The imaginal arises in symbols, feelings, creative expression, inner sensations or felt-sense. Its forms occur in myths, are experienced in dreams or expressed in the arts and literature. Terms often used that refer to the imaginal include imagination, fantasy, dreams, daydreams, inner voice and visions. Imagination is the term most closely associated with imaginal. There are a wide range of imaginal practices, like dream work, guided visualization, expressive arts, divination, journeying, movement, creative and automatic writing. Below are recommendations based on my research for using the imaginal in your psycho-spiritual practice:
1. Will and receptivity. Use your will to foster an intention, to discipline and help you focus on your imaginal practice. Then expand ego consciousness by being open and receptive to something greater than yourself. When beginning practice, use the will to initiate or maintain practice. At the same time hold a non-judging, open and observing stance toward experiences.
2. Cultivating the imaginal. Early in practice: Use exercises that elicit the imaginal, such as guided visualization, as a way into an altered or expanded state. Remain open to spontaneous experiences. Minimize your interpretation of experiences and, instead, witness and follow your experiences. In this manner you yield to the autonomous nature of the imaginal and develop an observing self. Include opportunities for the imaginal in daily life by engaging it in a playful manner and refrain from goal-oriented outcomes. For instance, draw, paint or doodle without trying to do it well.
As practice develops: Continue yielding to the autonomous nature of the imaginal. At later stages, observe the imaginal expressions that facilitate growth and awareness. Observe the territory of the imaginal.
3. Observe. When your practice is well established, the will is used to direct your observing self to keenly witness inner experiences. Remain neutral and do not interpret experiences. Conclusive interpretation of the imaginal is a tool of the more linear, analytic mind that thwarts the subtleties of this state.
4. Discern. Discerning experiences with these inner states requires patience. The tendencies to “think we know” are frequently overturned with experiences that do not fit a pattern or your initial conclusion. It may even indicate the opposite. The need for patient, non-interpretive observation is essential. Reading evocative and inspirational materials is more helpful than interpretation. Communicate experiences with others, not with the intent to interpret, but with the intent to share and to validate unusual experiences with the imaginal. Symbols or feelings may be potentially overwhelming in the beginning. Outside support from others who are experienced with the imaginal is helpful to remain with the feelings and energy that are difficult and confusing.
5. Slowing down and turning within. You may experience a deep need to slow down and turn within. This may come on gradually so you are able to make subtle shifts in your daily living patterns for quiet and an internal focus. Or your experience may be dramatic. In either case, structure time for daily psycho-spiritual practices. Set aside time each day to slow down and turn within. Discuss the need for quiet and solitude with members of household or family. Integrate a slowing-down-and-turning-within attitude into daily affairs. The combination of having space, being open and cultivating imaginal is significant. Slowing down helps expand awareness. Slowing down and turning within facilitates the ability to observe the inner workings of your mind, emotions and behavior. A slower pace keeps us mindful.
Also include occasions for longer retreats away from home, or seeking opportunities to have quiet time alone. Contact with others having similar experiences is supportive.
6. Integrating practice into daily life. It is important for you to find ways to integrate your practice and experiences into your daily life so that practice and regular life is not so disparate. While this will occur naturally, you can also use simple techniques for observing or engaging the imaginal while occupied with your day-to-day life. View relationships, activities, thoughts and feelings with an imaginal, metaphoric or symbolic perspective. Include opportunities for slowing down and turning within.
7. Inner knowing, healing and connection. Experiences of inner knowing, healing and connection are like the pay off of spiritual practice. You may become caught up in pursuing practice for these experiences and have periods of dryness that may result in forms of depression, lack of faith or disillusionment. These experiences should not be considered negative. They are part of the process and humble the ego. Focus on process, not content. Results should not be emphasized. Measuring or striving for stages is the concern of the ego. Inspirational reading helps to boost faith. Maintaining regular practice during difficult times is important. Focus on humility, gratitude and simplicity as the path back to healing, connection and knowing. Stay connected to others and Nature.
© Copyright 2012 Astrid Berg