This is a transcription of an audio lecture you can download here: Meditation Essentials 09 Imagination AUDIO. There is also an accompanying pdf: Meditation Essentials 09 Imagination PDF. Be sure to study the previous lectures in the course, as well.
Meditation is a state of consciousness; it is not a behavior to imitate; it is not a posture; it is not something that can be bought. Meditation is a state of experience; a state of perception; a state of being in which the very essence of what we are as a living creature is freed of its conditioning, and is then able to perceive reality as it is. In other words, meditation is the consciousness in its natural state.
This is supremely significant for us to understand if we want to understand life, suffering, and happiness. We experience everything through perception, but we do not realize that our perception is modified and heavily conditioned by layers and layers of factors. On a superficial level, our perception is modified by the body, by the senses — we may have eyes that are imperfect, ears that are imperfect, a sense of taste or touch that is imperfect; we may have a brain that is imperfect; we may have a nervous system that is imperfect, and all of these factors are merely on the physical level, the most superficial level of experience. What about the imperfections we may have psychologically that also modify and influence our perception? Those modifications are much more profound than the physical ones. They influence us in much deeper ways than physicality does. So to understand meditation, we have to become aware of all those conditioning factors. We have to learn about them; we have to learn to see what they are, to know what they are, and to learn to see clearly in spite of them.
The essentials of meditation begin with understanding what consciousness is. Every living thing has consciousness — it is what defines life. Even though modern science is struggling to explain consciousness, to understand consciousness, there are many human beings who understood it very well and have taught how to use it very well, but unfortunately their teachings have been misunderstood and misapplied. If we study the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses, Padmasambhava, Milarepa, and many other teachers who understood consciousness, who taught how to use consciousness, we can learn how to use our consciousness in a better way. Fortunately, modern science is now trying to learn about consciousness and is even learning to listen to the carriers of those ancient traditions. We see dialogues opening up between physicists and meditators or doctors and meditators, because they are recognizing that meditation is a valid scientific experience of what the consciousness is.
Consciousness is a living thing; it is what gives us life, it is what gives life to everything that exists, and it has certain qualities that we need to understand with explicit clarity if we want to understand religion, dreams, meditation, and even science. Science has recognized that consciousness affects science. If you have studied quantum physics, any of the new mathematics, dimensionality, anything that has been recently worked on scientifically, they have finally admitted that the observation (consciousness) of an experiment changes the experiment.
How do we define consciousness?
- The state of being conscious; knowledge of one’s own existence, condition, sensations, mental operations, acts, etc.
- Immediate knowledge or perception of the presence of any object, state, or sensation.
- An alert cognitive state in which you are aware of yourself and your situation
Summary: a state of being, something experiential.
Perception is experienced in the present moment.
To be conscious is to be here and now, to be aware of perceiving; that is what it means to be conscious, and that is the bottom line for any real spirituality or religion - to be here and now, to be awake, to be aware. That is the kindergarten of religion, of spirituality.
Nowadays we hear “mindfuness” talked about everywhere. Everybody thinks this is some new thing, like a great breakthrough, but in fact mindfulness is the ABC’s and 123’s of every religion in the world; it is the “kindergarten” of real spirituality. Mindfulness, being present, is nothing new, but if you do not know how to be here and now continually, then you do not know religion because everything in religion and spirituality — especially meditation — cannot happen without consciousness active in the present moment, and the ability to sustain that active, watchful presence in the moment - to be present continually from moment to moment. It is to be an observer, to be in an alert, cognitive state, perceiving your state of being. That is to be conscious. That is the basis of all the lectures we have given up until now, and all of that is visually depicted in what we call the Tree of Life.
The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life is simply a map of consciousness, and it is mentioned in every religion of the world under different names. In the Northern European traditions they call it Yggdrasill. In the Asian traditions they call it the Bhavachakra (some people call it the wheel of Samsara) and Kalachakra. In the Bible it is called Etz Chaim (which, if you know Hebrew, you know that it is plural). In the Book of Genesis and the Book of Revelation (two of the most important books of the Bible) we find this described repeatedly: the Tree of Life. Unfortunately, most people who study those scriptures think it means a literal tree somewhere in the world. That is not the meaning.
The Tree of Life is a symbol, it is a map of your Being, of your potential. It maps everything that exists. It is infinite, and it is a map of everything. At the very top, it depicts what is called the Absolute Abstract Space. In Buddhism, in Hinduism, that is called Brahma, Shunyata - the void, the emptiness, the potentiality from which everything else emerges. The Buddhist calls this Samantabhadra. From that abstract level there is gradual condensation into everything that exists. There are levels and levels of subtle nature, through multiple dimensions, that gradually descend and crystallize into materiality., which is the physical world represented by this very low sphere on this tree. This sphere is called Malkuth, which means the Kingdom. That is the physical world and our physical body. Everything that is more subtle than our physical body does exist, but outside of the range of our physical senses.
What is the proof of that? You can prove it right now: where are your thoughts? You can experience your thoughts, you can perceive your thoughts, but not with your physical senses. They do exist, they are happening, but not physically. They are registered in the brain, the brain senses them, the brain translates them, but we do not perceive them with any physical sense. They are happening in the other dimensions. This is the case with emotions as well. What about dreams? We perceive dreams, but not through our physical senses. What if I ask you to tell me or to remember what you had for breakfast? The image comes there, right? You see the image? You see your breakfast? That is not physical, but you can see it. Remember your car? Remember who you live with? Remember your house? Remember your room? Those images are there, but they are not physical. The Tree of Life maps that for us.
Malkuth represents physicality, while there are subtle, superior levels above it, and below it are inferior levels that are more dense. Classically these are called heavens and hells, but more specifically they relate to all the different parts of our psyche.
The abstract emptiness, the primordial space, first expresses as a trinity that is described in every religion. A trinity has the power of creation. The power of three — represented by the sephiroth of the first triangle — gives rise to the fourth sephirah, Chesed, which represents what we call Spirit or Atman. This is what is often called “the Self,” the Inner Being, and “Our Father” in Christian terms. That in turn unfolds into Geburah, divine consciousness, which unfolds into Tiphereth, willpower, then into Netzach, thought, then into Hod, emotion, then into Yesod, energy, then into Malkuth, physicality. All of that is inside of us, in densities, subtleties, and layers.
Here physically, in our physical bodies, we are not really aware of any of that. We are very much identified with physical sensations, physical experiences. We may have dreams. We may have fantasies. We may occasionally have an unusual experience that makes us believe there is something more than physicality, but since we cannot produce spiritual experiences at will, for us religion and spirituality are just beliefs, theories, concepts, ideas; maybe interesting, but we do not see it as real, because we do not experience it. We do not experience divinity, spirituality, because our perception is so conditioned, so filtered, and very heavy.
The Tree of Life help us understand how to experience the other levels of nature, how to understand them, master them, how to change. Instead of merely believing in the Divine, we can experience it. Instead of theorizing or guessing about it, we can know, see, talk to the Divine, experience the Divine. All of that is entirely possible. It is strange how religious and spiritual people believe very much in their religion, they honor the saints and great teachers from the past and venerate the scripture, but as soon as we start talking about talking to an angel or talking to God, they think we are crazy. They believe it was possible in the past, but not possible now. But it is - it is our natural birthright. In fact, it is our purpose.
Our purpose is to know the truth, to realize the reality. To do so we need to become conscious of the fact that physicality has its place in nature, but it is only a fraction of what exists. In the same way, light is a huge range of energy, but we only physically perceive an extremely narrow band of light. We think that what we see with our eyes is all that exists, but it is not. Light has an incredibly wide range and diverse complexity, and that is what is depicted on the Tree of Life - the whole range of light: the ultraviolet and the infrared and beyond, mapped. We have senses that can perceive the entire range of light, but they must be developed. Right now, those senses are asleep in us. Though meditation you learn to restore those senses and expand them.
The first thing we learn in meditation is to relax the body, our physicality (Malkuth). We learn to adopt a posture in which the body becomes still, flexible, and relaxed. In other words, we want to remove physicality as a conditioning factor, so that the body is not limiting our perception anymore. We need to not be identified with or distracted by its pains, desires, hunger, thirst, discomfort, its needs and wants; instead, we as a consciousness say: "Body, I do not serve you, you serve me! And now you are going to sit quietly and be still and wait for me to come back.” With training, the body will do that, it will learn; when the body becomes a willing partner in our meditation practice, we have acquired “pliancy.”
As we relax the physical body we also have to relax its energy (Yesod), the vitality, the forces and capacities that flow through the body. We may be able to start relaxing physically, but if we are hyperactive, over energetic, or if we are very sleepy, lethargic, we will have a hard time concentrating and meditating. Part of learning to meditate is knowing how to rest the body and rest the energy of the body.
We also have to learn to relax Hod, the emotional aspect of our psyche. This means to let the emotions become still. Instead of surging with desires and fears and worries: "Oh what about this, and what about that" and all the different qualities of emotion that distract us, we instead let that rest, and we remove the consciousness from that conditioning limitation so that we are not influenced by emotion in what we perceive. You see, we may relax the body and relax our energy, but when we start meditating if we start to perceive things that are distressing to us, we remember a trauma, we remember a pain, we remember a person that we have lust for - those disturbing emotions condition our perception and keep us hypnotized. We need to relax emotions as well.
We also have to relax thought, represented by Netzach. That chain of constant thinking, that voice that will not stop talking, must become silent. That way that conditioning, limiting factor also ceases to condition and limit our perception.
All of this is preliminary to learning meditation. We learn these things through learning to concentrate, which is what the first eight lectures of this course were about.
This map in Tibetan Buddhism explains how to use willpower, concentration, willpower, placing attention on one thing, and holding it there. On the Tree of Life, that is Tiphereth. When we have willpower, then if the body complains, or energy tries to distract us, or emotions try to distract us, or thoughts try to distract us, we maintain our focus and are not distracted. Instead, we have the will to remain focused, to remain present, to relax, to not be conditioned or controlled by physicality, energy, emotion or thought. See how simple that is? Now you are understanding Kabbalah. That is what this is - the Tree of Life, the basis of Christianity and Judaism. Those traditions exist because of this map.
When you are centering yourself in Tiphereth, in willpower, that is the power of your soul. It is superior to physicality, energy, emotion, and thought. It is beyond them, and it is superior to them. The only reason we are slaves to our physical impulses and instincts, energetic weaknesses, emotional traumas and mental problems is because we allow it to be so; we have allowed our will to be controlled by them. We have bad habits, we have traumas, we have pains and we have tremendous ignorance about our true nature.
Through meditation we learn to center ourselves in conscious will, and in that way not only do we dominate these lower four aspects, we also start to become in closer contact with Divinity in us, which are about Tiphereth: the sephiroth Geburah and Chesed. Those represent the Divinity within us.
This is also symbolized in the myth of King Arthur. The sephirah Tiphereth is the Human Soul, willpower, Lancelot, the brave knight who has to battle enemies on behalf of Guinevere, who is the sephirah Geburah, the Queen, the Divine Soul, who is married to Arthur, the King, the sephirah Chesed, the Spirit. This essential trinity is what we call the Monad (Greek, “unity”). It is a unity, spiritually speaking, in us. That myth of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere was changed to make it more “modern” so people added adultery; that was not part of the original myth. The original myth is about the relationship between the Spirit, Divine Soul, and Human Soul, and that is a universal structure in mythology.
We need our warrior aspect, which is the Human Soul, to dominate the animal, the dragon, Hydra, Minotaur, Medusa, Goliath, etc. What is the animal? It is the body, which is ruled by instinct, emotion (which is ruled by desire), and intellect (which is also ruled by desire). The warrior who answers only to divinity has to conquer those animal aspects and make them serve the interests of divinity. That is what meditation is all about.
The initial stages of learning to meditate is the development of concentration, serenity. We explained that in all the previous lectures. On the painting of the nine stages of meditative serenity, the monk initially has to chase the animal mind that is represented by the monkey and the elephant. Through discipline, willpower, understanding the teachings, practicing them regularly, gradually the monk converts the animal into a servant and a loyal friend, so that the body (Malkuth), the energy (Yesod), the emotion (Hod) and thought (Netzach) become not obstacles, but armaments, tools, weapons.
If you know mythology, you know that the great heroes always have a tremendous task to face the Gorgon, Medusa, Minotaur, to battle the monsters out of the ocean or whatever it is they are fighting. Before they can succeed, they need weapons and armor, and they always get that from a goddess: the Divine Mother. The weapons and armor are precisely the body that serves, the energy that serves, emotion that serves, and mind that serve - not that control us, but serve us.
If you have meditated recently, you may have experienced how the body fights against our will: it does not want to meditate, it complains. That means it is not serving us, it is not helping us. The mind also fights: it wants to think, it wants to analyze, it wants to theorize, it wants to reason, it wants to be distracted and think about this and that. The emotion wants to feel pains, traumas, it wants to feel good, it wants to feel happy, it wants to feel “these” ways and not “those” ways. It is not helping us; it is an obstacle to us. All of that in synthesis means we do not have pliancy, represented at the top of this image. Pliancy is a quality that a meditator develops when the body and mind become our allies; they become very strong support and help on the path, instead of being obstacles.
What is significant about the development of concentration is that nowadays people think meditation is just about sitting and watching your breath, or sitting and just being mindful, or sitting and just analyzing some sort of cryptic phrase or a mantra and that is it, and that somehow they are going to get something from that, but they are wrong. That is not meditation. Meditation is about accessing and utilizing the full capacity of the consciousness —its full power— in order to liberate ourselves from suffering. You cannot solve a disease until you know what the disease is, and our disease is not just physical, it is psychological. We are sick psychologically, infected with all kinds of problems psychologically. We need the full power of the consciousness directed on our illness in order to cure it. You cannot cure your disease by spacing out. You can only cure it with knowledge: very precise, very accurate, very insightful knowledge of yourself. That sort of knowledge cannot be found by the body, energy, intellect, or emotion. It can only be found by the Human Soul (Tiphereth), working with Geburah (Divine Soul).
What is the power of the consciousness? It is the power of perception, the power to perceive, but not just physically. Those who think just by observing the breath that they will fix suffering — it is very obvious to see that they are mistaken about that idea because you cannot solve your psychological problems by observing your breath. You cannot solve your psychological problems simply by being mindful of your body. You solve your psychological problems by seeing the psyche in its true state: seeing the reality, facing yourself without fear, without aversion, without judgement, but seeing the truth. That takes courage, unquestionably, and it takes knowledge and skill, but it can be done.
To do that, to see yourself as you truly are, study the Tree of Life. We think we are just the body (Malkuth) and we are wrong. Modern people have this concept that our body is our identity, and this is completely wrong; the body is impermanent. The body is born, it grows, it develops, and then it starts to decay and it will die. Then, we will get another one. Maybe some people do not believe that, but the reality is death is the same as sleep. That is why in the Greek Mysteries death and sleep are twins, because they are both two sides of one experience, two sides of the same thing. In the Asian traditions they say if you want to know what happens when you die, just look at what happens when you go to sleep. It is exact same experience; the only difference is that when you die, the connection to your physical body is severed, whereas when you go to sleep, your physical body sleeps for a while, your consciousness goes out, it continues with its dreaming state that is in now, and then when your body is ready to wake up, your consciousness pull back into the body and you wake up in your bed. When you die, the difference is that the cord between consciousness and body is cut, and instead of waking up in that physical body, you wake up in another one. Then you are confused, you start crying, and little by little you forget everything that happened before that new birth. And you know that is true, because right now we cannot even remember what happened last week, or the week before that. How we are going to remember what happened before we were born? The memories are there, but we have hard time recovering them.
We pass through many types of experiences, levels and levels of experiences, also which are mapped on this Tree of Life. When the physical body is dead, the consciousness (Tiphereth) simply leaves that body. The physical part (Malkuth) and the energetic part (Yesod) of the body go to the grave, they die. The Soul, the Consciousness (Tiphereth) that is now severed from physicality is bound by its actions from the past, it cannot be free from it debts so easily, so a person that is very angry, that is very wrathful, that has got a lot of energy around entitlement, will be pulled into a new birth that has those characteristics. A person that is very lustful, that is very driven by desire, will be pulled into a new birth that has those characteristics. In that way we are born in the consequences and circumstances that relate to us psychologically. We do not remember any of that because in the same way that we go to sleep now, we go through the process of death. Right now when we fall asleep at night, we might remember a couple of dreams in the morning, but basically we do not remember anything. The same thing happens when we die. If you develop these skills, you will start to remember everything that happens all night long. That way, when you die, you will know what is going on, you will be aware, and you can influence what happens to you.
Throughout all of this, whether dreaming or dying, we are talking about the experience of consciousness. The consciousness is the ability to perceive, meaning that we pass through all of that, experiencing something, but without being aware of it. If we are developing concentration in meditation, we are developing these capacities of concentration, which are vivid intensity or intense mental clarity, stability and one-pointedness. These give us the capacity to experience even difficult things peacefully with serenity.
Observe how many great masters were tortured, abused, treated terribly, and still responded with compassion. Many great practitioners had that ability to pass through terrible things, and yet maintained peacefulness, serenity, and love. What is important to note about that is that those qualities are mapped on the Tree of Life as well. All those positive qualities: selfless love, generosity, altruism, diligence or zeal to work on behalf of others are represented in the Bible as gems or jewels that adorn the Tree of Life. If you read the Book of Revelation, you will see that. Those are superior aspects of the Tree of Life. But they of course all have their opposites. The opposite of love is obviously hatred. Nowadays we do not use that word that much, the word we like is anger; it is the same thing. Anger is hate. The opposite of love is not on the upward part of the Tree of Life; it is in its shadow, the lower part. What else is in that region? In the lower part you will find qualities like jealousy, envy, lust, impatience, selfishness, and tyranny. So all of the defects, all of the poor qualities are in the shadow on the Tree of Life, and all the positive qualities are in the upright aspect of the Tree of Life.
When we are in meditation and our mind is surging, trying to concentrate, what are we fighting against? We are not fighting against love, we are not fighting against patience, we are not fighting against happiness for others; we are fighting against impatience, lust, jealousy, envy, fear, shame, all the defects. What gives us obstacles in our daily lives, in our meditation practice, in our dreams, and in our death are our defects, our psychological problems. They all correspond to the shadow of the Tree of Life. You might have heard this other word that describes that region: hell. There is a place that we can call hell, but we actually carry it around with us all the time. It is our mind! When we are always living in that psychological environment from day to day, always saturated with our impatience, with our anger, with our lust, we are irradiating an environment of hell; in other words, a demonic environment. That is why we are not happy. We are not happy because we are not irradiating the qualities of divinity: love, generosity, and selflessness (we might try to fake it, but that is a lie to ourselves and others).
Notice that all those great teachers that we admire — Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, etc. — they were great individuals, but they were all selfless. Is it not true? None of them talked about “me, myself, and what I want.” Instead they lived and breathed only for you, for others. So they were great individuals, but with no self-interest, whereas we are the opposite of that; we only think about ourselves, our emotions, our needs and wants. All of our energy is focused on what we want energetically and our physicality is all about me, myself and I. That is why we are so miserable. What does this have to do with meditation? Everything! Absolutely everything!
The reason we need to develop concentration is to cut through all that noise. To carve out a space of solitude and serenity from which we can work effectively to change. We need to be able to recognize all of that negative psychological atmosphere that we cultivate and change it. We change it by centering ourselves in willpower (Tiphereth) to be present here and now in the moment, concentrating while we practice our self-observation during the day and while we practice our meditation techniques daily. But that alone is not sufficient. Concentration by itself cannot unlock the problems that we have psychologically. And that is because consciousness is not just concentration. Consciousness is perception. And perception is more than just concentration. Perception is the ability to perceive through all of our senses. So we need that ability to have concentration visually through our hearing, through our taste, through our touch, through the sense of smell, through all the senses. Not just the physical senses, but psychological ones too, so that we can concentrate and observe to see everything as it is: without preference, without judgement, without analysis, without being conditioned by it. To see emotion for what it is, to see thoughts for what they are without being influenced by them or controlled by them. To successfully do that means we need our center of gravity here in Tiphereth (willpower), free of the conditioning of these lower factors.
What is significant about all of that is that what is making that happen is imagination. If you really want to access the state of meditation, which is that state of consciousness, free of conditioning, you must work with imagination. There is no other way to access it. And this is a profound difference you will find among traditions of meditation. Many only teach concentration. If you investigate those groups, traditions, and schools, you will discover that their realizations are shallow; their capacity to penetrate into our psychological problems is very limited, because they are willfully rejecting the full power of the consciousness, which is perception. Many of these schools say: "We only want to concentrate on the breath or concentrate on this mantra, and if any images appear or you see anything - ignore it, reject it". They do not want you to visualize or imagine. Here we do not teach that way. Here, like the other ancient traditions, especially Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism, we want to develop the full power of the consciousness; which is perception itself. Perception is not just physical. We can perceive physicality, we can perceive energy, we can perceive emotion, we can perceive thought, we can even perceive will, and with training, you can perceive Divine Soul, Spirit and beyond. You can perceive them, you can see them, and you can experience them. It is not hard; in fact, it is the natural state of the consciousness to do that, it just takes training.
Concentration + Imagination = Meditation
The formula is simple: learn to concentrate, and learn to imagine. You will access the state of meditation easily if you harness these powers in balance with each other.
This is why in the process of teaching this winding path that leads towards serenity, we teach you how to concentrate on visualizing things so you are using both at the same time. In the very beginning phases we may teach how to observe the breath, how to concentrate on an external thing, how to concentrate on a mantra, as preliminary exercises. Yet, the best process to develop concentration is to learn to visualize an image and concentrate on that. That is what is going to develop the most skill. Real concentration is defined by having vivid intensity of what you are visualizing. If you are not visualizing anything, you cannot develop full concentration.
What does that mean practically for us? We need to understand what imagination really is.
Positive Imagination versus Negative Imagination
Imagination is a polarity. Like everything in nature, there are positive and negative aspects.
Positive imagination has different names in the spiritual traditions, like insight, Vipaśyanā, clairvoyance, or conscious dreaming. Anybody who studied spirituality has heard about these things. When prophets and saints have visions of divinity, that is a positive aspect of imagination.
Negative aspects include to be spaced out, to daydream, hypnosis, unconscious dreaming, and nightmares. Why are they negative? Because the consciousness is not engaged, we are not aware of it, we are not in control of it; they are mechanical or being controlled by something or someone else. They just happen to us or someone else is making it happen to us, some outside conditioning factor.
When we are “spaced out,” the body is doing something, but the mind is elsewhere. When we are driving our car we are thinking about work, we are not conscious, we are asleep. When we are reading a book and our eyes are going down the page, but our mind is thinking about that TV show we were watching yesterday - we are not actually reading the book; the body is reading, the eyes are moving, but the mind is elsewhere. We are spaced out, we are not awake, we are not conscious, we are asleep, and we are dreaming.
Daydreaming is just that: dreaming. You see people at their job, you can even go into a place, you ask for help, and the person is obviously so distracted they are barely hearing what you are saying. We have all had that experience, right? But have you ever been aware of you, yourself, doing that to someone else? When you are talking to someone else, but you are not really paying attention to what they are saying at all because you are thinking about something else. Daydreaming is negative use of imagination. You are visualizing and picturing being in Hawaii and you can hear the birds and the ocean, meanwhile your boss is telling you: "Hey!” You are not paying attention, because you are daydreaming! That is negative; it is fantasy, it does not exist. It is a dream.
Hypnosis is someone else having power over your mind; your consciousness is passive, asleep, unconscious. They are poking around inside your consciousness. This is very bad, very dangerous. Hypnosis is black magic. A hypnotist can tell you things, and put things in there for themselves.
Unconscious dreaming is what we all do every night. We go to sleep, the body falls asleep, we go out or are walking down the street or are having a great conversation with a rabbit and we wake up in the morning and we do not remember it.
We were asleep in the dream. We are asleep when we wake up in the morning. We are asleep all day long doing all our activities because we are so distracted. We basically live in a state of dreaming all night and all day. In other words, we “live our lives” (in big quotes) in a state of negative imagination, every day and every night. “Life is but a dream” because we live it that way. Indeed, we “see through a glass darkly,” because the quality of our psyche is so dimmed by this predisposition to fantasy, to daydreaming, to avoiding reality. What it comes down to is we really do not want to deal with the truth. We would rather live in some fantasy world, but it is not real, and all of a sudden we realize we are old and we are at the verge of death and then we realize: "Wait a minute! This is not what I wanted! What happened to my life?" And then what are we going to do? Life is so precious, but we waste it in fantasy. So let us talk about these things in a little bit more detail so we can change direction.
Types of Imagination
These are five types of imagination, five aspects of the same function.
When I asked earlier if you can remember what you had for breakfast, just remember that for a moment. Does it take effort? Does it take any effort to remember what you ate? No, right? Can you see the picture? Your eyes are open, but you can still see the image. Even if it is just a little flash, you can recall what was on your plate or what you had in your hand. Did you have coffee? There is a little picture that shows up: that is imagination. The goal then is to extend that ability, so that when you recall the image, it lasts longer, is brighter, clearer, and yet just as effortless. There is a fancy word for that ability: it is clairvoyance. Clairvoyance just means "clear seeing" in French; it is just another word for imagination.
There are five fundamental aspects of imagination, and they correspond to the Tree of Life.
What we call heavens or virtues represent parts of our consciousness. They are qualities of our consciousness like love, the ability to sacrifice for others, altruism, and generosity. The ability to love profoundly is a great quality of the soul, of the consciousness. It is the most important quality. Unfortunately, we also have the opposites, which we can call the hells or our vices because as much as we can love, we can also be angry. That is hate, and hate has nothing to do with God, the Being or Divinity.
Virtues and vices correspond directly to the types of clairvoyance or imagination.
The positive qualities relate to super-conscious or conscious imagination. These forms of imagination are not filtered through vices, defects, or even self-centeredness. For example, if you think of someone like Jesus, Buddha, a great master - those beings do not have anger, lust, envy, greed, gluttony, selfishness. They already cleaned themselves of all that garbage. They radiate the purity of their Being; they are pure, clean. Thus, being free of desire and ego, they capable of perceiving and acting without the filters and conditions that afflict us. Beings like that have what is called “supra-conscious imagination.” They have the ability to perceive reality as it truly is, not just physically, but in many levels simultaneously. If one of those great beings were to come in this room, they would see our thoughts (Netzach), they would see our feelings (Hod), they would see all of our qualities, and they would see our past and future. Right there, just as easily as we look at each other physically. All of that information would be visible to them. There is nothing mystical about that. That is actually the normal way of perceiving. Someone who is on the path towards that development, who has conscious imagination might see some of that, but primarily what they see is the reality - unfiltered, unaffected by pride, lust, envy, etc. They see objectively without filters. They may not see multidimensionality or they might; it depends on their development and their level and what is happening at that time. Those are two superior types, and as you can see, they are a bit rare because to see in those ways require that you are not influenced by your pride, by your lust, by your envy, your jealousy, hatred or anger, any of those qualities. They simply cannot be influencing your perception at all.
If those qualities are influencing you, then your imagination is qualified by one of these three types: subconscious, unconscious or infraconscious. It is sad, but that is the state for all of us. What we imagine, what we visualize is affected by our defects, by our psychological condition. That means that what we visualize and what we imagine cannot be trusted. We need a healthy dose of doubt about what we visualize, what we see, what we imagine, what we think, what we dream. Those who want to change have to always have this quality of doubt. “Who is dreaming that in me? Is that my pride? Is that my resentment? Is that my lust? My anger?” Let's go a little bit in detail about those.
Subconscious imagination is related with memories of past experience, and it forms patterns in our personality. You might be 60 years old and you hate to eat broccoli. And people offer it: "Have some broccoli.” And we respond vigorously: ”No, no, no, I hate broccoli.” You do not realize or you do not remember that the reason you hate broccoli is because when you were 3-4 years old, somebody did not know how to cook broccoli tried to make you eat it, and you had a bad experience that affected the development of your personality, and for the rest of your life you flatly refused to eat broccoli. You have no conscious memory of that initial event. So when in your sixties a person offers you a plate of broccoli, there is a subconscious flash in your imagination of "yuk, that tastes bad, I do not want it!" Here, physically, we are not aware of that happening, but that happens in us psychologically. That is subconscious imagination. This simple example illustrates a huge diversity of patterns that we have in our personalities now. Yet, we think it is simply who we are, and we do not question it.
“Personality” is a technical word; we use it in a very specific way here. The word personality is derived from the root persona, which means “mask.” A personality is something we make in each lifetime. Just as the consciousness moves in and out of the body every night, it moves in and out of new bodies after death and with each new birth. Each time we have a new physical body, that physical body grows up in its time, in its environment, in its conditions, and is developed out of that according to those conditions. In the same way that plant grows up in its environment and is influenced by that environment, the body that we have now has a personality - a mask that has our language, our culture, our way of seeing, our way of thinking that we inherited from our growth and development as a child. It also has the education that we got, which is related to this particular time and place. We speak English, we have this type of culture that we grew up in, we have certain values that we got from our parents and our teachers and our friends and family; all of that is related to personality - it is all temporary.
I know we think our personality is real and permanent, but it is not. Your name, your tastes, your morals, all your qualities that you think of them as your “self” you really only have from this life; they are all temporary. They are not your real identity. You were in other bodies before, you were another gender, you were another race, in another country, you had a different name, different morals, different interests, different politics, because you were born in that time, had the personality of that time, related to the education you got in that time. That is subconscious. Sub- means “below.”
We are not aware of any of this. We need to become aware of it, and recognize that we are not the body, we are not the personality; we are not the energy the gives the body life; we are not the emotions that fluctuate through our heart; we are not the thoughts that fluctuate through the brain. We are the consciousness, which has passed through all these experiences repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly and stubbornly refuses to see reality! Why? It is a great question. It is because of pain, and because we do not want to face the pain. So instead of facing the pain we keep avoiding it, which means we make it worse. Does anybody know someone who is too stubborn to see a doctor? Probably some of us are that way. We do that psychologically as well, spiritually as well. We do not want to face the reality. The truth is what we think of as our identity are just patterns of experience that we made. We are not aware of it. They are not our identity. The fact that we do not like broccoli is silly, shallow, but it is a pattern that modifies our behavior and our perception and makes us react mechanically like a robot without consciousness. We do the same with everything. Someone who had a bad experience with early love interests will be affected by that for the rest of their life - subconscious imagination. Someone who had a bad experience with a police officer when they were young child, for the rest of their lives will distrust authority, the police. They may not know why, they will not remember why, but they will always have that quality about them. Whenever they see the police or some authority figure, they will feel anger. They do not know why. It is because of these patterns that get formed in our early development and these images that appear, but we are not aware of in our imagination.
So obviously, this has a very significant influence on us. But there are even deeper ones.
Unconscious imagination happens through the frustration of our desires.
We have a very serious problem that is called pride. Pride is “self-esteem,” which is attachment to a false identity: "I am this and that.” We want to empower that sense of self, not realizing that this is actually a sin, a defect, a cause for suffering. All the scriptures agree on that. Pride wants praise, recognition, love, and attention. Pride stimulates unconscious imagination; in all of our thoughts, feelings, fantasies, daydreams, we are seeking to protect and strengthen our pride. Pride believes we are something we are not. Pride is a false self-image. We dream of fame, success, wealth, etc. because of pride. We dream of becoming a spiritual master and being followed by others because we have pride. When we do not get attention, love, or success that we have been dreaming about, we become angry. We exude an environment of anger and pride, feeling like we deserve attention, we deserve respect, we deserve money, we deserve whatever we think we deserve, and it is all in our heads; we are living in a fantasy land. Our life is mostly fantasy, and it is not real. Many criminals are defined by this characteristic. People who steal, who shoplift, who rob, always say they deserve to take whatever they are taking, they deserve it. Why? Because of pride, anger; they feel society owes them, and they did not get the recognition they deserved and society cheated their race or their culture or whatever, so they are going to take whatever they “deserve” from others. This is all due to unconscious imagination. They have these huge elaborate fantasies in their minds that influence all their behaviors rooted in pride and fear.
What about someone who has tremendous lust dreaming about the perfect spouse? They never find that spouse. Each time they get involved with a person, they always comparing the person with their fantasy. The reality of the spouse or the romantic interest can never live up to the fantasy, so that person will always be frustrated and will always end their relationships to go find somebody else. They are never satisfied, and are being cheated by their fantasies; this is unconscious imagination. These types of people are very common these days. They jump from relationship to relationship and have many boyfriends, many girlfriends, or many marriages. This is because in their mind, without being aware of it, they are chasing unconscious fantasies, rooted in lust. This is an undeniable reality in our culture nowadays, but no one is addressing it; no one wants to. We love lust too much; we do not want to recognize it as a disease, which it is. Lust is a psychological disease.
Unconscious imagination are all those fantasies and daydreams and dreams that we experience at night, those images in our psyche that influence our behavior that are driven through frustration of our desires. When our desires are not being met, we act in ways to try to fill those desires without awareness of it.
Lastly we have the deepest and worst, which is infraconscious imagination. This is related to the deepest levels of the psyche.
I know that all of us feel that we are innocent and that we do not have this aspect. We may even feel we are saintly people, but if you have ever had a nightmare, you have experienced it. If you ever awoken in the night in terror, then you have experienced it. You are experiencing the deeper qualities of your own psyche. That is what nightmares are. I know that people nowadays say this: "Oh, it is just your imagination. It is just a dream.” Yes, that is your imagination, yet imagination is simply a window into the psyche. The imagery you see in your head and in your dreams reflects what is inside of you. Nightmares are perceptions of the depths of your psyche; those monsters, and those terrible situations, and the feeling of being chased and pursued or killed or whatever your nightmare happens to be, is an experience of your soul in your deep infra-conscious levels. That is why we need to change it. Avoiding it does not fix it. Avoiding a disease does not cure it. To fix it, you have to address it; you have to look at it. That is why all the myths come to us from antiquity about the great heroes descending into the abyss; all of them - Orpheus, Jesus, Dante - they went into the abyss to look at it with their open eyes in order to redeem their beloved - Eurydice, Beatrice - that Divine Soul, who is trapped in those levels within us.
The infraconscious is in every single person on this planet. We all have it. Here is the scariest part about this: as I explained, we have the shadow of the Tree, which is where all our defects that are symbolized, and we have the superior aspect of the Tree, which is where all our virtues are symbolized. If you are to observe our society, our planet and look at what is happening on our world every single day - would you say that our society or our civilization vibrates more with love, compassion, generosity for others, giving selflessly to others or would it characterize itself more as selfish, greedy, violent, and destructive? Right now, on this planet there are more displaced people than there ever have been in the history. There is more slavery than there ever has been in history. These are statistics from the United Nations. There is less access to clean water and nourishing food than ever in history. There are more people in danger and under threat. Not only that, but the vast majority of the world's wealth is being concentrated into a fraction of the population more than ever in history. That to me clearly shows in facts that the whole world is sinking into hell - demonstrable, provable, scientific facts. I do not mean hell like the way the hells are described by the fundamentalists. I am talking about hell as quality of being. Hell in terms of its greed, gluttony, lust, anger, and pride. Who are the people that we are looking to as our examples of great human beings on the planet today? They are selfish people, they are greedy people, and they are people that are very much in love with themselves. Look at all the celebrities we worship. None of them care at all about you; they only want your worship, your money, and they want power, more fame. We do not find selfless, generous, loving, humble people anywhere. We do find sarcastic, hateful greedy, gluttonous people everywhere.
What that means is that humanity is not only influenced by these qualities internally, and how we live our lives from moment to moment now, but we are bringing it to the surface of the Earth. Nowadays society is encouraging indulgence in violence. Murder is an art form. Sounds shocking? Watch TV. What are most TV shows about? They are about different ways to kill each other. They are all about the many ways that we can kill and murder each other and get away with it; their “creativity” is in crafting ever more depraved actions for us to watch. We are fascinated by crime, murder, theft, and lies. We do not find any TV shows, movies, or books about the qualities of the virtues of the Spirit. Everything is about selfishness, lust, and violence against each other and nature. All across the world now we are seeing more and more people who are bringing infra-conscious, very deep terrible aspects of human behavior up to the surface - murdering, raping, killing, stealing openly. Take a look around the world; look at what is happening in Eurasia, where people are throwing chemicals on each other, blowing each other up, and people just go about their daily lives as if nothing wrong. Everywhere there are incredible atrocities happening, yet we sleepwalk into the market, to work, to home, buying our products, watching our shows, telling ourselves that everything will be ok in the end… Why? Because we do not want to see the reality. We do not want to see what is happening to the world. None of us want to recognize that all of that is in each of us.
The point of view of these ancient teachings is really simple: society is a mirror of the individual. Society is as it is because of the way we are as individuals. If we want society to change, we have to change ourselves. We cannot change other people - it is impossible; you could spend your whole life trying to change others and you will fail. But if you at least make the effort to change yourself, you might make some progress, especially if you have sincerity. These infraconscious qualities are in us; they need to be changed.
We learn to change them through developing the positive powers of the consciousness, and that begins with conscious imagination. That means we have to start seeing things as they truly are, not living in fantasyland anymore, but looking at reality.
I know the things I described today are disturbing, but they are facts. All of us want to avoid the facts because it is painful, but that is why things get worse, and are getting worse day to day. The only way that things will get better is if we face the truth, not only as a world, but as an individual. We have to face the truth and work on changing it.
Conscious imagination is the perception how something really is, and that begins here and now in your physical body.
The very first lecture of this course emphasized facts. If you want to learn to meditate, you have to learn to deal only in facts; you have to set aside beliefs and theories; deal in facts - provable, scientific, repeatable facts. That is how meditation practice will advance effectively. This especially applies to imagination.
When you start to meditate, you will have visions, you will start to see things; not physically, but with the power of imagination; you will start to have what you call visions, you might call them dreams, out of body experiences, lucid dreaming, clairvoyance, or whatever names you want to use. You will see things. The main thing - if you are going to get anything from today's lecture is this - if you persist in meditation, doubt what you see; only rely on facts! This is so important, because some meditators will start to meditate and they start having visions and they start believing they are some kind of master or some kind of great being that descended into the world to help others, and that is nonsense! That is 100% pride, and it is a lie! We have to see that for what it is. We may start to see things, have visions, have imaginations about each other or about ourselves, and we have to realize that until all of these lower inferior aspects of ourselves are completely clean, our vision will be filtered and influenced by our ego: by our pride, lust, envy, greed, gluttony, avarice, all of that. Whatever we see as visions or in dreams, we have to doubt it; we have to compare it to facts and prove things before we believe them.
A vision, as powerful as it may be, is unreliable on its own. A vision, a spiritual experience, a lucid dream, must be proven, tested, analyzed, doubted.
Conscious imagination sees reality.
Reality is provable, factual, infallible, undoubtable.
If you want to develop conscious imagination, then purge yourself of pride, lust, envy, anger, etc.
If you can do that, eventually you can develop what is called supraconscious imagination, which is where you perceive how something really is with all of its causes and its full dimensionality. That type of vision is the vision of a genuine master — and let me state it explicitly so there is no misperception about this — that is the type of perception that someone like Jesus has, a very accomplished human being. Unfortunately it is very rare on this planet. Yet, the possibility is there for any of us to develop it if we are serious.
How do you develop it? You first learn to meditate. You relax your physical body, relax its energy, relax your emotion, relax your mind and let them all become still and serene. And when willpower is centered and consistent in its observation of phenomena as they truly are, then visualize and concentrate on that visualization. The stability of that concentration on your visualization is what will extract the consciousness from these veils and you will access what is called Samadhi, where you see reality - whether physically, in the fourth dimension, the fifth dimension, the sixth dimension, the seventh. Maybe you will see your own hell realms, which actually could be the most valuable vision of all - to see your reality as a psyche. That is the goal and that is the real state of meditation, where the consciousness unconditioned by all the lower qualities is then freed to see the reality as it truly is and to understand it. Those are the two important qualities of the consciousness: to perceive and to understand. It is really what we want. We want to understand ourselves, we want to understand our world, and we want to understand our nature. Meditation is how you can do that - harnessing the powers of the consciousness to do that.
- Every day, as part of your self-observation from moment to moment, become aware of your use of imagination.
- Every day, develop your meditative visualization. Adopt a meditation posture, relax completely, then focus 100% attention on your visualized object.
- Write the facts of your day in your spiritual diary.
So for those who are continuing this course, your exercises until the next lecture are to continue your self-observation from moment to moment every day, but include in that how you are using your imagination from moment to moment. In case you did not realize it, you are. You are using your imagination all day long without awareness. So now become aware of it. You are getting ready to go to work and you visualize “where did I put the keys, where did I leave my drivers license, where did I park the car?” You are visualizing all of that, so be aware of that - do it consciously. When you are driving your car, do not think about work or TV, pay attention to what you are doing. Drive the car with full awareness and consciousness of it, of what you are doing. When you are washing your dishes, do not be thinking of what you have to do tomorrow or what so and so said to you yesterday - wash the dishes and that is it. If you need to think about something or plan something, then only do that; concentrate and visualize what you need to visualize with full awareness. In this way, you bring to bear on every action your full power physically, energetically, emotionally, intellectually and consciously. If you think about that for a moment you realize if you bring your full power to bear on each thing that you do, then at your job if you are doing this you will be a much better worker, happier, able to help others better. In your relationship you will be a much better listener and a much better talker because you will be fully aware of what is being said and fully aware of what you are saying. There will be less chance for miscommunication, right? More happiness. Be aware of your use of imagination.
The second is to continue your meditation practice on a visualized object. We made a recommendation in a previous lecture on how to do that:
So we continue with that practice until it becomes stable.
Finally, continue with the spiritual diary.
Of these practices self-observation is the main one. We talked about this in the first few lectures of the course, really we talked about it in every lecture, but it is the most important aspect of your meditation practice, which is to be concentrated all day; to be making the effort from moment to moment to be present and to be concentrated on what you are doing. If you are not doing that throughout the day, then that little time that you spend trying to meditate in the evening or in the morning is going to be very difficult. But if you have spent the whole day in preparation, then the meditation is much easier. That is really the main thing.
Meditative visualization was talked about in the most recent lectures of this course, which is the process of fixing attention on a visualized object. It can be basically anything. In most cases we choose something related to Divinity, an aspect of the Divine that we can emotionally resonate with. If you have a particular religious background, we would recommend picking an image from that tradition. So for Christians it might be Jesus or Mary or it might be some other visual representation of the Divine. For a Buddhist it might be Buddha. For a Hindu it might be Shiva. Visualize it, project that image in the mind and hold that until it becomes stable and clear. It does not take effort for you to remember your breakfast; it does not take effort for you to remember what your room looks like where you live. You just remember it, right? The image just appears.
Questions and Answers
Instructor: It is better to work with one consistently, at least in the initial phase and the reason for that is to prevent the mind from becoming too distracted and having that tendency of always wanting to hop from one thing to another. You want to fix on one thing and hold it. That is the traditional answer to that question. And there is value in that.
The point is, that exercise exists not for the purpose of what is being visualized. The purpose of doing that is to stabilize the psyche and the body, to stabilize attention, and to develop the ability to see those images clearly. Once we are reaching that experience, we going to drop that. We want to get on to the real work. That is all preliminary. The real work is like what we did earlier today. It is to be able to analyze ourselves, our lives, and our problems; and penetrate through the veils to see the truth. That power of visualization is what gives us that ability. So as an example, a student of this tradition at the end of the day today would go home, finish everything, go to their room, set up a little place to meditate and relax, and start to visualize their memories of the whole day, recollect everything that happened. And in the process of building that stream of memory, they would intuitively note: “oh, at this moment something happened. There is an emotion - I got angry or I got identified or I felt lust or I felt greed, whatever. Something happened that should not have happened. Something that bothered me or someway I acted that was not appropriate.” So we would take aside those few moments that they may find and then after that focus on that one moment. For example, they had a conversation and felt angry. So the student will be relaxed, meditating, concentrating, visualizing the facts of that event; observing the facts and playing that scene; not analyzing it with the mind, but observing how the mind reacts. The mind will have thoughts and then emotions will react, and we will feel emotions about it. That anger will surge again, or pride will surge, or fear will surge. The body will react and it will get uncomfortable. It will want to stop meditating. It will want to get up and run out of the room, or go watch TV, or do something else. All of those reactions are very significant, and with patience, eventually, some new visual information will happen: it could be a memory, it could be some unexpected scene, or a voice, or a word, or a scripture. It can be almost anything.
That is the goal. That is what we want this exercise to lead towards. It is how the imagination begins to access new things. Let me point out there that there is a very powerful dynamic that is happening. The meditator has stilled all of the lower factors; they have stilled the body and the energy, they have relaxed the heart and mind and they are using consciousness to recollect that memory and observe it, and hold it steady. And with patience, eventually, a new scene pops in. Now we see here the student is projecting their memory, but they receive something new. In that receptivity of a new thing is when the discrimination needs to be there, and the intuition of that person must be relied upon because that new thing can be the ego that is still trying to work through these lower conditions: through emotion, through intellect, through energy, through body, through sub and infra-conscious levels; trying to influence us. And it can seem very real this new thing that we see. We could enter into some fantastic vision, where we are an angel amongst the stars and all the gods are praising us, and we come back saying: “I have done it! I am self-realized!” That new scene that emerged, what we are trying to define is, did it emerge from these lower levels? Or is it something inexplicable that is coming from above? Divinity speaks in a language of the internal worlds, in symbolism. Divinity will show us a serpent winding up a tree that is sitting in a vast crystalline bowl full of milk and then an eagle arrives. And we think: “What?! What does that mean?” In the language of Spirit it is very obvious, it is very easy. When you study Kabbalah and you study the Arcana you will learn that, if you persist in this type of practice.
Audience: My question is - how do you differentiate or delineate between something that is imaginary and something that is divine?
Instructor: When you go shopping in the market, how do you know which seller is trying to cheat you and which one is honest?
Audience: I do not know.
Instructor: You know through experience. You have to pay attention. Through experience you start to learn what can be trusted and what cannot. There is no quick, easy answer to that. It is very easy for us to get fooled. The best way for you to learn how to differentiate is to learn to trust your intuition.
Intuition is not an intellectual thing; it is not a rulebook that you can refer to, or a set of parameters that you have to memorize. It is a subtle kick in the heart that says: "No, no, no, this is not right.” It is a very quiet little kick in the heart. The conscience can tell right from wrong. It knows the good from the bad. The conscience is a spark of Tiphereth, the Human Soul that is connected with Divinity. It is not intellect, it is not emotion, it is not energy and it is not physical. It is a little spark of intuition that says: "No, no, no,” or "yes, yes, yes,” and it is quiet. You have to be able to listen to that and if you cannot hear it, you have to settle the mind, calm the mind and listen, until you feel that intuitive kick. With development that gets stronger. The ability to feel that and rely on that gets stronger and stronger and stronger.
Audience: But if it is a provable, how can it be fact then?
Instructor: Set it aside until it can be defined. Like in science, for example, when you are investigating anything in science or you are a detective trying to pursue a criminal case, you cannot prove anything until you have all the facts. It is the same in meditation. You accumulate information, you have visions, you have experiences, you have perceptions, you have insights - OK, do not analyze them yet, set them on your desk in your file. You are filing the cabinet with all your data, the facts of the case and let the facts start to gather. Little by little there will be obvious answer. It will start to reveal itself.