Friday, May 6, 2011
Wisdom In The Bones: Imaginal Vs. Imaginary Experience
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Gradually Advancing Calm/Taizen, 2011
THE SUSTAINED QUIET of restorative yoga and yin yoga can provoke imagery that may seem to be a departure from routine, everyday thought. The calmness of the practice can have clear physiological benefits that occur in the practice session that may carryover into everyday life so that a person is less reactive and more open to stimuli that otherwise tend to be overlooked in daily life. There likely to be no negative physiological outcomes from restorative practices, with the exception of a sense of agitation/anxiety for those who find the duration of both quietness and sustained poses to be unsettling.
A sense of a change in imagery may be far less forthcoming than physiological changes—especially relaxation responses. However, at some point in restorative-yin practice, there may be a sense of imagery that is not simply a random stream of imagination, but rather seems to have a sense of meaningfulness. There may be a sense of this imagery being somehow more “authentic” or deeply personal, or even “transpersonal” in the sense of revealing a sense of personal experience being connected to events that have seemed separate from oneself, or even a sense of personal activity directly expressing larger processes. Imagination seems to transform to become imaginal, which is to say, expressing something real—not imaginary—that has been obscured from awareness by the demands of everyday routine.
The stillness of restorative practice may seem to have stilled both the “chatter” of everyday life—of that which we did and that which we need to do—and gone even deep to still an internal chatter comprised of expectations and assumptions to touch a deep ground of “beingness” that underlies personality and culture.
In calming the body, we begin to listen to the body. The billions of years of organic evolution are present there in exquisite design. And whether it is “cell memory” and/or this exquisite design responding to the moment, our consciousness connects to this bio-physiological process—“body-mind,” in a way that is beyond using our conscious intent to regulate physiology to relax. We are taken further, perhaps touching what the body seeks for optimal health. We may even open a greater sense of clarity with regard to what it is for which we are living, especially with regard to how the personal expresses and serves the universal. Calmness offers a doorway to a complex library “in the bones.”
There is a sense that this “imaginal” experience “sees through the dark”—through a veil that has accrued from routine, culture, and personal experience. This experience is not unique to restorative yoga. It is at the heart of a diverse array of practices that aspire to
It it not alien to culture. It permeates all of it—in therapeutic process, politics, religion. But it tends to become “derivative” rather than original. It is likely to be co-opted.
But when we simply quiet and become still, at some point, a gateway that we did not anticipate is opened. Having become quiet and relaxed, a very simple option, perhaps no more than being asked to recall a positive experience without really checking it, will provoke something unique to each participant. And, in that which is recalled, there is likely to be some core element that is an aspect of a person’s life directive. Thinking about it and talking about it may not really access the same quality of information that may spontaneously emerge. And for the qualitative test, the recollection may be deeply heart-felt—emotive—and sensed to be in line with that for which one is striving. And further, it is likely to be a quality that is not achieved by money or status. Still, there is always this need to check one’s “discovery,” to see if it sustains its meaningfulness and feeling.
Our bones and our blood and our breath may speak to us. Japanese Zen adept, Ikkyu Sojun [1394-1481] writes in Giakotsu (“Skeletons,” composed in 1457 when living in a landscape of famine, plagues, riots and wars in Japan), “When the breath expires,…the skin ruptures,” and there is “nothing more than a set of bare bones.” Still, Ikkyu continues, there something “unborn and undying” that is not completely within, and quite astonishing . Ikkyu writes,
A cherry tree
And there are no flowers,
But the spring breeze
Brings forth myriad flowers!
And so, there is not only the potential for access of a deeper sense of individual purpose, but also the possibility of accessing a sense of the whole world expressing itself in personal actions in a way that can be really touched rather than imagined in fantasy. Not just Asian, in Western thought, we find this well expressed in the work of Carl Jung. His “active imagination” is imaginal rather than imaginary, aspiring to access something deep and interweaving the individual into a larger identity beyond self, and describes personal life expressing “archetypes” such as the “mother,” “the wise one,” and the “hero.” In the very personal life transition of marriage, we also express “the way of all flesh.”