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blog - Shannon Simonelli

Active Imagination and the Transcendent Function: A Moving Experience - Part 1

These are big concepts with whole books written about them. Jung and others have given us the gift of articulating them throughout their life work, explicating meaning and filling out the picture of these concepts. I like the idea of boiling them down to an essential seed thought – to let that seed thought work itself into your own inner knowing, and sprout your own connection with the essence of these organic and natural processes moving us ever towards our own inner work and inherent wholeness.

Active Imagination – “ …a natural process, a manifestation of the energy that springs from the tension of opposites, and it consists in a series of fantasy-occurrences which appear spontaneously in dreams and visions” Jung (1).

Jung gave name and form to active imagination in an effort to both support patients and free patients towards independent inner work, teaching them to notice and follow their own inner life; the inner images, dream figures and fantasy. He also includes but does not focus on sensory impulses, movement impulses and cues from the body as part of this messenger energy.

Think of active imagination as a way for the unconscious to reveal part of itself into more and more awareness…into our consciousness through little clues – if we pay attention, get curious and learn to be with these clues as metaphor and symbolic invitation we are on our way!

“The symbols of the self arise in the depths of the body” – Jung (2)

Being a mover myself, Authentic Movement is a great doorway into active imagination through the body. Where Jung focused primarily on fantasy and following the visual image, Mary Whitehouse, the mother of Authentic Movement and student of Jung’s, brought the body fully on board. In this practice of movement with eyes closed, there is also a witness holding safe space. Active imagination shows up in two ways: (1) the physical feeling of ‘being moved’ by the inner life, the unconscious coming into form and being followed…following the sensory impulse in the body, rather than a more ego expression of choosing to move in a certain way that ‘looks good or cool’ (2) following inner images through movement, giving form and shape to the unfolding imagery, epic journey and imaginal life, what Jung calls fantasy, as it reveals itself through the body. Authentic Movement, as a method of active imagination, brings the mover a more integrated experience of their wholeness and gives them access to the transcendent function. Click for a case example.

Transcendent Function – An invitation/opening to the wholeness of psyche. When connected with, the transcendent function is like rising above, or transcending the polarity of ego function and moving into the vastness of our embodied consciousness.

This is the essence of moving into greater consciousness; having tools, practices and supporting the inclination to become liberated from the often unconscious tensions that hold us stuck in the binding cords of our personality, woundings and patterns of being. This is the process of having an intimate relationship with one’s inner life and tools to take the personal journey into psyche’s wholeness.

As a starting place, having active imagination supported in a therapeutic process helps the patient/client have a witness or external holding force to allow the patient/client to open to and surrender into the expanded state of consciousness that accompanies active imagination and invites the transcendent function.

As people become more experienced navigating their own inner life and inviting the unconscious into awareness, they are likely engaging in their own active imagination process. As you reflect for yourself…I wonder what is calling for your attention today? Is it an image from your dreamtime or something that caught your attention on the way to work, begging you to notice and get curious? Is it a body sensation that is tugging for your attention or a movement that emerges and feels good if you close your eyes and get quiet for a moment? Consider all of these clues and invitations into your own inner life and active imagination…practicing following these bread crumbs opens the doorway to the transcendent function, so we might living into the greater wholeness that is already there, waiting for us to notice.

~Shannon Simonelli Ph.D., ATR

Shannon has her doctorate in Imaginal Psychology and Creative Arts Therapy. She has practiced, studied, and facilitated over 15,000 hours of Authentic Movement and uses it in her work. She is the co-founder of the NeuroImaginal Institute and founder of the Luminous Life Maps system. Shannon brings 25 years of depth work to private practice and to the dance floor, embodied creative transformation is her joy and true gift. All Shannon’s work is anchored in a deep trust of the body, the human spirit and the mystery that holds us all. http://www.ShannonSimonelli.com

Please reach out if you would like to get in touch: ShannonSimonelli@gmail.com

Works Cited

  1. Jung, C.G. as quoted by Chodorow, J. (1999). Dance Therapy and the Transcendent Function. In Pallaro, P. (Eds.), Authentic Movement (237-252). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  2. Jung, C.G. as quoted by Chodorow, J. (1999). Dance/Movement and Body Experience in Analysis. In Pallaro, P. (Eds.), Authentic Movement (253-266). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.


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