Inner Work (book review): Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth

Inner Work (book review): Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth

312335_0_Img2Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth, by Robert A. Johnson

Book review by Tasha Tollman

Judging by the plethora of books on dream interpretation that can be found in most book shops, we all want to know what our dreams mean and pioneering Jungian Analyst, Robert Johnson explores avenues into the unconscious as they pertain to reading the symbolic language of dreams, engaging in Active Imagination and the use of ceremony and fantasy.

In Inner Work, Johnson provides a practical, step-by-step approach to uncovering the meaning of your dream images and then brilliantly takes you to the next level of dream work – understanding what the dream images are saying about the unconscious dynamics that are operating in your life at the moment.

Johnson formulates a four-step method of joining your conscious and unconscious selves, as he says,

To get a true sense of who we are, become more complete and integrated human beings, we must go to the unconscious and set up communication with it.  Much of ourselves and many determinants of our character are contained in the unconscious.  It is only by approaching it that we have a chance to become conscious, complete, whole human beings.  Jung has shown that by approaching the unconscious and learning its symbolic language, we live richer and fuller lives.  We begin to live in partnership with the unconscious rather than at its mercy or in constant warfare with it. (p.5)

Johnson describes how the ego, or conscious mind represent our awareness and capacity for thought and self-reflection while

the unconscious is a marvellous universe of unseen energies, forces, forms of intelligence – even distinct personalities – that live within us….The unconscious is the secret source of much of our thought, feeling and behaviour. (p.3)

Section II of the book looks at finding the meaning of your dream images, clearly outlining how to form associations for the dream images, showing you how to amplify the dream images and how to connect the dream images to your inner dynamics. New to me and completely fascinating was the section on using rituals to make the dream concrete. As Johnson says once

You have done your best to understand the dream with your mind” it “is time to do something physical.  This step is very important because it helps you to integrate your dream experience into your conscious, waking life….This step requires a physical act that will affirm the message of the dream.  It could be a practical act: as a result of your dream, you may feel that you need to start paying your bills on time or straighten out a relationship that has become confused.  Or it may be a symbolic act – a ritual that brings home the meaning of the dream in a powerful way.  Many examples come to mind.  People sometimes dream that they need to be more aware of their feeling side, their feeling values.  For such a dream you could make a ritual of spending one evening doing something that has deep value, that feels important and uplifting, but for which you never had time. (p.97).

  I found this step thought provoking, stimulating and creative and found that the addition of concrete rituals to my own dream work resulted in meaningful and transformative experience that enriched my life.

Section III of the book deals with Active Imagination,

A special use of the power of imagination that Jung developed… Although many people have used it and its tremendous value is well proven, it is not widely known outside Jungian circles… essentially Active Imagination is a dialogue that you enter into with the different parts of yourself that live in the unconscious… In your imagination you begin to talk to your images and interact with them.  They answer back.  You are startled to find out that they express radically different viewpoints from those of your conscious mind.  They tell you things you never consciously knew and express thoughts that you never consciously thought…Although Jung held dreams in high regard, he considered Active Imagination to be an even more effective path to the unconscious…In Active Imagination, the events take place on the imaginative level, which is neither conscious nor unconscious but a meeting place, a common ground where both meet on equal terms and together create a life experience that combined the elements of both.  The two levels of consciousness flow into each other in the field of imagination like two rivers that merge to form one powerful stream.  They complement each other; they begin to work together; and, as a result, your totality begins to form itself into a unity.  The dialogue of conscious mind with unconscious gives rise to the transcendent function, the self, that stands as they synthesis of the two.(p.139 & 140). 

Johnson presents a four-step approach to Active Imagination namely, inviting the unconscious, dialogue and experience, adding the ethical element of values and making it concrete with physical ritual. Whilst I had read a couple of articles and books on Active Imagination, I found Johnsons approach easy to understand, practical and transformative to use.

This book has become my bedside companion and I often refer to sections for insight into my dreams, for inspiration when trying to make my dreams concrete and for guidance when I undertake Active Imagination. Inner Work has kept me busy for years and enriched my life, I hope this engaging, easy to read and fascinating book does the same for you.

Find this book at Kalahari Books

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  • Estelle Hudson Reply

    Thank you Tasha for this book review of this great book. I have read it and also used it in our Dream Group and at our annual Retreat.
    My ritual at the Retreat was to make a handmade book with mixed media and script depicting a dream. I am going back to my bookshelf to read it again.

    April 7, 2014 at 16:59

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