If you missed it last Friday, you can learn all about how adorable Dream Eater’s Rakaro puppies are in the first QnA bonus comic here! I’ll be posting a QnA bonus comic every Friday until I run out of questions or it starts to interfere with other work. So far they’re very quick and easy to do so I’m hoping I can continue doing them for a good long while because they’re a ton of fun. Plus, I get to show you the softer, fuzzier side of some of the characters that’s not on display as much in the plot.
One of the techniques I sometimes use in conjunction with my therapy is called “active imagination.” Which is not “Wheee! I just love to imagine things!” but focuses instead on trying to bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind. Allowing thought processes, feelings, and defense mechanisms (complexes) to be personified in images and interacted with in an almost…stream of consciousness way. Like people sometimes do when they’re between sleep and wakefulness, or deep in a daydream. The goal is not to control the energy or outcome, but to interact with unconscious aspects of the mind in a conscious way.
It’s something that I am apparently unusually good at? Probably because this is very similar in process to how I craft scenes and stories. So I’ve been practicing the skill without realizing it for over a decade.
Anyway, sometimes when I’m struggling with a particular pattern of behavior, my therapist encourages me to try an active imagination. To see what that energy is trying to accomplish, what its motive is, what it wants. The answers are not always trustworthy or particularly clear, but they can be interpreted. This can sometimes give me insight on how thoughts and feelings that I’m less aware of are contributing to my behaviors. It can also make it easier for me to identify signs of a particular kind of pattern (anxiety, depression, etc) being activated in a given situation.
Recently I was having problems with reoccurring intrusive, obsessive thoughts. No matter how much I tried to explain them, shake them, or ignore them, they kept returning. So I tried to focus on how I felt when I had those thoughts, and let those feelings manifest in an active imagination. I thought it might be interesting to share the result. I closed my eyes, sat still in a restful position, and imagined that I was sitting next to a campfire in the woods at night, because it felt like neutral ground. The rest, I let evolve as I went:
When he first appeared it was in an outer shape of fear and terror. Snakes that coil about the neck, centipedes, insects of rot in a collective wave. This is a shape, but only an illusion. As soon as I realize this, the image disappears.
Then a thin, sickly, leathery creature. All hairless limbs curled cravenly inward, with gnashing teeth for anything that gets too close. This is an in-between shape. As soon as I realize this, it too disappears.
Finally I see his inner shape. He is a red cap, the look of a civilized creature with clothes and long beard, but no more trustworthy than his previous forms. He has a tiny curved knife that is very sharp, and when I look away he crosses the distance quickly to cut, although he aims to wound not kill. I learn this when he gets too close and slashes across the collar bone. He wants a fight but agrees to mind his manners when I steal his hat and bargain for its return. He tries to reverse time, to take back his attack as if he never did it, rather than apologize. Yet I still keep a small scar and the shadow of his hat. For a moment, we appear the same, and he chuckles.
He is here for old business. Very old. He is angry I never learned the rules. He punishes me with little cuts of intrusive thoughts in the hope that I will either learn where my place is, or learn to know better than to interact with other people. He reminds me that I don’t know how to fit in and I never have.
Yet when I challenge him, he grudgingly admits that there may be no such thing as truly fitting in.
The trick is, of course, that this defense mechanism has a vested interest in me believing him. What he says is the perspective of this pattern, not necessarily truth. It is still interesting to know how he thinks.
Have you ever tried an active imagination? Or to visualize how a feeling or other aspect of yourself might look like? It can be a pretty intense and interesting experience! Even if it does sound a little strange to describe.