by Rohini Walker / Illustration by Martín Mancha
I’ve been playing a game with myself for the last couple of months. It revealed itself to me seemingly spontaneously, while out on a hike in the desert one morning with my beloved familiar, the black pitbull, Bodhi.
A voice, the one I have come to call Lila, murmured: “I wonder what it would be like to imagine if I was awake in this strange dream of life?”
And with that, my curiosity was piqued. I wonder indeed.
Since the last edition of Letters, the world has changed. Reality is tectonically shifting right before our eyes, as if in a dream. Terms of behavior such as ‘quarantine’, ‘lockdown’ and ‘social distancing’ have taken residence in our daily lexicon and life practically overnight, as if they had always been there, waiting in the wings for this coming of age.
We are in a state of global pandemic; fear has descended like a thick, ominous mushroom cloud. A friend in New York recently wrote me that “the fear is so thick in the air, you can taste it like pennies under your tongue.”
I marvel at this imagination-game playfully beckoning me to follow it when it did.
Assume that we have the virus, even if we have no symptoms, we are told. Another imagination-game, where we’re being asked to believe ourselves sick and dying, planting potent seeds which will bear fruit if we water them.
These strange days, a question keeps arising when I’m still in the liminal early morning state of sleep-waking, like a smoke signal from a distant place trying to get my attention. The wordless wisps coalesce into the asking of this: “who do you humans really imagine yourselves to be?”
The way we imagine ourselves, the language we use to chisel form to those imaginings, and the shapes of stories that they become – whether ‘objectively’ fact or fiction – inevitably end up crystallizing into ‘reality’. Our external actions and behaviors are then formed as a, mostly unconscious, feedback loop from that inner imaginal world.
Because language, the primordial Logos, is not sedentary. It is deeply dynamic, building, sustaining and destroying worlds and identities.
Here’s Hunter S. Thompson, that master Logos-sorcerer and world builder-destroyer, writing in Fear & Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72:
“[ ] there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.”
Perhaps Thompson’s words are an affront to your specific sensibilities on what constitutes the scaffolding of reality. The only way to tell if it’s your ego (Judge) or your Psyche/Soul (Artist) who is affronted is to feel into the sensational experience of this in your body- that much-abused bridge between the suchness of our physical, embodied selves and the greater otherness of who we are. In other words, approach the sensations triggered by Thomspon’s words with the jouissance as explored in a previous installment of these Letters.
Namely, receive and experience it as the Artist or Poet would, instead of as the Judge. Examine it within the subjective, sensational experience of your body- which is incapable of lying.
For me, when I feel into those words with an open curiosity, there is a sensation of excitement, a swirling dust devil of energy textured with possibility. Of course, the Judge is there in the background, proselytizing on the dogma of the right way-upness of things.
But the time of the Judge is fading.
And terrifyingly/tantalizingly, we find ourselves in a moment where the familiar, right way-upness of things are shifty- not as solid and concrete as we previously believed them to be.
Dr. Edward Edinger, the Jungian analyst & medical psychiatrist, wrote:
“The human psyche is more than the ego. The human psyche has a non-personal dimension to it, a historical dimension and even a cosmic dimension. That’s not a matter of doctrine or teaching, it’s a matter of empirical discovery and once it’s discovered, then the individual knows it for a fact and can live in relation to that non-personal dimension.”
So then: this imagination game that has been wooing my curiosity.
The precious thing that deserves closer inspection here is the word imagining what being awake in this strange dream of life would be like. Our point of departure is based on the assumption that we are, none of us, unfamiliar with the idea of this waking life having been compared by countless worldwide traditions to that of a dream. There are manifold spiritual and mystical ways that teach specific practices of awakening and becoming conscious in this dream of life. As evidenced by all the many seekers on that path, they work. I too have been a sometime seeker on that path but strayed from it because rigid structures of right and wrong within accepted traditions, and what this conscious dreaming state should or shouldn’t be like offended my inner iconoclast.
This imagining game, though.
It’s one that’s played within the smallest confines and limitless expanses of your own subjective imagination. The rules are your own, the inferences of meaning you assign to your shifting landscape of experience are your own. And far from removing me from ‘reality’, it’s bringing me into a deeper relational dialogue with everything, free from the myopic and singular identification of myself as small, weak, helpless and separate, at the mercy of things beyond my control. Because the thing with this imagination game is that it’s not about controlling things, as the brittle, judge-victim ego would have it. It’s about being in intimate, subject-subject, reciprocal exchange with the phenomena of this deeply strange, surreal, terrifying and exhilarating dream of life.
Because we are all that.
Imagination here is not the same as fantasizing. The imaginal realm with which I’m concerned is that inner psychic space which is still rooted within the framework of time-space reality – the hallmark of our earthly existence. In the imaginal, myth, symbol and metaphor point towards the unfolding of intuited meanings to arise, which are the treasures we bring back to the world as building blocks for an emerging reality.
Fantasy, on the other hand, is a reductive, literal interpretation of the contents of imagination as a means of escaping what is.
Embarking upon the actual experience of imagining ourselves awake in this dream is deeply, radically grounded in this incarnate human life- not escaping from it. It is the bittersweet taste of choosing to be here now, in reciprocal relationship with our sensational, phenomenal mortal existence. Because that is the dreamscape that our souls have chosen to play in.
I’ll sit on earth to feel my roots
colluding with those of ancient creosotes.
Finally – they whisper –
you stop to listen.
what will you imagine into this swirling vortex
of pliable reality?
Will it be the same as it ever was?
The times, they are a-changing, swiftly, right before our eyes.
Everyday brings with it more terrifying news. Forecasts of mounting body counts, and the expectation of devastating losses. The only certainty is that grief is collectively asking to be seen and felt. We are here in this moment in time together, living this global dystopian reality – together.
Our fecund vulnerability as physical, mortal humans sits in poetic paradox alongside our greater identities as beings so vast and all-encompassing, that we are called to curiously, gently, feel our way into our living imaginations in order to try this on for size.
This new identity of who we humans (can) imagine ourselves to be.
For those of us who do not survive this time, and for the future generations of those of us that do- what will we carry across the abyss from this fading dream to the one that is emerging?