…the only limitation to your imagination is your perception of your ability to imagine.
Although what some would term the spiritual life has been in focus for me for many decades, I can share with you that this is increasingly so at this time in my life. I can relate this to aging to some extent, but perhaps most centrally to my lifelong quest for knowledge of reality: a reality that is beyond the ordinary experience of life. I do, as I imagine many of you do, distinguish ‘spiritual,’ from ‘religious.’ I see the latter as having been increasingly concerned with doctrinal beliefs related to the existence of God or some unquestionable source, beliefs in afterlife salvation, and there being hierarchical establishments for ministering believers. The spiritual for me is more to do with experiencing of non-ordinary reality and of having a coherent, cohesive, and nurturing view of life and living life..
The ordinary is to see the world as being ‘out there’ and the self as a separate individual entity, really an inner collection of egoic-selves. The non-ordinary is to experience no such separation, and to experience unity of the world and the self: the sense of oneness with all things and beings. I emphasize the word, ‘experience,’ here. I want to experience this unity. I’m not interested in accepting this unity as a doctrine or a philosophical concept. What have I been doing all these decades to better dispose myself to experience non-ordinary, non-consensual or unity (there are many more words to point to this) experience? For me, inner work has been my mainstay: in particular, working with life force energy and the egoic sub-selves that are reified, oppressive to life energy, and that were ‘constructed’ in the service of survival and obtaining the love that was available to me.
It is common to speak of ego as if it is just one thing: that it is about arrogance and insistence on one’s views. As many of you who have been with me one way or another know, where I go first with understanding ego is to point out that each of has many egoic selves, and they emerge automatically under the ‘right’ conditions and then give a predictable and prescribed reaction, which may or may not be outside of our control and awareness.
In the land of multiple ego selves, everything comes in terms of boundary experience. Either I know or don’t know. Either I believe in God or I don’t. Either I hate my enemy or even love my enemy. When my love turns into hatred, suffering sets in, for myself or/and for my lover-turned-into-enemy. I either live or die. And so on. Life is a lot clearer, cleaner, and simpler in this land of fundamentalism. I have at times in my life thought how great it would be to be a fundamentalist, as I would have no need to question anything, I could just be a true believer, and everything in my life would have a prescribed way of being. Instead, I am consistently, and hopefully skillfully, questioning life and my experience, wondering about everything, and seeing infinite gradations to all that makes up my experience of the world and myself. Things just don’t come in black-and-white, yes or no, this or that, and so on.
Psychologically speaking, I would say that fundamentalism is a defence against uncertainty. Furthermore, I would say (I know this is a generalization) that most of us were raised to be not good at embracing and flowing with uncertainty even though this seems to be the reality of life. Uncertainty terrifies us just as a person who has never been taught to surf would be terrified by towering waves coming at them. For the same reason, we are also terrified by not-knowing. The egoic selves want to know, want to be certain, wants what they want, are terrified about the unknown and not-knowable, and so on. This turns into an endless activity of struggling for control: Controlling otherness; conforming the other to my set of expectations, and many other possibilities. This is what we ‘do,’ when in the grip of our egoic selves. Moreover, this is a sure way to create a hell for everyone, including ourselves.
Transformation/growth experience facilitates blurring the experience of rigid boundaries, which in turn requires us to loosen the grip of the egoic selves. The latter is the gift of a life of inner work that I’m have been sharing with my clients, students, and others. In my personal and professional experience, loosening the grip of the egoic selves invites an expanded blossoming of dreaming and imagination. For, with this loosening, all boundaries that a fundamentalist mindset cherishes are blurring and starting to interpenetrate, which is a natural birth place for imagination.
I have become increasingly fascinated with the idea and process of imagination. At some point in my life, I realized the only limitation to my imagination is my ability to imagine. I like what my dad told me many years ago: “The main thing that stops most people is what they can think of.” Again, as many of you who have been working with me would know, I have encouraged you, and will continue to do so, to practice growing your process and ability for imagination, along with your capacity for dreaming to the far reaches of your truest nature—what I have referred to previously as high dreams, and engaging in the process of identifying where you are now and how to move along in the process towards your high dream self.
As I have noted in previous Field Notes, dreaming is often discouraged in our culture, particularly by parents with all good intentions who are concerned that their children will not be practical and competitive in the ‘real’ world, and in our education system that is busy and working hard to prepare children for “success,” which mostly translates into material success. Unfortunately, such success almost invariably means loss of connection to their true nature, suppression of creative energy, not having big dreams, not having access to their wholeness along with associated suppression of life force energy, and consequently a life of ‘less than.’
In our contemporary economically driven world, success mainly means accumulation of wealth and power. In fact, you might consider the business world, particularly the corporate world, to be the highest educational institutions in our culture: as such, it is mostly preoccupied with achievement, getting to the top of the organization, accumulating a large amount of wealth, and harvesting the results of the education that is preparatory for this final stage of ‘higher education,’ membership in the work/corporate world. Dreaming and imagining are a liberating process. We need to move strongly into this process to liberate ourselves from the culture that keeps corralling us into fundamentalist, fear-driven egoic selves, and that keeps reproducing control-thirsting, power-mongering entrapment.
I find the following words by Viktor Frankl to be inspirational in his famous book, “Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning” (2000, Perseus):
If we are to bring out the human potential at its best, we must first believe in its existence and presence. Otherwise man [sic], too will “drift”; he will deteriorate. For there is a human potential at its worst as well! And in spite of our belief in the potential humanness of man we must not close our eyes to the fact that humane humans are and probably will always remain, a minority. But it is precisely for this reason that each of us is challenged to join the minority. Things are bad. But unless we do our best to improve them, everything will become worse (pp. 88-89).
These words were published after WWII and after Frankl’s release from a concentration camp. Today, 75 years later, I look around the world, and I see that Frankl’s worst prediction is coming to be our reality. And I affirm that it again falls, as always, to us—whoever can show up—to join and support the human and humane minority. Perhaps, this time, amidst the COVID pandemic, we can move ourselves along the continuum closer to the ‘tipping point’ and towards our membership in this ‘minority’ group!
I propose that we dream big, and fully unleash our imagination. And that each of us does this in our own inner and outer worlds. I am not naively suggesting that this will create a miraculous change in the world. However, our work will create a small zone of joy, comfort, and a more wholesome reality. It will create vital change in each of us, and hopefully, in those who live nearest to us. As Margaret Mead, the famous and ground-breaking anthropologist put it: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
In the past, on many occasions, I have expressed this matter in terms of becoming ‘deviants’: that is, to be deviant from the dominant culture. And perhaps most deviant of all are the group of individuals who are concerned to be absolutely as honest and authentic as possible with themselves and with others. I believe this requires a refined and ever refining level of high dreaming along with an honest assessment of the reality of where we are within our own consciousness and with our ways in the relationship field with others and with the world.
I am now coming back to where I started in this Fieldnote: spirituality. I would suggest that spirituality comes as the fruit of moving in the direction of dreaming and imagining and developing a personal and embodied lens through which I and you view the world that is in the best interests of you, me, and the world. Through our dreaming and imagining, the self and the world expand infinitely and transmogrify (for example. the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly). Some of us may even see and talk to God. As the story about Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc in English) goes, she was subjected to immense pressure at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition to acknowledge that she was not having direct communication with God, and also to acknowledge that this was ‘only’ her imagination. Her response was: “How else would I talk to God but through my imagination?” I just love her response! However, as you well know, her fate was death for her failure to conform to the dominant/dominating culture of the time. Each of us risks a version of this fate by living a life that is different from the cultural norms.
Any of us can dream anything at all, and if you wish, you can ‘talk’ to God. Again, the ordinary mind would see imagination and reality to be categorically separate. In fact, if nothing else, your imagination is your reality. I believe we can all develop and use our immense capacity for dreaming and Imagining the big, the impossible, the mysterious, and the desired, and from this perhaps we can eventually come to know a different reality and realize even more of our immense, and at times unfathomable, abilities. I am certainly encouraging you to imagine, and to not be limited by any ideas as to what is possible and what is not. The point is to open space for your big dreams, and also to grow your inner space that will receive, germinate, and cultivate your dreams along with your ability to dream.
Here is the etymology of the word ‘spiritual’:
1300, “of or concerning the spirit” (especially in religious aspects), from Old French spirituel, esperituel(12c.) or directly from a Medieval Latin ecclesiastical use of Latin spiritualis“of or pertaining to breath, breathing, wind, or air; pertaining to spirit,” from spiritus “of breathing, of the spirit” (see spirit (n.)). (from the Online Etymology Dictionary: https://www.etymonline.com/word/spiritual)
Of utmost interest to me in the above is the apparent relationship between breath/breathing and spirit. My own cultural tradition of Judaism says something about this connection: for example, ruach (רוח), meaning breath or spirit sweeping over the water in the Creation scene. Your first breath on your own took place within seconds of your birth. It was your first moment of not being supplied with vital oxygen by connection to your mother and at the same time being connected to the larger: the earth environment.
In the Jewish Hasidic tradition, this is viewed as the ‘breath of God’ and it is breathed into us. Umbilical separation from our mother transitions us to the greater connection to the world, reaching out all the way to the edge of the cosmos . . . perhaps to God. What is notable for me is that this great connection emerges breath-by-breath in real time when we breathe mindfully, that is, in paying attention to our breathing. (Let’s not forget that every cell in our body breathes; every being in the sky, in the soil, in the water breathes. And, let’s not forget that we breathe in and out of each other.) As I do my morning fitness and meditation, slowly but surely, my reality is transformed: the quality of my experience changes; life is transforming life moment-by-moment.
I will to come to an end for this Note with this line from James Legge’s translation of chapter one in the Tao Te Ching:
Where the Mystery is the
Deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful. (Legge, 2001)
When imagining all of your wishes, dreams, and possibilities, perhaps it is good to think of the feeling that you associate with this line.
I will soon be taking my annual break and retreat time, so there will be no Field Notes in August or September. However, please do send along your comments and/or questions for this Field Note.
Many thanks to Heesoon, as always, for her support with this Field Note.
I wish you, all my readers, a summer of restfulness, restoration, and great dreaming.