Thursday, December 13, 2012

Imaginative Meditation I

Scott Bradley

In previous posts, I have suggested using one's imagination as a meditative practice. One form of this is "trying it on". Zhuangzi says something about "losing one's self"; try it on; see what it feels like; go where it takes you. You don't have to believe anything, enter a monastery, assume some special (and painful) position, or eschew beef. Just enjoy playing with life's and the mind's possibilities.

Ivanhoe (The Sense of Antirationalism), with an altogether different agenda, provides his translation of the critical portion of the "fasting of the heart" passage in Chapter 4 of the Zhuangzi and here we find a wonderful opportunity to let the imagination romp:
Concentrate! Do not listen with your ears but with your heart and mind. No, not with your heart and mind but with your qi ("vital energies"). Hearing rests with the ears. The heart and mind rests with what accords with it, but qi is amorphous and tenuous; it waits upon all things. Only the Way [Dao] will gather in the amorphous and tenuous. This is the fasting of the heart and mind!
Let's begin by realizing that for this to 'work', for us to imagine it into our experience, there need actually be no such "thing" as qi, or for that matter, Dao. Zhuangzi speaks of qi because he discovers in himself some up-welling life energy more fundamental than his own self and mind. Life is happening in him and he describes it as qi. He speaks of Dao because he experiences a vast, undifferentiating openness. Call them what you like, the important thing is to experience them. Experience need not require a “thing” to be experienced.

"Concentrate!" This is something we have to work at; we do not do it usually.

"Listen!" Take it in. Let it happen to you, not by you.

The ear hears only the surface babel. The mind can only go where thinking and self can go and can only open itself to thoughts. It categorizes, delineates, limits. But before and underlying these is you happening as something that is nothing — it is formless and infinitely open. “It waits on all things”; it is empty and therefore open to everything. You want Dao? Experience this infinite openness; that is Dao. Try and make it something and take it home in a box, and there is no Dao.

Imaginative meditation is a dialectic between described and actual experience. Zhuangzi describes his experience; that experience is rooted in his human experience; delving into one’s own experience to see if it likewise resonates with one’s own experience is imaginative meditation.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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