active imagination

dreaming with eyes open [1]

Active imagination

Active imagination is a method for working with our inner world, for making the unconscious more accessible to the conscious mind — for ‘dreaming with eyes open.’ [2]

what is

active imagination?

An introduction to the concept of active imagination, especially its dialogic form. If you’re curious to know what happens in active imagination, and who you meet when you get there, start with this overview. pinned article

what is

imaginal ethics?

Imaginal ethics concern the ways we treat our inner ‘others.’ But who are these figures and why do we need to approach them ethically? In this introduction, we consider some answers to these complex questions. pinned article

courts of the ancients:

Machiavelli’s academy of active imagination

Who would have guessed that Machiavelli might have something to teach us about active imagination? A close reading of a short Machiavellian passage reveals real insight into imaginal practice. article

perfected friendship:

rethinking our approach to inner relationships

Aristotle, one of the earliest writers on ethics, suggests that there are different kinds of friendship. How might we apply his model of knowledge to our inner relationships? article

the lexicon

active imagination

A set of techniques used for engaging the images and figures of the unconscious psyche through imagination. Visual and performing arts can be forms of active imagination, as can conscious imaginal dialogue and adventures with inner figures.

what is active imagination?

The practice of analyzing, exploring, and/or imagining into one’s nighttime dreams. Dreamwork may involve considerations of association, symbol, myth, and more.


The search for, or belief in, an absolute and firm foundation upon which all other ideas can be built.


Coined by scholar Henri Corbin to distinguish it from the oft-dismissed domain of the imaginary, the imaginal encompasses the subtle territories within and between persons. Similar to the Greek onar (the world of dream, as opposed to the hypar, the material world), we engage the imaginal by way of the faculty of imagination.

what is the imaginal?
lucid dreaming

The state of knowing that one is dreaming during sleep. Lucidity while dreaming may occur spontaneously, or it may be deliberately induced through a variety of techniques.


Having a sacred or spiritual quality, often associated with the presence of a constellated archetype. Numinous experiences are often ineffable.


A philosophical approach that values only those things that can be measured, dismissing any validity in the unmeasurable or subtle.


The totality of the inner world, encompassing conscious and unconscious, ego, shadow, inner figures such as complexes and psychic archetypes (anima, Self, etc.), and processes like thought, memory, perception, and more. Arguably, psyche can be understood to extend beyond the limits of mind, embracing somatic experience, the fields of projection and transference that exist between people, intersection with a collective unconscious and/or the wider experience of an anima mundi, or world soul.

psychic reality

The practice of holding the contents of subtle, inner experiences, such as dreams and active imagination, as possessing their own reality. A dedicated practitioner of psychic reality holds that complexes / subpersonalities have their own preferences and perspectives, and that these parts — as well as their viewpoints — are legitimate and real.

shamanic journeying

The contemporary understanding of an ancient, indigenous imaginal practice in which a shaman engages in visions of the subtle/spirit realm, usually intending to undertake a task such as healing or repairing an individual or community’s alignment with the spirit world.


An image whose meaning is clear. A red traffic light contains no mysteries; it simply means stop. Compare to symbol.


An image with an archetype — and therefore, a mystery — at its heart. Not limited to visual images, symbols express an idea that is not fully understandable or expressible. We may be able to interpret a symbol with some confidence, but the essence of a truly living symbol will always remain partly ineffable. Consider the disembodied hands in Baba Yaga’s cottage in the Vasalisa story; they ring with the numinous, but their meaning, while interpretable in many ways, can never be completely understood. Compare to sign.


(also, teleological) A force that moves with aim or intention through a system. Such systems might include a living cell, an individual, a culture, a universe. Arguably, evolution has the teleological aim of increasing the odds of survival of a species. James Hillman’s daimon, as presented in The Soul’s Code, demonstrates a strong telos in directing the life path of the individual.


The part of our psyche that operates below the level of awareness or consciousness, particularly in relation to the perceptions of the ego-complex. Sometimes called the subconscious, we most commonly interact with this part of ourselves as the source of our nighttime dreams. Much of depth psychology is involved with making unconscious material conscious, as with practices like active imagination.

what is the unconscious?