From “The River: Let Your Imagination Flow”
The garden leads to a meadow. We walk through tall grasses, their tips golden in the midday sun. In the distance we hear a soft murmur and we recognize the sound of running water. That is where we head. As we approach we feel a freshness that stimulates the skin and enlivens the senses. And then we see it: a bubbling watercourse, crystalline, flowing out at a steady pace. Colorful ducks paddle across the surface, while on the bank a turtle warms itself in the sun. The waters suddenly part in the perfect parenthesis of a leaping fish. We wet our faces and our hair. At last, we give in to temptation and slip into the water. We lie back facing the clear blue sky and let ourselves be carried away by the river.
How often have you felt like this, as if you were transported elsewhere by a magic carpet, without ever having travelled anywhere? The carpet that takes us to unsuspected places is called "imagination" and is one of the prodigies that evolution (or grace) has bequeathed to human beings.
This complex and exquisite faculty opens the doors to the past and the future, to our creativity, to a life permeated by magic and meaning, and to worlds inaccessible by any other means.
Let's look at some of the amazing achievements of this gift. Thanks to imagination you can:
● Bring to mind objects and situations that are out of the reach of your senses: for example, visualize the Eiffel Tower. You can add other imagined sensations to this image: auditory impressions (the sound of a man playing a saxophone at the base of the tower), olfactory (the aroma that wafts over to you from a nearby bakery), gustatory (the taste of a freshly baked baguette eaten after visiting the tower), and tactile (the crunchy crust of the baguette).
● Bring to mind objects and situations that do not exist in physical reality. Without much effort, you can visualize dragons, unicorns, mermaids, underwater cities, and any supplementary imaginings evoked by each of these.
● Travel to the past – remembering and reliving events that occurred before the present moment – and into the future, as you plan, anticipate, or dream about events that may or may not occur.
● Play at creating fantasy worlds, starting from premises such as, “what would happen if...?” or “let's pretend that...” Play is not just for children; we adults also need this vital elixir to keep our bodies young and our hearts happy.
● Create, which means putting imagination into action in any field of life. Art is what happens when the mind plays with an aesthetic or expressive intention; but creativity can be applied to any activity: from how you dress to how you personalize a recipe that you are given. More than a human right, to create is a human need: we can’t help doing it even if we try not to.
● Explore inner words: the universe of dreams, daydreams, and your deepest intuitions. Visualize the inner workings of your body and influence organic processes, using your mind to collaborate with healing processes.
● Visit out-of-the-ordinary realities that are inaccessible to the senses, such as those that have been described by shamanic cultures since the beginning of time. These phenomena are not “imaginary,” in the sense of being illusory, but belong to the “imaginal world,” a dimension of existence known to mystics and the people of ancient civilizations who lived in the reality of visions, myths, and archetypes. Australian aborigines call this realm the Dreamtime; although it is a space more than a time and they consider it more real than any empirical reality.
Many people regard the imagination with suspicion, as something that has no place in adult life, but this is precisely because they are unable to understand these meanings of the word. In contrast, the wisdom traditions teach that the imagination is one of the most important, most direct channels to the divine, and probably one of the oldest. In The Evolution of Imagination, Stephen T. Asma describes the imagination as “the eye of ancestral man” and considers it a human skill acquired before language. Thomas Moore, speaking from a spiritual perspective, in The Care of the Soul proposes:
“The key to seeing the world’s soul, and in the process wakening our own, is to get over the confusion by which we think that fact is real and imagination is illusion.”
Another scientist, Albert Einstein, defies convention when he asserts:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Let's look at some of the many ways we can explore this fantastic river and see what surprises it can offer us.
Active Dream Practice
The street oracle
Before leaving home, formulate a question for which you would like to receive guidance or orientation. After you leave home, the first three things that attract your attention in a specific time frame (your journey to work, a walk around the block, a trip on public transport) will give you the answer. You may be drawn to a captivating headline, overhear a fragment of conversation, notice a phrase on a billboard, or be fascinated by a formation of clouds in the sky. The oracle will tell you what the hidden message is in this succession of “random” images.