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Sensory perception converts the vibrations of light on the retina, sound in the eardrum, and physiochemical contact of touch, smell, and taste to nerve impulses that are sent to the brain, and memory records these impressions along with feelings and thoughts. Imagination is the creative process that spontaneously produces new combinations of these images, feelings, and ideas that are of our own making. As with memory, this neuro-electro-chemical process occurs primarily in the brain and is experienced by consciousness.
Some evidence indicates that much, if not most, of these processes are below the level of our conscious awareness in the subconscious. Clues to this are experienced in the rapid and numerous hypnagogic images that are experienced as we slip into the subconsciousness of sleep and the hypnopompic impressions perceived just prior to awakening. Dreams, as we shall see in the next chapter, also point to an active subconscious imagination.
I have used the term “imagination” to help describe the characteristics of the astral body, which is the subtle body closest to the physical body. The astral body probably also includes the impressions that are produced by sensory perception and the memory of them as well as the creative imagination. Thus the astral aura or electromagnetic field tends to extend and vibrate with these impressions. People have their own astral body which is made up of their personal experiences with these impressions. The greater astral plane is a non-physical world where beings with astral bodies can interact in the creating and perceiving of images and impressions. In that world or within our own personal inner astral realm if we want to experience something, all we have to do is imagine it. In our own inner astral world all the creations are our own, but in the outer astral plane we can interact with other beings’ astral creations also. This realm is vast and diverse from the ghoulish images of nightmare alley to the magnificent heavens and paradises of the astral gods and goddesses. Many individuals, who are not presently incarnated in a physical body, live in parts of the astral plane and are involved in various activities.
Although the impressions of sensory perceptions and memories provide the raw materials, imagination is the spontaneous creation of images that are different from them. Those images that are closely derived from past experiences are reflection; those that are projected images of future actions are planning; and those that are fairly unrelated to the past or the probable future are fantasy. These three are very interrelated because all images are drawn or modified from experience, because all imaginings could possibly occur in some way, and because even the most mundane imagination could be considered fantasy.
Reflection uses the creative faculty of the imagination to examine our experiences after they have occurred by reviewing the memories in the light of alterations we could have made or if the situation had been slightly different. Thus we play out in our imagination how the scene could have gone differently or how we could have changed it. These dramatic rehearsals of how we would act in various situations help us to learn how to adapt and modify our behavior, thus broadening our learning from the original circumstances to various possible situations. For example, a primitive man hunting an animal might realize that if he had thrown his rock a little sooner, he might have hit his prey.
Often these reflections are motivated by what we wanted in the situation but were not able to get. The reflective imagination can show us different approaches we might take and what the consequences might have been according to our projected thoughts. These reflections can help us to accept our failures and release their frustration by imagining how the situation might have been even worse.
These creative reflections broaden and refine our awareness, but we must discern the difference between the memories and the imaginings; otherwise we delude ourselves by creating a subjective world that may conflict with the objective world perceived by others. Sane people know the difference. While memory is exclusively related to the past, imagination is generally projected toward the future so that even reflections on the past tend to focus on how we might handle it differently next time. To imagine any change is to create a different future. The past, already having happened, cannot be changed, although our views about it can be changed. Of course all memory and imagination occur in the present and are projections backward or forward.
Actions that we perform, except for the autonomic reflexes, are all imagined ahead of time, often subconsciously. Consciousness always prepares the body through the neural pathways. Sometimes we prepare ourselves to respond in any number of ways depending on how circumstances and our choices may change. Most of the physical movement is subconscious and thus handled by the natural self under the dominion of the conscious choices made by the conscious self.
Our conscious planning integrates our ideas, values, motivations, feelings, memories, and physical perceptions into imagining a course of action we might take. For example, we might decide to go to the market to buy some things. We might review our memory of what we need, perhaps checking the refrigerator and cupboards if we do not recall everything clearly. We think about what we want, probably planning some menus for the next few days. Then we might ask ourselves what else we want in town? This could take our mind off on a tangent. We might think about going to a clothing store to look for a new shirt or blouse. This might stimulate us to wonder if we might meet so-and-so, which in turn could lead to memories of this person, imaginings of what we would probably say, and perhaps even fantasies that we would not realistically expect to happen. Eventually our mind would return to our plan to go to town. We may plan our stops to the bank, the gas station, perhaps the clothing store, and the market. These plans have been consciously chosen and accepted by the will of the conscious self. As we go to carry them out, the natural self and the subconscious mind fill in the details, some of which are conscious, but most are not. We might be conscious of remembering our checkbook and our keys, where the car is parked and which route to take, but all the little actions of walking, opening and closing doors, driving, etc. are mostly subconscious; we can accomplish them quite easily even while thinking about something else. Nonetheless the natural self is aware of these things and is imagining each step of the way. The natural self might also visualize images of clothes in order to entice the conscious self to decide to go to the clothing store.
Other imaginings are less mundane and closer to fantasy. We might imagine what our life might be like five years from now or what it would be if we chose a different career or married a certain person or if a certain person became president of the country. Imagination enables us to project into the future our estimates, wishes, desires, hopes, and fears and see according to our own mind’s interpretation how they might turn out. Thus the planning imagination is essential to making wise decisions that will lead to valuable consequences. Of course no one’s imagination is really omniscient because every individual is continually exercising free choice. Yet by comparing our experiences to the memory of our previous imagination, we can learn to improve the accuracy of our planning. How well we keep to a schedule we have made is perhaps the simplest example for verifying the promises we make. Another example might be whether we return what we borrow in the way we promised. Thus a skilled imagination can enhance our credibility, accountability, and integrity. The keeping of promises depends both on the accuracy of our planning and the conscious discipline of our will in fulfilling it. This does not mean that we must straitjacket our life with plans and promises. If we are wise, we learn how to make only those promises that we are confident we can keep and that we wish to perform. By planning well we can save ourselves pain and sorrow. By not limiting ourselves with too many contracts, agreements, and promises we can be free to imagine many alternatives and be open to the new situations life presents us beyond all our imaginings.
Fantasy often intermingles with our reflections on the past and our plans and future projections. Most of these fantasies are motivated by wishes and hopes or by fears. Many fears are warnings from the basic motivation for survival and security. If we feel insecure about something, our natural self is likely to worry and imagine some of the bad things that might happen. For example, if our boss calls us into his or her office, we might begin thinking of things we could be accused of, fantasizing how we would respond to each charge and what the boss would say or do next, etc. These fantasies can point out our insecurities, guilt, shame, etc. which may need to be examined by us. Persistent negative fantasies may call for psychotherapy for excessive anxiety or paranoia. Everyone is anxious in threatening situations, and in these cases imagination can help us consider our possibilities and prepare us to respond to challenges.
The second motivation level of desire for pleasure is another common source of fantasies. We imagine the pleasures we want and how we can attain them. When desires are thwarted, fantasy may provide a substitute gratification. Fantasies often result from impatience; instead of waiting for a natural process to take place, the mind jumps ahead to imagine the fulfillment of the desire. Because of social inhibitions and taboos, sexual fantasies are quite common. Anger and hatred may stimulate violent fantasies. Such fantasies can portray for us how we feel about certain things. Extremely inhibited people do not even want to acknowledge their fantasies, which may consequently be repressed into the subconscious where they may be diverted or perverted into other more sophisticated and acceptable channels of expression. Fantasies by themselves are not harmful so long as we do not confuse these subjective thoughts with the objective actions of the real world. Although our fantasies are real in the astral world, that is the nature of the astral realm. We personally have to resolve these karmic patterns individually for ourselves; but unless we act on them physically, our fantasies are not likely to influence or affect other people very much. Thus it is important to realize the difference between overt moral behavior and inward personal fantasies.
The third motive of ambition also produces many fantasies. We may think of all kinds of ways to try to manipulate situations for our benefit, and fantasize about receiving social approval, respect, honors, rewards, etc. Such fantasies and also those for pleasure usually strengthen these motives by making the whole consciousness more aware of the incentives involved, although exaggerated imaginings may be an attempt to compensate for perceived failure or frustration.
The higher levels of motivation can also be imagined, but the fantasies usually do not have the urgency of the basic levels. Daydreams and visualizations of loving people unconditionally, growing personally, understanding things, and feeling one with everything can be very beautiful and uplifting. Such imagery can be used as a spiritual technique for raising consciousness, and may be guided by a facilitator or narrator. Perhaps the quest for adventure is the strongest stimulus to imagination in these areas. Guided imagery can help us to coordinate the conscious self with the natural self and the higher self by unifying and lifting awareness toward higher ideals, thus opening the consciousness to receive the revelations of the intuition.
Imagination and fantasy are shared with others through literature, arts, and communications media. Fiction, drama, poetry, art, and music enable people to enter a world of fantasy which is interpreted and modified by each participant’s personal imagination. When we read a story, we visualize the scene and characters and hear their voices. Even in reading history, science, or news accounts we use our imagination to help us experience more fully what we are studying. In the cinema and television, scenes have been portrayed for us by the artists and technicians, in a sense physicalizing imagination by creating, recreating, or transmitting, although the dramatized is to be distinguished from documentary and on-the-scene reports.
These shared fantasies become a very powerful collective imagination when great numbers of people see and hear the same thing. As history is the collective memory, literature and the arts are the collective imagination. Famous people come to have a public image. The confusion between these images and reality in the fantasies of glamour can cause problematic social delusions. Common personal fantasies that emphasize sex and violence tend to be exploited by the media. Thus collective fantasies of society can tell us much about our overall socio-psychological health.
LIFE AS A WHOLE:
II. The Individual