Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Rebirth of the Imagination

         Once, there lived a Sultan who discovered that his wife was betraying him by taking as her lover a black slave.  After killing them both, he vowed that, since no woman could be trusted, he would wed one every day and have her strangled the next morning.  The Sultan ordered his Vizier to provide him with a new wife every day. 

         This the Vizier did reluctantly, but dutifully.  The people of the kingdom grew more sorrowful every day, as more of their daughters were taken from them and put to death.  The Sultan, who was once much loved by his people, was now hated. 

         Finally, the Vizier's own daughter, Scheherazade, a woman of surpassing knowledge, wit and beauty, determined to find a way to stop the slaughter.  She demanded that her father give her as a bride to the Sultan.  For the Sultan had exempted the Vizier's daughters from his edict.  Her father was horrified, but she insisted and he finally relented.  Before the wedding, Scheherazade told her sister to come to her bedchamber in the night and ask her to tell one last story before she died.

         This she did, and with the Sultan's permission, Scheherazade began to tell a story, but with the coming of the dawn, stopped at just such a place that the Sultan wished to hear what was coming next. Therefore, he let her live for one more day.   And each night, her stories were never completely told and the Sultan let Scheherazade live one more day so he could hear her stories.   And so for 1,001 nights, Scheherazade told stories of love and betrayal, innocence and duplicity, wonder and intrigue, secret dreams and amazing discoveries until the dawn came when she had no more stories to tell.

         As she waited for her husband's decision – for now he could kill her despite their three children - the Sultan realized how loyal Scheherazade had proved to be, and he saw the injustice of his vow, because he finally understood how fragile our human consciousness is and how we all fail at some point in our lives and have to face the consequences.  However horrible the price had been, the Sultan wisely chose to learn from his mistakes.  Because of Scheherazade and her stories.   He understood something more about love than he had before, and after this always gave Scheherazade respect for her wisdom, and honor for her valor.1   


The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a world that honors the servant, but has forgotten the gift.
                                           Albert Einstein

I do not know what bounds may be placed on the power of the imagination. It can heal the body, reveal the secrets of divine truth, transform the personality, incarnate God, and open up worlds of infinite diversity and potential.
           Jeffrey Raff, Jung and the Alchemical

The imagination is, therefore, not a source of deception and delusion, but a capacity to sense what you do not know, to intuit what you cannot understand, to be more than you can know.
            William Irwin Thompson, Gaia, A Way of

         Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”   Samuel Taylor Coleridge called the imagination ‘the living power and prime agent of all human perception’.   If imagination is so important to our lives, why aren’t we trained in its use?
            What is the power of the imagination that it can move us to tears, to action, to love, to surrender, to death, to transformation?  Both mystics and quantum physicists know that the human imagination is the most creative faculty we possess.  Imagination is involved in magical workings as well as the transformation of consciousness.  Imagination is the source of manifestation.   And imagination is sourced in the Sacred Feminine. 

Imagination is the Language of the Feminine Spirit
            Imagination is foremost the language of the feminine, of the heart, of life itself.  It is a soul language of images and symbols, of music and art, myth and spirituality: a language that has the ability to move us at the deepest levels of our being.  It is also the universal language of our species, the one language we all share – the language of dreams and visions.  We tend to relegate imagination to children, but it is too powerful a tool to leave behind once we leave childhood. Women also tend to have wonderful imaginations.   But through centuries of persecution and denigration, women have abandoned this intuitive way of knowing when we wanted to make our way in a man’s world.  
            In his intriguing book The Alphabet Versus The Goddess2, the brain surgeon, Dr. Leonard Shlain, believes that we are just now beginning to relearn what he calls the language of the Goddess, the language of images, through the medium of films and television as well as through our use of the Internet.   It seems we are depending more and more on images for information.  It is a fascinating study that explores the different ways human beings perceive and integrate the world into their consciousness.  His thesis is that once people and cultures learn to read and write and abandon their oral and pictorial traditions, their culture goes through tremendous changes which develop the left side of the brain and cause that culture to become predominantly masculine in orientation, valuing linear, sequential, reductionist, abstract thinking.  It also downplays feminine values and ultimately women’s power in the culture.  “Literacy has promoted the subjugation of women by men throughout all but the very recent history of the West.  Misogyny and patriarchy rise and fall with the fortunes of the alphabetic written word.”3   Whether this is the whole truth or not, it is an interesting theory about how our brains are changed by how we use them. 
 We know much more about the complementarity of the two polarities or modes of consciousness through the work of neurologists on the functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain.  The left side of the cerebral cortex of the brain controls the right side of the body, and the right side of the cortex controls the left side of the body.  The structure and function of these two hemispheres is related to two different types of consciousness that exist simultaneously within each of us.  The left hemisphere is predominantly involved with analytical, logical thinking, whose method of operation is primarily linear and sequential.  The right hemisphere is primarily responsible for our orientation in space, artistic endeavors, body image and recognition of faces.  It is more holistic, simultaneous and integrative than the left hemisphere.3

            Masculine                                         Feminine
            Day                                                     Night
            Doing                                                 Being
            Active                                                 Receptive
            Rational                                             Intuitive
            Light                                                   Dark
            Time                                                   Space
            Intellect/Thinking                             Sensuous/Sensation
            Time, History                                     Eternity, Timelessness
            Linear                                                 Nonlinear
            Sequential                                        Simultaneous
            Focal                                                  Diffuse
            The Creative: Heaven                     The Receptive: Earth
            Cause & Effect                                 Synchronicity

Brain studies show us that women’s brains are different from men’s.  In her beautiful book, An Alchemy of Mind, Diane Ackerman explains the differences between how men and women process the world. 

A woman's brain has a larger corpus callosum, the sparkling bridge between the hemispheres, and also a larger anterior commissure, which links the unconscious realms of the hemispheres. This may allow the emotional right side to contribute more intensely to the left side's conversation, thought and other doings. Men more often focus on a problem with the hemisphere that specializes in it, while women tend to recruit both sides of the brain. 

Girls emphasize what they have in common, and boys roughhouse with each other, talk competitively and avoid eye contact. Males do better on math reasoning, figure-ground and spatial tests and have better aim. Girls excel at language, social and empathy skills and spotting similarities between objects. They are more sensitive at hearing and smelling. In rhyming, both girls and boys are equally skilled, but boys use only one side of their brain, while girls use both. 

Men have a harder time reading facial expressions than women. Men have more activity in the limbic brain and so react to emotional situation through actions. If angry, they attack. If fearful, they run away. Women's brains show more activity in the cingulate gyrus, adjacent to the language areas. They deal with emotions in a more symbolic fashion – they talk about them.
Women tend to worry more about losing attachments while men worry more about losing face. Men become more jealous over sexual infidelity, while women become jealous over emotional infidelity.4

            The feminine outlook values a holistic, simultaneous, synthetic and concrete view of the world.  Images form the natural language of feminine consciousness, which connects us to the sensual world of appearances.  Jung believed that psyche/soul entails the imaginative possibilities of our human nature.  The right side of the brain perceives all parts of the picture simultaneously, creating a whole gestalt. This is what a symbolic image does - it expresses the whole meaning of the idea. 
            Feminine consciousness is an inner vision first and foremost, the inner vision of Spirit.  It is the language of images that is the mother tongue of Lady Wisdom.  For the past few centuries, Western culture marginalized this vision until we invented the moving picture and saw our inner images projected out into the world. 
            We have to understand how the power of images affects psyche, since we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that they have no affect at all.  The biggest delusion is that our dreams are meaningless, when in fact they are the ‘royal road’ to our inner wisdom.  We have to question how movies and television affect us and our children and our beliefs.  We know from what the Nazis did in Germany that people can be manipulated by the use of archetypal images and symbols.  And look at how our corporate media misuses the power of images to influence people into thinking they need to buy and consume their products. 
            It is up to our artists and writers, our teachers and visionaries - and women, who are the caretakers of life - to make sure that we don’t twist the meaning of images or use them to manipulate our beliefs.  If we let this happen, we kill the imagination, the source of our creativity and wisdom.  We can learn to use the imagination wisely once we understand its true value, and it will help us solve the overwhelming problems of creating a free and just society, here and around the world.   It is only through balancing and valuing both masculine and feminine perspectives that we can create real change in our attitudes and beliefs about what is possible, what is live-giving, what is needed to heal the world.
            If what Dr. Shlain says is true, it seems we all learned a masculine vision of life through the process of learning to read and write.  While the eye scans the linear sequence of letters in words to discover their meaning in a one-at-a-time fashion, we are learning to think abstractly and see separation rather than wholeness.   I’m not proposing we stop reading and writing – I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t love to read!  We just need to learn how to put our wonderful imaginations to work in solving life’s problems.

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