When have you said to yourself, "It's only my imagination"? I've said it at a moment of strong intuition — intuition that subsequently proved to be correct — that lacked supporting evidence in the moment. I've also said it when I've had a glimpse of a wonderful future — and then betrayed that vision by diverting my energy to listing all the reasons it cannot be.
When we dismiss imagination, we exile the part of ourselves that knows things that matter in an extraordinary way and has the power to re-vision and re-create our world. Imagination is the faculty of mind and soul that thinks and acts through images, which, as the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, are "facts of the mind." They borrow from our life memories and our sensory experiences, but they are more than copies; they can reshape and transform the raw materials into something new. And they can take on energy from a deeper source.
Using Imagination to Ward Off Fear
The family of a young girl, Sally, who was suffering night terrors, asked for my help. I gave Sally a toy soldier from my childhood — a Roman centurion — and told her that henceforth this would be her night guardian and would keep terrible things out of her space. I ran into the girl three years later, when she was about ten. "Lex is great," she told me. "Who is Lex?" I inquired. Sally was scandalized that I had completely forgotten the incident. "He's the Roman soldier you gave me!" She stamped her foot. "He's now ten feet tall, and whenever there's anything yucky around at night, he's right on it. I never have nightmares now."
This is an example of how an image borrowed from one level of reality can become a container for energy from several sources. I could simply have given Sally the idea of a night guardian, but it seemed appropriate, with a young child, to give her an object that embodied that idea. Through the power of imagination, that object took on a larger and autonomous life. A miniature figure became ten feet tall, and it appeared spontaneously, with the strength to send off psychic intruders. It became a storehouse for protective energy. This was partly the result of wishful thinking (nothing wrong with wishing), but I believe it was also the result of a transpersonal energy — and energy from a realm beyond worldly forms — coming to take up residence in the container that had been made available.
There is nothing imaginary (in the sense of unreal) about an image that comes alive in our mind. As the English philosopher H.H. Price put it:
"Paradoxical as it may sound there is nothing imaginary about a mental image. It is an actual entity, as real as anything can be."
We experience mental images, and "they are no more imaginary than sensations." The confusion comes in because we put down the imagination, wrongly believing that to "imagine" is to entertain false ideas or wander off into empty daydreams.
Get The Latest From InnerSelf
Since imaginary is so often equated with "unreal," we may save some time and clarity by substituting the adjective imaginal. This has a longish pedigree in the English language; it first appears (according to the OED) in 1647 in this context: "That inward life's the impresse imaginall of Nature's Art." The word imaginal has begun to acquire currency in recent times among both scholars and healing practitioners due to the influence of Henry Corbin's work on the realm of images in Sufi and medieval Persian philosophy.
The realm of images is a real world, as well as a creative state of consciousness. It is the region of mind where meaning takes on form and where objects take on meaning. True poets, in all ages, have understood that the realm of imagination is the fundamental ground of knowledge.
Life in Virtual Reality
Honoring our imaginations is of the most urgent and practical importance because, as the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius said, "A man's life is dyed in the colors of his imagination."
We live by images. They control everything we think and do, from brushing our teeth to making love, to speaking or not speaking in an office meeting. Images generate and constitute our experience of reality.
We tell ourselves that reality is out there, but we do not experience that reality directly.
"What we experience directly," says physicist David Deutsch, "is a virtual-reality rendering, conveniently generated for us by our unconscious minds from sensory data plus complex inborn and acquired theories (i.e. programs) about how to interpret them.... Every last scrap of our external experience is of virtual reality.... Biologically speaking, the virtual-reality rendering of their environment is the characteristic means by which human beings survive."
Our lives are more or less authentic according to whether we are aware of the role of images and of our own ability to choose and discard or transform the imagery that rules our interactions with everything. Hermann Hesse put this very precisely:
"There's no reality except the one contained within us. That's why so many people live an unreal life. They take images outside them for reality and never allow the world within them to assert itself."
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library, Novato, CA. ©2007 .
www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.
This article was excerpted with permission from the book:
The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence, and Imagination
by Robert Moss.
Have you ever said something was only a dream, only a coincidence, or only your imagination? In this book you'll discover that these ''only'' things can be keys to finding and living your bigger story. You'll learn to tap into the nine powers of dreaming, the nine rules of coincidence, and the seven uses of imagination. You'll be inspired by stories of how innovators and world changers have used these gifts, and you'll learn wonderful games to help you access your intuition, heal yourself, and bring juice to your everyday life. When we claim the power of the Three Only Things, we reclaim tools that are profoundly simple yet have the power to remake our lives and the world.
About the Author
Robert Moss was born in Australia, and his fascination with the dreamworld began in his childhood, when he had three near-death experiences and first learned the ways of a traditional dreaming people through his friendship with Aborigines. A former professor of ancient history, he is also a novelist, journalist, and independent scholar. Visit him online at www.mossdreams.com