On imaginal ground

Photo of "Field Guides," By Fred Tomaselli (2003).
Photo of “Field Guides,” By Fred Tomaselli (2003)

In Waking Dreams, Mary Watkins wrote the following on engaging the imaginal on its own, watery ground:

“How would we deal with the image in an imaginal way? What would that mean? First of all, we would have to watch carefully as we relate to an image for the points at which we try to bring it up on land, where we translate it to the concrete surfaces of our living. Each time we found ourselves once again on familiar ground – thinking we finally know what the image is all about – we would have to surrender and swim back to it, realizing we had left its depth far behind (as we unknowingly had used our own means of translation upon it). To remain dwelling with it, to perseveringly return to it – these we would have to promise. For only then would we give it an occasion to teach us its currents and ways of moving, its ways of transforming and of relating.”

Taking for real the imaginal is like inhabiting two worlds — the world of sensation and the world of imagination — although the line of demarcation is not always clear. Especially when emotions are strong, it’s easy to project what is imagined on the external world and assume, This is the way things are!, when really, memories (largely images) have jumbled with sense perceptions in the present moment. The process is imperceptible and rapid, and so we call it unconscious. Impulsive acts can quickly follow (and sometimes, regret).

Active imagination, as it is sometimes called, helps reduce such foibles, and with practice, creates its own, fantastic world with a little acknowledged benefit: it’s a lot cheaper than space travel, a second home, or even a vacation.


Watkins, Mary. 1976. Waking Dreams. Dallas, TX: Spring Publications, Inc.

© 2013 Laura K Kerr, PhD. All rights reserved (applies to writing and photography).