I spent a lot of my time making imagination work hard to get to the point where I discovered it is simple. Keep things simple. Realize that we are surrounded by imagination at work, 24/7. When a friend tells you a story, when you go to the movies, or when you come up with an analogy to explain something, you are letting your imagination powers run more free than usual. Doing imagination work captures your inherent abilities to go within and imagine and makes them available for inner explorations.
In all of my workshops, during individual training, and in groups, I start with asking people call up some place in their mind’s eye that they know very, very well. It doesn’t have to be some place special. The exercise is to make the inner experience of the space increasingly vivid to the point it feels roughly like being there. To accomplish this, our imagination senses are engaged; when we walk about the space the space feels like reality. When we touch or pick up something, that too gives has the sensation of weight and space.
Getting to Your Memory Place – Steps:
1. Pick a place you know well in the real world.
2. Close your eyes and settle in. Relax downward until you start to get dreamy-like.
3. Bring to mind the memory of your selected space.
4. Be in the space by really paying attention to details such as the lighting and sounds.
5. When you are ready, walk over to some object and pick it up or at least touch it.
6. Take your time and explore your memory place. If there is something about this experience you want to remember in detail, reinforce your memory by noticing a few more times what you want to remember while holding the intention in mind: “This is important to me and I want to remember it well.”
7. When you are ready to wrap up your inner explorations, reverse the process: start to become aware of your body, then the room, where you are, and the day of the week. Come on back fully.
Of course, repeat many times to: master the above steps, the experience, and what you need to do to go deeper next time. Happy travelling.
There is a long history of staring to activate the imagination.
From the new book, Caves and the Ancient Mind, we learn of the importance to Greek philosophers, proto-scientists, poetics, and mystics of the supreme darkness of caves and underground chambers. Prolonged looking into the darkness lit minds that shaped Western thought for centuries.
Leonardo da Vinci advised in his notebook, Treatise on Painting, to look closely at a random stain until it becomes alive:
“This is the case if you cast your glance on any walls dirty with such stains or walls made up of rock formations of different types. If you have to invent some scenes, you will be able to discover them there in diverse forms, in diverse landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, extensive plains, valleys, and hills. You can even see different battle scenes and movements made up of unusual figures, faces with strange expressions, and myriad things which you can transform into a complete and proper form constituting part of similar walls and rocks.
Don’t underestimate this idea of mine, which calls to mind that it would not be too much of an effort to pause sometimes to look into these stains on walls, the ashes from the fire, the clouds, the mud, or other similar places. If these are well contemplated, you will find fantastic inventions that awaken the genius of the painter to new inventions, such as compositions of battles, and men, as well as diverse composition of landscapes, and monstrous things, as devils and the like. These will do you well because they will awaken genius with this jumble of things.”
John Dee, an English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century, would stare into an obsidian stone from Mexico. Dee was following the long tradition of mirror scyring (also known as mirror gazing) to obtain visions of the future and of universal ideas.
Raymond Moody, the famous collector of near-death experiences and author, uses a similar process today for people to see and converse with departed loved ones. He places the person in a darken room that he calls The Psychomantuem, seated in a recliner and they stare at a mirror that is tilted towards dark curtains, providing a blank canvas for their imagination to roam (see book).
Hermann Hesse revealed another form of staring, fire watching, in his book Demian. When his naive major character meets with a mysterious new friend, he is shown how to stare into a fireplace: “With rigid eyes I stared at the fire as I sank into dreams and stillness, recognized figures in the smoke and pictures in the ashes. Once I was startled. My companion threw a piece of resin into the embers: a slim flame shoot up and I recognized the bird with the yellow sparrow hawk’s head. In the dying embers, red and gold threads ran together into nets, letters of the alphabet appeared, memories of faces, animals, plants, worms, and snakes.” (Demian, Harper & Row, 1965, p. 106).
More recently, in the 1960s and 1970s, sensory deprivation was studied for its ability to open access to the imagination. John Lilly, plumbed the depths of flotation chambers that were closed off to light, sound, and changes in air. Water in the chamber was heated to match normal body temperature which caused awareness of the body to drop away (the body seemed to merge with the water). What was left was a mind free to fly off into detailed imagery.
A more modest approach to sensory deprivation is the Ganzfeld effect (article). Special eye pieces can be made from one ping pong ball by cutting it in half. These are placed over the eyes as a person reclines. Staring into this blank field along with wearing sound blocking headphones, will cause the mind to zone out and eventually images of all sorts will start to pour forth for the person who has properly practiced this technique.
Why it works The mind hates a vacumn. Staring into darkness, an unchanging dark mirror, the white fog of ping pong ball eyelids, or the play of color/light/shadow, the mind gets impatient and seeks to pick up the pace. To do so, it pours out imagistic commentary on what it thinks it is seeing as well. It strives to find patterns. Along with these images come unique imagery from the mind. This imagery is probably the content of the day that churns below the surface reacting to what is going on in our lives at the moment and working on problems we are having or will have around the corner.
How to Do It Pick an approach that appeals to you from the examples above (there are gazing mirrors available and the ping pong ball Ganzfeld setup just takes minutes to make). Expect this to be a slow process so don’t rush it. Also, it is likely you will have to make this a dedicated practice to release its full potential. Try 10 to 15 minutes every day for awhile. As you stare, relax your body, and keep checking in to find any tension that may have popped up. Relax again. Wait. Let your focus become fuzzy and give that approach a try. Switch back to a sharper focus if you find that more productive. Go with any hints of imagery that comes up before your eyes, in your thoughts, feelings in your heart, or sensations in your body.
Stare, let go, wait, and imagine…dreaming with eyes-wide-open.
“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”
Edison worked his tail off every day searching for market-worthy inventions. One of the areas of his research included how to maximize his productivity and his thinking. One way to accomplish both was to nap: “I enjoy working about 18 hours a day. Besides the short catnaps I take each day, I average about four to five hours of sleep per night,” stated Edison.
During some of his nap sessions he did more than recharge his internal batteries, he used his imagination to work on creative problems. Working naps required sitting upright in a chair. Sitting up made it harder for him to fully sleep and made it possible to stay lightly conscious during these sessions. To further assure that he would not lapse into sleep, he would hold a steel ball bearing in each hand. On the floor, placed directly below his closed hand would be a metal saucer. If he should fall completely asleep, his hands would relax and each ball bearing would fall to the floor, striking the metal saucer, making a noise loud enough to wake Edison.
What was he doing? Edison was utilizing what was named hypnagogia. Hypnagogia is the state (actually a variety of states) that can be experienced as we hang onto consciousness while moving towards sleep. It involves bodily relaxation and the easing of the grip of cognitive/emotive focus. In hypnagogia we get the benefit of a sort of emotional and cognitive wandering. This wandering can be gently guided, as Edison did, or left open to go where it wants to go. Guided wandering has the benefit of keeping a topic of our interest in mind so we can observe it from new angles to learn new things. Edison meant business by setting up conditions so he could stay in this state for long periods.
Instead of steel balls Edison’s approach works perfectly fine but here are two more ways which don’t require steel balls.
Approach 1 – Lie down on a bed, on your back and rest your upper arm (from shoulder to elbow) elbow flat on the bed. Bend your elbow and keep your lower arm (from your elbow to your finger tips) pointed straight up to the ceiling. When you fall asleep, your arm will flop down on the bed and catch your attention. Wake up a bit and then cost back to hypnagogic wandering.
Approach 2 – Use a slightly modified wake-up alarm – Get a car doze-alerting alarm for a few dollars (see www.napzapper.com). Cover over the little speaker that screams an alarm when it detects the downward flop of the head of dozing off. This will make the sound tolerable since you don’t need it screaming, just making enough noise to wake you up. Put the device over your ear and sit up in a chair like Edison. Keep your head level. Relax physically and mentally and let your mind wander.
What you will discover In hypnagogia everything can swirl together—visions, thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and who knows what else. There will be so much going on that you can’t possibly remember it all so you will need some way to remember what is most important to you. Try making some notes during the process or shortly after you end the session. Use notes on paper or on a recorder.
All of this takes practice, but you will be shocked how quickly you can master entry into hypnagogia. Pleasant and fruitful wandering await you.