Note: This is an attempt to describe parts of what indigenous people call the “world of things hidden” using the language of the “world of things seen.” It is inevitably an imperfect rendering because language doesn’t have a vocabulary for describing the hidden world accurately. I can only write an approximation of the actual experiences I describe here.
You may be asking “What on earth (or elsewhere) is an Imaginaut?” I’m not surprised if the term is unfamiliar because my wife, Elyn, who is also an Imaginaut, just made it up. I give her credit at the outset. I’ve been an Imaginaut for most of my life but had no label to put on it. Others have many labels. “Day dreamer, head in the clouds, dissociated, ‘Earth to Gary!’, etc.” You get the idea. An Imaginaut is a person who frequently travels to the imaginal realms. This is not idle day dreaming. We Imaginauts go there on business. We are business travelers.
What are the imaginal realms? These are areas of non-ordinary reality that exist beyond ordinary consciousness. We can reach them using our active imagination. They are not imaginary. They exist, but they lie outside the bounds of everyday consciousness. We all enter a part of this realm in the land of our dreams. When we dream we leave our physical body behind on the bed and have adventures that combine elements from our memory and elements that are new and not limited to our personal histories. Our dreams may be a pleasant escape or a fearful experience.
Is there only one imaginal realm or are there many? That is largely a semantic issue but worth considering. I live in Spain and you may live in the USA, but we both live on Earth. One Earth, but two countries—singular or plural. Humans have traveled to the moon and may someday form colonies there, but they will all live in the solar system. Since the imaginal realm(s) don’t exist in physical space, you can think of them as plural or singular, whichever you wish. They are like nations or unique ecological zones—dreams, lands of afterlife, the future, parallel lives, etc. I’ll continue to use both singular and plural interchangeably.
I became an Imaginaut using my own methods and without guidance from any teacher. When I spontaneously began to compose music as a child, it came without effort. But as I was contemplating making composing my life work in my early years as a student at the University of Kansas, I felt I needed to call on sources of creativity beyond those provided by my limited environment. I found a small paperback book that promised to teach me self-hypnosis. I read its instructions carefully. I would spend several minutes putting myself into a trance and then try to create a piece of music. To my surprise, I was quite successful, and the musical ideas flowed more easily. I had discovered a secret key to creativity! The self-hypnosis technique became my standard method for beginning a session of composing, and I guarded it closely, telling no one what I was doing.
Later, when I was a university professor teaching young people to compose music, I developed several techniques that would not seem as “far out” as hypnosis for evoking the creative muse. For example, I would tell my students to imagine, as clearly as possible, the first performance of his/her work. The musicians would come on stage and the audience would await the performance. The more vividly they could imagine this scene, the more successful they would be. The musicians would get ready and the performance would begin. I would emphasize that the students must listen carefully at this moment, because they would always hear music in their minds. They needed to get as much as possible of this music down on paper. For example, what was the tempo of the music? What melody, harmony, or rhythm did they hear? Typically, there was not much that could be captured at first, but I assured them that with practice they would get better at it. These fragments were the beginning of the composition they would create.
Later they could determine if that was really where the piece should begin or if it needed an introduction. Was this the first movement of the piece or a later movement? These considerations could be thought through consciously, using what the student knew about the structure of music, and I could guide them through this process with discussion and suggestions. The visualization technique put the student into an altered state of consciousness, where the creative process could begin.
The basic idea is the following: the original material comes from the realm beyond the conscious mind, and the student learns to draw on the imaginal realms as the source of ideas. (Elyn suggests perhaps they were time traveling into the future, hearing a piece they had yet to compose and that seems reasonable to me.) Switching off the conscious mind comes easily to some, but others require methods and techniques to get there. Some artists visit the imaginal realms with the aid of drugs, but I never needed chemicals to enter these realms.
I also discovered a technique for composing using dreaming. I would spend a few minutes before retiring at night reviewing a composition I was working on. I would review it in my mind leaving off at the point I had reached that day. Although I would be looking at the music notation during this process, I would be hearing the music in my head. When I was asleep my mind would be quite active. The music filled my mind and would even extend beyond the current end point. Sometimes I would see a dreamtime ensemble performing the piece, but other times it was simply sound that I heard. I found that I could easily continue the composition the next morning, and I would have a good idea of what the future direction should be.
I sometimes wondered if I had been awake most of the night, but I would get up in the morning rested and able to work for the whole day. I did this night after night with no ill effects for years. It was only when I studied Active Dreaming with Robert Moss that it became clear to me that I was actually in a lucid dream state during the night.
A natural extension of the lucid-dreaming technique was using daytime naps for creative purposes. The results were equally effective. Hypnosis, dreaming, and day-dreaming are all ways of accessing the imaginal realm. When I began writing music theory textbooks, and later, our Powerful Places book series, I naturally used the techniques I had honed in years of composing to imagine content and layout of these books. In short, I have used the imaginal realm creatively for much of my adult life.
What is generally true of all imaginal states—including dreaming—is that they are out-of-body experiences. I project my consciousness out of the physical limits of my body. It may appear that I am dissociated since I am absent from consciousness on the physical plane, but I’m wide awake in the imaginal realm. There is also that state between waking and sleeping, which Robert Moss calls the “hypnogogic” state, that can be used creatively.
Being in the imaginal realm is not strange or unusual. We all spend considerable time in the imaginal realms when we sleep, whether we remember our dreams or not. Humans and many other animals require sleep to keep their nervous systems healthy. Sleep deprivation results in severe psychological problems and even psychosis. Imaginauts like myself use the imaginal realms for creative work, bringing the results through to waking consciousness and manifesting them on the physical plane.