Over the past months our teacher, Cynthia Bourgeault, has articulated her pioneering and breath-taking research into perspectives on the imaginal realm. Invigorated by her beautiful meditations on this most sacred of spaces, I broach this subject with only the most humble of intentions of initiating dialogue onto how it plays out in daily life. These are my personal beliefs inspired by her musings on the imaginal—ones I hope are in step with Cynthia’s own views on the matter.
To begin, I perceive the imaginal as connected with an intermediary flow-through area existing between the unconscious and more transcendent realms of Reality. When I say that Someone is communicating to you through this liminal space “between” realms, the experience may be akin to a sense of personal thou-ness radiating itself to you through a veil of the unknown. What I mean is that this persuasive Someone coming to-you from beyond the unconscious mind intends to take you deeper into Christ’s heart—a luminous web of Mercy that playfully creates and re-creates you through a radical all-encompassing love. Imaginal space may lend to you it trans-rational impressions—they are “messages” filtered through the semipermeable boundaries of the unconscious as animate symbolic images. Synchronicity, de-ja-vu, precognition, and the sensation of being engaged by spiritual forces generally make Christ’s presence known in these meeting quarters. At all times, the Spirit redirects you to a heightened awareness of Christ’s underlying unity that intimately pulsates through the kinescopes of your lived-in experience.
Self-diffusing energies in imaginal space are not only constantly available, they are eternally replenishing. Without your efforts, these energies perpetually pour over into your field of perception. As you become more in-tune with a naturally rhythmic form of interconnectedness that co-inheres with your zone of receptivity, conscious experiences with these phenomena emerge. We each have an “antennae-unto-God” that receives such cosmically self-giving phenomena, if only we make ourselves (as the mystics say) “passive” to them. Whenever we battle against the Source or make it our intention to impose our agendas on the face of reality, this imaginal frequency wanes as we lapse into unconsciousness. We once again find ourselves out of synch with its organizing effects upon our consciousness.
The more you deepen consciousness in imaginal space, the more that higher realms self-communicate their knowledge through you. This interaction with the imaginal affects a proximal transcendent center of interior selfhood, penetrating beyond and deeper into the cave of the heart. If you hone your sensitivities toward the imaginal through steadfast attentiveness, over time, that Someone coming to you gradually incarnates as your very person! As a space, this realized form of liminality exists between the automata of ordinary consciousness and higher realms of universal presence. As a dynamic source of creative in between-ness, imaginal space is where the multiplicity of formed subjects unites with the radically formless subject of all existence. The 19th century Indian saint Sri. Ramakrishna affirmed that this non-dual mode of perceiving could be integrated into individuals after having experienced the impermanent effects of Samadhi consciousness. In Vedic terms, Samadhi consciousness refers to the total dissipation of interior phenomena via absorption into absolute formlessness. In Christian contemplative circles, one aspect of formlessness is sought during centering-prayer in what is known as objectless-awareness. Since true Samadhi manifests itself as a pervasive unmediated state of union with radical formlessness, the individual is no longer dependent on materiality for practical sustenance. In fact, all dualities seem to disappear!
Here, Samadhi consciousness exists as the peak form of non-dual attainment. That being said, it administers a very serious ultimatum. If one does not come down from absorption into the formless, then an inability to function in the causal world may result. Due to the notorious hardships of Samadhi subjects who endure this precarious experience, Ramakrishna believed that the subsequent “fall from grace” back into phenomenal reality could beneficially actualize an intermediary consciousness. Surmising that sustained encounters with objectless-awareness are in fact meaningfully relevant to ongoing transformation, he suggested Samadhi’s function, after having been summoned back to ordinary consciousness, was to gradually integrate the experience into Bhavamukha. This zone of liminal reception allows for a transformed multiplicity to join in with absolute One-ness, resulting in a sophisticated mode of non-dual perceiving. Through bhavamukha, personhood remains in-tune with the phenomenal world, as Ramakrishna himself, their life spared from complete absorption into One-ness for the continuing enlightenment of all beings.
If the imaginal can be compared to bhavamukha as Christic mediator, then we as contemplative Christians can devote our intentions to cultivating its essence. Ironically, it is only when we passively receive our nourishment from the imaginal—and its different frequency channels—that we become dependent on that Someone coming to us, their direction for our activities, and are (actual) active agents in worldly creation. When we are the actors, we are not free. Only when “let go” into non-striving, for whatever ends we seek, does the actor die and all of our potentials are unleashed. One can only “transmit” from this self-transcendent channel of divine communication when they become so passive, that (In Paul’s language), “It is I no longer who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” The more you seemingly follow the non-linear, asymmetrical pathways of the imaginal—it will look asymmetrical to some, but who cares?—the more Christ works through you to become the living light that you are and have always been! Most realized mystics, sages, and self-actualized luminaries have had to push through what the world perceives as “disorder,” in order to break through into full imaginal coherence.
Think Jesus of Nazareth, St Francis of Assisi, Carl Jung, Ramakrishna, etc.; those for whom the Spirit led. Really, what the world thinks is order is actually ruining the world, while what the world perceives as disorder, it cannot comprehend through a binary-lens, may actually be playing out in realms of the unseen. Food for thought! In the future, I hope that we might follow Cynthia on her journey into the imaginal—that through our collective journey, we might wage a larger discussion on its effects on our contemplative practices.