Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How is The Imaginal Realm Different from Human Imagination?

Someone recently asked me why I use the term 'Imaginal Realm,' and wondered if it was the same as 'imagination.

First off, the Imaginal Realm, like the Chinese Tao, cannot be named or defined.

We may examine the Imaginal Realm in the way a physicist studies an atom. Some activities and very limited results of the atoms existence can be observed, but never is the dynamic atom seen. If that is true of the miniscule atom, how much more of the vast Imaginal Realm which originated the atom? Perhaps these are more closely related than we realize as William Blake said, “To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower/Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour.” (Auguries of Innocence)

I use that term 'Imaginal Realm' to distinguish it from 'human imagination', or the 'imaginary' work of people. 'Imaginary' refers to what we make up with the human will, like making up a story, creating a television commercial or constructing ideas for projects, etc. The Imaginal Realm is beyond and before human imagination, or imaginary human musings. The two areas clearly intersect because all human 'imaginings' are ultimately connected to the Imaginal Realm.

The Imaginal Realm is the arena of dreams. It is the Psychic-Sea in which we swim. It is the Realm of Psyche or Soul. It most often takes us into the depths, into the deep, into the abyss, into the labyrinth, into the matrix, into the womb of darkness, into the caverns of Hades. It is the realm of myth and fantasy - but again, these are not humanly constructed fantasies; rather they are unexpected and alien ideas, daydreams, thoughts and emotions.

The Imaginal Realm transmits those intrusive and often annoying feelings of awe or dread that seem to arrive from nowhere, those waves of overwhelming love or murderous resentment, and those flashes of clarity or confusion that seem to drop in 'out of the blue'.

The Imaginal Realm removes our limiting blinders and shows us, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, the evolving Numinous Realm, the sacred spheres, the worlds of the Gods. Sadly, most modern humans try to assign the responsibility of all such experiences to the human mind and 'free will'. That is a huge mistake, and an impossible burden for us to bear. All ancient cultures realized that the Gods were the authors of such 'revelations'.

The Imaginal Realm conjures up the invisible playmates of some children, and sends us sudden insights into deep problems. It manifests itself as puzzling nightmares or shocking erotic interludes that interrupt our dreams. These perplexing images require us to move beyond a current ego-self, beyond the literal 'manifest content' of the dream, as Freud would say, to the 'latent content' wrapped in the dream's symbols. In other words, the Imaginal Realm loves to give us riddles and cryptic psycho-spiritual codes to crack. Humans love codes and riddles! That is why we are always finding religious, political and relational conspiracies everywhere!

The Imaginal Realm reminds us of our inevitable appointment with death, takes things apart we thought were solid and introduces transformational periods of depression, addiction, grief, insanity or other 'neuroses'. These useful psychological terms can also be misleading when we assume there is something 'wrong' with us and the cosmos. These necessary, normal and purposeful chaotic pathologies and painful symptoms, like the knotted root-ball of a potential plant, spread their tentacles into the deep rich loam of the Unconscious and prepare us to blossom.

The Imaginal Realm rearranges our understanding of 'love' and calls us beyond our ego and self will. It always surprises, troubles and nudges us beyond our current world securities and beliefs in what is taken for granted. It is the inner undiscovered jungle, and the Guide into that jungle of the unexplored unconscious, often showing up like Gandalf the Wizard from the Hobbit, prodding us on an adventure and into experiences which we could never have imagined would have entered our lives.

Rod Serling called the Imaginal Realm the Twilight Zone, "We are traveling through another dimension. A dimension not of sight and sound, but of 'mind'. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition; it lies between the pit of man's fears and summit of his knowledge."

The Imaginal Realm is like a stack of 10 trillion kazillion Lego pieces which can be constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed into an infinite number of images - both physical and psychical. It is simultaneously chaos and creation. The Hindu Sankhya philosophy calls this ‘prakriti,’ the eternal substance from which all physical and mental forms arise.
The Imaginal Realm is a crystal ball containing visions which may calm us or scare us. It was accessed by Shamans, Greek Oracles, Hebrew Prophets and Christian Apostles (cf. Apostle Paul, Colossians 1:15ff.). It is described in the Bhagavad Gita, chapter eleven.

The Imaginal Realm captures what we see when we shut our eyes and visualize, or listen to what is beyond the audible senses, and beyond our own intentional thought. Some today call it channeling, others call it being filled with the Holy Spirit or speaking in tongues. It is what Jesus referred to when he talked about 'the Kingdom of Heaven'. It is the Hindu Ganesh, a boy with an elephant's head. It is Alice Through the Looking Glass, Neo Anderson escaping the Matrix, Dorothy entering OZ through a tornado and all fantastic journeys into fantastic lands. It is the Realm of the Living Archetypes, which we call 'gods' and 'goddesses'.

Perhaps most importantly, we must remember that this Realm existed long before the human being, long before the human brain evolved. The Imaginal Realm is NOT synonymous with our neural biology any more than a television image is the result of the televisions internal technology. Both the television and the human brain receive their 'images' from a realm that is beyond the container holding the technology, beyond brains and microchips. To identify human bio-chemical cognition (the brain) with the Imaginal Realm may be the biggest and most deadly mistake in modern psychology, and the cause of our modern pharmaceutical culture.
Industry and technology are modern manifestations of the Imaginal Realm, but not to be confused with it, or seen as substitutes for humanness. The Greek God Hephaestus was the God of technos, constructing and inventing from the world of stuff, but he was homely and limped when he walked. Perhaps the Greeks recognized that technology, as wondrous as it is, contains a kind of ugliness and impairment of humanity. We see increasing numbers of people welded to their iPhone, iPod, television, computer or other techno-gadgetry. This is the shadow side of technology. There is a kind of ugliness and impairment of relational and communal intimacy. The wondrous product of the Imaginal Realm has replaced the Imagination, replaced revelation and creativity. We ought to stop using the ‘hardwired’ metaphor for the human brain. The Imaginal Realm reminds us that we are 'soft-wired,’ pliable – not machines. We need some Totos today who can do to us what the little dog did to the Wizard of OZ trapped behind his inhumane 'computer' screen. Toto drew back the curtain and revealed the human as primarily a receiver of personal contact, not a transmitter of second hand images.

The Imaginal Realm will never be defined, located or controlled. It is the sea of infinite potential and usually beyond human manipulation. I say 'usually' because at some minor level we are allowed to use our thoughts and intentions to create reality. But we do NOT create all reality. Man is NOT the measure of all perceptions, as Protagoras said. The Imaginal Realm created us as an author writes a poem, and It still continues to make us into unique poems. This realm screws with our perceptions in the most annoying ways.

Let me repeat: Most importantly, humans and specifically the human brain with which we are so enamored these days, receives the Imaginal Realm. The brain does not originate it. When this solar system runs down, shrivels into a smoldering ember and eventually fades into a cold, dead intergalactic debris field - after all sentient life has been consumed - the Imaginal Realm will continue to unfold new imaginings, new fantasies and infinite realities beyond our humanly 'imagined' ponderings.

The Imaginal Realm does NOT depend upon us, but we on It. That is why the ancients spent so much time addressing issues of destiny, fate and necessity. That is why even moderns, as they become older (ancient), begin to look in the rearview mirror of time and see forces beyond human will.

I have a series of comments and quotes regarding the Imaginal Realm on my blog site:

No comments: