Depth Psychology Blog

Transformative work requires imaginal space

22 May 2013 7:03 AM | Kim Hermanson, PhD
More than anything else, creating something new requires space. Our rational, thinking selves believe that “creative space” means making time in our schedules and physical space in our homes or offices. (You could call this “linear space.”) But the truth is, the creative process works on a different level and requires a different kind of space. Depth psychologists often call it imaginal space.

Imaginal space looks like this. Let’s say you have an important event coming up… like being asked to sing on stage for the first time ever, and the event planners are expecting an audience of 300. This recently happened to me and I was terrified. Many years ago at the end of an improv workshop, I was required to participate in a public performance. On stage in front of the audience I froze, and all I could do was walk off the stage… painfully shamed and embarrassed. The person who I was supposed to perform with was upset because I ruined her moment in the spotlight as well. After this event I never “performed” on stage again. I’ve taught seminars and given book talks, but for me, teaching is different terrain. In my view, singing is like acting, and I feared that I would once again freeze with stage fright.

When I work with imaginal space I use a method called Doorway Sessions. During the Doorway Session around my singing performance, I saw myself--with ‘imaginal vision’--drawing a BIG circle and I realized that all I needed was the infinite space inside this circle. With this circle, I had space to have anything, be anything, forgive anything, and let go of anything that wasn’t serving me around public performance.

Now you might be thinking… an image of a circle. That’s ridiculous! That is WAY too simple to resolve serious stage fright. How can a simple image of a circle (one could call it child-like) have ANY transformative effect on the psyche of a grown adult? I would say this. Metaphoric images from the imaginal realm ARE simple. If they were complex, they’d be coming from the mind, not the heart. The language of the heart is simple; its wisdom is not complicated.

Second, working in the imaginal is a holistic, whole-body, synaesthetic (multi-sensory) feeling of stepping into something new. Shifts come from whatever unique movements are happening with the image, as well as the feeling that you get when you become the image. I could feel what it felt like to be a big, spacious, beautiful, carefully-drawn circle. Being this circle was peaceful, loving and healing and in this infinite circular space, stage fright was no longer an issue. I had space around me.

Since these images are not coming from our minds but from our imagination (which is a real place), it’s quite possible for us to step into them--we can become them. After the Doorway Session, it’s not necessary to go back later to remember and analyze the image… because you’ve already stepped into it. You’ve already become it.

Try it right now. Ask your imagination for an image, whatever healing image you might need. Be patient and welcome whatever shows up (when we’re new to the imaginal realm, it’s easy to discount or brush aside its simple language.) It doesn’t matter if you don’t consider yourself to be a “visual” person, because this is synaesthetic, holistic knowing--so the image can arrive in many different forms. You might kinesthetically feel it, or hear it, or simply sense it, rather than see it. Whatever image you receive, imagine stepping into it. For example, let’s say you received an image of a tree rooting itself in the soil, or a ship resting on calm waters, or you saw yourself tying a rope together. What does it feel like to root yourself deeply into nurturing soil, or rest on calm waters or tie something together? This synaesthetic, multi-sensory feeling is wisdom and it's where transformation comes from.

Transformative work (and all creative work is transformative) requires imaginal space. It’s a truism that once we imagine something, it can happen, but the problem is--our rational minds are limited in their capacity to imagine. The power of the imagination comes from the heart and its ability to speak in its own language. Creative, transformative shifts happen when we dive below the surface of our very smart thinking selves…to a place that is murky, messy and full of nurturing, interesting, dynamic metaphoric imagery. One could say it is alive.

And just in case you’re curious, here’s the video of the first song I have ever sung on a stage:
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