by Jeff Martens
Imagination is the vacillating knowledge of an object based on words or expression, though the object itself is absent. –Yoga Sutra I.9
Spiritual Masters often remind us, as we think so shall we become. According to Patanjali, the grandfather of classical yoga philosophy, imagination can be used to help or hinder us on our spiritual path. Later (Sutra 1.20) Patanjali goes on to say that the correct use of memory (along with faith, energy and higher knowledge) creates the path of realization. When we live unconsciously, our memory (the “known”) defines the extent of our present experience. In other words, imagination can lead us deeper into our habits (samskara) or bring us closer to realizing our true state of kaivalyam or freedom.
Several years ago my former wife and I were looking for our first home. We found an affordable neighborhood that we really liked where a small (800 sq ft) home was available for purchase. We thought this home was perfect for us (we were living in a 600 square ft. apt at the time) but the homeowner wanted an outrageous price per square foot. Still, there were no other homes in the area for sale and we had to move quickly, so we agreed to his price. Then the inspection came back there were several problems significant problems to be negotiated with the owner. We rode the waves of elation and disappointment, believing this to be our only way to get a home in the neighborhood we wanted. Finally the bank refused to finance the home at the high asking price and the owner would not budge. We were forced to let go of the little house and now had less than two weeks to find a place to live…
When you approach something in a state of desperation or lack, the situations you encounter will most likely support your outlook. Suffering will result because: 1) the universe has infinite ways of supporting you, and, 2) you are limiting the Unlimited. What Michele and I discovered in our house search was that by narrowing the infinite source down to just one channel or form we all but cut off our ability to experience abundance and Grace.
After the disappointment of losing that first house, we decided to shift our focus and open to possibility rather than disappointment. We made a list of all the things we wanted in a home and were careful not to place restrictions on location, price, size etc. We also chose a realtor that felt “right” and focused on how we wanted to feel inside our new home. Within two days another home in the same neighborhood came up for sale with significantly more square footage at a lower price than the initial house we missed out on. Though there was intense competition to buy the house, we “held on loosely” and trusted the whole process, knowing that all would work out as it needed to. Eventually, due to extraordinary circumstances which we could not have planned, we were able to buy the house even though others were coming in with higher bids. Having lived in this house now for over five years, we are extremely thankful that we did not end up in that first little house!
If you give your constant attention to how little money you have or how busy you are or how little time you have, you are using your imagination to make the unwritten future a repetition of your past. Without conscious awareness, the imagination builds a future from past experience. Because of our own deep-seated habits, we may have automatically and unconsciously expected (and therefore experienced) a life of lack, limitation, or struggle. This is not a productive use of imagination on the spiritual path.
When you use the gift of imagination to set an intention, take a moment to ask yourself “who” is actually intending? Is it that highest part of yourself or someone else? Whenever we desire something, what we really want is the feeling that thing will give us. If you cannot give yourself the feeling that comes from achieving your intention in this moment, chances are you are placing too much emphasis on achieving satisfaction in the world of form through your time-bound consciousness. This brings us back into a state of “lack” which creates more suffering by limiting our unlimited identity. Frustration, lack and competition then begins to ripen into dissatisfaction, fear and anger. Survival is the rule of the day.
“Contentment brings supreme happiness” YS II.42
When we are content and fulfilled with what is in the present moment, we are identifying with our Divine Self that is already whole and complete. A feeling of gratitude blooms within us and weaves its way into whatever we are doing. The result is an abundance that is not limited by form, a spaciousness of mind and a slight smile that softens the palate, opens the sinuses fills heart and head with a joyful nectar. Living and not just surviving becomes our practice and the world literally takes on a different vibration around us.
Krisna in the Bhagavad Gita tells us that all thoughts and actions leave traces. What are the vibrations of your thoughts? Unless we acrt from our spacious center that is the state of yoga, Krisna says, your actions will have consequences, good or bad, that further your attachment to karma, suffering, and the laws of cause and effect. Looked at this way, each desire we have or each aversion we experience becomes an opportunity to realize that we are already whole and complete, no matter what happens in our lives. This realization is reinforced through the following spiritual laws:
- The physical universe is made up of vibration and energy (matter is made up of atoms, 99.99% empty space.)
- Energy is magnetic (like attracts like)
- Form (physical energy) follows idea (mental energy)
- Whatever you put out to the universe will be reflected back to you
Fortunately we do not have to live by conditioned reflex or unconscious intention. However we come to God, in that way God comes to us (Bhagavad Gita 4.11). As our faith is, so are we. In order to make conscious dreams into reality, therefore, it can be helpful to follow certain steps:
2. Be willing to change.
3. Establish your intention
4. Visualize your intention with gratitude and love
5. Act with Isvarapranidana.
1) Practice Samtosha (Contentment/Fulfillment). Do you really know what is good for you? Our limited perspective of past habit and expectation seasoned with a just dash of yearning for immediate gratification often sets us up for a flashing pleasure followed by long term feelings of deficiency, loneliness and incompletion. Samtosha is contentment or fulfillment. It is not settling or resignation, but a celebration of the fullness of life in this exact moment.
Realizing that all that we could possibly want is already here and now creates preferences instead of demands. When we refuse to base our identity upon ever changing thoughts and external forms, we become immune to disappointment and open ourselves to the possibility that their is a wisdom beyond our material goals which can bring abundance, Grace and Love into our lives. This is the bedrock of effective creativity. You must start in the present moment as it is and as you are.
2) Be willing to change. The willingness to change brings us more help and resources to accomplish our intention than we could possibly imagine. You don’t have to know exactly how you will achieve your intention beforehand. The answers are in the process.
3) Establish an intention. This is a powerful exercise that is quite magical. By speaking or writing down or otherwise proclaiming your preference, you are truly creating something out of nothing. This is how God works through your life to make the unmanifest “real”
4) Visualize your intention often with gratitude and love. This is like an open door to a long awaited guest. Invite love with more love, peace with peace, abundance with abundance. Become a Master and give what you are seeking. This helps establish awareness of your already complete nature.
5) Take action and practice Isvarapranidana. Ground your dream from the mountaintop of the mind and heart, giving birth to your intention through guided sound or action originating from that Self that is already whole and complete.
In Sanskrit, Isvarapranidana means Surrender to the Lord. This word arises from the roots pra = fullness and ni = under along with dhana = to place. All together, Isvarapranidana means “To place under the fullness of the Lord.” In your actions surrender everything to God or the Universe for your highest good and trust the process of life to take care of you.
By practicing these five steps you align yourself with the Divine flow and no longer set yourself apart from the flow of creation by demanding that things work out exactly the way you want them to. Rather than imagining what you want or consider best all the time and asking God to bend to your will, you become more fulfilled by listening and trusting the process of life to discover the Divine’s will for you. Imagination then becomes another tool for Self-Realization as you move deeper in your practice to touch the One who is imagining through you, discovering that same Oneness that is dreaming up the entire universe.
Jeff Martens is a teacher, writer and co-owner of Inner Vision Yoga.