Active Imagination: Ne? Ni? Both?
Carol Shumate, October 1, 2014
When I first began using type concepts to teach writing, I had a simplistic understanding of the functions: I understood intuition, sensation, thinking, and feeling undifferentiated by attitude. Therefore, I assumed that all students with a preference for intuition would enjoy playing free-association word games. To my surprise, some of them did not find these exercises useful; in fact, many of them either would not or could not engage in them. It was not until some years later that I discovered the reason for this: introverted intuition (Ni) and extraverted intuition (Ne) are oppositional. If we are engaging one of these processes, we cannot also engage the other at the same time. I have come to believe that it was the verbal, interactive quality of such word association games that seemed to block the normal creativity of Ni dominants. In asking introverted intuitives to play such in-class word games as a way to begin writing, it seems that I was requiring them to surrender their superior function. A mantra for using type in writing, developed by John DiTiberio and George Jensen (1995), is: Write from your preferences, edit from your non-preferences. My introverted intuitive students were getting blocked by my directions, which required them to begin with a non-preferred function.
My question now is, which functions do we use when we engage in Jung’s favorite form of internal reflection, active imagination? Jung conceived of this unique form of meditation as a vehicle for building a bridge between consciousness and unconsciousness, and further, for connecting our personal unconscious with the collective unconscious. In a series of dialogues with James Hillman, Sonu Shamdasani (2013), describes this transpersonal aspect of Jung’s use of active imagination in The Red Book:
In reflecting on himself, he does not come across at rock bottom his own personal biography [sic.], but it’s an attempt to uncover the quintessentially human. These dialogues are not dialogues with his past … but with the weight of human history. (p. 18)
The essays in this issue, “Type and Archetype in Dreams” by Chris Beach and “The Integrity of Carl Jung” by Jennifer Soper, both describe the results of what could be seen as active imagination dialogues. Both authors agree with John Beebe in seeing Jung as an INTJ (although there is also evidence that Jung could have been an INTP). Whatever the case, it seems to be true that introverted intuitives embrace this form of meditation and do not find it to be ego-dystonic, or out of synch with their own ego’s mode of operating. Soper’s essay describes just how the Red Book figures play this bridging role between the personal and collective unconscious. Beach’s essay models for us a way to use the eight functions and their archetypes in dream interpretation; he uses an exercise to interrogate a client’s dream as if he were speaking from the viewpoint of the eight functions. This exercise, treating each function as if it were in the dominant position, appears to have something in common with the imaginal figures in The Red Book that Soper describes, each of whom represents a function in the Hero position. Might Beach’s exercise also be a form of active imagination?
Is it the transpersonal aspect of active imagination dialogue that attracts and engages the introverted intuitive mind? Is the extraverted intuitive mind also attracted to this form of dialogue, or does the Ne mind engage differently in this form of dialogue?
DiTiberio, J. K., & Jensen, G. H. (1995). Writing and personality: Finding your voice, your style, your way. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.
Shamdasani, S. and Hillman, J. (2013). Lament of the dead: Psychology after Jung’s Red Book. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co. Inc.
Arkhip Kuindzhi, “Waves” (c. 1870)