Using the Imaginal in Your Psycho-Spiritual Practice

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

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