On the Imaginal

“I was delighted to receive this wonderfully creative exploration of imaginal reality by my student Josh Tysinger. Aside from simply his completely singular and wondrous mind itself, Josh’s claim to fame around our Wisdom network is that he was the one who stepped forward to journey closely with Beatrice Bruteau during her last few years of her life and the one who expedited getting her archive safely delivered to Emory University. Josh is her direct lineage bearer, and you will hear a bit of her voice and sparkle speaking through this mind-bending (to say the least) imaginal rhapsody.” ~ Cynthia

Over the past months, our teacher Cynthia Bourgeault has articulated her pioneering and breath-taking research into perspectives on the imaginal realm. Invigorated by her beautiful meditations on this most sacred of spaces, I broach this subject with only the most humble of intentions of initiating dialogue onto how it plays out in daily life. These are my personal beliefs inspired by her musings on the imaginal – ones I hope are in step with Cynthia’s own views on the matter. ~ Joshua

To begin, I perceive the imaginal as connected with an intermediary flow-through area existing between the unconscious and more transcendent realms of Reality. When I say that Someone is communicating to you through this liminal space “between” realms, the experience may be akin to a sense of personal thou-ness radiating itself to you through a veil of the unknown. What I mean is that this persuasive Someone coming to-you from beyond the unconscious mind intends to take you deeper into Christ’s heart – a luminous web of Mercy that playfully creates and re-creates you through a radical all-encompassing love. Imaginal space may lend to you it trans-rational impressions – they are “messages” filtered through the semi-permeable boundaries of the unconscious as animate symbolic images. Synchronicity, de-ja-vu, precognition, and the sensation of being engaged by spiritual forces generally make Christ’s presence known in these meeting quarters. At all times, the Spirit re-directs you to a heightened awareness of Christ’s underlying unity that intimately pulsates through the kinescopes of your lived-in experience.

Self-diffusing energies in imaginal space are not only constantly available, they are eternally replenishing. Without your efforts, these energies perpetually pour over into your field of perception. As you become more in-tune with a naturally rhythmic form of interconnectedness that coinheres with your zone of receptivity, conscious experiences with these phenomena emerge. We each have an “antennae-unto-God” that receives such cosmically self-giving phenomena, if only we make ourselves (as the mystics say) “passive” to them. Whenever we battle against the Source or make it our intention to impose our agendas on the face of reality, this imaginal frequency wanes as we lapse into unconsciousness. We once again find ourselves out of synch with its organizing effects upon our consciousness.

The more you deepen consciousness in imaginal space, the more that higher realms self-communicate their knowledge through you. This interaction with the imaginal affects a proximal transcendent center of interior selfhood, penetrating beyond and deeper into the cave of the heart. If you hone your sensitivities toward the imaginal through steadfast attentiveness, over time, that Someone coming to you gradually incarnates as your very person! As a space, this realized form of liminality exists between the automata of ordinary consciousness and higher realms of universal presence. As a dynamic source of creative in between-ness, imaginal space is where the multiplicity of formed subjects unites with the radically formless subject of all existence. The 19th century Indian saint Sri. Ramakrishna affirmed that this non-dual mode of perceiving could be integrated into individuals after having experienced the impermanent effects of Samadhi consciousness. In Vedic terms, Samadhi consciousness refers to the total dissipation of interior phenomena via absorption into absolute formlessness. In Christian contemplative circles, one aspect of formlessness is sought during centering-prayer in what is known as objectless-awareness. Since true Samadhi manifests itself as a pervasive unmediated state of union with radical formlessness, the individual is no longer dependent on materiality for practical sustenance. In fact, all dualities seem to disappear!

Here, Samadhi consciousness exists as the peak form of non-dual attainment. That being said, it administers a very serious ultimatum. If one does not come down from absorption into the formless, then an inability to function in the causal world may result. Due to the notorious hardships of Samadhi subjects who endure this precarious experience, Ramakrishna believed that the subsequent “fall from grace” back into phenomenal reality could beneficially actualize an intermediary consciousness. Surmising that sustained encounters with objectless-awareness are in fact meaningfully relevant to ongoing transformation, he suggested Samadhi’s function, after having been summoned back to ordinary consciousness, was to gradually integrate the experience into Bhavamukha. This zone of liminal reception allows for a transformed multiplicity to join in with absolute One-ness, resulting in a sophisticated mode of non-dual perceiving. Through bhavamukha, personhood remains in-tune with the phenomenal world, as Ramakrishna himself, their life spared from complete absorption into One-ness for the continuing enlightenment of all beings.

If the imaginal can be compared to bhavamukha as Christic mediator, then we as contemplative Christians can devote our intentions to cultivating its essence. Ironically, it is only when we passively receive our nourishment from the imaginal – and its different frequency-channels – that we become dependent on that Someone coming to us, their direction for our activities, and are (actual) active agents in worldly creation. When we are the actors, we are not free. Only when “let go” into non-striving, for whatever ends we seek, does the actor die and all of our potentials are unleashed. One can only “transmit” from this self-transcendent channel of divine communication when they become so passive, that (In Paul’s language), “It is I no longer who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” The more you seemingly follow the non-linear, asymmetrical pathways of the imaginal – it will look asymmetrical to some, but who cares? – the more Christ works through you to become the living light that you are and have always been! Most realized mystics, sages, and self-actualized luminaries have had to push through what the world perceives as “disorder,” in order to break through into full imaginal coherence.

Think Jesus of Nazareth, St Francis of Assisi, Carl Jung, Ramakrishna, etc.; those for whom the Spirit led. Really, what the world thinks is order is actually ruining the world, while what the world perceives as disorder, it cannot comprehend through a binary-lens, may actually be playing out in realms of the unseen. Food for thought! In the future, I hope that we might follow Cynthia on her journey into the imaginal – that through our collective journey, we might wage a larger discussion on its effects on our contemplative practices.

A bit about the author
A grateful long-time student of Rev. Cynthia’s Bourgeault, Joshua underwent a radically transformative process of deepening consciousness that began in 2011 while working with the homeless in Asheville, NC. After a two-year discernment with mentors in the Episcopal Church, Joshua voluntarily enrolled at Wake Forest School of Divinity for continuing education. Although at the time still uncertain of his vocational direction, Rev. Bourgeault’s synchronous introduction of Joshua to renowned mathematician and philosopher Dr. Beatrice Bruteau in Winston Salem, NC ignited a fire in him for embodied contemplative teaching. The beneficiary of a year long lineage transmission with Bruteau, Joshua later discovered (after Bruteau’s death) that he inherited the sum of her unpublished works. The vital content of her life’s literary legacy to this world was transferred to Emory University’s Pitts Library for safekeeping. Continuing guidance under Rev. Bourgeault, Joshua recently humbly accepted an invitation to “upgrade” the formal learning instruction of his transmission, more fully actualizing his contributions to Wisdom as Bruteau’s lineage-bearer. Joshua is now happily situated in Raleigh, NC, where he plans on crystallizing this blessing-imperative into formal spiritual teaching.

In case you missed Cynthia’s “Imaginal” postings, here are the links:

Link to Part I, Introducing the Imaginal

Link to Part 2, “Where ” is The Imaginal Realm Located?

Link to Part 3, Is The Imaginal Realm Real?


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8 thoughts on “On the Imaginal

  1. This is beautiful, Joshua. An eloquent counter to the current dimenishment of the second-person face of God in traditional meditation. An integral view values both causal and subtle and integrates them both. Leet us know when you write some more. You are gifted!
    Paul Smith, author of Integral Christianity and Is Your God Big Enough? Close? Enough? You Enough? Jesus and the Three Faces of God.

  2. Steven, thank you for asking. I’m in the midst of organizing one right now. Easier said than done! Remember, that the perceived sensation of solitude accounts for a whopping amount of time spent on the spiritual path. Within the human condition, attaining hyper-connectedness to the Source of all Reality is never an actual given. Rather its is an emergent byproduct of a hard-fought series of transformations that complexifies consciousness. Spiritual community can help stabilize solitary movements into safe harbor with this divine Love by re-directing momentary periods of instability back into a governing grounding point in Reality. The path is replete with unnecessary side-turns and detours that do not necessarily correspond with functional new-arisings, therefore I would imagine that such a community would help provide some traction. We may use contemplative group processes not only for interweaving our personal lonelinesses into a broader, creative narrative – always observing to much relief that there are objective invisible patterns that guide us through asymmetrical horizons – but that the more we are conjoined with those Love energies en masse, the more our solitude is transformed into a singular multiplicity! From my experience, you never want to purge yourself of solitude completely – rather the point of the journey is to re-arrange one’s self from the inside/out into a completely autonomous source of mobile connectivity. Navigating the inward “disorder” accompanying this foreign process of “becoming” ought to be mediated by someone who has, in fact, ventured through “the eye of the needle.” No matter how rare they might be in our cultural milieu, as a Personal Center of radiant activity, such luminaries ensure a stable foundation for adequately harmonizing discordant communal expressions It must be said that someone who has not realized the presence of Christ cannot illumine the heart of Christ in a yearning body of believers. Tall order! Really, the structural dynamics of this Christ-centered community should act in service of maintaining a “stable container” for promoting constructive transformation. Everything else, visual-wise, is relatively negotiable…

  3. I wonder, is the work of following “the non-linear, asymmetrical pathways of the imaginal” work that we can support in one another? If, as Cynthia wrote in her blog, “the imaginal realm is collective and evolutionary; its ultimate purpose is to guide, shape, nourish, and where necessary offer course-corrections to our entire planetary and interplanetary unfolding,” then surely this is work to be done in community and not just as solitaries. If so, what does that community look like?

  4. About 7 years ago, I took a course offered by Lifelong Learning Institute on the “Other Stories of Jesus”, focusing on the Nag Hammadi gospels. The professor placed a number of books for further reading on a display table. He picked up Cynthia Bourgeault’s The Meaning of Mary Magdalene to add a comment. I recall he looked at her book, held in his hand, & must have felt a little divided, because he said something like, “Yes, …. Yes, she is a scholar, though her work is a bit off the main road.” Drawn to byways rather than the main road, I bought that book, & when I came to the page where Cynthia speaks of the imaginal realm, I knew I had found a phenomenon that made sense to me within the Christian tradition— a real place of encounter with the transcendent. Not a projection. Not a story to believe or to see as symbolic or allegory. A place to draw from in my life’s journey to the extent Grace knows I am able to use. Thanks for continuing the discussion around Cynthia’s blogs on the imaginal. You added relevant information to my awareness.

  5. kairos is always killing me. i’m going long here. idk, 7 min long maybe.

    true story.

    i went to war last night.

    “with an automatic weapon,
    don’t nobody call a medic,
    imma do it till i get it right….”

    (our friend TM called this “Dark Lightening” in a book he rated as “just okay”.)

    “finna run into a buildin,
    lay my body in the street,
    give my story to the children,
    and a lesson they can read.
    and the glory to the feeling of the holy unseen.
    seen enough,
    make a (……….) scream…

    i lost my head,
    i must’d misread,
    what the good book said.
    oh woe keeps me,
    it’s a jungle inside,
    give myself again till the well runs dry.”

    thank you Josh.

    reading this on a rainy morning in a packed out pseudo-christian coffee shop. southern baptist seminarians with 7lbs of doctrine. the temptation to engage as enemies is always live. one seems to give off an uncomfortable fragrance that enlivens division. as Merton said in the rain and rhino, “thus the solitary cannot survive unless he is capable of loving everyone, without concern for the fact that he is likely to be regarded by all of them as a traitor.”

    pray that for Ilhan Omar doesn’t lose the love. blessed beautiful sister.

    the fragrance of Christ. “Only the man who has fully attained his own spiritual identity can live without the need to kill, and without the need of a doctrine that permits him to do so with a good conscience.”

    and combining that with Laura’s words last week; “It has been fascinating for me to notice this in life more and more; what it is to sense an autonomous inner core, and respond and act from kenotic inner knowing rather than from outer expectation, rule or law. Coupled with this, and operating on the level of culture as well as within an individual person, is the new freedom and creativity in the participatory dance with God and creation.”

    “fascinating” is one way to put it. it truly takes a bunch of deaths to get to the passivity you all speak of. some more horrifying than others. at least i’m finding this to be true, out here where the topic is Red or Blue in the land of crowded thoughts, confusion, and haste. oh and guns, lots of guns and good ol christian values.

    i did go to war last night. it seemed to be a war over the Reality of true Hope. Passivity.

    not the worst war i’ve seen. my wife and i once sat thru one that words can’t quite capture. horrible love. sorta like that last chapter in Screwtape where the dude dies and gets to see just what the hell is going on behind the scenes. i remember Annie’s face vividly, when revelation hit her as she went to straighten the edges of the duvet cover in something of a manic grab for distraction. i remember when she saw it(?), with the duvet still in her fingers, and she dropped to her knees in horror. horror… dark lightening. something, or things, swirling around a fleet of dark, shadowy dragonflies, leaving streaks that seemed to evaporate as fast as they appeared. our healer-mix Nimbus following it with her eyes might have been the biggest dose of fear. this wasn’t my first rodeo. this started very young for me. sometime around when the chair lock was installed on my bedroom door in Pawtucket. i still remember the screams of terror when it would be slid into place. i still remember what i can only refer to as a shadowy swirling. i still remember an utterly profound sense of Home when it was over.

    This continues to be the case even now, and fear no longer grips quite like it did. but i’d never really went thru anything like that night with another human. we huddled on our bed like the disciples in the boat. our two furry angels shivering beside us. we put the psalms on blast from the half-monks of seattle’s st. mark’s compline choir. “because he is bound to me in Love.” dark lightening. mystery.

    the last thing i can remember, it ended (if that’s even the right word), with what i can only describe as another ugly and truly terrifying revelation of Love. like the sharp strings in the third movement in Bach’s triple slashing us across the face with deadly precision, we learned first hand: Where two or more are gathered…

    i get chills just thinking about it for real. a very strange vibe stuck with us for the next couple days.

    but…then it was back to the tired, old routine…”real life” as it were…

    i don’t wish to open this up any further at the moment. the timing of this post is a hard swallow.

    but i can say that the words: “i have no enemies” are being burned into me. i’ve long desired a handbook for how to deal with this invisible burden in the middle of a Christian nation. the warnings of Matthew 7:22 on our red hats. much to my surprise/pain/joy, it’s being branded unto my heart. this is not the Christianity i was promised as a child listening to Jennifer Knapp and dctalk in the minivan. i know you know what i’m talking about Josh, as you’re in NC. i was fixing to be a youth pastor in Greensboro about 10 years ago. but that wasn’t the right road lol.

    “Christianity is not merely a set of foregone conclusions. The Christian mind is a mind that risks intolerable purifications, and sometimes, indeed very often, the risk turns out to be too great to be tolerated. Faith tends to be defeated by the burning presence of God in mystery, and seeks refuge from him, flying to comfortable social forms and safe conventions in which purification is no longer an inner battle but a matter of outward gesture.” -from Conjectures of a GB.

    without the wisdom coming down from the Northeast i’d be having a much harder time accepting this Burning Love.

    Amma C- i love you. we made eye contact once. it was a heavy day. you were sitting indian style next to the wizards empty body. that memory is manna to me.

    there is a spot not 400ft from this coffee shop, where a handsome ol’monk with a broken back would sit in his Momma’s grotto and write poetry about “the very stones” burning him.

    i’ll be carrying all of your words over to the grotto with me.

  6. Thanks for this description which is delightful in its affirmation and challenge. Somehow what you are describing is some of what I sense is happening within my own experience. I hope to release and receive ever more from the imaginal. The connections you make here are efficacious. Thanks again!

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