There is a way of being which naturally retreats from the tyranny of the outer world and finds its own inner landscape of colors, moods and feelings. I experience it as a quality of wetness, a wetness of the soul. The only joy and happiness I have felt in my life has been due to this quality. I believe another word for it is the imagination. I grow more and more convinced that the health and livingness of the imagination determines how much one can actually feel his or her life, and thus how happy life can be. If there is a constant flow of feelings, impressions and inspirations, it is hard to get depressed or bored. This inner well of the imagination is so vital to an experience of the soul, of believing in the reality of eternal things, of a life beyond the confines of identity and personal history.
What do I mean when I say “my life”? Does my life refer to my physical body? Is it my identity, the fact that I am Italian, German and Irish? Is my life the sum of my experiences? Is it the thoughts that run through my mind each day, or my hang-ups and particular fears? When I feel deeply into myself, what seems most significant, most real, is more like a collage of images and familiar emotions. The keynote of my life is the shape my imagination has chosen, and all the things that I love and am drawn to, even the words I tend to speak, those that hover around me. When I think about myself and my life, this inner world is so much more real than the outer.
I have always resisted the banality of the life of the dry mind, of routine, duty and habit. When I was a child I remember being afraid of grown-ups because they seemed so empty and lifeless. I was truly afraid of becoming like them, losing my passion and freedom and imagination. I am still afraid of it, but now I understand how easily it can happen. Days going by one after another, using up one’s precious life energy on the struggle to survive and trying to create something of worth—these tasks are a heavy burden to the soul. They exact a price, which is an ever-diminishing vitality and sense of possibility. The dryness of the soul creeps in and steals away the colors and feelings and inspirations.
How can this happen though? Shouldn’t the wetness be there, just under the surface of the mind, like a trusted friend, ready to save us? I believe it is there, and cannot ever be extinguished totally, but like all the energies that live in us, it needs nurturance and tending. Too many layers get encrusted over the soft, pulsing, innocent well of the soul. The little child that hopes and dreams and feels everything gets buried and entombed inside us. The imagination needs space in which to breathe and move. I have found that in the rare times in my life when I have had unstructured idle time, the water of my imagination starts flowing again. Having to give my consciousness to tasks related to basic survival for most of each day feels like a kind of subtle violence to the softer, feminine energies of the soul. I truly wish life would allow more time for reverie, daydreaming, sleeping and reflecting.
But even still, the soul persists and wants to have its life. There are subversive things we can do each day to reclaim our consciousness for ourselves, for that most private and sacred task. We can meditate and drift off into empty spaces that the imagination might fill. After working all day, we can come home and listen to music, really listen and enter into it. We can dance, connecting with the ground and the space around our bodies. We can look closely at another person’s face, watching it change in each moment. We can feel what it is that we most desire, whether or not we think we will ever attain it. We can imagine the beloved one that we have always dreamed of, before disappointment creeped in. We can imagine traveling to faraway places- climbing mountains, swimming in oceans, strolling through villages, drinking tea on sunny verandas. We can feel all the energies that live in us– wild, sad, forceful, humble, angry, passionate and reverent. We can let the deep questions and conflicts remain unresolved… with no answers in sight. We can hold ourselves in tenderness because of all we have had to endure, all that the child has had to submit to although she started out in brightness and innocence.
Once when I got too caught up in the austerity of spiritual practice, I dreamed of a little girl sitting next to me as I was reciting my prayers in a serious tone. She looked at me and said “you’re scaring me”! I had another dream where I was sitting around a table full of men, scholars and spiritual teachers who were discussing philosophical ideas. I was straining to keep up and show that I understood and could participate. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman in a long red dress and two little girls laughing and playing. I kept getting distracted by them and turning around to look… they seemed so happy and free. Finally I gave in and turned away from the scholarly conversation and went to join them.
I believe these little girls are my protectors, they are an image from my own soul which reminds me of who I am. Although I have had my share of pain in life, I will always feel myself to be in their happy company. My soul takes the shape of a little girl who is playful and free and yet wise beyond her years. Her mind contains the expansiveness of the sky and her heart contains oceans of feeling. This is my true life, more real than the thousands of days of restless searching and working and trying to become something. Imagination has given me that gift.