Pathways into the imaginal: sound and vision

Hello all,

welcome, the kettle is on.  We are drinking the coffee made from blue flowers today, the same ones that Novalis, Mazzy Star, Goethe, CS Lewis and David Lynch made their brew from.
Thanks for reading the imaginal ecology in the time of the virus essays.  It was good that they got to read so much.  Thanks for reading and sharing.
 Where is the imaginal? How might it “help” us?  How do we find it? Is it in the “collective unconscious”? 

No matter what we do, if you try and pin it down too hard with concepts it will vanish, quick as a faerie that’s been given a new jacket.

Better to track it with poetry and images- – this one is called “A Mirror Without A Frame” and it is about how someone can sing something into the room that was not there before, and that opens up a doorway.

Think about a song that  you love, how it opens up the room you are sitting in in a new way.  Think about how you have not just enjoyed but needed songs at a certain time in your life – maybe Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell talked you through it when your heart broke, maybe Radiohead allowed you to feel like a weirdo again, or Orbital opened up a portal to a crystalline world within the waving grass, or Kate Bush nudged you to have the courage take your shoes off and throw them in the lake, and to fall in love.

Sometimes, a song catches you in the chest and opens up the imaginal within a situation, and in that recognition you come home for a moment.   When you recognise yourself in a song something in the psyche expands to meet it’s kin in the songworld.   In this expansion there is not only company and respite from loneliness but also the sound of rushing water, as one’s personal story flows again into the deeper imaginal river.

The radio stations are plastered with songs, and now with YouTube and Spotify you can find whatever you want wherever you are.  X Factor will make you a star.  It’s easy enough to berate the commercialisation of music, but that’s not really my point.

My point is that by surrounding ourself with music, we have shrunk and deformed it.  Not necessarily our experience of it, which can still be awesome, but our conception of it and its relationship to the world,  to nature.  So long as our conception of it is deformed, we will struggle to even recognise the places we have been touched by it.

The living world is made of sounds, and listening is one of the royal roads into the imaginal realm.  True songs are not entertainment, they are more like the fabric of the heart of the world.  They open the gates of perception; as Stephen Buhner says, this is not even a metaphor.  Music does indeed open up gated channels and expands perception.

Buhner describes how musicians as they play and respond to each other begin to reach into a place that music seems to draw from, at first between each other, but as a song deepens, it begins to come from another place again altogether.  As someone who likes to create songs, I know this place.  It’s a place of unfolding, where something more happens than i expected,  a “glimpse of the world’s broken promise”.

There are all sorts of medicine that come flow from that place , as a therapists know it can heal, artists know it makes art, nature lovers might know it as the wild, or perhaps where the wild flows from.
in “mirror without a frame” i tried to open up that sense of what a singer can do, and i put it like this:
“What a voice is to an ear,
dark eyes to a heart,
a hand to a guitar’s body,
or a waist to an embraceshe is
to this room where broken promises
seem redeemed for the moment
of the music’s movement;”

To this end, I’ve been making one off excursions into that place, quick  forays, tracking a thread, with no preparation, just following a thread. As the basis of art is the gift, I’d like to share one with you next time.  You can find a recording of “mirror without a frame” attached.

Further ventures into the imaginal

Here are some further future paths into the imaginal I’ve taken that seem to gleam with the possibility, that I would like to offer to approach the question “how to enter the imaginal realm” we need to ask questions like:

1 breath – how to breathe?

It’s not an accident that the old words for soul all originally meant ‘breath’ -pneuma, anima, psyche.

The breath enters our mouths, flows into our lungs.  It brings with it the intoxication of fire – it’s oxygen sparks our body’s fire to life.  It quickens the blood and metabolises the body.

2 words – how to write?

We use words all the time.  Words are at once beguiling and confusing.  They get worn down and dulled though use and become cliches.  Yet words are a part of nature.

James Hillman wrote that words are angels – “angelos” means “messenger” – that within each word may be a hidden angel.  Our job is always to renew language, and to find the places that it connects with the wildness it came from. A language that has its origins in myth, in the symbols within tree branches, the contours of landscapes, the patterns of animals, the shapes of water, is also a language that can bear heartbreak, can mediate a dispute, can calm troubled waters and bring a story in the place of raw pain.

3 voice –  how to sing?

What is the difference between speaking and singing, really? Many singers begin their songs, hardly more than speaking.  There is a deepening of breath, a yielding to the outbreath as it starts to carry emotion.  The melody and harmony of the voice, always there,  becomes a little clearer when we sing.   Often songs take off in the middle; they enlarge the world of the listener as the stakes and the feeling become stronger, more real.

Deep down, do we know that our life is a song? If so, what stops us singing?

4 body – how to move?
the body releases the imaginal, it is the site of it.  Yet our bodies are easily rendered into objects, machines, or processes.  What releases the poetic body, if a body is mostly water, how might the body flow, and move in new ways?

5 myth – how to enter the depths?

Myth brings us close to the dreaming Earth, an imaginal ecology is a mythic ecology. How can we as Martin Shaw says “tune our ear” to the mythic river that flows just below the surface of the everyday.

6 ritual – how to transform?

myth combines with ritual structure, we find a ritual theatre.  Stories hold ritual, performance holds ritual, ritual enters up a space set aside from the everyday where psychological and ecological reality can unfold.  The key to ritual might be story, the narrative patterns that weave into us, the story of our own life and how it gets married to the deeper mythic patterns.

7 nature – how to come home to reality?

These deeper mythic patterns are the ecological matrix, as nature is the ground of the imaginal, and that matrix is made of living stories, some harsh and tragic, some as luminous as a moth’s wings at night.  Nature is surely be deeper than we allow ourselves to know or imagine.  In a broken culture that does not know how to re-claim it’s soul, where we can no longer appropriate and vampirise the wreckage of native american culture, or Tibetan culture, or amazonian culture, where else will we find renewal and depth if not in our experience of nature itself, of the wild places and mature ecosystems our culture has so brutally exploited and suppressed?

be well, take care

A Mirror Without A Frame.
This slight woman,
whose black curls tumble
onto pale shoulders
smiles wickedly
as the violin vocalises
her inner conflicts,She breathes in,
pauses, then
sings the room
into melodies of broken desire,
with the soft, cruel reverberations
of her electric voice.I can barely stand to watch or hear;
her beauty makes me feel sick
with the need to swallow the moon.She is a mirror without a frame,
a black rainbow that vanishes
when the light’s switched on.In this haunted world,
there’s always
more ghosts to purge,
more medicine to swallow.

More ghosts grow
to take their place.
But for those of us
who won’t be cured,
sickness cracks the heart open
to what’s always just beyond our grasp;

that glimpse of the world’s broken promise:
the mirror’s net of woven silver,
the tangle at the water lilies root,
the black mess of cables by her feet.

What a voice is to an ear,
dark eyes to a heart,
a hand to a guitar’s body,
or a waist to an embrace

she is
to this room where broken promises
seem redeemed for the moment
of the music’s movement;

this complexity held still,
for a moment;
given voice.

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