Approximately a month before I was released from the netherworld of the prison yard, I weighed more than I ever had in my life. Not knowing anything about fat, carbohydrates, or heart rate and exercise, I started fast-walking around the prison yard per diem, every day. While I managed not to gain any more weight, I did not lose any either. When I was released, I continued walking--usually ten miles a day. I did not gain any more weight and I may have even lost a little.

It was my fantasy to be slim and again have a size thirty waistline. I wanted to look good to improve my chances with women. I also attended daily AA meetings. During the two months before starting my education at Barstow College after my release, my fantasies of women in AA meetings and college classes motivated me to continue exercising. I enrolled in exercise classes for five consecutive years, then I invested in a home gym and have made exercising a diurnal process: exitus acta probat, the outcome justifies the deed.

Raff (2000) explains that "while imagination contains information about the other parts of the psyche and discloses the path to be followed, fantasy is about the ego's needs, desires, and quest for aggrandizement." (p. 45). My use of the word fantasy is res ipsa loquitur, the matter speaks for itself..

Raff (2000) supposes that "an individual's self is expressing a need to play music." (p. 45). I am going to transpose some of my words in place of Raffs'. An individual's self is expressing a need to exercise. In active imagination, the ego encounters the inner figure of the exerciser who urges him to develop a healthy lifestyle. He [the ego] resists because it would be too much work, and he does not have enough time; besides, exercising for health purposes would mean exercising for life. The inner figure counters that thirty to forty-five minutes a day is all that is required. Finally the person realizes that exercise is about physical expression and longevity (imagination), and not about looking good (fantasy). He tentatively begins taking exercise classes, and spends a little extra time every day with it. "This is an example of imagination, for the inner figure emerges with a distinct message from the inner world, and the ego encounters that messenger with integrity." (p. 47).

This is what happened to me, though I was not aware of it at the time. "In a fantasy," says Raff (2000), "the need to make music would lead to the ego's picturing itself playing in Carnegie Hall, or writing the great American concerto." (p. 47). In a fantasy, the need to exercise would lead to the ego's picturing itself as a buffed up body builder, or being pictured in magazines. "The message from the unconscious would not be about the inner world or the manifestation of the self any longer, but about the ego's need to inflate." (p. 47). The illusion thus created might lead to exercise, but when the person realized he was not going to achieve his goals as soon as expected, he would soon abandon the effort.

How many exercise regimens fall by the wayside because the exerciser's motives [ego] was in the way. His or her attitude is nitor in adversum, a struggle against adverse circumstances. Ego can be viewed in the previous sentence two ways: the contemporary way and the consciousness way. Either way, imagination reigned over ego. This process evolved over time, and so has the imaginal dialogues in which I find myself.

Before examining the alchemical imagination and Jung's active imagination, I spent a lot of time talking to myself (out loud, I might add) when I was alone--usually at home or driving. I still do this, but I have come to realize there is another way of describing it. These conversations are between me and someone else, usually someone I know. I am generally trying to convince someone of something. A friend who I ran with for more than thirty years is often the person I am in dialogue with--more often than not, I am trying to get Fred or Jack to accept my point of view about something; therefore, I have two entities in dialogue. Both of them have a point of view. "I" am ego. Fred or Jack is the voice of the self (unconscious).

Previously, my description of this behavior was that I was talking to myself. When this voice answered me, it was not the human Fred or Jack. It was my image of him. It was the Fred or Jack in me that answered. I must now place Fred or Jack in a didactic position, and allow him to argue his case. This is a process that needs nurturing. Now that I am open to it, it's happening. I tried visualizing different images to represent Fred and Jack--rather than my visual image of them as people. Apparently, the "I" has very little control over the spontaneous thoughts and images that pop up. These imaginal dialogues, for me, are the roads to active imagination. I am able to accept Fred and Jack's position and find images to replace theirs. With that, the circumspection of the alchemical process can continue.

In 12-step programs I have reinforced my internal locus of control. Prior to recovery, my external locus of control, placed the blame for everything that happened to me--out there: she made me do it; if the cops would stop harassing me; if only, and I shoulda, woulda, coulda. In 12-step meetings, we learn to ask ourselves: what part have we played in it? whatever "it" is. Questioning our motives is a tenet of 12-step programs. This simple suggestion can be thought of as a doorway to active imagination.

Freud wrote of a similar method (though I cannot find where I read it). He said that when he writes, he will often use questions to challenge his own points. He answers the questions, then does it again, and again. By making sure there are not any other questions that can weaken his argument, the point he is making is strengthened and reinforced. We might call this Freudian active imagination. I mentioned above that "now that I am open, it will happen. I was talking about an image to replace Fred or Jack.

When I was struggling with active imagination and a symbolic representation, I emailed my friend Bob--using him as a sounding board. Here is the idea I proposed in the email to him:

Remember the song I played for you? The title was Water into Wine. I am going to play it again for the creative part of a project I'm working on. The singer uses "father," referring to God, as a vehicle for his recovery from alcoholism. Since I am agnostic, it is understandable that the "father" part of the song bothered me. However, I have decided to substitute "ally" for "father." Don't you think this is a good idea? Of course you do. The counselor and the songwriter in you are not about to say, John, what a stupid idea. What kind of idiot are you. What in the hell is creative about playing a song that someone else wrote. Now then, that was really me speaking. Then, I answered myself as you--my ally--and I answered with ‘absolutely, John, it really is a good idea.' Bob, my ally, can come as anybody: Fred, Bob, Jack, my daughter, or Adolph Hitler for that matter.

I can already hear my audience: the accents of Manaz, Ruth, and Lukas directing me; I can hear Diane challenging me like she did our professor; I can hear Dale convincing me with metaphors; I can see John looking at me like I already knew the answer to the question I was asking. In my mind's eye, Catherine will whisper the answer in my ear like she has done before.

When Darrell is offering his wilderness adventures to kids, he'll also be ministering needed information to me. If I do not have a computer handy, so what? I do not need one--all I have to do is listen for those inevitable words in my head. I have saved Cheryl for last because she is the one that inspired me in the first place to do it this way. I emailed all of these people to find out what they were doing for the creative part of this project. One of my first responses was from Cheryl, who said she was thinking about doing something with movement or art. Her subtle mention of the word "movement" made me realize that I did not necessarily have to present something that I created with my hands.

During my recovery I attended many 12-step meetings, but I did not pray. Instead, I talked to myself and answered myself in the way I described above. Now I can enjoy the song much more because the "father" part of the song does not bother me anymore--I just substitute it with "ally." Recovery from addiction can also be thought of as an alchemical process.

The first coniunctio (conjunction) is the transformation from the dregs of active addiction to the clamor of abstinence. There is a death: the death of an inveterate lifestyle. Raff (2000) says "the ego that has reached this level in the work will have the nasty surprise of meeting its own death. If it is fluid and open enough to allow that experience to occur unhindered, it will quickly move to the next stage." (p. 118). Of course, many do not allow that experience to occur unhindered; therefore, the non compos mentis, the clamor of abstinence often results in relapse.

The second coniunctio is the transformation from abstinence to recovery. There is a death: the death of the dragon's teeth (seeds of strife) for recovery. According to Raff (2000), "Dorn called the second coniunctio the bodily union, and this reference is very significant. To move from the mental union to the bodily union indicates that integration has occurred; that is, what had previously been only an idea has become a living reality." (P. 133). During the stage of abstinence, addicts are literally trudging the road to happy destiny. Once the second coniunctio occurs, what was for varying periods of time only an idea, becomes a living reality.

The third coniunctio I do not include as part of the recovery process. Since the emotional development of an addict is callow, having stopped at the onset of the addictive process, the alchemical process of recovery can only hope to attain enough maturity to start the process again in order to individuate. However, the second coniunctio is a mental and emotional halcyon compared to the imbroglio of active addiction. Finally we see lux mundi--the light of the world.


Raff, Jeffrey. (2000). Jung and the Alchemical Imagination. York Beach, Maine: Nicolas-Hays, Inc.

Schwartz-Salant, Nathan. (1995). Jung on Alchemy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Author's Bio: 

After 40 arrests, five formal probations, four country jail sentences, and a prison term (as a result of chemical dependency), I turned my life around. I was released from prison in Dec 1989, and have been clean and sober since. I started at Barstow College in Feb 1990. Received my AA degree in '92 from Barstow College in Barstow, CA; BA in '94 from Chapman University in Orange CA; MHS in 98 from National University in San Diego CA, and finished with a Ph.D. from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA in Feb 2004. I have taught as an adjunct instructor for Park University and Barstow College. I can be contacted through my website or directly to my email account