David Patrick Greene, PhD: IMAGINAL FIGURES is Amazing and Beautiful

March 25, 2016


Mary Harrell's Imaginal Figures in Everyday Life is an amazing, beautiful book which explores complex ideas and renders them in a manner such that the reader is able to relate to those concepts and ideas. Henry Corbin first coined the term "imaginal" searching for a description of experiences which fall out somewhere between "real and imaginary." No such concept existed in his native French, nor in English; we tend to dismiss everything which is not "objectively verifiable," everything not quantifiable, measurable, as unworthy of our attention. Dreams are such experiences; what Carl G. Jung called the experience of "synchronicity" is a different example of the irruption of the imaginal. 

Harrell writes of imaginal figures as follows: "Central to any conversation about the imaginal realm are the figures that dwell in that large and mysterious region, not a literal world with defined geographic coordinates, but a place better described as a dynamic and real place of experience, a locus inhabited by multivocal, multivalent beings." Along this line of thinking Harrell explores a dream of a dancing "young girl, dressed in classical Japanese garments" by asking what does this imaginal figure want? "In the dream and afterward," she writes, "as I thought about its meaning, my sense of profound gratitude and wild excitement signaled that she represented more than an aspect of my own interiority. This dancer seemed to be a figure, a guide, from outside my own psyche." In other words, she explores this particular dream as meaningful and as an encounter with a real figure, though not one found in daylight waking reality and yet not to be dismissed as merely imaginary. 

Similarly, she explores her encounter with an injured red-tailed hawk and her risky decision to help the hawk lifting it talons-and-all into her car to transport it to a vet as meaningfully coinciding with her own self-healing at that moment in her life. This she identifies as "a synchronicity, a meaningful coincidence in which an inwardly experienced event is seen to have a correspondence in external reality." Too often modern people wake up to alarms and dismiss their dreams, never giving the images and feelings a second thought; and we seldom look at random events as if they signified something more than what happens on the mundane level. 

For anyone interested dreams and dream interpretation, and especially the thought of Jung and Corbin, challenging thinkers to explore, Harrell's book provides a perfect entry-point. "Choosing awareness," "acts of directed wondering"--her explorations offer a rich lexicon of imaginal adventure and introspection. Beyond the interpretation of dreams, and the awareness of synchronicity, Harrell offers many other insights into the imaginal; of these, the section of the book dealing with "A Nation Dreams its Violence" offers an in-depth analysis of school shootings which students of Corbin and Jung will find invaluable!

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