Witnessing with imagination takes all that we see and prepares it in an alchemical process to turn it into pure gold. It imbues its gaze with an intention of welcoming infinite possibilities. We cultivate picture building in a controlled way, developing our inner eye, which goes beyond what appears on the surface of our lives. Through imagination, we free ourselves from our instant judgments about what we are seeing and allow in infinite more possibilities. It is not that ordinary seeing and thinking is necessarily wrong, rather that it is limiting and often eliminates other possibilities, within which may lie solutions.
Wisdom beyond understanding
When we cross the threshold into imaginative witnessing, ‘out of the blue’ insights become available to us as our perception becomes imbued with clairvoyance or ‘clear seeing’. This is the step towards the wisdom of Intuitive Consciousness where we raise simple sense perceptions and understandings to the next level of insight. For this stage of imaginative witnessing we are focusing on the first level of wisdom beyond simple understanding, namely the process of discovering insight through imagination.
Imaginative Exercise: Seeing as if for the first time
Try this simple exercise to experiment with your imagination as a source of seeing and knowing.
The first step requires a beginner’s mind, and a willingness to allow all impressions to be present. Recall a person you know reasonably well and allow an image of them to come up in your imagination. Step back and gaze on the image. Allow the memory of them to arise. Let your gaze become unfocused, so that you enable the image to arrive ‘into’ you clairvoyantly, rather than concentrating too hard on it. Let go of any preconceived ideas about what you are looking at. In other words, release all that you know about the person, and see what creates a striking impression for you, however irrational or seemingly irrelevant.
You might notice, for example, some interesting texture, the striking color of someone’s eyes, or a fleshiness to their lips, the brightness of a piece of clothing, or a gesture that you are familiar with but seeing as if for the first time.
Revealing the pure gold of compassionate understanding
Already you are doing deep imaginative work, allowing imaginative thoughts to arise without forcing or marginalizing them out. If you can stay with this process further, these images start to fluidly change. Encourage stories to emerge out of the images, accompanied by sounds or other impressions. Resist the temptation to interpret them too early, or to get impatient with the process. It takes time to relax into this new way of perceiving. These images enable you to know an aspect of the other person in far more detail and depth, and from a place of non-reactivity.
A new range of insights about the person will emerge. An image can speak a thousand words so that multiple insights can arise out of its composite complexity. Allowing the image to deepen, more can be revealed about how this person operates. It is similar to an alchemical process, in that if the impressions are sufficiently well processed, insights start to emerge from the crucible of awareness revealing the pure gold of compassionate understanding.
Re-training our imagination
The ego may try to re-enter the story at any time. This is especially true when we are overly self-critical as we cannot fully stop and step out into compassion. It helps to be disciplined as it often arises at the very moment when we most need to cross the threshold. At such moments we find ourselves becoming reactive, hooked again by the ego around our opinions and attitudes. Our inner objectivity and compassionate detachment will have disappeared.
The capacity of witnessing, through imagination, has sometimes been seen as childish or a waste of time. Re-training our imagination as adults demands discipline, following a clear method. An analogy to this is when we look at the Arts. Literature and drama demand a suspension of disbelief, in that the reader or audience go along with the conventions of the novel or play as if the characters are real. Being able to suspend our disbelief is similar to what we are asking for here, in terms of trusting our imagination as a source of knowledge beyond the literal here and now.
We all have the capacity for this kind of imaginative witnessing. Most of us will have experienced it already at moments, although we may have ignored or dismissed it. For now, take time to become familiar with the above imaginative work as you witness others, so that you have confidence in receiving these insights. As we turn our gaze to ourselves this adds another layer of complexity. The more we practise, the more we will trust what we receive. Try to drop the rational self, which often blocks what may be seen as fantastical thinking. Many great and creative inventions have their roots in such imaginative activity.
From The Inner Camino, © 2014 by Sara Hollwey and Jill Brierley, published by Findhorn Press