. In principle, this is nothing other than the usual technique of creating the dream’s context.
I elicit the entire texture in which the dream is embedded.
As it appears to the dreamer.
There are some simple ideas: we believe water is the same for everyone, but that’s not the case.
If I ask twelve people what they associate with water, one is amazed at what they say.
So, if, instead of asking for the entire fabric of the dream, I were to ask how they would
dream it onwards, then I would get as a reply material that would correlate exactly with the meaning of the dream.
One can also sabotage such a quest.
Someone already brought me a dream right out of the dictionary which I was supposed to be convinced by.
Unfortunately for them I noticed this.
Active imagination is a making conscious of fantasy perceptions that are manifesting at the threshold of consciousness.
We must imagine that our perceptions possess a certain energy through which they can become conscious at all.
It is a great achievement to be conscious.
For this reason, we are exhausted after a relatively long period of consciousness.
Then we must sleep and recover.
If primitives are asked quite simple questions, after a while they too become
exhausted and want to sleep.
If you leave them to their own devices, they think of nothing, sit around, don’t sleep, but they also do not think.
Something is happening that is not in the head, that is quite unconscious.
Some are insulted if you ask what they are thinking.
Only crazy people hear something up there in the head,” not them.
You see from what night our consciousness in fact comes awake.
There are four different states of psychic content:
Contents on the threshold of consciousness, below which darkness reigns (background
Unknown or forgotten contents which however belong to the personal domain.
Thoughts which have already been thought in other epochs.
The most interesting are these most unconscious profound contents which are not individually acquired but can be thought of as instinctive fundamental patterns, and thus as a type of category.
Each of these layers, even the uppermost, is influenced and modified if content from the collective unconscious arises.
If the process of becoming conscious takes a natural course, not convulsively, then the whole of life proceeds according to the basic pattern of the collective unconscious, naturally shadowed individually, although the individual motifs are repeated in everyone.
Hence, we find the motifs of the collective unconscious in the folklore of all peoples and in all times, in mythology, in the religions, etc.
Any concentration of attention in this technique is very difficult.
This is something that can be achieved only through practice.
The great majority of people lose themselves immediately in chains of associations, or they inhibit them and then absolutely nothing happens.
Occidental man is not educated to use this technique, but rather to observe all external sense perceptions and one’s own thoughts, although not to play host to the perception of the background processes.
The East is way ahead of us in this respect.
This is a meditation, i.e., an impregnation of the background, which becomes animated, fructified by our attention.
By this means, objects of still developing circumstances emerge clearly.
The Latin word contemplatio comes from templum —a zone for living encounter is defined, a specific field of vision in which observation takes place.
The augurs used to delineate a field, a templum for observing the flight of a bird.
A protected domain from which one can observe the inner contents and can fertilize them with attention.
And the word meditatio actually means to consider or ponder.
In antiquity, as far as I am aware, there were no detailed descriptions or instructions for this technique.
It actually contradicted the classical spirit.
By contrast, in the Middle Ages certain ideas were already emerging.
The old alchemists—by which you must by no means imagine just any old crazy gold makers but rather natural philosophers—defined the term meditation as a dialogue with another who is invisible.
This other may be God or oneself in another manifestation, or the good spirit, the guardian spirit of the person with whom they can be led into dialogue in meditation.
St. Victor had such a conversation with his own soul.
The Middle Ages thus already had the inner counterpart in contrast to the external counterpart; and that inner counterpart possesses a meaning in its own right, so that one can, in a sense, have a conversation with this other.
So, in one word: this internal other replies. This procedure is called imagination.
I not only surrender myself to fantasy but I also concentrate my attention on what is to be contemplated and observe what happens in the process.
In the Middle Ages the philosophers used this term to describe the possible transformation of the elements. They can be transformed through meditation.
By concentrating on the chemical matter, the image that is within us is imprinted upon matter.
This image within us is the soul, and it is round.
Roundness is perfection, therefore gold has a round form because it is a perfect body.
One can imprint a model upon the image of one’s own soul, and then it must be transformed into gold.
One thinks that gold is meant.
In truth, however, one is taught that it is not normal gold but the gold of the soul.
It is difficult to understand these lines of thought, because things were not
understood in our sense of the term, instead they took place in matter, thus in matter that one handles.
It is as if the unconscious were located in chemical matter, in minerals.
But we must not forget that the chemical constitution of bodies was a great puzzle in the Middle Ages, a great dark puzzle.
There was no knowledge about these things, hence their internal world was understandably projected onto them.
The same is true for us.
If we do not understand someone, we impute every sort of quality to him all the same, and assume a great deal about him, when in fact it is precisely what is within us.
We can say nothing about him except what we see though our own lens, and we humans do this utterly without shame.
We try to get in close with concepts, but we mystify our own mystery into matter.
The same happened to the Middle Ages.
Gradually people became a bit more conscious, but not enough.
Then came the scientific age and interrupted this entire development. Not so in the East.
There it was possible for these ideas and efforts, which had been present from time immemorial, to develop analogously: they had not been interrupted by exclusive concentration on external things.
Very early on, we find in Indian texts the concept of the tapas, i.e., heat, glow.
It is used as an expression to represent the fructifying influence of attention, hence is translated as “creative heat.”
In the Rigveda it says: tapas is seen among the things that carry the earth.
The earth is carried through truth, size, strength, through rita, i.e., the law of right action, tapas, brahman, and sacrifice.
This idea is almost immutable in its form.
A hymn from the Rigveda says:
What was hidden in the shell,
Was born through the power of fiery torments.
From this first arose love,
As the Germ of knowledge,
The wise found the roots of existence in non-existence,
By investigating the heart’s impulse.
Goethe said the same:
You follow a false trail;
Do not think that we are not serious;
Is not the kernel of nature
In the hearts of men?
These verses from the Rigveda propose that the existence of the world is in fact a psychic function.
They would have us understand that these human qualities constantly generate heat, and that this glow begets the world.
The world to our way of thinking is not begotten in this way, but to the Indian that’s what the world is: namely, consciousness.
That is why he can also say: the figures created internally are the world, an illusion—and in that sense the concept of mâyâ invites a similar understanding.
Another passage where the concept of the tapas plays a role occurs in the myth of the creator of the world, Prajâpati.
In the beginning, he was alone. Apart from him there was nothing:
Pragâpati had the desire of creating beings and multiplying himself.
He underwent (consequently) austerities.
Having finished them, he created these worlds, viz., earth, air and heaven.
He heated them (with the lustre of his mind, pursuing a course of austerities);
three lights were produced: Agni from the earth, Vayu from the air, and Aditya from
He heated them again, in consequence of which the three Vedas were produced.
This means “he heated himself with his own heat,” in commutatio.
“He brooded, he hatched.” He incubates himself.
This is the word used for the technical concentration exercises out of which yoga developed.
The similarity between this technique, which we use in a psychological way, and Eastern
Yoga should not be overlooked.
The Western technique is a pitiful thing in comparison to what the East has to say about it.
In any case, there exists a certain principal difference, not only because the East surpasses itself with a rich literature and an exceptional differentiation of methods.
Yoga as it is practiced now and has been practiced for many hundreds of years is a system.
The Western technique is not a system, but a simple process. In the East, it is a technical system.
As a rule, the object of revaluation or meditation is prescribed there, which it is not in
active imagination, where it arises quite naturally from a dream, from intimations that manifest in consciousness in a natural way.
In the East, the guru, i.e., the leader, gives the tschela, i.e., the student, a particular instruction about the object he is to meditate upon.
Guru and student are not outlandish peculiarities.
Every moderately educated person in the East has his guru who instructs him in this technique.
It has been this way since ancient times, a form of education practiced by one whose qualifications as a leader are not endorsed by any university.
This is the teaching of yoga in broad outline.
The classic text offering an overview of yoga teaching is a work from the second century BCE: the Yoga Sûtra by the grammarian Patañjali.
It is an exceptionally deep book containing a plenitude of profound ideas, incredibly difficult to translate because it presents the secrets of yoga in an exceptionally concise language: four texts for a total of 195 tenets.
The goal of the practice is the promotion of samâdhi, i.e., rapture, ecstasy, contemplation, also suppression.
Hauer also translates it as enfolding in contrast to an unfolding.
One could also translate this as introversion.
After that, the practice of yoga intends a diminution of the kleshas.
By this term one understands instinctive elements in the unconscious that actually
should be repressed or at least diminished.
The goal of yoga is to conquer these unconscious impulses, hence yoga, i.e., yoke; the yoking of uncontrollable powers of the human soul and in a different manner from how we do it.
We simply suppress or repress certain emotions.
The difference is this: when they repress, they know that they are doing it.
If we repress, the content disappears but then neurotic symptoms develop out of this repression.
One turns his attention away from something unpleasurable.
This is an hysterical mechanism that takes place not only in the life of the individual but everywhere, even in politics.
The Yoga Sûtra says: egoism, ignorance, attachment, aversion, and fear of death weaken you.
Ignorance (ávidyâ) is the ground for all other vices or kleshas. ~Carl Jung, Psychology and Yoga Meditation, Page 3-12