A Three Pipe Imagination

The toughest mysteries for the great fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, required three pipe sessions.  This didn’t mean that three pipes were employed. No, only one pipe was held by Holmes, but it did have to be filled three times with his favorite brand of tobacco. Puffing away allowed Holmes to drift into his thoughts.

It would be easy to assume that Holmes was using analytical reasoning of the sort we would use for scientific experiments or math or accounting. He has been so often portrayed that way. But if he limited himself to the analytical state of mind only, he never would have invoked brilliant insights. He had to puff his way into his imagination where he could see in his mind’s eye all manner of possibilities.

Pipe #1 – Ease into the dreamy interior and take the first look
Packing the pipe’s bowl carefully, Holmes’ unconscious would know that he would soon be entering the imaginal world. With years of practice, his unconscious would then down regulate his nervous system which in turn would quiet his body. The rest would be up to his conscious mind: letting go of  the exterior and investing his attention upon his inner landscape. Holmes would need to slow down his typical busy day-mind to move into a twilight state, that slowly builds towards favoring a dreamy landscape. He could increase his immersion of this landscape by bring up something familiar such as the location of the crime under investigation. Using the power of visualization, he could take what is served up by his memory as fact, as being the actual facts and figures of that location. Exploring each detail, he would find himself switching from awareness of the outer world into the inner world of his crime scene visualization.

Pipe #2 – Poke and Prod Visualizations
Imagination is the perfect blank stage upon which to lay out actions, props, players, and plots.  All can be combined, recombined, and combined again. Freeze the action if you want to, eliminate a prop while adding something new to the inner stage. Slow the action down, speed up the action. Zoom in on something or step way back and see the big picture. Add characters, subtract characters. Test how one part of the visualization might be related to another (i.e. the victim’s scuffed shoe and the butler’s knife). Here lies the freedom to do countless “thought experiments” in the laboratory of the imagination.

Pipe #3 – Step Out of the Way and Let the Unconscious Show What It Knows
Fill another bowl and then slowly run through one of the combinations that appeared promising during Pipe #2. This time, “Don’t think”, Holmes would tell himself. No, thinking is not what is needed here. Instead, the focus should be upon the body for the body will speak if only we have the imaginal ears to hear. Some great inner knowing will speak with a tension in the body, or a gut feel, or a change of breathing, or an unexpected movement. Watching and following the body’s lead we ask questions of it and listen for its answers that can come in: more body tension/movement/changes, words, phrases, sounds, intuitive knowing, or images.

……”ah, Watson, I’ve got it. It is so clear now.  Come, we must be going. A game is a foot.”

The Power of Dream Groups – Unleashing Imagination in a Living Room

Starting a dream group in 1990 really kicked off my ability to drop into the imaginal state. I wasn’t expecting that would be the case.

I went into the group thinking it was going to be very analytical, if I could just remember everything Jung said, I would be o.k. That didn’t work very well because what I had in my Jungian toolbox (faulty memory) wasn’t that helpful. Plus, although they never complained, I got the impression that people in the group didn’t want me mouthing Jung. Jung quietly took a back seat in a corner of the room.

A few months into the dream group I discovered that my ability to listen to people’s dreams as they retold them, rose sharply.  I could sit quietly, lean forward both literally and with my attention and—tune in. In this process my awareness of other things decreased and my own self checking (i.e. focus on myself; concern about how things were going; concern about what people thought of me), fell away. Simple concentration on the dream story being told, took hold.

With that much concentration, other people’s dreams came alive in my head. Alive in the dream group session, the next day, even months later when I was thinking about something similar to someone’s  dream story. To a large extent, their night dreams became my waking dreams. I worked hard to stay with them every step of the way as they entered houses, jumped over brick walls, discovered hidden books/rooms/people/rings/passages, talked with old friends/new lovers/the deceased, and wondered about why they were back in their childhood homes and schools.

Slowly, very, very slowly, as I traveled within their dream stories, I started feeling for the subtext. What was the feeling within a particular dream room, or what was the feeling aura around a dreamed object, character, place, or event?  What could my waking world heart and guts tell me about this dream?  Was a faint emotional message mingled in the dream story the real intent of this inner drama? Did my intestines know something that I could share with the dreamer that my mind could have never seen?

Obviously, even with careful, open listening, something of my own was being added to the dreamer’s dream. Each time I visualized their dream story, I constructed the dream using the materials already found in my imagination. Perhaps it was extremely accurate account, their black cat lined up with my knowledge of black cats, but maybe not. Many a time I assumed I knew what they were describing to find out their idea of what an object was was way different from my own. Being a dream group, numerous members would jump in and give their observations created in their own heads and we would quickly have this swirling flood of imagination on top of imagination on top of imagination. But no one got hurt.  Everyone loved it. All of us were swimming in the river of imagination.

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Within a few months of bi-weekly meetings, in my simple living room, with a quickly assembled collection of friends and strangers, I got enlarged. My ears grew huge in terms of my ability to listen to dreams and thereby, story, myth, and poetry.  The connective wires from my heart and guts to my head were broadened and strengthened.  My daily, struggling self, grew in ability to stand out of the way when the time is right to let imagination come washing forward.

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How to Start a Dream Group – You don’t have to be a dream expert start one. See these guidelines and these and then cut loose. (Also see this NY Times article on dream groups.)

How to Join a Dream Group – Put out the word that you are looking. Check Meetup.com, check local Jung groups, bookstores, coffee shops, and Craig’s List.  If you don’t find one, see above – How to Start a Dream Group.

Meditation versus Imagination

Early in most of my workshops/trainings I go right to this point:  imagination is different than meditation. The reason I start off there is because some people come to imagination work with meditation techniques. That is not the best way or the fastest way to get into one’s imagination. Classical meditation makes the assumption that we are too connected to our thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and other things going on inside of us. To counter this over connection, meditation masters long ago developed methods to: shut down inner chatter; slow down thinking; move away from our emotions; and let our bodies run in the background with limited attention. Not all meditation methods are the same but on the whole, most follow this pattern of disengagement. I use the metaphor of “emptying the cup”, that is, emptying ourselves of much of our daily content.

Ray Bradbury follows the approach of the imagination worker:

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”

In imagination work we tip the cup over and see what is there. We don’t try to distance ourselves from it. Whatever it is: emotions, wanderings, thinking, dreams, fantasies, troubling and repetitive thoughts, etc. we let down the barriers and we open to it. Imagination works in a circular way. First it releases our ability to see what’s inside of us and then it frees the contents. This freeing in turns deepens our vision of the unconscious. Our enhanced vision increases more freeing as our unconscious trusts us with more content and delights in our interest. And on goes that cycle.

Summary:  Imagination fills the cup. Meditation empties the cup.