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Thread: Imagination

  1. #1

    Imagination

    This past week I had a new painting student who was struggling with imagination. There was confusion about what is “imaginary” and what is “real”, and as a result she was fearful of her own darker imaginings. As someone who has learned to “just sit” these kinds of imaginings are the passing stuff of mind and not really a problem, but as an artist who values a fertile imagination it has been helpful to understand it in some detail. This way imagination can be an asset and not a problem.

    If you are an artist or worker with imagination, this description might be helpful. It is just an understanding that is useful, not a truth claim to hold.

    The closest thing to direct experiencing without imagination is when I am just sitting, or just walking, or just driving, etc. Thoughts, images, memories, will come and go, but there is an underlying grounding in/as “just this”. The brain/mind takes in immediate sense information and forms a coherent “live stream”. Everything outside of this “here and now” is imagination. Beyond this immediacy mind has built a model of all the people, events and locations from experience, and that imaginary model is what I evoke when I say “my life” or “the world”, or if I want to plan ahead or make “life decisions”. The art student understood this point, but felt that it was dangerous to say it is “imagination”, because then how do you know what is “real”?

    There is a difference between saying “there is a picnic shelter in the park’ and “there are gnomes living under my porch” . If I am nowhere near the park or my home, both those thoughts are 100% imagination. The difference is that the first imagining has a one-to-one correspondence with sense data, and the second imagining does not. In colloquial terms the first statement is “real” and second statement is “imagination”

    It should not be difficult to tell the difference, and we tend to think of someone who confuses the two as very confused, or even suffering from a mental illness. Yet the picture is not so simple, because the wider and more encompassing my one-to-one sense-based model of the world is, the more generalized, abstract, and “unreal” it is. It is like the cone of uncertainty we see on a weather map where meteorologists use the best data to predict the path of a hurricane. On the “here” and “now” point there is little debate about the location of the storm, but as we move out in space and time the cone of uncertainty widens until it must be cut off before it becomes meaningless. Likewise with our “world views”, and it is why “big picture” views of the world are where (for instance) things like conspiracy theories flourish, because where the cone of uncertainty opens out, imagination rushes in. So it is easy to say there is a clear cut difference between “real” and “imaginary” at the point of the cone, but it quickly changes as we look outward in space and time. A bit of humility is needed with any general claim of “objective realism”.

    This is where being a painter comes in. That open and abstract imagination beyond the wide end of the cone is a fertile place of symbols, allegory, and poetry. It is a beautiful gift that enriches our lives and is the bloom of culture, but it is only an asset if it can be picked up and put down as simple imagination. One of the important lessons in the studio is learning to rest in immediate awareness, of posture, and of how the brush is held (not too tight, not too loose) while allowing imagination to roam freely. By being grounded, imagination and inspiration can bloom without confusion.

    just sharing.

    Gassho
    Richard H

    sat today/ LAH
    Last edited by RichardH; 03-05-2018 at 03:56 PM.

  2. #2
    Thank you.

    Gassho,
    Onkai
    Sat/LAH

  3. #3
    Thank you so much for this Richard. As someone getting back in touch with creativity after a long absence (and learning and re-learning) this is personally very helpful to me, besides being of real interest. I love thinking about mind and thinking!
    Gassho
    Meitou
    Satwithyoualltoday lah
    命 Mei - life
    島 Tou - island

  4. #4
    Thank you very much this. I find it quite thought provoking.




    Gassho, Shinshi

    SaT-LaH
    空道 心志 Kudo Shinshi
    I am just a priest-in-training, any resemblance between what I post and actual teachings is purely coincidental.

  5. #5
    Yes. Thanks, Richard.

    Gassho
    Meishin
    Sat Today LAH

  6. #6
    Hi Richard,

    A friend recommended this book, "Beyond the Self: Conversations Between Buddhism and Neuroscience." I just read this passage which reminded me of your post.

    "Research done by the neuroscientist Scott Barry Kaufman has indicated that brain states favorable to creativity seem to be mutually exclusive with focused attention. According to him, creativity is born from a fusion of seemingly contradictory mental states that can be limpid and messy, wise and crazy, exhilarating and painful, spontaneous and yet arising from sustained training." -- Matthieu Ricard

    Supports your wise counsel to your student.

    Gassho
    Meishin
    Sat Today LAH
    Last edited by Meishin; 03-06-2018 at 10:59 PM.

  7. #7
    Hi Richard

    That is really interesting to think about. It is true that while for living in the 'normal' everyday world, we need to know what is real and what is imaginary, for the artist, the distinction is far less important. In fact, art often becomes more interesting when it is hard to differentiate between the word of the real and unreal; blue bananas, people with three eyes, flying dogs - all look familiar but also bend our usual idea of reality.

    Seeing that can be done also gives us an idea that all of our thoughts are, in one sense, imaginary.

    I have a Zen priest friend who is an actor. He uses the idea of playing roles to give people an insight into the changing sense of 'I'.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  8. #8
    I've been interested for a loooong time about what is real and what is not. I think I've come to the conclusion that there is nothing that is purely imaginary. We dream of being attacked by a tiger. When we wake up, we say "gosh, I'm glad that wasn't real!" But what we mean is "gosh, I'm glad that wasn't as real as waking life," because dreams are real, they take up time, have names, can be described; our hearts race, we sweat, we kick our feet to run, we yell out. Someone looking at us from the outside would certainly conclude that something real and non-imaginary was going on! When we have an idea, it's something, not an imaginary nothing; it can make us angry, or happy, or spur us on to major changes in the world. Is a thought of being struck unreal while being struck is real, even though they both make me feel bad?

    Real musings on imaginary thoughts.

    Daniel (Shinsho)
    Sat Today

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by danieldodson View Post
    I've been interested for a loooong time about what is real and what is not. I think I've come to the conclusion that there is nothing that is purely imaginary. We dream of being attacked by a tiger. When we wake up, we say "gosh, I'm glad that wasn't real!" But what we mean is "gosh, I'm glad that wasn't as real as waking life," because dreams are real, they take up time, have names, can be described; our hearts race, we sweat, we kick our feet to run, we yell out. Someone looking at us from the outside would certainly conclude that something real and non-imaginary was going on! When we have an idea, it's something, not an imaginary nothing; it can make us angry, or happy, or spur us on to major changes in the world. Is a thought of being struck unreal while being struck is real, even though they both make me feel bad?

    Real musings on imaginary thoughts.

    Daniel (Shinsho)
    Sat Today
    Buddhas teach that all this life is thoroughly a dream ... and death is but a dream, our presence and passing is a dream ... so row row row the boat. One might as well, then, have a dream premonition of what's next in a dream.

    In fact, Dogen called this life "a dream within a dream" ... a dream so dreamy that we best dream it well ... a dream so dreamy, that it is as real as real can be ... for though a dream perhaps, it is our dream and our life ... so dream and live it well. (In this "daily life" dream, when we act violently, someone actually gets hurt ... so dream that one is not violent etc.) From Shobogenzo Muchu-setsumu (Expounding a dream in a dream):

    The entire world, crystal-clear everywhere, is a dream; and a dream is all grasses [things] clear and bright. To doubt the dream state is itself to dream; all perplexity is a dream as well. At this very moment, [all are] grasses of the “dream state,” grasses “in” [a dream], grasses“expounding” [a dream], and so on. Even as we study this, the very roots and stalks, leaves and branches, flowers and fruits, lights and hues [of our perception] are all a great dream. Never mistake this, however, for a dreamy state.
    Gassho, J

    SatTodayLAH
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-05-2018 at 12:40 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  10. #10
    This has been really interesting to read. I read a book called Wired For Story by Lisa Cron, which applies brain science to storytelling/narrative. One point that really stood out was that our brains, when reading a novel for example, don't neatly differentiate the experience of the protagonist from our own. So we experience the protagonist's world as if it is our own, especially if the novel is written well. To our brain the experience is quite real.

    That said, I also find this idea of dreaminess also incredibly interesting. Maybe reading a novel or watching a film are a lot like a lucid dream.

    Sat today.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Buddhas teach that all this life is thoroughly a dream ... and death is but a dream, our presence and passing is a dream ... so row row row the boat. One might as well, then, have a dream premonition of what's next in a dream.

    In fact, Dogen called this life "a dream within a dream" ... a dream so dreamy that we best dream it well ... a dream so dreamy, that it is as real as real can be ... for though a dream perhaps, it is our dream and our life ... so dream and live it well. (In this "daily life" dream, when we act violently, someone actually gets hurt ... so dream that one is not violent etc.) From Shobogenzo Muchu-setsumu (Expounding a dream in a dream):



    Gassho, J

    SatTodayLAH
    Oh how I love this perception and explanation Jundo!
    🧘🏼*♂️


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
    In Sincerity
    Shane

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