The Imaginary is Becoming More Real

Henry Reed, Ph.D.

Boundaries are evaporating. Those three words spell my message regarding the future that is evolving now. The evaporating of boundaries will have more impact upon our lives than maybe even climate change. I want to share with you an important new book that I see as part of the growing body of evidence to support my claim.

An important boundary and distinction we make is between reality and imagination, between the mental and the physical. Of course, contemporary metaphysics recognizes that the physical reality has a mental foundation. The “Integral Perspective,” and Edgar Cayce is an early representative of that point of view, is that consciousness drives evolution, not the physical play of survival of the fittest.

What if “imaginary playmates” were real? What then? What if the figures of our imagination were real? What then? What if these imaginary characters could make a difference in our lives? What if they could affect physical reality—in real time, not merely in metaphysical discussions?

One of my first undergraduates at Princeton University, around 1974-5, Mary Watkins, produced as her senior thesis what would later become a best seller and even a required text at Atlantic University—Waking Dreams. In it, she describes, summarizes and opines on the implications of a small group of people who were working with the imagination, especially imaginary beings. At the time, these beings figured in psychotherapy, although Carl Jung’s own personal work, which we finally got to see first hand in the publication of his “Red Book,” hinted at their larger significance. During the meeting with other faculty members where Mary had to defend her thesis, the faculty chairman asked Mary if one could actually impact reality with these imaginary figures. Little did he know that laboratory research was about to demonstrate that the autonomic nervous system requires the imagination in order for it to be controlled. Mary’s work stood on the brink of a revolution in thought.

Some forty years later, we see how far this revolution has come. In her book, Imaginal Figures in Everyday Life: Stories from the World between Mind and Matter (Chiron Publications), Mary Harrell, Ph.D. tells many stories from her own life to demonstrate the reality of imaginary helpers. There’s a tradition that goes way back to the ancient Persians that favors the term imaginal over imaginary. The “imaginal realm” exists between matter and mind, intermingling with both, creating a bridge between them, as well as dissolving their boundary that distinguishes them. We might use the term “thought forms” to express our sense of creations of the mind having some influence on the physical. In a long term, large study involving hundreds of participants in workshops I’ve conducted around the world, I show how such statements as “the tension in the room was so strong you could cut it with a knife,” are expressions of being in contact with this intermediate, imaginal realm, neither just physical nor just mental, but a bit of both. Our feeling imagination is what detects and processes this quality of “energy,” as some folks like to call it.

What Dr. Harrell has done in her book is tell enough personal stories to make this somewhat abstract concept of the imaginal very real and convincing. The “people” she talked to in her imagination had important things to tell her, could reveal things about her physical reality that she could verify, and could operate on that reality as well. They are “real” for all intents and purposes.

Not that there aren’t hallucinations and make believes within the mind—stuff we can enjoy and let go of or pay no mind to. But there are also beings in the mind that call for our attention, and reward our paying them respect. I’ll share one instance I’ve experienced, an example that doesn’t require a story from psychotherapy to appreciate.

I’m out in the garden, supposedly to weed it. But the day is warm and I’ve just finished lunch. I’m kinda goofing off and daydreaming. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see a little character peeking out from behind a squash plant. I turn to get a better look as it disappears. As I reflect upon the experience, I realize that I had “imagined” its reality. By that I mean that it required my imaginal sight, not my physical eyes, to perceive it. It’s attitude matched my mood. I could sense a quality of oneness, similarity, or companionship in the encounter. My mood matched its attitude and allowed my imagination to experience it in imagery. Several years later, I ran across a book of drawing by a psychic artist who was portraying the various plant devas she had encountered. When I came to the squash plant, her painting depicted exactly what I had “seen.”

Mary Harrell’s book mentions those kinds of critters, although most of her stories are about human like beings who help her in her healing and growth.

My only criticism of the book is the physical design. The publisher used such a small type face you have to really concentrate to keep your focus, and some of the pages are not printed as firmly, making them even harder to read. Such effort gets in the way of relaxing into the imaginal realm so you can enjoy the experiences that Mary describes. It may have been a way to create a book with fewer pages, but at the cost of our involvement with the images the words convey. I suggest your getting a digital copy so you can adjust the font to a size of your liking.

To explore this book on, click here!