Sacred geometry

Image, Mythos, Dharma (Part One)

Date6th December 2014
Retreat/SeriesDay Retreat, Bodhi Tree Brighton


Does anyone feel like you're a beginner to meditation, insight meditation, etc.? Really? [laughter] Okay! It's not a trick question. [laughter] Okay, so anyway, I'll do a group later on this morning, partly because, even though you guys are not beginners, partly because of the nature of the material that I'm talking about today. If there's anyone who wants to ask any questions, or a little feedback or something about meditation, anything about meditation, there will be a group before we break for lunch. Okay? I'll announce that later on. But it's partly because the theme, some of the stuff I'm talking about, I'm not really going to be giving much about meditation today. Okay? So I'll announce that later.

So, none of you are new, apparently. [laughter] Let's jump right into some teaching now. I'm going to try and break up the teaching into blocks over the day, just so that it's not too much. There will definitely be some things I'll say today that will be new, unusual, to probably everyone here. There won't be anyone for whom I don't say anything new, okay?

We were talking a little bit with Richard walking here, just about what we kind of want from the teachings and what we expect. There is a place for coming to hear teachings, or reading a book, or listening, and hearing the same thing again and again and again. There's a place for that. And there's also a place for something else, some sense of expanding and pushing into new territory, even when it's not completely all figured out, right? And so that's as individuals, but also the Dharma as a whole. Can it move into new territory? Does it do that? I'm going to come back to this, actually, at the end. How are we thinking of the Dharma? Something that's already circumscribed, to do with repeating the past, or something that can grow and move into the future? It's quite a big difference in the background conception.

Because some of what I say today, even if you were here last year when we talked about some imaginal stuff -- the theme was announced before, right? [host confirms in background] Yeah. It will still be relatively new, and I wonder, again, how to hear this. It might be that some of what I say, or some of what we go into today, is more like seeds. It's like we're just casting some seeds. And now may not be the right time for you, where you are in your life, in your practice, but maybe a seed lands, and it's for later, and that's fine too. Or maybe someone is gripped right now and ready to digest something.

Last year, as I said, I came and we talked here about imaginal stuff a little bit, from a certain perspective. I want to do that again, but not repeating too much. This is part of what I'm saying. It's a little bit difficult, but I hope that what we talk about today will stand alone and sort of cohere as a day unto itself, so to speak.

Let's start by, actually, what are we talking about? What am I talking about? When I use words like 'image' or 'fantasy,' what do I mean by that? My experience in the last few years, teaching this in groups, is it's very easy for people to misunderstand a little bit, or quite a lot even. So today, when we use the word 'image,' 'fantasy,' and such words, what are we talking about? I sometimes wonder, I have been wondering, if there's a better word than 'image' or 'fantasy.' There might be. I haven't come across it. But there may well be. And rather than define it straight away, maybe I'll give a few examples, to give you a sense of the breadth and the kind of texture of what's involved in what we're talking about. A few examples. Compare these examples:

(1) Sometime in the last two weeks -- I don't know -- I was sitting in meditation, and actually looking for images, because this is one of the things I've been interested in in the last few years. And a thicket appears, like a hedge that's been trimmed very severely, so it's got lots of sharp ends. A hedge appears, first like that, and then surrounds me. And it feels like I'm trapped in this hedge, but then I realize: oh, there's a gap in it there, and I can walk back and forth. It bursts into flame, and with that flame, there's huge energy. Then the flames go away again.

I feel a little bit imprisoned by this thicket. This all has a certain tone to it, a meditative tone. I'm really meditating on this image and all the resonances and feelings with it. And then, out of nowhere -- this happens in sort of stages over, let's say, half an hour -- a little bluebird appears, I think with a yellow breast. A little bluebird appears and flies into the thicket, and starts -- 'interacting' isn't quite the right word; it comes to my heart, and it sings to me, and it's there in front of me. I don't know what this means. I have no idea what it means, but it touches me deeply. There's something about this image and this bird, and it's doing something to my heart. The bird is loving me. There's love emanating from this bird, in an avian kind of way. And there's something so precise about it. I could outline to you now the visual details, the precise visual details, but actually, that's not so important, and even in the meditation, not so important. What's more interesting here is the precision and the subtlety of the resonances involved, meaning emotionally, and in the psyche, and in the energies, and in the thoughts that surround it.

So it's actually difficult to sum up all those resonances. Even if I sort of spent maybe an hour now, it would be difficult for me to sum up. But just know that there are a lot of resonances there, emotionally, psychically, energetically, etc. There seems to be a relation to my life and things that are going on, definitely, in the emotions there, but it's not "It means this," or "It represents that." It's way more complex than that. So that's one image. And a real sense of beauty in it, a real sense of beauty and being touched.

(2) Here's a second image that someone shared with me. I'm choosing seven or eight images just to lay out, as I said, a sense of the range, and also the contrast, of what may be involved in this one word, 'image.' Here's an image, and it's actually a series of images that went on -- quite rarely, but over a fifteen-year period. A person told me that they used to have very difficult, dark periods of depression that lasted some days, and fifteen years ago, they were in the middle, in the throes of one of these periods, lying on their bed, curled up on one side, and there appeared to the imagination what she called a 'black devil man,' skin like a black snake, pitch-black skin, featureless and horned, and lying on top of her, mimicking the contours of the body, pressing her, oppressing her down. And the sense, what freaked her out, the sense was of evil and something squashing her down. She didn't tell anyone about that.

Then, over the years, very rarely, this image repeated. It was a little bit different, but oftentimes what was characteristic is this black devil man was sort of controlling her, or lying on her like a cat lies on something -- just completely at ease, and not enabling her to move. Gradually, over the years, occasionally, she was able to move a little bit. And then it culminated one day. One night, he appeared again. She was moving a little bit, and then she and this black devil man began having wild and wonderful sex. It just erupted. Quite a change in the whole flavour of things. And then afterwards, he got up and let out this huge bellow from his mouth. The whole relationship with him changed. What started off being extremely oppressive, in the sense of being subject to something that was perhaps evil, etc., transformed to something actually still dark and still powerfully dark, but beautiful and a -- 'friend' is not the right word, but an ally, a powerful, deep ally. Something had shifted. She never told anyone -- not her therapist. And in retrospect, she said, "Actually, I'm glad I didn't tell the therapist back then, and put it in a box, and psychologize it, or say, 'It was this,' or 'It was that,' and interpret it in a certain way." So what's characteristic, or the thing I want to draw out about that, is how far out it is, quite dramatic, but also the fact of a series.

(3) Something much, much more subtle, okay? Again, an image that I had: the image is me, on a train -- in fact, on the train that goes from Newton Abbot, near Gaia House, towards London, a train I take a lot. Me, sitting on the train, facing forward in the quiet carriage, which is what I tend to take [laughs], and leaning my head on the window, dressed in certain clothes that I actually have. Completely lifelike, completely normal, completely undramatic. Very easy to just, "Not a big deal." But feeling into, again, the resonances of the image, wrapped up in the image was a certain kind of weariness, which had to do with a whole bunch of work that I had been doing, an exploration that was coming to an end, and at the same time, a kind of restlessness which had to do with what was coming next and going forward into an exploration of other stuff. That was wrapped up. Very undramatic as a snapshot, but going into it, it was pregnant with all this complexity and nuance of image. So as I felt into it, the weariness that I was feeling, suddenly gave a lot of energy and a lot of sense of depth.

(4) Here's another, a fourth one. Now, I don't know; this may not work for some people. But is anyone a musician here, who plays a lot of music? No one? Okay. [laughs] So I used to be a musician, so this may not work, but maybe you can translate it to something. I used to be a musician. I used to be a jazz guitar player for many years. And perhaps at a certain point, when you're developing your art, it's almost like you begin to make the musical language your own. You begin to find your way on your instrument, whether it's piano or guitar or whatever. Something moves to another level. Same with meditation, same with whatever -- gardening, cooking, whatever. So it can translate.

In the way of touching the instrument as you're playing, in the way that the hands move, there is what I would call 'fantasy' wrapped up in that. There's a kind of secret beauty wrapped up in it when we make it our own. It's not a visual image. What it has to do with, or what it had to do with in this case that I'm remembering, is the way that I'm touching the instrument is pregnant with fantasy. What does that mean? It means it has a resonance that's beyond the pure sound and the pure mechanics of moving, something beyond pure mindfulness. It's pregnant in this case with sounds and images and heart resonances I had with a whole stream of jazz musicians, some of them not guitarists, that come through in that movement, that touch my heart, touch my soul, and resonate with me. Does this make sense if I say something like that? So that's coming through, and the image is vaguely in the back of my mind, and it's making this moment alive with multiple resonances and multiple beauty, and depth in the soul. And it's somehow to do with the way I'm moving the fingers and touching the instrument, and the subtlety of that. It's not a visual image. Again, this word is not quite right, 'image.' It's not a visual image. It was actually more tactile or sonic, and had to do with the past, and had to do with the self -- the past and this jazz tradition, and all that that means in my soul. And had to do with the present and my self as part of that.

(5) Fifth image. Again, someone shared a series of images, very, very powerful for her, over the years: a phoenix erupting out of her heart, exploding with great force out of her heart, flying off, huge wingspan, coming back to land on her shoulder, and shed a golden tear which fell on her breast and healed her. That was the first image with this phoenix. And then, some time later, this phoenix enveloping her with its wings, so cocooning her with love in its wings. Something very, very powerfully healing in these images. Again, she couldn't put it in a box, or say "It's this" or "It's that," but something deeply transformative.

Here's the element in the series that I want to draw attention to. We were talking about a relationship that she was in when she was a teenager, so decades before, really decades before, that she felt a lot of shame about. She felt she shouldn't have been -- it's complex, and I won't tell the details -- she shouldn't have been in that relationship; it was wrong. And decades later, it caused immense pain. She felt, "This was really a shameful choice that I made, to be in that relationship and to continue it." So this shame had lived in her and really affected her life for decades. Then this phoenix had been appearing in the imagination, in the meditative imagination, and she'd worked with it.

What happened was, the memories of an apartment where she lived with this lover, and the big double bed in the middle of the room, and an image, that room that was so full of shame and pain and hurt and confusion, etc. The phoenix appeared in the room with its wings outspread and its wings full of jewels, and looking at the image of she and her lover on the bed, in the environment that was full of shame and pain. I said, "Can you actually see how the phoenix is looking at that scene now?" And she could see that there was a healing through feeling into how the phoenix was looking at the scene. Something about the past and the memory, and the image alive in the present, casting a healing gaze back on the past, and healing something that, up till then, no amount of psychotherapy or this or that seemed to have been able to touch. She still couldn't explain it. Something very, very potent going on here.

(6) Sixth example. As I said, I'm choosing these to give you a real sense of the range of what's involved when I use the word 'image' or 'fantasy.' I have a friend, two friends, a couple. They've been married decades. And I sometimes wonder, or recently I've been wondering. They have a very good marriage, a very, very healthy marriage. And I sometimes wonder whether the intimacy that they share, which is very healthy and all that, the love that they share over this long time, is actually dependent on sharing a mutual fantasy.

Now, I don't say that as a judgment. I don't think it's wrong. What I want to point out here is I think it's a vital part of loving, that there's a mutual fantasy. And that fantasy, in this case, for these friends, has to do with a way of seeing the past, the past and the childhood and the family, being, if you like, a source of sometimes difficult patterns -- 'trauma' in particular is a word they use quite a lot -- and setting up patterns that are, let's say, maladaptive and painful, that, in time, through psychological and spiritual processes, one can see those patterns and liberate them. So that's an idea, if you like, about the past, about what gets set up, and about the self and the relationship in the present. They mutually support each other on their psychotherapeutic, spiritual, healing journeys in a very lovely way, but there's an idea there wrapped up in what I call a fantasy. I'm not saying it's wrong or it's right, or it's even wrong that that's part of the ground of their intimacy and part of the ground of their love.

But if one of them would suddenly say, "You know," or gradually say, "I'm not sure. I'm not sure I believe that any more. I'm not sure I look at the past that way. I'm not sure I look at myself going into the future that way any more." And one of them is still in that idea, and the other one, for instance, views things much more in socio-economic, political, class struggle terms, or something like that, and that's where the problem is. What would happen to their love, and what would happen to their intimacy? The intimacy and the love -- and there's nothing wrong with this; it's a beautiful part of what love is between two people, but we tend not to acknowledge it -- it's actually resting on a fantasy, on a mutual fantasy, and the way of seeing self and other in that fantasy. And ideas are wrapped up in that. No problem, but good to be aware of.

(7) Seventh example, actually taking that last one a little step further, about love and intimacy, and perhaps about sexuality and making love. So here's something for you to introspect a little bit and ask yourself: when there is making love, when you're being sexual with someone, making love or whatever, is it not the case that there's something -- I don't know what to call it -- autoerotic going on? By which I mean that it's not just the case that making love and sexuality and sharing that with another person is just about maximizing pleasant sensations. It's not just a chasing of pleasant sensations -- I mean, usually. It's not, certainly, that one is making love and just being mindful of sensations and mindful of this or that. It's not even, I would say, that it's always only about loving the other person, so that it's pleasant sensations plus really caring about the other person. I mean, it may be sometimes. And it's not always only about merging and melting into each other, and the sort of myth of union, which in itself, there's a kind of fantasy in the experience that can unfold.

So here's a question: is it not that some proportion of the time, there's also something that I would call 'autoerotic' going on? Meaning that when one is with someone like that, one is seeing the other person, obviously, as sexy, and feeling that, but also oneself. So one has a sense of one's own sexiness. And that might not be visual or whatever, but that's part of the image, and part of what's actually turning one on. Image is there. It's certainly not just mindfulness of sensations in a bare attention way. That's not what's happening, and it's not just that plus love either. It's interesting, for the Theravādan monks and nuns, that when one is experiencing desire for someone else, and it's regarded that that's a hindrance, something to be got rid of, the monk or nun is instructed to contemplate the foulness of their own body. That's interesting. Why? If I contemplate my foulness, I no longer see myself, feel myself in this autoerotic way. That image of myself as a sexy being is not there, and the desire gets less. It's not "contemplate the other" so much as "contemplate oneself" is the instruction.

(8) Last one, eighth. I don't know -- how many people here have been to Gaia House, and feel like they love it? Two, a double question. [laughter] Come on, guys! Someone? [laughter] I know you have mixed feelings. Maybe there's no one here who loves Gaia House. One person! Two! Three! [laughs] Okay. It doesn't have to be Gaia. It could be anywhere. What I'm getting at is that some places exist for us, when we love them, they exist as image, as something that's alive as image. That could be the old family home. It could be Gaia House. It could be -- I don't know -- downtown Brighton? Is that possible? Yeah? Okay. Totnes high street for some people. [laughs] But places also for us become alive, because they exist in the psyche as image. So people love Gaia House. Obviously there's not a lot in this room! [laughter] But people love Gaia House. They come, and it's not because there's a checklist of sort of amenities that Gaia House [provides]: "Vegetarian food, tick. Yoga room, tick," and it sort of fulfils certain criteria. It's because the place is alive as a magical place. 'Magic,' 'imagination,' those words have the same root. So there are other places perhaps in your life, maybe memory or current, that are magically alive for you. They're places in the psyche as much as physical, material environments.

For me -- well, I won't say about Gaia House, but for me, I had a teacher, and I used to hear many hundreds of his talks, and how many, what percentage of those talks talked about what happened in his monastery in Thailand, when he was a monk in Thailand. And so I heard about this monk or this nun, and how much, the hours and hours and hours and hours of walking and standing meditation, under a certain tree, and this and that. And that place, which I've never been to and probably will never go to, that monastery is alive in my psyche as this imaginal place that's pregnant with meaningfulness and beauty. When I do walking and standing meditation, not all the time, but often, with the mindfulness -- not lost in some fantasy, but at the back of the mindfulness, so to speak -- my walking meditation, my standing meditation, is pregnant with those images of that monastery, which I've never even been to, and those monks and nuns, and the way that lives for me as a beauty in the heart. And it comes into the walking and the standing. It comes in. It imbues the present moment with its own kind of beauty. And wrapped up in that is tradition, this lineage that's all through that, and the beauty of that, and the dedication, all that.

What's characteristic there is there's image and fantasy of the present environment. A present environment is alive with image and fantasy. It might be me standing on the lawn at Gaia House, doing standing meditation. It might involve another place, or it might be Gaia House itself as image. But there's the possibility for places that we are and environments that we're in, in the present moment, to be seen and felt imaginally, if you like.

Now, this -- actually, all that I'm saying -- has a huge spectrum to it. So it can be very, very subtle, sort of in the background, or really kind of ramped up. And of course, in the Western tradition, one of the masters is William Blake, for whom this very much came very easily -- ability to be in a common environment, but see it in a very different way: a world of angels, birds flying across the sky are angels, and they're singing angelic songs of bliss and devotion, seeing this world differently because one's seeing it with and through the imagination. Part of what I want to say today is that we do that anyway. We'll get back to this. But we can become more aware of it, and actually open it up more. In tantra -- some of you will know about tantric meditation -- this is the practice, or it's part of the practices in tantric meditation: can I see myself and other beings as deities, tantric deities? Or you could say angelic beings, devas. Can I actually transform my perception of this moment, self and other, and also this environment, so that one feels and perceives and senses this environment as the palace of a Buddha, a Buddha-field, or a maṇḍala? Very different. So the whole sense of the present moment becomes deeper, more beautiful, more holy, transformed through the imagination.

So that's just some examples to run through, to give you a sense. Let's use the word 'image' or 'fantasy' to mean all that, but say a little bit more about it. Ezra Pound, the poet, said, defined an image as "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time."[1] Can you see how that's relevant to everything that I've said? Somehow in the image, it constellates all this -- 'information' is really the wrong word, but all this texture and resonance and meaningfulness, all like that in the image.

In terms of those examples I just gave, pick out a few more characteristics of what we're talking about when we say 'image' and 'fantasy.'

(1) Love. Love is common to all of them. So all those examples I gave, they all have love in them. In some way or other, love is flowing through the image. It's wrapped up in the image. I might even say where there is love, whatever the kind of love is, where there is love, there there is image, there there is fantasy. It's quite a maybe strong thing to say, but where there is love, there there is image and fantasy. We may not be aware of it. Perhaps the other way around: where there is image and fantasy (in the sense that I'm using it), there is at least the potential of love.

But the kinds of love involved here are very, very specific. That bluebird, there was something so precisely specific and impossible almost to articulate in words about the kind of love that was going on there, or with the phoenix, or in the love a person has for Gaia House or whatever. The kinds of love are very particular and expressed through the image, the kind of love. So there's love there.

(2) I would also say, if I use the word, they all have this word that's, again, impossible to define, but I'll use it anyway. They all have or express soulfulness, which is not a word we're used to hearing in the Dharma. They all have soulfulness. What might that mean? Let's say it's undefinable, but throw a few words in that direction: resonance, pregnancy with this resonance emotionally and for the psyche, and in terms of meaningfulness -- not 'meaning,' as in "This means that," but meaningfulness, if I can make that language distinction. Meaningful, without it meaning X or Y. A sense of depth, a sense of not being able to be quite wrapped up in a box: "I've defined it now. That's that. Thank you very much." Love, as we said. Beauty too. All this is part of soulfulness. And also something it does to the self, some way it gives the self a sense of something beyond itself, something bigger than itself, without, if you like, deconstructing the self, or melting it into oneness or something. We'll come back to much of this. So that quality of soulfulness, when it's there, is what makes something an image or fantasy, in the language that [we're using]. In other words, when that quality, those qualities [are there], then we call it image, fantasy.

What that partly means is that in this word, 'image' or 'fantasy,' it includes the way that I am conceiving of this object, this bluebird or this whole scene, or the phoenix or whatever. So it's not just the object that the mind is seeing. It's also the way of relating to it. One is relating to it. It's the whole, together: the object and the way of relating. One is relating to it in a way that brings it alive for the psyche, for the being, for the soul, and brings this quality of soulfulness. It's in between, together.

Whatever perspective or way of looking or conceptual framework brings this quality of soulfulness makes that whole thing an image. The poet John Keats talked about 'soulmaking.' So not that the soul is some kind of entity, but we make something called 'soulfulness' through the relationships we have. Sometimes, I was tempted to say, "There's always an image," or "Everything is an image," but I think what I'd rather say now is: potentially, anything can be an image. Even that completely mundane image of me, in my normal clothes, sitting on a train that I take many times a year, looking very boring from the outside -- pregnant and alive.

So just to really make that clear: the relationship, the conceptual framework that I'm entertaining at any time, the idea, which is a word that comes from the Greek word eidos, which means partly the way of looking -- so we see through ideas, we see these images through an idea, which brings them alive. It's the whole thing. So the image is not separate from the conceptual framework, from the relationship. What this means is that, for instance, a dream, in itself, a dream image, is not yet anything. It's not, by itself, anything, until I start relating to it a certain way, and bringing it alive with meaningfulness -- which may be going on automatically, or may be something that I start to do. In itself, a dream is nothing. It's nothing, in the way that I'm talking about it.

Okay. Let's draw out four more characteristics, just to really hopefully try and make it a little bit clearer:

(1) This imaging and fantasying, if you like, which I'm really not using in a derogatory sense -- so usually in Dharma circles, especially Insight Meditation circles, 'fantasy' is a bad word. I'm not using it 'bad' at all. In fact, it's something that's beautiful and necessary. But sometimes it goes on, and we're not aware that it's going on. Sometimes we are in this relationship of imaging something, and having a fantasy of something, it's alive for us in the psyche, but we're not aware that it's going on. The classic example is something like jihad, holy war. That is something that's probably an archetypal image in a human being, to be a warrior in a war that has holiness to it. Problem is when a person doesn't realize that's a fantasy, it's a soul-image, and not to be taken literally, and then, in this case, Osama bin Laden wages holy war on the West, and George W. Bush wages a holy war on evil. Neither of them aware: this is image, it's fantasy, operating in the psyche. Just locking into it, taking it literally, being caught up in an image. So that's one thing. And actually, there are others going on that I think it's good to expose.

(2) Second thing: we could say that a human being can move in the world and in relation to all this in lots of different ways. In relation to our life, we can be pulled towards things or away from things. If it's just pleasure that I'm after, if I'm just after increasing the pleasant sensations and decreasing unpleasant sensations, in the way that I'm talking about it, that's a non-soulful way of being. If that's what's moving me, I just want to get more pleasant sensations (I may not be aware of this), I just want to get less unpleasant sensations, it lacks soul in this kind of language.

(3) Third, and this relates to something I said before, is there's not a singular interpretation of these things that come alive, that are alive for us, this image, that bluebird, that phoenix, that black devil man. I can't, as I said, put it in a box. There's something about these things that's infinite and infinitely deep. I never quite get to the bottom of it. There's always this element of mystery, of 'more,' of unreachableness. I cannot explain them fully. Ex + plain, etymologically, means 'to make flat,' explain, like plain, right? I cannot make them flat by getting rid of their depth and their infinite depth. I can explain a little bit, but I will never fully explain them. And we could say, actually, they're alive soulfully for us if and only if they have this infinite quality, this sense of a depth that I can never quite get to the bottom of, or being beyond whatever box I would try to put them in.

I don't know -- in the culture, images like the burning bush, when Moses sees the burning bush in the wilderness, and the flame that doesn't go out, does not consume the bush. Or images like the Crucifixion and the Resurrection have become, for most people in the West, completely meaningless. They've lost all power and meaning. Or someone wants to reduce them to one meaning: "They represent this or that. We interpret them as this or that." They lose, according to some system. Usually there's some system that's coming in that's interpreting, "The Resurrection means this" or whatever. Then they lose their power. I don't know -- again, I'm struggling with words, 'image,' 'fantasy,' etc. Some people use the word 'symbol' to mean what I mean by 'image' and 'fantasy,' but sometimes the word 'symbol' means something that does represent exactly this, a symbol: "This represents X or represents Y." That's not what we're talking about today. We're not talking about symbols. There's this always beyond, 'more' quality to them.

Moshe Idel is a scholar of Jewish mysticism, and he talks a bit about this. He says:

[Symbols, or we could say images] rarely maintain their freshness [their aliveness], ambiguity [this sense of multiple meanings] and allusive characteristics [how they seem to resonate with so much beyond what's obvious] when they become integrated into a more elaborate and detailed structure.[2]

So as human beings, we're very tempted to sort of construct things and create systems and put things in boxes, but something sometimes dies when we do so. Sometimes that's important, but sometimes it dies when we do so.

There's something here that's open-ended. These images are open-ended and ongoing. So they might, for a while, it might be, for example, that that phoenix comes for a while to symbolize and represent this for a while. But it's only for a while, and then it opens up again to something beyond that.

(4) Fourth thing, fourth characteristic: these kinds of images, or when image is alive for us, for the person to whom it feels alive, there is a truth there. There is a reality there for that individual. You talk to a person, and they might use different words, but there's something unshakeably true and real for them in the image. So this is quite important, because I think a lot of the caution and reservation we have around this kind of work has to do with our usually indoctrinated positions around truth and reality, okay? So there's a kind of truth and a kind of reality for the individual that I think needs respecting. It's not a publicly shared truth, unless you're talking about something like the Crucifixion, when Christianity is really alive for people.

But generally nowadays -- well, there are still some, actually; we'll get back to this -- but a lot of these are not publicly shared, which is one of the criteria we have in our culture for determining what's true or real: everyone else can see it, everyone else can experience it. It's publicly shared. It's not necessarily socially agreed on, which is another criterion we have for truth and reality in this culture, without really examining it. If everyone kind of decides that something, everyone decides the stock market is real, it's real, right? Maybe that's not the best example. But we have a sense of socially agreeing together what's true and what's real. These things are not measurable, or 'kickable,' to quote Dr Johnson. They're not kickable because they're not material, and they're not measurable in the sense of being scientifically measurable, but they have a truth, and they have a reality. So they don't fit in the usual truth and reality box. Maybe we need to expand that a little bit. And they're not secular, either, which is also something that, for something to be real and true nowadays, it has to be secular.

Just to cap up, just for now. I'm going to stop for now. Image is more than emotion. We could say, "Well, do I need all this image?" Maybe not. "Can't I just be mindful of emotion?", which is a very important practice, to be able to do that, and really work skilfully with the emotions, and how they express in the body, and the subtlety of all that. Very important to learn how to do that. But the image captures more complexity than even being mindful of an emotion, say, in the body and in the emotional field of it. It can be quite subtle, but the image almost feels like it captures more complexity, more nuance, even than emotion. So it's more than emotion.

It's also more than an idea. To quote Ezra Pound again, the poet:

[An] Image is more than an idea [a concept]. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy.[3] It's a vortex, from which, and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing.[4]

There's something about the image, that in an instant [snaps fingers], right in this, it's pregnant with all these ideas, associations, resonances, emotions, and really, really nuanced, very fine nuance, all that, and pregnant with this soulfulness as well.

I'm going to stop. But what I want to explore today is, okay, well, how does this fit into the Dharma, or does it fit, or how does it impact our understanding of the Dharma, or how does the Dharma impact our understanding of this territory, what I've just tried to explain?

Shall we stop there for now?

  1. Ezra Pound, "A Few Don'ts By an Imagiste," Poetry: A Magazine of Verse (March 1913), 200,, accessed 1 Dec. 2020. ↩︎

  2. Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 217. ↩︎

  3. Ezra Pound, The New Age, XVI (28 Jan. 1915), 349. ↩︎

  4. Ezra Pound, "Vorticism," The Fortnightly Review, 96 (1 Sept. 1914), 461--71,, accessed 1 Dec. 2020. ↩︎

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry