A Forest of Doorways

An Imaginal Workshop

In 2021, I started running a workshop on imaginal practice. Over time it became clear that imaginal practice requires somatic foundations, to develop grounding, subtlety, and sensitivity to eros. So I backtracked to create my Somatic Resonance course before coming back to the imaginal--but I want to leave some of my notes, practices, and helpful documents out in public for others to practice with and get a taste.This mini-site is where I'm storing the documents and resources from the workshop, as well as some other helpful articles I've written along the way.Welcome to the forest of doorways, I hope you find something evocative and helpful here.(note: the sketches on this site are fragmentary, scattered, and partial. Please take the material as such, and feel free to contact me with any questions. Also leave your e-mail address below if you'd like to be contacted when I put out a fuller articulation of imaginal practice)

There’s an ancient View that I’ve found a lot of resonance with, it goes something like this:Within each of us, the gods left certain tokens, pieces of themselves. When we go looking for them, we may find that we have sparks within us from Zeus, from Hermes, from Hera. When we find these sparks inside ourselves, our task is to reunite them with the deity they belong to–to reunite these parts of ourselves with the divinities we belong to.The part of this that resonates so strongly for me is the trajectory: we go within so we can go beyond. Inner engagement isn’t about cloistering ourselves off from the world, it’s about finding ways in to parts of the world that were never available to us before.Thus: A Forest of Doorways. We don’t go within to toy around with Images as a purely internal conceit; we wander our inner wilds to go beyond. We look inside ourselves and find doorways that lead out to stranger, wilder lives than we knew were available.

River Kenna


The aim of this workshop is to give you what you need to start venturing into the Inner Wilds on your own. We’re not trying to be comprehensive or encyclopedic–we’re just sharing useful foundational tips, and stories from some of the trails we’ve hiked before.
From there, you’ll be able to make some incursions on your own, see what you find. You may want to come back and ask more specific questions based on what you come across (please do!), but it’s outside the scope of these four sessions to give a comprehensive guide to (continuing the wilderness metaphor) topography, bears, snakes, quicksand, finding clean water, altitude sickness, river fording, caves, tourniquets, edible berries, poachers, and the tales local folk tell about the baba yaga’s shack near the foot of the mountain.
All of those are good and necessary lines of inquiry, and you should come back to the ones that seem like they’ll be a part of your trail; but for now, we’re more focused on making sure you have a sturdy pack, good hiking shoes, and a compass.

You’ll find the material pretty informal most of the time. This is approximately 3 parts Conscious Didactic Strategy to 1 part Just How I Am.Speaking to the Didactic Strategy bit: when I edit things and order them properly and make things seem a bit more formal and presentable (when i tidy up before the the party starts), it seems to flip a School Mode switch in people’s heads. They start seeing instructions, rules, prerequisites, next steps, etc.I want to be very up front here: imaginal practice is vast. I can help you scan the landscape, and I can show you the areas I’m familiar with, but these are just ways of helping you find entry. Once you’ve found a way in, you’ll have to explore on your own, find things that work for you and things that don’t.This is not a classroom. This is a campfire in the wilderness where we’re gathering to share a meal and swap stories. I can tell you about where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, and a good route to take through yonder forest (mind the quicksand near the foot of the mountain, y’hear?).If you’re a person who’s bothered by informality, all I can do is assure you that in this case, by this campfire, it’s a pretty carefully chosen strategy–so maybe try to see the formality inherent to that choice.

How to Use These Materials

There are 3 main sections below:
1: Views
2: Images
3: Activation
Each section contains a reading and a video to watch, as well as an accompanying practice.
The practices are found on the Practices page.I'd suggest you approach each section this way:First, read the document; journal on what you find there.
Second, watch the video, journal further if anything more comes up
Then, do the practice that goes with the section. Try it out at least a couple times before moving on to the next session.
Finally, if there are questions, comments, clarifications that you need to ask me about--bring them to the group meeting (if you can attend one) or ask me directly.
(If you're not attending a group workshop, and have only purchased the materials, feel free to contact me either by e-mail or by tagging me on twitter)


What is art? Seriously, take a minute here–don’t worry about creating a universal definition or manifesto, but feel it through for yourself. What’s art for? Why do you approach it, why would you make it? Lean back in your chair, maybe pull out your journal–gather yourself on this topic.Even if you’ve never thought seriously about the question, there’s an answer inside you somewhere, and you’ve been living that answer for much of your life. Every time you pick out a poster, go to a museum, choose a playlist on spotify, open netflix, or open a novel, you’re engaging some View of what art is, of its purpose and qualities. This engagement multiplies when you’re the one making the art.If you View art as escapism, you’re going to make very different weekend plans than someone who believes art is meant to challenge and provoke.Sitting down to write a novel when you believe that art holds a mirror to society, you’ll produce a very different book than someone who Views art as a personal expression of one’s own inner depths.

Or let’s take food for a moment.There are many Views of what food is for: food is nutrition; food is pleasure; food is community, culture, exploration, daredevilry. Each of these leads to very different meals, dinner parties, and health situations. The whole world of food that you approach is altered, even determined, by your View of food.If food is e.g., an important element of community and bonding for you, take a moment to dwell on how your diet (and life) would change if you were more utilitarian about food: “It’s just protein, carbs, and fat that need to be processed to fuel the machine that is my body.”Or the reverse, if you’re already utilitarian: what if your View of food was that it was about sharing and connecting with people? What would change?Entire worlds of possibility open and shut based on your View of what something as simple as food is for.

Why start an imaginal workshop here? Why not open with some fun imaginal exercises, a couple stories about shamanic journeys, maybe an anecdote or two about Carl Jung and the Red Book?For a few reasons–most of which are tied in with the fact that if we’re learning the foundations of imaginal practice, we should start with what’s most foundational. What’s more foundational than your View of what this kind of work is for?Plus, right now you’re in the unique position of being relatively close to an expression of your View, whether you realize it or not. Namely: you decided to come to this workshop (or to skim through its contents, for those of you reading this site). You made a decision to check out this type of work, learn more about it, and invest time and money in that decision. –Why did you do that? In your mind, in your heart, what was the vision you had of how this ends, of where this takes you?It’s okay to not have an exact answer to these questions, but do take a minute to answer them for yourself. Maybe share your musings in your feed on discord. When you check clearly and honestly inside yourself, what is the thing that pulled you towards imaginal work? If you had to answer “what is this for? What does this work do?” to yourself right now, before diving any further in, what would the small voice inside you say?Another reason to start with View is simply the fact that you can’t ever lay out your View of imaginal work once and for all and be done with it. It will evolve and shift over time; it won’t be something you consciously create for yourself, but something you notice about yourself, something you become sensitive to when working with an Image.Because of this, it’s best to start building sensitivity from the very beginning. From the first time you go into an Image, you should have some small fraction of your attention directed towards the question of “what is my View here? Is there any sense of what axis I’m working along, of what I feel I’m accomplishing?” Keeping a finger on this pulse pays dividends over time, and is often a key element in allowing us to expand our ideas of what is possible, both for the world and for us as individuals.

Common Views

If you’ve taken a bit of time to examine your own motivations, hopes, aversions, misgivings and so on about imaginal work and what Views you might be holding, we can move along to other common Views in this space.

I’m going to cast a very wide net in this section, pulling in different Views about any and all types of image work (notice, some of these I wouldn’t even count as working with capital-I Images, just with images). While we go through these, stay sensitive to your own internal sense of each. Do some of them seem familiar? Irresistible? Intriguing? Do others seem stale? Repulsive? Boring? Take note of all of these–there’s just as much information in what makes you feel gross as in what enlivens you.

  • Sports Psychology & NLP: The Control Panel View

  • “If I’m feeling stressed, I can spend 3 minutes visualizing a mountain stream, and that takes me from an 8 down to a 4”

  • Images are a helpful control panel for the body and mind, allowing us to turn the dials up and down where we want them.

  • IFS & Exposure Therapy: The Medical View

  • Something is wrong or broken, and Imagery can be used to heal it, to fix what’s gone awry and bring back balance and function.

  • Classic Enlightenment: The “Viewless” View

  • I have reached a place beyond fabrication, beyond mere Views. I see True Reality, the formless is-ness of creation. Others are stuck in “versions” of reality, but I am beyond them.

  • Yidam & Theurgy: The Apotheosis View

  • Through dwelling on and cultivating divine images, I take on their qualities. I make space for the divine within me, and become a vessel for the sacred. I become sacred myself.

  • Vipassana & Mindfulness: The Distraction View

  • Images will come up in meditation; this is natural, and nothing to worry about–you should simply ignore these images and continue bringing your attention back to the breath.

  • Parents: The Harmless Fun View

  • “Timmy has been talking a lot about some kingdom he imagined; ancient ruins, epic battles, talking animal friends, the whole nine. He talks about it like it’s so real. The parenting books say this is a pretty normal phase, so we just tell him to not talk about it much with people outside the family; he’ll outgrow it eventually.”

  • Neuroscientism: The Brain Static View / The Random Epiphenomenon View

  • Dreams are a side effect of memory consolidation that happens while we’re sleeping. Imagery that comes up in contemplation is simply the result of the brain being starved for input and wanting to create some for itself. Think of it all as brain static, nothing important.

  • Chaos Magick & New Age: The 'The Secret' View

  • Imagery, visualization, and impression-cultivation can help us navigate from our current life to more beautiful and fulfilling lives. We can surf from one timeline to the next as we find the reality tunnel that best suits us.

  • Meta-Take: The "These Are All Views" View

  • So Views are like a swiss army knife, none of them are ultimate or true, you can just switch between them to find the ones most suited to a situation, or leave them behind and go Viewless to work with formlessness. Cool!

  • ...so many more.

There’s something that seems cheeky, bordering on demeaning in listing out all these different Views–like I’m presenting a list of Common Mistakes or something.I’m not. There’s nothing particularly wrong with any of these, and I’m guessing a couple of them resonate pretty strongly with you. I know a couple do for me. (And maybe you, like me, see one that resonates more than you’d like to admit.)I’m not going to recount any problems with any of these, but I am going to point out that in a lot of them, we can see a strong, strong trace of the ego’s goals and desires.I want to be careful how I talk here: there’s nothing wrong with allowing the ego to take some satisfaction in this process. One failure mode of a lot of meditation programs is to ignore or be hostile to the ego; if you do this, the ego tends to be hostile back. It throws a wrench in the works, over and over and over. (Sometimes, being hostile to the ego is necessary–but it’s far less necessary than a lot of masochistic Views seem to think it is, especially when starting out.)So on the one hand, it’s fine to do this work for reasons that please the ego.On the other hand, I’d recommend against making those the sole or main reasons for doing the work–and I’d recommend keeping an eye on the egoic Views over time. As you continue, it’s a very good sign if the ego becomes quieter and less insistent on its own Views, its own goals. It’s a much more troubling sign if they get stronger.

With all this in mind, I want to state clearly that I’m not really interested in convincing you of a Best View for this work, or that you should approach the imaginal with the same View that I do.For each person, the View will emerge naturally from the sadhana, and it will change over time. You can try to “pick” a favorite View or a Right View, but it will basically always fall apart as you continue working with Images and unearthing deeper layers of insight.It’s good to keep an eye on your Views while engaging with the imaginal, be mindful of what you sense you’re getting out of Imaging, what the Imaging is for in your life. Beyond that, don’t spend too much worry on locking down a Correct View. Just notice which ones are present, and keep an open inquiry into how workable they are.I am going to share a sliver of my own View, as it has been taking form lately, to show you a direction I think is well worth exploring, and to show you the types of Views that emerge from the work itself, rather than from intellectual, egoic ideas of What The Imaginal Can Do For Me.

An "Active Worlding" View

The imaginal leads us to both personal and more-than-personal content. It takes a certain amount of tidying up the personal before it’s wise to explore the more-than-personal, but when we do, it tends to explore us right back.We bring elements of our own lives into the imaginal to express them, interact with them, and unknot them; and in exactly the same way, elements from the imaginal often want to hitch a ride back with us, to be expressed in our lives, in our waking world.This back-and-forth, this essentially conversational nature of the imaginal, means that the second we start in with Active Worlding, we are involved in the unfolding of things that want to be unfolded; we have certain responsibilities towards the expression of things that want to be expressed. These might want to be expressed as gestures, words, drawings, construction projects, philosophies, or collaborative business plans… almost anything, really. Part of the trick here is becoming sensitive to what wants to come back to the waking world with us, and to how it wants to be expressed there.

In the video below, I'll discuss the above session on Views; hopefully seeing my face and hearing my voice while I talk about these things will clarify the intent behind the writing. 🙏

That’s the broad sweep of what I want to discuss for this first session. View is vital, and we need to be sensitive to it without being judgmental about the Views we find inside ourselves–and without sticking stubbornly or moralistically to the Views that we think we ought to hold.Please give some real time to sense into the above, journal on it if you’re able, as well as on Practice Zero and Practice One. In the first session, we’ll spend some time discussing, questioning, and practicing around these questions. Feel free to add highlights and comments of things you’d like to dig into further, or questions you’d like to ask.


I’ve been staring at this blank page for about ten minutes, attempting one thing, then another, then another to give a brief, cogent introduction to what an *image is. Something to anchor what we’re talking about, and why you should care.With all this backspacing, I’m starting to realize how hard it must have been, back at the start, to convince people to give meditation a try.Nowadays, you say the words meditation, mindfulness, zazen, anything in that family–people have a whole mental suite that comes with those syllables. People know how to approach them. There’s a century of cultural infrastructure that has built up multiple meaning-complexes around those activities that let us know what type of thing they are, some reasons why one might approach them, where you’d go to get a few different viewpoints on them, the whole deal.But can you imagine being one of the first people in the west trying to convince more people to do this meditation thing? Starting from scratch, without any of that load-bearing cultural infrastructure–just you, the practice, and a person who doesn’t quite know what mental box to put your words into.

“So you just… sit there?”“And focus on the breath, yes.”“I breathe all the time without focusing on it, why should I waste attention on something so basic?”“Well it’s hard to put into words for someone who hasn’t experienced it, but when you focus on the breath, something… happens. A certain… quality? Of experience? Unfolds?”“Riiiight. And is this quality of experience more fun than the experience of watching tv or playing football?”“It’s not really about fun.”“So it’s about the experience, but not a fun experience? The experience of sitting still and breathing? Sounds like a step backward, like something babies do because they can’t do anything else.”“Err…”“Can you give me one or two sentences telling me why I should care about this at all?”“It will transform your life and your mind if you surrender to it.”“Yeah, I think I heard that about saunas too; but all I got there was heat stroke.”

This is basically the situation I’m in here, trying to explain what *images are and why we might want to work with them.Which, I’m not complaining. Just setting the table, noting the task. As a wise man once said, "we can complain about it or we can git gud"So here's to gitting gud: take 1.

Let's Try Some Appeal To Authority

“The years... when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this.”

-Carl Jung

“The wealth of the soul exists in images”

-Carl Jung

“Each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny. As the force of fate, this image acts as a personal daimon, an accompanying guide who remembers your calling. The daimon motivates."

-James Hillman

“The images are thus emissaries of this mission to restore psychological balance and they, therefore, wear outward forms which are most relevant to the individual’s specific issues... The images thus have secret knowledge to impart and play a serious role in the psyche.”

-Gelareh Khoie

“To see through the literal to the image is to glimpse soul. Imagistic perception is psychological vision.”

-Thomas Moore

"In this view, images are seen as the mediator between the unconscious and conscious levels of being. What is known at the unconscious level finds expression in a person’s thought and actions through a person’s images. Images are thus seen as the source of inspiration, ideas, insight and meaning."

-D. Clandenin

“A mutual caring envelopes the relationship, or, as this situation was put in antiquity, the daimones are also guardian spirits. Our images are our keepers, as we are theirs.”

-James Hillman

“Since imagination forms us into our images, to perceive a person's essence we must look into his imagination and see what fantasy is creating his reality.”

-James Hillman

Alright, now that I’ve good and thoroughly impressed you by what smart people have said about Images, you shall be forced to agree that they’re real good, and you’d be real wise to engage with them. But that leaves the questions of “what is an Image, tho?” and “what exactly does ‘good’ mean here?”If you insist.First, let’s take a look at what Images aren’t:They are not purely visual representations of something. Even if you’re aphantasic, or just have a hard time visualizing things, you can still have a very rich Image practice.The most common starting point to find Images is dream-imagery, and for good reason; dreams provide good pointers toward what we’re looking for. For example: dreams usually have visuals, sure–but often, the visuals aren’t the most important part. A lot of the time, the atmosphere, or emotional undercurrent sets the tone much more strongly:

  • You are standing at an ATM in a small town. An old woman stands behind you, reaching into her purse for gum. Terror permeates the scene. It’s late afternoon, the sun is still out. Something violent and eldritch is either present or on its way.

There’s nothing we can see, hear, or touch in this scene that is sparking the emotional tone of the dream. An old woman, an ATM, late afternoon–these are not the stuff of terror-stricken paralysis. But those aren’t the only senses you have in a dream. You are also directly sensing the emotions in the air, the quality of the place. Additionally, you are sensing information that’s not available to your usual senses: notice, there is no gum in the dream. You never see it, never hear the wrapper, never see the old woman chewing: you simply matter-of-factly know that she’s reaching into her purse for gum. The information is in the atmosphere, available for the sensing.Noticing things like this is pure gold for Image practice. We need to become aware of new capabilities, new sense organs, new modes of understanding the scenes we find ourselves in. We have to become sensitive to things we otherwise don’t notice, like the fact the gum was sensed, not seen, or that fact that throughout this dream, there was an incredibly subtle background quality–a texture, almost–of spoiled meat. It’s hard to explain how that quality was sensed, but suddenly(!) you realize that it was always there, just under the surface of the entire experience.

Of course, Images occur outside of dreams too. We close our eyes, return to our Home Bases, and enter into an empty, receptive space where Images can arise, and slowly, we notice an impression of a cathedral; of being inside a cathedral, looking up at the stained glass windows.The way we treat emergent Imagery like this is informed by how we treat dreams. We could try to pin down different sensations, make them more crisp and legible. But this rarely seems to lead to much more than a nice visual. Instead, we return to noticing. We take a moment of stillness to sense into the atmosphere of the place–is it actually a cathedral, or is that just what it reminded us of? Is there any action taking place here, any sense of narrative? Does the atmosphere contain any information, any impressions, any inklings of what wants to happen here? Everything begins with noticing, with sensing.Everything that can be sensed with the inner senses: that is Image. Whether it’s a complex visual of a gothic castle with servants pouring in and out and an army on the horizon, or it’s the subtle impression of someone being forced to do a task they hate–both of these are Images, and both can be approached with sensitive noticing.1

The question “what is an Image” doesn’t really have a meaningful answer that can be verbalized, any more than the question “what is a smell” has a meaningful verbal answer. To explain smell, you lead someone to your kitchen and try putting various things in front of their nose. Inhale cinnamon: this is a smell. Inhale kimchi: this is a smell. Inhale water: this, this is an incredibly subtle smell; you’ll need to give yourself time to build the sensitivity to recognize it.
The same principle goes for *images. That dream you had about the strawberries and the bear trap? That was a cluster of Images. That moment you looked your cat in the eyes and had a vague, subtle sense of your grandmother looking out at you? That was a subtle, almost unnoticed Image. The realization that you’d had the tone-texture of The Wasteland shifting in the back of your mind during this paragraph, recalling the line “a heap of broken images,” that’s an Image too; the kind of Image that comes and goes unnoticed a dozen times in a day for each of us.

The question “what is an Image” doesn’t have an answer, or at least no answer that won’t unduly influence the way you approach your Images.It would be accurate to say that Images are gods, a vast pantheon of gods. That when you notice and work with an image, you are entering or refining a relationship with Hermes, with Marduk, with Odin, with Krishna.It would be accurate to say that Images are calcified bits of your personality, in need of interaction, palpation, and reconnection, so they can return to working fruitfully within the vast physical-energetic system that is your body and mind.It would be accurate to say that Images are archetypes. After all, one of Jung’s early terms for archetypes was Primordial Images, and his entire psychological system was built on his interactions with these Primordial Images.It would be accurate to say that Images are angels, or daimons, or djinn. That Images are fae, the denizens of the world within and beyond our world. That *images are aliens, sending you information downloads in the densest data packets available, and your work with the image is to unpack and unfold its multidimensional data.Any given one of these, or any given mix of these would be accurate for different people; accurate not in the sense of ontologically true or verifiable,2 but accurate in the sense that this is how the Image wants to be treated, and is the approach that will allow the Image to unfold itself.The problem that comes in here is largely linguistic. I’m sure you can see it, just by your reaction to some of the above framings.If I tell you that Images are compressed data packets from aliens, I’d have an empty Zoom room pretty quick.If I tell you that Images are angels, and we are touched by their grace, one or two of you might stick around to hear more–but this description will color the whole way you approach the work. It will close some doors and open others, but these are very likely to be a very different arrangement of doors than would emerge naturally for you.If I treat them purely as psychological constructs, I don’t think I’d lose anyone, but it would definitely color the work, constrict the possibilities, and rob you of a lot of the transformative potential that runs through this kind of work.Still, hopefully from the above limiting views of Images, you can start to triangulate what they are and what they may become for you. They are some mysterious substrate that runs through angels, gods, mountains, guides, subpersonalities, and ten thousand other things. They are a way in to Mission and Soul.

Before moving forward, spend some real time working with and journaling on Practice Two.

1 Note: sensitive noticing is necessary and foundational, but not by any means the entirety. Part of a View I seem to hold is that it’s good to walk before you run, so to speak–so what I’m talking about here is safe, slow walking. I highly recommend finding the simple joy and sturdiness that come with sensitive noticing; it’s an excellent foundation.2 Now might be a good time to mention my devout Ontological Agnosticism with all things Imagistic. I don’t know what images “really” are in an ontological sense, and at this point I don’t care. “The Image shows us how to show up.” They will teach us how to approach them, how to interact with them. We might make mistakes along the way, but that’s fine.A big problem that can block the work is deciding in advance what an Image is and how it should be treated. If you decide that Images are purely psychological, only in your own head, that’s going to cause problems in working with an Image that, e.g.- presents itself as a message beamed to you from a dying planet orbiting a distant star.There’s no need to re-arrange your life and become a UFOlogist and start an alien-based cult if this is the image you get–I’m not suggesting taking these Images literally and at face value (that’s exactly the kind of concrete thinking that gets in the way), but I am inviting you to develop a skill for Provisional Belief. A skill for carving out some time and space in your life where you allow yourself to believe (or act as if you believe) silly, dangerous, impossible things, even if it’s only for the 25 minutes it takes you to drop into an Image and work with it before dinner.


We’ve talked about Views, the foundational layer of how we see this type of work, what we think Images are, what is happening in this space. And we talked about Images, these things that teach us how to see them, that provide us with a language they can talk to us in–these things that may wish to be related to as teachers, animals, angels, fae, messages, portraits, ghosts, or any other number of things.Today, we dip into Activation: the actual opening practice that gives us a way in, and some ways to go about it.

Jung's (re)Discovery

My background is in Jungian Active Imagination, so I want to pay some respect here and briefly point out a couple of important points about Jung that I think are criminally under-emphasized.For anyone who’s unfamiliar with the broad strokes of the history:Carl Jung was Freud’s star pupil and heir apparent; then they had a break. Basically, Freud needed everyone to toe the line and support the view that libido (life force, psychic energy, the thing that patterns Will) was sexual/erotic. Jung, on the other hand, believed that libido could be patterned in other ways–that there were driving forces within the human mind other than sexual/erotic urges. This, along with other simmering disagreements, got Jung excommunicated, essentially. He lost friends, patients, social standing, and much of his reputation as a psychologist.He was having a bad year, to say the least–and adding onto everything else, he began to get overwhelmed with images, powerful visions that took him over to the point where he started wondering if he was going mad. He asked The Spirit of the Depths for a sign–what are these images, what do they mean, what should he do about them? This was the beginning of the inquiry that would eventually produce The Red Book.If you’re not familiar with The Red Book, it's an illuminated manuscript Jung wrote and illustrated by hand, giving an account of his encounters with Images, inner figures, inner scenes and narratives. In his own words, he describes this time in his life as the spring from which all the rest of his subsequent work flowed. Everything you’ve heard or read about the anima, the shadow, archetypes, all the other Jungian ideas–-they have their roots in The Red Book, in his encounters with these inner Images.Later, he started using with his patients the same method that he used for exploring his own Images; this came to be called Active Imagination, and it’s the main way that most people start working with inner imagery even today.Now here’s the part I think gets under-emphasized: Jung describes the beginning of this work as happening to him automatically. It wasn’t something he planned out, found a good method, and went for it; no, it came while he was overwhelmed with visions. He was weary, he was overwhelmed, he was dealing with his whole professional life falling apart, and in the middle of all of this, he reflexively dropped into a way of relating to the imagination that he’d had as a child. This way of working came up for him automatically, from his own forgotten past.I find this to be absolutely key.People treat Active Imagination like it’s a particular technique, a Right Way to do something–but the point was never that particular technique itself. The point was that Jung found that technique within himself. That when he turned to face the images, that way of working was what rose up.The first couple chapters of The Red Book consists of Jung repeating over and over again things like “This is my way, you must find your own,” “I found my own path here, you will need to discover yours,” “I came in by this way, you will need to find another entrance,” or “woe betide those who live by way of examples, life is not with them.”Me, I think we should listen to Jung.Active Imagination can be an excellent tool to help us get in the gate, to get us working with these images, facing them, relating to them, and so on. But once we’re in the gate (whether we come in by Active Imagination, or Shamanic Journeying, or Dream Tending, or an artistic trance or anything else), we need to wander the rest of the property for ourselves. The stories and advice of others should be taken seriously–not as laws or regulations, but as field guides to the type of things you may or may not find for yourself.Okay, enough background: how do we actually do it?


"The point is that you start with any image... Contemplate it and carefully observe how it begins to unfold or change. Don't try to make it into anything, just do nothing but observe what its spontaneous changes are.
"Note all these changes and eventually step into the picture yourself. If it is a speaking figure at all then say what you have to say to that figure, and listen to what they have to say.
"You not only analyze the unconscious, but also give the unconscious a chance to analyze yourself, and therewith you gradually create the unity of conscious and unconscious, without which there is no individuation at all."

-Carl Jung

That’s it, basically. You hold an Image in your mind, observe it, sense into it, observe its natural unfolding–and then, if there’s need to do so, you step into the Image yourself, interact with it, speak with it, etc.It’s quite simple, which isn’t to say it’s always easy. Many people have trouble early on, usually things like

  • “I can’t tell if I’m making the *image change, or if it’s changing on its own, how do I tell?”

  • “The Image is glitchy, or slippery. It jumps and slides around, I feel like I can’t concentrate on it or solidify it.”

  • “The Image is just sitting there, nothing about it is changing.”

  • “I tried to sit with one Image, but different ones kept jumping in, one after the other after the other.”

All of these tend to “fix” themselves with time, practice, and concentration 1

Training Wheels

I tend to think of Active Imagination, when practiced this way, as something like a really useful set of training wheels. It a) allows you to choose in advance an Image you want to work with, b) lets you start with simply noticing and sensing what is present or latent in the Image, not feeling pressure to “journey” within it or “accomplish” tasks there, and c) provides a very open framework that anyone can get into. It doesn’t make specific claims that you are journeying into the spirit realms, or the astral–it simply says that we are processing unconscious material, trying to bring about greater unity and integration in our consciousness.Later on, you may find that your Images lead you pretty hard towards another View–that you are receiving ancestral memories from Atlantis, or engaging in psychic battle in the astral realm, or on a pokemon quest to catch all the images… god knows. But that’s for you, and that’s for later. In my view, it’s best in the beginning to start with as broad and palatable a view as possible, and wayfind from there. I’ve seen many people drop out of this type of work because they were introduced to it in a way that wove in Views they found unbelievable or appalling or silly. In my opinion, that’s entirely an unforced error on the part of those teachers. Why bother trying to convince someone that they’re e.g. journeying to the Spirit Realm to meet their Guides and gather their Soul Fragments? Why should you be invested in other people seeing the work that way, when it may do little but alienate them from doing the work at all?Aaaaanyways. Active Imagination is the best set of introductory training wheels I know, and I highly recommend it. That said, if other angles call to you right from the start, feel free to explore those. I would only put out one more warning, couched in one more reason I like Active Imagination for this:The final reason I love Jungian Active Imagination for beginners is that it’s a little boring. Compared to some of the other Views and techniques available, it doesn’t have much neon-effervescent sparkle to it. It’s redolent of therapists’ offices and German philosophers. Other techniques ask you to transform into a crystal falcon and soar over the shadowlands; Active Imagination asks you to subtly sense into the color of the jacket your brother was wearing in that dream last week.There’s about a million reasons I think it’s best to start with the boring fundamentals, but a big one is this: the rhythm of the work will naturally take you through periods where there is way too much excitement going on, and back through periods where things get incredibly subtle, verging on boring.If you start with everything ramped up to a hyper-cinematic 11, you’re more likely to quit or push toward unhelpful directions when it calms down again. But if you start with the subtlety, the slowness, the fundamentals–you’ll quickly get a feel for how transformative and beautiful even subtle work can become, and you’ll be happy to rest in it when the rhythm naturally leads you back to it later on.

Mutual Autonomy

Okay, final notes.We’ve talked about this before, but it becomes important again when we start doing this work: it is unspeakably helpful to treat the Images as autonomous. They are figures with their own agency; they desire things, they push and pull; they want to be treated in particular ways; they have a certain makeup.When we are Activating an Image, what we are doing is Activating a connection to that Image. It’s tempting to view the situation as something like “I hold the Image in my mind’s eye, and as I feed it with my concentration, it begins to take on life.”I’d argue that the more accurate view is something like “when I hold the Image in my mind’s eye, I’m calling the phone number it left for me. I’m waiting for it to pick up.” When the image “comes alive” and begins unfolding, that is when it has picked up; that is the conversation beginning.And since it is a conversation, remember: every day, your conscious mind is the one talking non-stop. It’s often good to use this other conversational space as a place where the unconscious (the Image) can become a little more talkative. That’s what all this sensing and noticing is about–we’re learning to be good listeners.

Practice Three pairs well with this lesson, and Practice Four is for the road, to continue working with as you continue your imaginal journey.

1 This is probably a good time to note: Image work in general benefits greatly from being paired with other practices and modalities. This is its own whole subject, but a couple of the more obvious ones are:-Meditation helps with the concentrating and relaxing aspects, the dropping down into the Image-space
-Somatic awareness helps bring more awareness to the physical aspects of Images–where they’re located, what physicalities they evoke, interior textures, etc
-Prayer (or sth like it) helps w relating to Images as agents in their own right. Both prayer and this view of Images are things many people have a lot of difficulty with, but the whole texture and timbre of the work changes if you can find a way to talk to the images and treat them as powerfully agentic and autonomous.
-Singing, chanting, or vocalizing are weirdly amazing ways to transmute and vent the energy from these Images when it becomes overwhelming. (This may sound too woo, or not have a clear enough cause-and-effect for you to take it seriously, but really: if an Image is bringing a lot of intensity, try humming for a bit, or letting out a yelp. Just notice what happens)

Practice Zero: Dream Return

An exercise to try before our first meeting, if you're able to make time for it.
I'll keep the instructions intentionally brief and vague, so take them in whatever direction feels right to you:
Close your eyes, drop into meditation/trance in whatever way is comfortable and usual for you.
Call up a dream, an image that still feels like is has some oomph left in it. Recreate the scene/impressions, and hold them in your mind's eye.
Pay attention to this process, and hold the scene as vividly as you can for as long as you can.
Does anything new happen? How does the image behave? Can you sense anything about this scene that you didn't notice before?
Just stay in the scene, open your awareness to it, and allow whatever wants to unfold to unfold.

Practice One: Home Base

The home base serves two main functions:
It speeds up the dropping-into-meditation aspect. If you associate the same image/place with the same mental state over and over again, it becomes much easier and quicker to drop into that state simply by calling up the image.
It acts as an airlock between waking life and image-work. In the home base, you should feel safe, agential, and alive. Before going into image work, you can stop at home base, drop any feelings/tensions/etc that you don’t want to carry into the image with you. And on the way out, you can drop any tension/stickiness/etc that you don’t want to carry back to waking life with you.
Choose a place, it could be real or imagined, but it should feel safe and alive. Notice the place taking shape in your mind’s eye; this will feel like a mixture of creating the space and allowing the space to unfold. This can be tricky at first, but it comes easier with practice.
For this first exercise, simply stay in the space. Notice what you can about it–what’s there, how you feel there, if anything wants to change or move. The goal here it to make this space familiar and stable, to make it unmistakably yours. Everything else is built on having a reliable home base.

Practice Two: The Lake

The purpose of this exercise is to sharpen and deepen our access to imaginal senses like dream-knowing, checking the emotional atmosphere, and non-visual sensing.Breath, relax, drop in.Find yourself at home base, and allow that place to simmer for a bit.
On every in-breath, notice what you're holding onto, in your mind and your body; On every out-breath, let it melt away.
When you've stabilized here, you leave home base, and you start to find yourself by a lake in the woods. The lake is still, the woods are quiet, the sky is clear.There is something in the lake. Something vital.
Use your time here to feel, to notice, to sense whatever you're able to sense about what is under the surface of this lake.
Take as long as you need. Do whatever you intuit to be a good next move. There's no wrong way to go about it, no way to fuck up.
Sense into the lake. Notice what is there.

Practice Three: The Raw Practice

This one can be difficult for beginners, but it is a wonderful practice when more experience comes into play. To help you along, I’ll provide you a little more structure here than I usually go in with.
The goal of this practice is to simply enter image-space, allow whatever wants to arise to arise, and then to follow it intuitively.
For this exercise, you won’t be going into image-space entirely unstructured–I’ll give you a seed phrase to help poke at the image space and allow images to be evoked.
Choose a seed-phrase; this should be 1-3 words that feel alive to you at the moment. Some examples of the type of seed phrases people tend to choose are: aliveness; objective reality; flowing with life; nothing to fix; destruction; knowledge; higher realms; mother; untethered; etc…
Drop into home base. Take time there to drop into the desired state for image work, something in the area of trance or hypnosis.
Once you’ve stabilized the desired state, say your seed phrase out loud, a few times. Notice how it feels in the body when you say it. Notice what it brings up emotionally. Notice any images that come up. Notice the entire space of your experience, and what ripples or waves the words cause there.
Follow whatever comes up, going by intuition, and allowing everything to unfold through your noticing it.

Practice Four: Build-A-Bear Practice

One really good imaginal skill to develop is the ability to notice an issue you’re having, and develop a practice that allows you to explore it further. We’ll practice this a little bit in this section, playing around with common metaphors: in this case, The Higher Self, The Deeper Self, and The True SelfThis part is best done in-session with the group (we'll get to this in the next meeting), but the main idea here is to practice building an imaginal practice for yourself, based on resonant metaphors. These metaphors shouldn’t just “sound right” intellectually, they should be ones that click for you intuitively and somatically.STEP ONE: feel into each phrase, and notice if there’s one of them that clicks for you more than the others. Higher Self. Deeper Self. True Self. Which one seems right?STEP TWO: close your eyes and feel into the phrase you chose. What comes up in the body, in the mind’s eye, in the senses? Have a pen and paper ready to write down, brainstorm-style, what types of images/sensations/metaphors come up around this phrase.STEP THREE: Out of the Images that came up, choose one of them that strikes you as particularly evocative, or as feeling somehow right for this idea. Now, taking as long as you need, drop down into meditation, into Home Base–and from there, summon up the *image you chose and follow it where it wants to go. Watch it unfold. Sense into it. Continue this until the journey feels done. Then return to Home Base, and return to waking.CODA: journal on the experience. What went well, what seemed off? How might you use this same process for issues other than “Higher/Deeper Self”? Consider issues that are coming up currently in your life, and what metaphors or images you might be able to use to interface with them imaginally.

Next Steps

I first put this workshop together close to a year ago, and stopped running cohorts a few months ago. I have quite a bit of distance from it at the moment, something I noticed very acutely while reformatting the material as a website. A lot of my ideas have shifted, and the entire way I go about teaching this type of material has changed immensely.Since I ran this workshop, it's become clear that for the majority of people, a lot of somatic work is necessary before engaging with the imaginal's full potential, so I created the Somatic Resonance course to fit that need. It would make a great next step, if you're interested in going further with the imaginal.If you want to chase up the thinkers that influenced me and the ideas I've developed both in this workshop and since, some good starting points would be Rob Burbea, Carl Jung, James Hillman, Reggie Ray, Eugene Gendlin, and Chogyam Trungpa.I also do one-on-one work, if you'd like to push forward in your own direction with my somatic-imaginal guidance.The workshop may be archived, and my thoughts may have shifted since then, but I hope that anyone working through it is still finding it instructive and evocative for getting in touch with their own practice. If you've found it helpful, please consider contributing either to my Patreon or by buying something.Thank you, I hope you found something to love here.