White, Judith and Jill Fischer. Embodied Imagination. The Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreams, Barret, Deirdre and Patrick McNamara, (Eds.). Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2012, pp.244-247.
Embodied Imagination (EI) is a method of working with dreams and memories that was developed by Jungian analyst Robert Bosnak in the 1970s. Currently, it is practiced with individuals, couples, and groups in psychotherapy, medicine, theater, art, and creative research. The technique draws from such disparate influences as analytic psychology, neuroscience, alchemy, ancient incubation practices, method acting, and complexity theory. EI employs artificial flashback memory to help an individual enter a hypnagogic state, a state of consciousness that naturally precedes the onset of sleep. With careful and supportive guidance, a dream or memory environment is re-experienced as a composite of its many perspectives simultaneously. Bodily responses to images, viewed as a form of intelligent communication, are integral to the technique. While new insights emerge, the process initially bypasses the intellect. Instead, an expanded body awareness, based on a change in interoception as well as a shift in the experience of external stimuli, is the catalyst for change.
One key element of EI is the exploration of ego-alien images, those with which the dreamer does not originally identify. Slow observation of the sensory details of these images facilitates a type of mimesis, through which the dreamer inhabits an unfamiliar body along with its associated subjective state. Recent studies of virtual reality confirm that people can psychologically inhabit other bodies (Yee and Bailenson 2007, 271-290), even bodies radically different from their own (Slater et al. 2010). Moreover, this research provides strong evidence that imaginal shifts in body awareness carry over into waking life behavior. For example, after subjects left a virtual environment in which they acquired a virtual body or avatar, the quality of their social interactions varied with apparently imperceptible changes in height and attractiveness between subjects and avatars. In EI work, transits into unfamiliar images are made with “dual consciousness,” in which the dreamer never loses a sense of self-as-dreamer.
Increasingly, Embodied Imagination is used in concert with traditional medicine to help people with health concerns, a component of which is often chronic pain. Clinical examples abound in which EI work creates new states that embody health and well-being. Significant healing effects have been documented in people suffering from an array of conditions, including cancer, AIDS, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. The following cases are illustrative: a woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer was able to sustain a renewed sense of circulation in her legs for weeks after she embodied the strong, natural stance of a Micronesian woman who appeared in her dream; a man living with an AIDS-induced facial droop and partially immobilized shoulder and chest was able to regain his range of motion for years after entering the subjective experience of a crease in a jacket he had dreamed about (Bosnak 2007, 57); after practicing composites from a series of dreams, an arthritic woman found herself walking in a body that lifted her out of her painfully inflamed joints (Fischer 2010, unpublished case study); and following work for eight consecutive weeks in a form of Embodied Imagination called Brief Depth Intervention, the long-term emotional and physical pain of a woman’s clubfeet decreased, replaced with a new body sense of strength and movement (White 2009, 8-11/30).