After talking with Pamela over the weekend, I thought it was worth registering a reaction I’ve had, as my two-person-four-cat household worked to grasp the new hygiene and limited grocery access that suddenly defined our lives. Because we are “of a certain age,” there was in me a deep base note of gravity in all this: If I get the virus, and become seriously ill, the hospitals here will rightfully withhold a ventilator from me and provide it to someone younger, perhaps with children. That deep base note was my possible death, moving suddenly within range.
At the same time, there were lots of habits to change [hands on face, handwashing, wiping things down], and information to process. I noticed that, as these early days of grasping our situation transpired, I began to feel more and more flattened spiritually…I felt that I was losing contact with the inner joy and “connectedness that live in.” As I added clorox and kleenex into my life, and tracked the falling stockmarket, and calculated how and when to gather food—my despair grew. Looking back, I realize that I felt pulled up from my spiritual rootedness in the “ground of being”, to use Tillich’s wonder phrase—pulled up into the brightly-lit world of the factual, of data, of assembling objects around me in a desperate effort to keep myself alive. My fear of becoming ill and dying caused me to leap entirely into the material world, to do whatever might save me. My former confidence in the Imaginal, unquantifiable and unpredictable, was abandoned. And thus: despair bloomed within, a fetid flower.
I am still reflecting on this learning. What I know for sure is that the deep life, in the presence of the Imaginal, is the life I want to live. I must not lose the sensed connection with that, because I have already given up on the nature of the life available to me without it. The world of facts and cures matters indeed, but the depth of life brought by the Imaginal is life-giving too, and at work in the world as well. So, as today unfolds, as I wash my hands and plan the garden I’ve now determined to grow, I also turn myself to those things which help me draw close to the Imaginal, to feel its feeding nature and to sink into its dark unknown. Over the course of my life, I have worked to gather these practices, and I share a few of them now with you, if you too seek the deep unknown fountain that is the Imaginal Realm:
- Seek reverie. Over the eons, the Imaginal has arisen within a person’s life as they quieted the mind and heart, withdrawing from the world of plans and facts into a kind of…dreaminess. Poets, shepherds, gardeners, bakers, parents singing a slow lullaby—anyone who has learned to do this—create a sort of “landing field” for the energy of the Imaginal. It’s a way, in the words of author Sharon Blackie, that we “court the Imaginal.”
- Court your dreams. The dream is the nocturnal gift from the Imaginal, bringing Presences, disguised in images, for us to know. When you go to bed, ask the Imaginal for a nourishing, guiding dream. Keep paper and pen beside the bed to record the dreams. Draw the images loosely in the morning. By inviting the Imaginal in, in this way, we deepen our relationship with it, and open the inner doors to its nourishment and energy.
- Read poems that carry for you, the “lift” of the Imaginal. Keep them around, tape them to doorjambs along with your dream image sketches, bring the presence of the Imaginal into the world of day-to-day.
These are things I will be doing, to balance the info flood and survival fears around me and preserve the richness of the life I hope to extend. I offer them in case they may support your own quest to stay rooted in sacred ground. In closing, I’ll add some words of poet Rainer Maria Rilke:
…Whom should I turn to,
If not the one whose darkness
Is darker than night, the only one
Who keeps vigil with no candle,
And is not afraid—
The deep one, whose being I trust,
For it breaks through the earth into trees,
When I bow my head,
Faint as a fragrance
From the soil.