Allan, a Psychosynthesis psychotherapist, began by explaining a little of the theoretical background.‘In 1911 Roberto Assagioli began developing Psychosynthesis’. Assagioli had initially been influenced by Psychoanalysis and the work of Freud, but over time had begun to feel it incomplete, his own emphasis being on bringing the different elements of the Psyche together as a ‘whole’ – which included the creative and transpersonal elements of the human experience. He felt imagination was as important to psychological function as thinking, sensing and feeling, that it was a vital precurser to change, as motivation and ideas are not enough. ‘Without the ability to imagine those ideas as realistic opportunities, we go with the flow of the familiar rather than step into the uncertainty of the new’. As Assagioli said ‘When will and imagination come into conflict, imagination wins’. (Frater, 2021).
‘What characterizes imagination is that it is found within all faculities (sensory, emotional, cognitive and intuitive) and brings them together without being subsumed by any of them’ (Frater, 2021). Stephen K. Levine said ‘Imagination can be said to be the ‘bridge’ between self and world; but we are ‘always’ on this bridge’.
‘Psyche’ is image: Carl Jung had said ‘Every psychic process is an image and imaginging’ – a way of seeing and speaking about the world as we or our clients feel or perceive it. It is important to remember imaginal speech and physical speech are not the same, and the only way to understand how to work with imagination, is to have use of a language which ‘spoke to and validated imaging as a transpersonal experience’. (Frater, 2021).
What can ‘serve as a basis for the healing effects of imagination’ is the immediacy of experiential processing underpinned by the Core Conditions during what Allan terms ‘eyes-wide-open waking dreams’. Waking dreams explore the borderland consciousness which lies between waking and dreaming. It was found, when explored within psychotherapy or everyday life, such waking dream imagery can suddenly present, in spontaneous ways, clues or clarity regarding here and now issues which can help support a client moving forward. Sensitive, empathic dialogue within therapy, is beneficial to exploring imagery and the imaginal space. It might be helpful to the client’s process if through their felt senses, thoughts and impulses any transference or imaginal perception of the therapist could be explored in the here and now. Phillip Pullman counsellled that ‘You won’t understand anything about imagination until you realize that it’s not about making things up; it’s about perception’.
Within the therapeutic relationship, ‘Healing has to be understood as the restoration of a person’s imaginative capacity….. this restoration takes place through the creation of an Imaginal Space between Therapist and patient.’ (Stephen K. Levine).
What is this Imaginal Space?
- It ‘brings consciousness to the process of imagining’ by:
- ‘Making provisional the limited fantasy Story’
- ‘Allowing the possibilities to re-imagine an expanded story of self and world’
To highlight the purpose of image and imagination, Allan shared an on-screen picture of a painting (by Van Gogh) asking us to view it with curiosity – ‘what did we sense, feel or perceive as we tried to immerse ourselves into the elements of the image’? The ‘hypnagogic state’ within waking dreams meant whilst being absorbed in the painting and the creative process of imagining, we also knew we were sitting in a group, in a room with noise and movement distraction around us.
Our feedback seemed to becoming more intuitive as our senses, feelings and perception came into focus, but it was also realised how hard it was not regress into analysing what we were seeing. We agreed there are other image-based techniques which may help us better focus on images and imagining within ourselves, i.e: guided imagery, Gestalt ‘Chair Work’, Art Therapy, Family Constellations, Psychodrama, Mindfulness, Meditation, Yoga, prayer or ritual.
Allan took us through the psychotherapeutic stages of working with ‘Waking Dreams’, which are very much held in the present moment, and gave a sensitive, knowledgeable demonstration of it at work. His empathic, thoughtful dialogue with his ‘client’, whom he held within the imaginal space, was underpinned by his awareness of when to intercede and when to just be alongside them was so enlightening. The Core Conditions could also be seen to underpin his work.
The stages explored in the ‘Waking Dreams’ process are:
Waking Dreams 1 – Entering
Waking Dreams 2 – Exploring
- Animistic Imagination: ‘Set aside the learned ways of perceiving the world as dead matter for your use, and see if you can recover again your actual perception of the world as a community of beings to whom you are meaningfully related.’ Kohak.
- Mechanical Imagination: What is metaphor?
Mechanical Reductionism. Mechanical Malfunction. Living & Dead Metaphors.
- Waking Dreams 4 – Shapeshifting
- Ecological Imagination: Images as Ecosystems; Fairy Tale Complexity Theory;
The Edge of Chaos & Emergence.
‘To the eyes of a man of imagination, Nature is imagining itself’. William Blake.
- Waking Dreams 5 – Emerging
- Fractal Imagination
Fractal Geometry. Fractal Imagination. Fractal Process and Mechanical Content.
- Waking Dreams 6 – Patterning
- Transpersonal Imagination
Transpersonal Psychotherapy. The Imagination Imagined.
Empiricism and Mysticism. Dualistic; Rationalistic; Narcissistic, Mechanistic.
Non-Dual, Transrational, Participatory, A Lost Imagination.
The complexity of this subject could not even begin to be explored adequately here. Fully detailed information about ‘waking dreams’, the quotes used and other professionals’ thoughts and ways of working can be found in Allan Frater’s book.
Thank you Allan, for an evening well spent.
Reviewed by Jacqueline Holloway
Frater A. 2021 ‘Waking Dreams – Imagination in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life’
TransPersonal Press (a Kaminn Media Imprint), Glasgow, Scotland.
Watkins M. 2000 ‘Waking Dreams’. (Thompson CT: Spring Publications, 2003)