This was written for Kira's Ways of Knowing workshop with discussions and reports (here  here  here  here  here).  See also:


    I'd like to suggest Imagination as a topic for contemplative inquiry.  Let's consider Imagination and related experiences and related human capacities (such as intuition, creativity, non-intellectual modes of intelligence) as Ways of Knowing.  As an initial theme, consider the idea that:

    Imagination is the Gateway to Reality

    I'd recommend looking at this in your own experience, as an experience, rather than analytically.  Perhaps some conceptual frameworks may be useful to point one in the right direction, but if Imagination is a non-analytic way of knowing, then it would be good to "catch it in the act."  Don't theorize ahead of the "data".  That is, try to de-emphasize "thinking about" this topic in favor of looking more directly at it in action, as a personal experience. 

    To contemplate (an issue) is to "open up" the question in your experience.  Here are some questions and considerations that go at the matter from different perspectives.  We're not trying to answer or discuss each of these.  Skip the answers and go for the knowing and see what is evoked.  Any way "in" is a good one.


    Imagination is one of those ambiguous human topics that is traditionally viewed both with reverence and respect, and with suspicion. Imagination is seen both as a pathway to new knowledge, and as a creator of illusion and error.  To contemplate imagination it will be helpful to set aside the derogatory formulations along with their implicit prescriptions for enlightenment and proper intellectual hygiene, and focus on imagination as a "way of knowing" -- a human capacity and set of experienced phenomena.

    Imagination is a way of apprehending the latent possibilities in any situation.  Does it make sense that situations have latent possibilities - that they are not simply and fixedly as they seem to be "given"?  It doesn't make sense to define imagination by the standard of accurate correspondence to the seeming givens of the world - that is, to say that when ideas match the world, it is "seeing" and when they don't it is "imagination" (e.g. illusion).

    Imagination is a normal, essential part of the way we apprehend, interact with, conceptualize about and construct "reality".  Every "is" is was once a "could have been" chosen from a range of possibilities.  Perhaps this is also true in each and every moment.  The Lojong (mind training tradition) for example suggests treating normal experience "as a dream".  What do you think this means?  Does it mean to regard it with suspicion as somehow unreal, and to hope to somehow "see through" the illusion in some way?  I'd suggest a more imaginatively liberal interpretation, which is to see "dreaming" as a free, more creative and flexible state of consciousness than typical waking state.  In this view waking is a subset of dreaming, in that it consists of imagination that is being continually brought into conformance with and relationship to a world process.  Imagination might be what we call it when consciousness accesses the real latent possibilities of that world process.  On the view that our experience of reality is "constructed", imagination seems to play a central role in that construction.

    Notice how when you are with other people, there may be whole imaginative scenarios playing out - who you and the others are, what things mean, what might happen, and so on.  Would it even be possible to function without this happening?  Perhaps the same is true of something seemingly more concrete, such as driving or doing housework.

    Imagination can be employed as a transformative tool of consciousness.  Sure, that process can go astray, but ... can you imagine a specific way it could work for you, accurately and effectively?  Imagination can be a key to accessing transpersonal intelligence - that is, intelligence or knowledge that exists outside the circle of an individual's self-concept.  In this way, imagination is a key to both dissolving and forming these perspectives and stories about who one is (also called "identification" in some philosophies).

    Can one "practice" imagination?  Perhaps it is part of a whole process or cycle of experience.  What is going on when you work on a creative project or otherwise "apply" imagination?  I notice the following aspects to this process:  (1) relax enough to get some space or free attention, (2) notice what one is "already" doing (seeing, thinking, feeling, interpreting), (3) relax and dissolve this doing, and (4) within this more open space, consider "what else is also true" and "what else might be true", and (5) elaborate and develop the "new" as it takes form and integrates with the "already", changing it in the process.  There may be other aspects making a complete cycle or even an ecology of creative process, and each of these may have distinctive "needs" to be practiced, fostered, or facilitated effectively.

    How does one go about imagining possibilities outside of what is already known?  Every imaginative choice is in the context of a whole value world, not just of an individual, but of a culture.  Of manifold possibilities, which are adopted to be come part of an imagined alternative?  This is an expression of emotions such as hope (or maybe fear) which arise in the context of implicit values and ideals.  In a sense it is faith which allows imagination to take form against the background of the already-known and already-given. 

    In practice, Imagination is often contextual -- for instance, using creativity as a writer -- but it also easily spans and connects different areas because it is a general human capacity more than a fixed behavior or skill.  When a person is in love, their creativity and imagination flowers.  When beset by suffering, imagination is imprisoned and creativity inhibited.

    Contemplation is to a large degree an imaginative process.  Contemplating what something "is" starts with what it might be other than what it already seems to be.

    Catching It In The Act

    Consider how imagination is actually working, in a current -- or imagined -- real scenario.  What are you imagining while reading this page, sitting wherever you are with your specific surround?  In addition to the idea content, there is a whole world, your body, the "soon to be" future, the way other things are in the environment.  Or project to the next group discussion you are in.  Where will you be?  What will you be doing?  What possibilities exist outside the familiar habits and expectations?


    How does imagination work for you in specific situations?  Perhaps some of the following questions will be evocative:

    • How may / ought one act in relation to others?  Or assess "other minds"?   How does love develop?
    • When are you aware of being creative, and how do you go about it?
    • Do you have some basic beliefs and attitudes about the nature of imagination?  What effect (do you imagine) holding those beliefs has on you and how you go about living?
    • In what ways do you intentionally employ Imagination as a mode of knowing?
    • In what areas of life is your imagination freer or otherwise more active?
    • In what areas is your imagination more constrained, and why might that be?
    • What do you imagine about Imagination?


    Read the above suggestions ... perhaps you will "take on" some of the considerations (whatever works for you) or find some other entry point.  Then choose a specific area in your own life that involves imagination, look into your experience, see what is there, and see what (if anything) develops when you go "further".  Report and /or share it with people.

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