“Imagination lays the tracks for the reality train to follow.”
-Caroline W. Casey, Visionary Activist Astrologer
A few years ago, I attended a talk given by R.J. Stewart at the International Human and Fairy Relations Congress, an event held annually in the eastern Cascades of Washington. R.J. is a Scottish seer, musician, and author dedicated to regenerating the magical core of Western earth-centered spiritual traditions. He was speaking of the breakdown in communications between the fairy kin-dom and modern humanity, or more simply, why we can no longer easily see or communicate with fairies. He attributed this to the change in our imaginal “landscape.”
The gist of the discussion, which I have heard echoed in other talks and conversations at the many congresses I have attended over the years, is that in previous eras the human imagination was much more attuned to the mythical dimensions of Nature, to the perennial stories and characters through which Gaia dreams the world into existence. This archetypal homeland, shared by all the tribes of Creation, has provided a bandwidth of mutual intelligibility, a lingua franca, a commons of communication. A large faction of humanity has since left this commons, broken the agreement of respectful relationships, and left behind the “talking stick,” the heartfelt way to connect to others.
We moderns have created our own imaginal space. It is a skull-enclosed kingdom that plays the movie of our egoic projections, and the “rush world” we’ve created. We’ve got the electronic media buzzing and flashing through our heads, broadcasting the normalcy of a busy, busy hive mind in pursuit of purchased rewards in an advertised reality. We become saturated, overloaded, with these manipulated sounds and images, to the point where they block out and corrode access to the ancestral stratums of our humanity.
It’s very difficult for the fairies to dial into such an environment. Access is made even more challenging by our materialist assumptions that deny they, and others in the devic realm, even exist. This situation has gotten to the point where some fairies have decided to stop believing that humans exist as well! This has all done great damage to the relations between the fairies and the humans, which percolates up into our various ills of disenchantment with the world. The Human-Fairy Relations Congress was founded to address just this issue, to reestablish a positive harmonic between the realms.
As I listened to R.J. speak on the impurities of the modern imagination, I considered its relevance to my extensive work with the great Amazonian plant teacher ayahuasca. Because this decoction (concentrated tea) detoxifies both body and mind as a prelude to its higher visionary gifts, it is best to be as clear and empty as possible before you drink, to save both it, and yourself, time and trouble. The traditional advice for preparing yourself (and taking care of yourself afterwards) is to avoid what are considered to be disruptive influences, such as sex, gossip, pork, alcohol, and spicy, greasy foods.
In recent years the list has come to include such things as television, violent movies, and shopping malls. Why? Because they pollute your imagination, and on the sacred medicine, what is in your head often becomes your visionary experience, or tryp (from “tryp”-tamine). It appears the spirits use the raw material of your imagination to craft much of your experience, and the quality of the materials you provide determines, to degrees, the quality of their co-creative (with you) handiwork.. More simply, you detoxify by confronting what you’ve entered into your head.
I’ll give you an example. On one of my early trips to the Peruvian Amazon to work with the plantas Maestras (Teacher plants), our group stayed in a local hotel the night before leaving for the forest. My friend in the adjoining room flipped through the channels of late night TV, and came across a gay porno channel. She had never seen such a thing, and sat transfixed before it for close to half an hour. Sure enough, two days later, her first dose of ayahuasca took her right into the gay porno realms, which she had to deal with for most of her journey.
Another example from my own experience illustrates how tryps become influenced by the way the imaginal world is “programmed” in the weeks or months prior to a ceremony. I used to teach university classes in between my sojourns to the Amazon, and on one occasion taught a course entitled “Sociology and Philosophy of Religions” (at a Catholic college contracted to a U.S. Military base no less). I used this opportunity to study and delve deeply into the right wing Christian fundamentalist mind, the one so deeply engaged in the war against Nature. I was aided in this by a woman in the front row of the fundamentalist persuasion, who used to shield herself with her bible whenever my lectures became too blasphemous.
Upon arriving in the Amazon soon after, I thought maybe I would be brought to task to work out my relationship with this woman (who complained about me to school officials, and I never got to teach a religion class again). But no – what I found was that I was to be granted what I had “asked for.” That is to say, it appears that the spirits of the University of the Forest decided to teach me about Christian fundamentalism. And in this university you become that of which you seek to know, a kind of extreme empathy. In essence, I became a Christian fundamentalist, an experience that gratefully lasted less than two hours.
The lead up to this shapeshifting included visions of a Puritan figure, complete with Pilgrim hat. I witnessed him making a deal, a high order of black magic, with predatory forces that appear to feed on human greed, that offer the intoxication of power without responsibility. I saw this deal as the beginnings of a 500-year bad tryp for much of humanity. I saw the confluence of these forces as a black metallic dragon, a thoughtform that has been dining on prime cuts of greed, largely served up by the American dream, for centuries.
What better disguise for this thought-form than as … god. This god will give you all that you ask, all the largesse and ego inflation of empire, in simple exchange for you to cease to think for yourself, for you to go into denial of the feeling wound inflicted by raping others of their rights to a peaceful existence. This god will do your thinking, and feeling, for you! And as the adherents of this god submit to its power, the plundering continues, more enemies are created, the world becomes more chaotic, and the winged juggernaut grows more fearsome and uncontrollable.
As this scenario played itself out, I became caught in a maelstrom of fear that followed in its wake. This was compounded by the effects of living in the U.S., with the perpetual cops on the highway, airport security, the drug war, corporate mafia takeovers of government, negative media, and so on. It reached a point where I became psychically unmoored. Adrift in anti-meaning and a growing terror of insanity, I heard the whispers of “nice” people who are “right.” They invite me into their fold and want to save me. Ah, rescuers! – offering me community, support, money, maybe a wife a place in society – a chance to be … a … normal … good and godly American.
I gave into it and was welcomed by all these “right” people into their world. And there I existed for a time, all the while thinking something wasn’t quite right, but not questioning it too much as I was so glad to be at harbor. However, the incongruities grew to the point that I had to question this god, which these people didn’t like at all, and next thing you know, I vomited my way out of there.
Understanding the Imagination
Among the many teachings I carried away from this experience, I learned that when we are put into a crisis, we have essentially two choices. To either: a) use the opportunity to go deeper into self-understanding, the perennial tradition of “know thyself”; or, b) go deeper into denial, and allow other people think for us, which invariably sweeps all the shit that created the crisis under the rug for it to ferment, and create a bigger stink. No blame. Being human isn’t easy, and we are all capable, at some level, of making the choices of those we so readily judge. However, the latter choice brings with it predictably unpleasant karmic consequences, the payback of a Faustian bargain we see in the world today.
These two choices reflect two ways to understand the imagination. The more positive way defines the imagination as the ability of the mind to be creative and resourceful, the function of a spiritual faculty (as in,“Use your imagination”). The more negative one defines it as the part of the mind that subjectively distorts and fantasizes things, the function of an immature ego (as in, “You are imagining things”).
The question then becomes: To what extent is our imaginal world a house of mirrors reflecting our own fragmented self, and to what extent does it tap into the wellspring of Creation, the anima mundi, the Source of our very existence?
This question can be answered by the quality of one’s life, with misery and happiness attending each end of the imaginal spectrum. However, one can be stuck in misery and not motivated to move out of it because the fragmented self in contemporary life is considered normal, and many such normal people have no reference for a higher state of wellbeing. For those of us drawn to the prospect that there must be something better, we would do well to look for answers long exiled from our world, to such forgotten or suppressed things as fairies and gnomes – and plants that are in many ways smarter than us.
For this, we need a more holistic worldview. We must see through the cracks of the 3-D empire and surface the deeper, more inclusive layers of consciousness, where all beings exist and all is interconnected. This, to me, is the ultimate purpose of the human imagination. It is to give expression to the creative matrix of Nature, to allow the whole to become more conscious of itself. As cosmologist Richard Tarnas puts it, “The human imagination is itself part of the world’s intrinsic truth; without it the world is in some sense incomplete.”
This understanding of imagination and its applications to our lives is how we overcome what philosopher Jacob Needleman calls the “foolish realism that sees only facts of the outer world and is blind to the laws of the inner world.” It is how we can make sense of synchronicities, of the whole breaking through the trance of our separative existence. It is how we can understand inspiration, the pregnancy of the world wanting to birth itself through us. It is how we find our voice, by feeling into the collective unconscious and speaking what the community needs to hear. The whole will draw from us what is needed. This is how we come into our own power, into our humanity.
It seems that while a rich, fertile imaginal life is a birthright, it has to be claimed – that is to say, the imagination has to be disciplined and developed. The carrier or the medium of imagination is our attention. Attention is energy, one that can be exercised like a muscle. The high arts of its development include the one-pointed concentration that comes of meditation, the energized focus of unselfconscious creative activity, and the merging of awareness and action in the present moment (often known as “flow”). If it is not disciplined or engaged in a healthy fascination, the attention wanders, is wasted, and often co-opted. The rise in Attention Deficit Disorders, the medicalization of a failure of the contemporary imagination and its mythos (as in, “Don’t understand it, medicate it”), is but one example. We find this reflected in the Internet as well, which has a downside of presenting information in a flurry of bits and pieces that likewise scatters our attention and weakens our skills of concentration.
A more visceral way to understand the imagination is as a clear or clogged channel, not unlike your intestines. When you feed yourself with junk ideas, become bloated with ideologies, create chronic constipation from identity fixations, and infest yourself with the parasites of media hype and its addictions, you cannot expect the nourishing flow of creativity to flow easily through your being and blush your life with its radiance. Nor can you expect to easily become as a hollow bamboo for the Goddess to play her tunes, as a hollow bone for the Great Spirit to sound his whistle. No – what is needed is to flush the system and repopulate it with the flora of rich archetypal perceptions and Divine visions. What is needed is imaginal hygiene!
Imaginal hygiene is the inner art of self-managing the imagination, to defend it from forces that compromise, pollute, colonize, shrink, and sterilize it, and to cultivate those that illuminate, expand, and nourish it. I feel knowledge of this and its application is essential to the story of human survival into the 21st century. Its practice is necessary for us to cultivate the visionary clarity and strength needed to achieve the great personal and planetary transformations that increasing numbers of us are being called to perform, for the capacity to transform is in direct proportion to the capacity to imagine.
The Ego Game
A brief overview of the “ego game” will help us understand the root causes of the sullied imagination (or as R.J. Stewart calls it, “impure”) and give us guidance on its proper care and feeding.
The immature ego is self-possessed. This creates a force field of contractions that distort everything in its range, resulting in anxieties, large and small. These are dealt with by reformulating reality to support various defense mechanisms, such as repression, denial, projection, and rationalization. This fills the imagination with memes of neurosis that interact with various other ego-based social agreements, such as basing an economy on scarcity, or national security on domination.
The resulting warps in reality can be understood as growing pains of our self-awareness. It is a form of the timeless “hero’s journey,” whereby the adolescent must leave the family to go out, be tested through ordeals, and then hopefully survive and come home matured and able to serve and revitalize the community. As a young species in the society of Nature, humanity has, to degrees, gone on a journey of separation from the Gaian community. We have been tested by the various ordeals of mind/body identification and the superiority complex that attends it. This crucible has alchemized a supple and expanding self-awareness in many of us that is leading us home.
As we, collectively, appear to be in the crisis phase of this initiatory journey, the ego-game has intensified in recent centuries. It has made us heir to a left-brain bias, which in its radiant, lopsided glory presents us with an exclusively patriarchal, rationalist, Cartesian, reductionist, and mechanistic-dominator model of existence.
Everything else, all that has been cast out of this story of progress – the body, emotions, other cultures, other eras, other forms of life, the animal kin-dom, the earth community, women, children – all become unconscious. Like buried gold, these are the elements that the impoverished imagination must rediscover to regain its wealth.
Meanwhile, the globalization of empire has created even more inventive permutations of the ego game. It has spawned opportunistic forces that feed our fantasy lives to the point of obsession. Whether it be Internet porn, celebrity gossip, social networking, or sanitized news about a war, the imagination becomes severely degraded by the toxic brew of illusory pleasures mixed up by the control systems of empire.
Cycles of Addiction
A step on the path of cleaning up this mythic mess in our heads is to make us more fully conscious of the vicious cycle of addiction symptomatic of the corrupted imagination.
If we compare the healthy imagination to a verdant and diverse forest, its compromised state is equivalent to the aftermath of a clear-cut. The vacant “land” can then be freely colonized, developed by forces with agendas all their own. I saw a telling example of this kind of this invasion when I visited Southwest China in the early 1990s. It is a traditional Chinese custom to protect houses by putting up poster-sized talismans on the front doors. Walking down the cobbled streets of one rural town, I saw posters with fierce, glaring-eyed Taoist deities brandishing swords. As the streets turned to pavement, I noticed that two Mao-hatted army men on horses had replaced the deities. Further down, I saw a poster with three uniformed members of each of the Chinese armed forces standing at attention with arsenals of weapons behind then. Finally, I came across front doors plastered with pictures of red-starred missiles.
A colonized imagination is often installed with denatured replicas of, or references to, its former self, not unlike a housing development that names itself after what it destroys, like Hawk Ridge or Woodland Park. I call this phenomenon the “Las Vegas effect.” It occurs when the sacred is used to promote secular ends, and results in a succession of diminishing returns. It’s the idea that because the sense of wellbeing based on money and its glamour bardos is inherently short-lived, the only way to prolong the satisfaction is to create ever more novel and intensified stimulations (McMansions, reality TV, boob implants, etc.) to get a rise out of ever more numbed senses. Las Vegas, as the temple city of Mammon, is busily copying the world’s sacred sites and mythic icons, including the Gaza pyramids, great Sphinx, Taj Mahal, Camelot, and Oz, in attempts to milk what imaginal juice it can from the originals to impress its visitors, who in turn need ever larger doses of spectacular spectacles to keep them coming back.
The Las Vegas effect permeates contemporary American culture, as we seem to be particularly susceptible to the con. Democracy becomes a front for imperialist aggression, peace is used to justify war (even naming missiles “Peacekeepers”), and an economy is called healthy that destroys the resources that sustain it. In the throes of what eco-theologist Thomas Berry calls a “mythic addiction” to commercial-industrial power, profit, and technological superiority, we continue to burn the bridges to the Divine and content ourselves with bridges to nowhere. Confronted with a spiritually barren culture, a meaningless cosmos, the only self-fulfillment left is to keep buying, to live to shop. The chronic attempt to satiate a spiritual hunger through empty materialism creates a viscous cycle of self-destruction, which begets more self-hatred, more desire for escape, and so it goes round in, thankfully, unsustainable fashion.
Strategies of Empire
In our attempts to keep our imaginal world healthy, and sovereign, it is useful to be aware of the various strategies the empire uses to keep us enmeshed in this cycle.
The first is the danger of the news. There is a kind of psychological warfare perpetrated through the massive amount of manipulation that passes for the news. Huge negative thought-forms are created when great numbers of people sit fascinated with the latest disaster. When we willingly allow our attention to be used to strengthen these thought-forms, we perpetuate the assumptions that the world is a fearful place. We thereby waste the energy of our attention, which could be more gainfully directed towards enlightening our lives and the world.
The second is the danger of advertising. Advertising is a form of spells. Spells comprise the magical power of language and image to effect changes in the world. When, like with advertising, they are used to compel someone to do something, they encroach on free will. They activate whatever of our energies are in the grips of consumer addiction and deplete the energies we have to counter this drive.
Advertising is one of the great tools of the corporate oligarchy to promote their mythology – not just in the commercial sphere, but also in they way they run governments. Essayist Gore Vidal identifies this quite plainly: “There’s no such thing as a war on terrorism. It’s idiotic. These are slogans. It’s advertising, which is the only art form we’ve invented and developed. It’s lies.”
However the mass media may capture your attention, its intent is to program your imagination with the storyline of its sponsors. We all know the narrative. Commentator Bill Fletcher, Jr. sums up a version this way:
“The settlers were heroes; the indigenous people were either heathens or naive primitives, but in either case they were in the way of progress. Slavery was an unfortunate episode that was cleaned up by the Civil War, though it has never been quite clear that the former slaves were ever meant to rule themselves, let alone anyone else. US foreign policy has generally been benign, nearly always driven by either a God-given imperative to improve the world or our sense that the planet would be better off with our version of capitalism and democracy.”
This is the self-image, the reality of the “real Americans” referred to by Sarah Palin, the “real Virginians” referred to by former senator George Allen. And in case you want to question this story, remember the admonition of George Bush at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit: “The American way of life is non-negotiable!”
When we allow ourselves to be implanted with such a pre-packaged narrative, we eventually become dependent on it, as it erodes the creative drive to manifest our own reality. It is not unlike a heroin addiction. Just as the body responds to heroin by slowing the production of endogenous opioids (endorphins) to the point where the body “forgets” how to produce them, an artificial reality conditions us to forget how to create our own. We then become dependent on the “reality in a box,” and at the mercy of the authorities that control the box. The withdrawal from this reality is very difficult when the creative drive to “know thyself” becomes atrophied from neglect. There are in fact few things more dangerous than a person who refuses to change his or her reality story in the face of changes that make the story impossible to maintain.
When our attention is captured, when our inner voice is silenced, a hostage mentality begins to manifest. Just as the “Stockholm Syndrome” tells us that hostages often identify with their captors as a form of psychological survival, we too easily give up our basic human rights, our prospects for a better future and all that would set us free, to be complicit with our captors. Many of us even wear leashes around our neck, called “ties,” as a sign of our subservience. Is it any wonder then that the U.S. has the world’s highest percentage of its population incarcerated? Even John McCain agrees, referring in his Oct 8, 2008 speech to Americans as “my fellow prisoners.”
The fear that underlies the hostage mentality clouds the reception of the energy currents that bring love and beauty into the world. When this happens, we become so pre-occupied with our problems, themselves the projections of a captive imagination, that we become prisoners of our own design. Cramped, confined, frustrated, and confused, we see little but our own distorted interpretations. Fear begets fear and we see terrorists of every variety, everywhere.
Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron tells a story that illustrates this. A woman once told her that her parents had a bought a house in a gated community in Florida for their retirement years. Contrary to expectations, they began to feel less safe then before. They became suspicious of every repair-person or gardener who came through the gates. They quit going to the beach for fear of the uncontrolled possibilities, and reduced their trips outside the gates to a minimum. Similarly, the paranoid post-911 federal administration has done its best to turn the whole country into a gated community, with hundreds of miles of fence building in the works along the Mexican border, the declaration of need for U.S. passports to travel in and out of Canada and Mexico, and stepped up harassment of foreign visitors.
Gardening the Imagination
Being free willed beings, we, of course, do not have to agree to all this – to live in the fear wards of the collective imagination. We can choose to live in the garden! The discovery of this not-so-secret imaginal garden comes as we bring the light of awareness to the unconscious. The world so re-integrated opens up a way of life, a path of personal and cultural renewal. In support of the garden path, what follows are just a few suggestions on how to cultivate an imagination that can flower and fruit in acts of conscious evolution.
We may want to begin with pulling out some of the more invasive weeds. This could involve turning off (or better yet, getting rid of) the TV. A kind of Frankenstein hearth fire burning in so many homes, television is probably the single biggest negative influence on the group mind today. Besides being a prime organ of propaganda, it also shapes children’s imaginations to resonate with a hyperactive reality, leaving them less able to receive and grow with the subtle teachings offered by the world of Nature.
As most of us have grown up with the TV, and similar influences, it is helpful to re-pattern ourselves by spending quality time in untrammeled natural environments. This is where we can recover communication with the normally unheard voices, where we can refine our senses and learn to use them in a more balanced ratio to one another. We live in a society dominated by visual (books and moving screens) and, to a lesser extent, audio information. Touch, smell, and taste are largely undeveloped or, more usually, numbed. With all five senses up and running in interactive relationship, we are restored to a full-spectrum ecology of knowledge and gain a much truer perception of the world. For instance, we are not fooled by things that look or sound good, but don’t feel good. We thereby become more immune to the seductive wares of reality sharks, of the glamour spells cast by the Las Vegas effect.
Working with systems of correspondences (like astrology, the I Ching, or the Tarot) educates the imagination in the language of the transpersonal layers of the psyche. Becoming fluent, or at least conversant, in the soul glyphs of the numinous realms, the apriori realities, allows us to make much greater sense of their expression in the life we see around us in the 3-D world. This helps us to read the world, to become literate in its symbology.
As Nature imparts guidance to humans most directly through visionary experience, it is wise to familiarize oneself with the proper management of altered (or more correctly, restored) states of consciousness. The occasional rite of passage, of death and rebirth, provides us with opportunity to clear away the fixations that keep our imagination anchored to an outworn sense of self. Traditionally, this is done by creating a fluid state of being, not unlike the living soup found in a chrysalis. The human being in this vulnerable state must be held and protected in some kind of safe container. However, in a fear-based culture there is no trust; if no trust, there is no letting go; if no letting go, there is no death to the old self, habits, and ways – which means that there is no rebirth. Without ego surrender, the Source waters of spirit cannot easily flow through us, cannot refresh our souls and renew our lives.
To avoid this path of stagnation, it is important to revision the universe as benevolent, as a great temple, and to live life as ceremony. These are cultural acts. They are inspired by these same Source waters (Its job), and takes perseverance, intelligence, and compassion to enact (our job). Sacralizing the world, however, is necessary for us to restore the relationships needed for us to safely, and gracefully, turn with the seasons of our lives.
Rites of passage happen collectively as well. Unfortunately, they are often reduced to the drunken revelries or staid formalities we associate with national and religious holidays. In contrast, the festivals, fairs, and similar gatherings that appear in the interstices and liminal spaces of mainstream society are often rich in the lost treasures of the imagination, for they allow the exiled archetypes, the forgotten deities, to reappear. These rise in power surges of creativity, for they carry with them the force of a system returning to wholeness, the momentum of Nature rebalancing itself. Such gatherings are significant incubators for new cultural forms, and we would do well to take advantage of them, support their evolvement and, even better, create our own.
Language is among the most important tools we have to tend the garden of our imagination. We want to work with a high ratio of verbs and metaphors, as these are the language of synergy, the magic of growth. Synergy comes when the combined action (a verb) of the parts of any ecology creates something greater than the sum (a noun) of its parts. It draws on the unifying gravity of spirit to effect wondrous, and often unexpected, results: like 1+1=3, or the alchemy of the good marriage. Jungian psychologist James Hillman illustrates something of this when he says, “For a relationship to stay alive, love alone is not enough. Without imagination, love stales into sentiment, duty, and boredom. Intimacy fails not because we have stopped loving but because we first stopped imagining.”
The language of analysis and categorization, on the other hand, is something we need to very careful of, for it excites the ego. We are now collectively crashing our way out of (hopefully) a centuries-long bender of unregulated egoic tendencies that, enabled by the rich analytical language of English, has been chopping up the world in a rampage of self-importance. The world so languaged fuels many nasty habits of culture, such as racism, sexism, and species-ism, and rationalizes the ideologies of separation, such as fundamentalist religions and economies, which tell us to keep doing more of the same. At root, this is all a gratification strategy, for the more people or things one is separated from, the more one can place oneself in a position of being “better than” (or “less than” – the ego doesn’t care, as long as it feels secure in its attachment to who it thinks it is). It’s the divide-and-conquer approach to reality.
In contrast, a healthy imagination is fed by considering what things do have in common – by making connections, and finding similarities. Such an imagination comes to life and breathes with parables, analogies, poetry, songs, and metaphors. When we fertilize our language in this way, we synergize the world. Much like Nature brings emerging properties into being – such as the wetness that comes of combining hydrogen and oxygen, lichen from algae and fungus, and humanity from the biosphere – we, too, can synergize zeitgeists from history, grooves from jamming musicians, and great love through communion with others. These emerge as verbs, processes and relationships, transformations and motion. If we choose to speak more in verbs and surrender to their flow, we will invariably run into the rocky outcrops of nouns so prevalent in the English language.
What, then, to do with all these nouns, with their flow-impeding dualisms? Some we can leave in our wake, while others are being worked on by popular culture. “Story,” “access,” “architect,” “voice,” and “message” are just some nouns that are now converting to verbs. To me, these are more signs that our collective imagination is organicizing – returning to the garden. That words like “e-mail,” “Google,” and “Youtube” have been rapidly verb-ified, is evidence that the process is going virtual, picking up speed.
Work on (re)organicizing our reality is the growing edge of language development. To this beginning, it is useful to mow down some of the mechanistic metaphors we have inherited, such as those that have colonized time (e.g., “The engine of change,” “Time is money”) and seed our speech with those that spiral us back round to Gaian lifeways (e.g., “The tides of change,” “Time is a great healer”).
To move from Machinetime to Dreamtime, it is also useful to make a conscious effort to ascribe life to all things. Name your car; say hello to your computer (my Mac responds with a softly beating light); and ask where things live, rather than where they are. (For some guidance on this, watch episodes of Pee Wee’s Playhouse.) Though some would say this is simply projecting human traits onto things, I suggest this is more about recognizing counterparts of our own traits in other beings, a kind of “Namaste” approach to the world.
The Imaginal Commons
This leads us into the great work of the rebirth of organismic cosmologies, the true home of the spiritually evolving, heart-opening imagination. Also known as eco-cosmologies, cosmologies of resonance, “as above so below” – in these all manner of atom, molecule, element, cell, plant, animal, ancestor, and deity appear less as “others,” and more as participants in the metabolisms of nested “bodies,” not only our own, but regional ecosystems, the earth, the solar system, and beyond. These nested patterns of resonance all work by the same principles, a kind of dharma of the universe that is expounded in all the world’s great scriptures. These scriptures can as well be “read” at their source, in the living world, if one has the imaginal cognition to do so.
I’m defining this cognition as the ability to apprehend form via the vitalistic forces that create it (e.g., sacred geometry, the herbalist “doctrine of signatures”), to know the behavior of things via the spiritual energies that underlie them (e.g., astrology), and ultimately to understand the world completely transparent to its Source. It is a faculty of perception, developed by an imagination that has the vigor to come once again into the great commons of communication, and to engage in council with the tribes of Creation. For those of us who have not yet tuned into the Nature channel in this lifetime, or only cursorily touched into it through various transpersonal encounters, I would like to offer a short discussion of what this re-engagement can look like, and open up to.
The imaginal commons is a place of origin stories, tales of never-ending events. These arise through the Gaian mind as paths of creation that vision, architect, and speak the surface world into existence. The mythic is the actual world behind the real world, the “actuality” that generates “reality.” The stability of the turtle may offer itself as an island; the mercurial intelligence of foxes or river dolphins can teach us to laugh and play tricks; the carrion-eating life of condors gives lessons in recycling; the mind-expansion qualities of peyote reveals itself as a sage; and the flow to a river may connect to the streaming tears of a forlorn woman, carrying away her sorrow. The mythical dimensions of these plants, animals, and elements carry the virtues, the power, the “medicine” of their physical form.
By knowing this internal topology of the world, all manner of divination, healing, sorcery, spiritual illumination, and shapeshifting, can be effected. This is done by linking an imaginative act to the spiritual power of a thing, and then directing it with an intention. This is essentially magic, a science of similarities. It effects change by bringing things together, just as reductionist science effects change by taking things apart. This often involves bringing two things with a mythic affinity (i.e., they come from the same place) together as two strands of an analogy; this to effect remembrance in the one that has forgotten its origins and purpose (and so, is dis-ordered) by connection to the one that retains the memory.
For example, in an act of song healing, the spark of light, the longing for peace buried in so many frozen hearts, can be freed by forging a vision between it and a dawning sun. By singing of this daily event and holding the image of its inevitable rising, the spark of peace will rise as the sun, thawing and melting the heart as it climbs the sky of the mind. There are countless ways to knit the world together through such subtle activism, the potential of metaphor to bridge the world of causality and result, vibration and form.
I feel this magical science of the imagination has to be drawn upon to effect the changes needed in the world. It is a way by which poets and songwriters may reclaim their bardhood to birth stories of renewal, instead of using their talents to dramatize their neuroses. It can also involve scientists and philosophers with work on the higher calling of cosmological unification of the world, instead of feeding the academic industry that has grown up around analyzing irresolvable (and, largely, self-created) dualistic conflicts.
The commons is calling to us, the fairies from the garden are banging on our heads, and though so many of us have lost the imaginal capacity to hear, we are all feeling it at some level. Wiccan earth-activist Starhawk tells of feeling overwhelmed by the escalating crises of the world, of helplessness at the prospect of time running out. And then, in deep meditation a voice came to her, saying, “You’re a witch. Part the curtains of time and plant the seeds of change in that timeless place where change has already happened.”
We, too, need to do our activating from that timeless place, from the commons. Once tuned in, we will find that our ability to imagine our future is inseparable from Gaia imagining hers, and we will gain a direction and power to manifest positive change in the 3-D world. I trust we will find that the darkened times we are in are actually the necessary stimuli for the radical change in consciousness needed to evolve our species into something else. What is that something? Use your imagination!
Image by Creativity+Timothy K, courtesy of Creative Commons license.