Monday, May 26, 2014

Our portal to the really real: Imaginal Imagination

I just read an illuminating essay, Toward An Imaginal Ecology, by Becca Tarnas. The ecology part of her definition  is pretty straight forward: it means approaching the world so as to perceive the relationships and dynamics of the landscapes we find ourselves in, the relationships of plants and animals, roads and buildings, soil and sky, water and humans.'⁠1

The imaginal part of the definition is a  little more convoluted, at least for us modern humans today, who have been reprogrammed by modernity to erase the wisdom of our indigenous forebearers.

Imaginal Imagination can be glimpsed in the work of many authors I admire, including Joanna Macy, James Hillman, Thomas Berry, Theodore Roszak, David Abram and, in the realm of fantasy, authors like J.R.R. Tolkien.
Trees Embracing behind my house 5/9/14
Tarnas uses the term imaginal to emphasize that imagination is an organ of perception as opposed to the word “imaginary” which to most of us today means “not real,” something that is outside the realm of being and existing.

David Abram, a hero of mine, holds the same position: “imagination is from the first an attribute of the senses themselves; imagination is not a separate mental faculty (as we so often assumed) but is rather the way the senses themselves have of throwing themselves beyond what is immediately given, in order to make contact with things that we do not sense directly, with the  hidden or invisible aspects of the sensible.⁠2

Abram further grounds us by pointing out that “the human mind is not some other worldly essence that comes to house itself inside our physiology. Rather, it is instilled and provoked by the sensorial field itself, induced by the tensions and participations between the human body and the animate earth…”
A troll in the woods behind my house: 5/24/14
“By acknowledging such links between the inner, psychological world and the perceptual terrain that surrounds us, we begin to turn inside-out…
Intelligience is no longer ours alone but is a property of the earth; we are in it, of it, immersed in its depths⁠3.”

Becca Tarnas then tells us how the creative works of many authors and artists – not just nonfiction –can  be a guide to help us reconnect to our most precious human birthright: our imaginal imagination,.

“Such artists offer a view of a fantasy realm, which Tolkien calls Faërie, crafted out of the materials of our everyday world, just as the painter’s or sculptor’s materials are also drawn from nature…”
“Tolkien’s works have often been dismissed by his critics as escapist, as fantastical stories that let the reader slip away from the hard realities of everyday existence. Yet the boon of allowing ourselves to truly enter into an imaginal realm such as the one Tolkien revealed is that we are given the opportunity to witness the beauty and enchantment of our own world.”
A Leprechaun along the Merrimack: 5/12/14
We return from fantasy to find that we have never left, or rather that we were always there. Tolkien shows the overlap between our own world and Faërie when he writes,
Faërie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.
1 Towards An Imaginal Ecology: Presentation for PCC Integrative Seminar by Becca Tarnas>
2 The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram, page 58
3 The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram, page 262

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