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Inner Work: Using Dreams for Personal Growth

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We all want to know what our dreams mean, and pioneering Jungian analyst Robert Johnson explores pathways into the unconscious that involve reading the symbolic language of dreams, active imagination, and the use of ceremony and fantasy. In his book Inner Work, Johnson offers a practical, step-by-step approach to uncovering the meaning of your dream imagery, and then brilliantly guides you to the next level of dream work – understanding what dream imagery says about the unconscious dynamics at work in your life right now. Johnson formulates what he says is a four-step method for connecting your conscious and unconscious self:

To get a true sense of who we are, to become a more complete and integrated human being, we must turn to the unconscious and establish communication with it. Much of ourselves and many determinants of our character are contained in the unconscious. Only by approaching it we have a chance to become conscious, complete and whole human beings. Jung has shown that we live richer and fuller lives when we approach the unconscious and learn its symbolic language. We begin to live in partnership with the unconscious instead of being at its mercy or in constant struggle with it. (p.5)

Johnson describes how the ego or conscious mind represents our consciousness and our ability to think and self-reflect, while:

“The unconscious is a wonderful universe of invisible energies, forces, forms of intelligence – even distinct personalities – that live within us… The unconscious is the secret source of much of our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. (p.3)

The II section of the book deals with finding the meaning of your dream imagery, clearly outlining how you can form associations with the dream imagery, how you can reinforce the dream imagery, and how you can connect the dream imagery to your inner dynamics. New to me, and completely fascinating, was the section on using ritual to flesh out the dream. As Johnson once says:

You have done your best to understand the dream with the mind,” now it is “time to do something physical. This step is very important because it helps you integrate your dream experience into your conscious waking life… This step requires a physical action that reinforces the message of the dream. It could be a practical action: As a result of your dream, you may feel that you need to start paying your bills on time or repairing a tangled relationship. Or it may be a symbolic action – a ritual that forcefully clarifies the meaning of the dream. There are many examples of this. Sometimes people dream that they need to become more aware of their emotional side, their emotional values. For such a dream, one might resolve to spend an evening doing something that has deep value, that feels important and uplifting, but for which one has never had time. (p.97).

I found this step to be thought-provoking, stimulating, and creative, and found that adding concrete rituals to my own dreamwork led to meaningful and transformative experiences that enriched my life. The III section of the book deals with active imagination:

A particular use of the imagination that Jung developed… Although many people have used it and its enormous value has been proven, it is not well known outside Jungian circles… essentially, Active Imagination is a dialogue you have with the various parts of yourself that live in the unconscious… In your imagination, you begin to talk to and interact with your images. They respond back. You discover to your amazement that they hold completely different views than your conscious mind. They tell you things you have never consciously known, and express thoughts you have never consciously thought… Although Jung held dreams in high regard, he considered Active Imagination an even more effective way to the unconscious… In Active Imagination, events take place on the imaginative plane, which is neither conscious nor unconscious, but a meeting place, a common ground where the two meet equally and together create a life experience that combines the elements of both planes. The two levels of consciousness flow into each other in the realm of imagination like two rivers that unite into a single powerful stream. They complement each other; they begin to work together, and as a result, your totality begins to form into one. Out of the dialogue of the conscious mind with the unconscious comes the transcendent function, the self, which is the synthesis of the two (pp. 139 and 140).

Johnson presents a four-step approach to Active Imagination, namely, the invitation of the unconscious, dialogue and experience, the addition of the ethical element of values, and concretization through physical ritual. Although I had already read several articles and books on Active Imagination, I found Johnson’s approach easy to understand, practical, and transformative in application. This book has become an important tools to create my active imagination record which is included in my programs. Inner Work has engaged me and enriched my life for years. I hope you can also find your way and empower your life thought my Active imagination and my programs

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