In my last post I discussed at some length an intense imagining from a few evenings ago. Some readers found it to be strikingly illustrative and of profound significance, others quite psychedelic but ultimately signifying nothing. Everyone agreed that the decision to write about it in such a public medium took some chutzpah, but while some thought it was brave, others thought it was imprudent. Probably everybody will be surprised when I say that, in my opinion, both views on both topics are correct.
First, I should note that the imagining was not precisely a daydream, and although it had some textures of a kind of waking dream, the contents were not hallucinations. By that I mean I did not for a moment believe I was physically in the locations I described, at least not in a bodily sense. I can conceive of the argument that I was physically “there” in a neurological sense, but at any rate, I did not literally or empirically feel anything. I hope you can understand the difficulty I’m having articulating this, because it’s also true that I “felt” the occurrences of the imagining in a visual and affective sense.
Second, I should also note, as some of you already know, that I’ve been prone to having these imaginings for many years, ever since I was a child (moreover, they are not the only kind of mystical event in my life). They have always been mystical and deeply intimate, plumbing the scenes of the theater of my inner world. Yet, as part of my journey to adulthood, I first needed to learn how to intellectually distinguish these imaginings from other daydreams and fantasies, which was and remains not always easy precisely because of the gray borders of the mind. I then needed to accept their nature, although having since done so, I still don’t fully understand that nature. In other words, I had to first awaken to my own character as a mystic, and then to accept that character rather than reject it. But I’m not saying anything most people can’t understand, for we all struggle with self-acceptance; the struggle just manifests differently for each of us.
Now, regarding whether writing about the imagining was prudent, I answer yes and no. On the one hand, that blog post could not have made sense without the imagining: somehow the two issues of friendship and my purpose in blogging could only be bridged by the issue of transcending the self. If you’ll forgive the grandiosity of this analogy, perhaps also the original “silence” post was my own sort of Temptation in the Wilderness or Satanic Verses-type moment, and just as Jesus and Muhammad had to confront and defeat Satan by surrendering their selves, so too, did I. On the other hand, yes, I can easily imagine what a future employer might think about me after reading that post! From that viewpoint, it was definitely imprudent of me. Yet, was not the ultimate point of that post to proclaim the need for vulnerability? The internet is a very vulnerable place (indeed, just last night my computer was infected by a malware virus that took several hours to fight), and for at least a brief moment, I wanted to embrace that reality.
Regarding whether the imagining had significance, I think what’s confusing to a lot of people is that I’m a person with literally two very different kinds of reasoning processes. There is the empirical, dare I say scientific, track of reasoning within me, and then there is the spiritual and frequently syncretistic path, as well. Call it the historian and the poet within me. I’ve always felt it’s important to make friends and not foes of these two very different ways of understanding the outer and inner worlds of human experience. It’s not always easy, but I’m happy to report that so far they jive well. Indeed, they are quite useful for each other. The historian can and does calm down the excesses of the poet, and in general sound the alarm when mysticism is beginning to overrun my life and I’m in danger of veering off into something dangerous. Meanwhile the poet can leaven the materialisms of the historian, and in general transcend petty egotisms, even break them, toward being beyond my own.
Yet, this begs the question of whether I really believe in the message of the imagining (or rather, my interpretation of it), much less whether I believe it was “real” in any modern sense of the notion. To be faithful to my creed of vulnerability, I must answer truthfully: yes. Even the historian within me, although skeptical of the nature and ultimate significance of the imagining, can at least find its emotional meaning; the poet just goes the next step. I take heart in Ibn al-Arabi’s belief that the imagination is an intermediary between the material and spiritual realms. That’s not a carte blanche excuse to say everything that occurs in my imagination is therefore mystical — to the contrary, I employ the historian within me precisely to determine when, to be frank, I’m just bullshitting myself.
I also do not rely on my reason alone. I’ve learned that just as a lawyer representing himself has a fool for a client, so, too, does a mystic employing his own skepticism has a mirage as a guide. I always discuss these and other mystical experiences with those trained in psychologyl and the empirical sciences, as well as with friends who are not in the least religiously inclined, not only to get their interpretations, but also to ground me. So, I try to maintain the two different reasoning styles not only within the space of my own mind, but within my external life, as well. It’s a strategy that has worked very well to keep me pragmatic and sound-minded, but not at the expense of spirituality.
Yet, the that fact I’m inclined to at least consider some of the things that happen in my imagination as at least partially originating from forces outside myself to begin with raises another question, namely, whence this inclination? Upon reflection, I think my trust (or credulity?) is probably at least partially related to my late teenage struggles with Descartes. That will require a post of its own to explain, but I promise to get to it eventually. Until then, thanks for reading and please continue to bear with this Janus-like blogger.