Exploring the Paradox of Individuation and Enlightenment: Through Active Imagination, Dream Yoga, and Sleep Yoga

” We may say that the essential nature of the mind is like space, because both are empty, but mind is aware while space is not. ”                                                                                                -Milarepa, 11th century

” But if the God moves into the self, he snatches us from what is outside us. We arrive at singleness in ourselves. ”  -C.G. Jung, The Redbook

” To die, to sleep; To sleep, Perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come . . .”  -William Shakespeare

In Jung’s own quest for individuation, he studied the teachings of self-realization in Taoism, Tantric Yoga, and Tibetan Buddhism, leading him to insights critical to unlocking the secrets of the goal of Western alchemy, the coniunctio, the union of opposites. These concepts were at the heart of his psychology, yet Jung, paradoxically, had deep reservations about Westerners taking on the pursuit of Oriental enlightenment. Jung writes: “He (the seeker of nirdvandva) wishes to free himself from nature; in keeping with this aim, he seeks in meditation the condition of imagelessness and emptiness. I on the other hand, wish to persist in the state of lively contemplation of nature and of the psychic images.”

“Lively contemplation” is an apt description of active imagination, one of Jung’s most powerful tools for individuation, which evolved from his self-experiment, his “confrontation with the unconscious,” and culminated in the revelations and visionary paintings of the Red Book. Active imagination, a practice wherein one’s waking consciousness enters into a dialogue with different parts of one’s self rooted in the unconscious, was described in an essay in 1916 but not published until 1958. The Redbook, begun in 1914, remained a “secret doctrine,” until it was deemed ripe for publications by his heirs in 2009.

Similarly, many Tibetan writings were kept hidden. “The Secret Visions of the 5th Dalai Lama,” begun in 1674, remained concealed from the public until 1987. It recounts in words and colorful illustrations the inner mystical life of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama as well as relating teachings he received in visions from the long dead guru Padmasambhava. Padmasambhava’s 8th- century teachings on dream yoga had been secreted in a rock capsule until they were unearthed six hundred years later. Tibetan dream and sleep yoga, only recently taught openly in the west, promotes the use of lucid dreaming, where waking consciousness reawakens into the dream to interact with the illusory dream environment as a preparation for experiencing death and the bardo. Lucidity in the daily life leads to lucidity in the dream, and potentially leads to lucidity in deep (non REM) sleep in order to abide in “non-dual awareness,” the primordial, unconditioned state of mind and ultimately enlightenment.

In tonight’s program we will look at the paradoxical concepts of individuation and enlightenment at the intersection of active imagination, dream yoga, and sleep yoga in light of the historic genesis and evolution of these practices and their value in modern psychotherapy. This paradox could bring Hamlet’s question to mind; “to be or not to be.” For Jung the answer might be “to be” with awareness, then might the Buddhist answer be: “not to be,” with awareness?


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