Imagination: the Link Between Spirit and Matter

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“Symbols, like metaphors, carry meaning between spirit and matter.” Dr. Lauren Artress, The Path of the Holy Fool, p. 25.

“Metaphor yokes matter and spirit together without bloodshed.” Marion Woodman, The Ravaged Bridegroom, p. 24

Back in the mid-nineties five women and I launched a group we called The Matrix. Its purpose was to address what is valuable in the lives of women. For ten years we invited noted authors, speakers, and spiritual leaders like Dawna Markova, Margaret Wheatley, and Luisah Teish to present weekend workshops in Central Florida. We also worked with charitable organizations and launched several interest groups. A few of them are still meeting today.

One of our projects involved working with a female Methodist minister, a female Episcopal priest, a Catholic priest, and a few other spiritual leaders to purchase and bring a 36-square foot canvas Chartres Cathedral-style eleven circuit labyrinth to Central Florida. After we painted the path to distinguish it from the in-between spaces, we held a weekend “Walking the Labyrinth” retreat at a nearby Catholic retreat center.

Last month a dear friend gifted me with a new book written by the Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress, one of the originators of the Labyrinth Movement which began in 1991. I’ve only finished the Introduction and Chapter One, but I’m hooked. During her 30 years of working with the labyrinth, Dr. Artress established two permanent labyrinths at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco and introduced countless people to its healing meditative powers.

Dr. Artress explains in her book,The Path of the Holy Fool: How the Labyrinth Ignites Our Visionary Powers,  that the source of these powers is the in-between realm of our imagination. When we use our imagination to reflect on the symbols and images that come in our dreams and waking life, we’re making a connection with the Self, the religious function at the core of our psyche that sends them to us. Noticing and following the personal meaning we find in these messages is a spiritual path.

The labyrinth with its many twists and turns is a particularly apt symbol for this inner journey. As you can see from the image above, you start at the open gateway at the bottom of the circle and head straight for the center, imagining you’ll arrive at your goal in no time. As does every neophyte spiritual seeker. But before you know it, you find yourself on a detour away from the center into a realm you don’t really want to visit…your unconscious self. After a while you circle back. Yes! Now you’re on your way again. You’re almost there when it takes you even farther away from the center, this time in a different direction.

These stops and starts, twists and turns, remind me of the realities of my daily life. The conflicts, the good intentions that get thwarted, the pleasant anticipation that turns into frustration. The setbacks I experience over and over again. At night my dreams are filled with tasks I think I’m supposed to do that don’t work out the way I think they should. Reflecting on them causes me to wonder if I really want to do them. If so, why? Is this something I need, or is it just habit, a rut I’m stuck in? Sometimes this inner movement in my imagination leads to forward movement in my waking life.

I’ve also found the reverse to be true. When I’m stuck in my thinking about the next direction I want to take in my writing, I get up and move around the house and somehow that physical effort sparks new images and ideas. This is what makes the labyrinth such a powerful self-reflective aid. As your body moves in different directions, your mind is stimulated to open into new areas…to notice how you feel about going this way, then see how things look from another angle. And all the while you’re held in a container where you’re committed to stay until you reach the center, rest for a while, then make your way out again.

I think this is what Artress means in the above quote about how engaging with imaginative symbols—like a labyrinth—can connect your spirit and the physical matter of your body. You can walk ten miles without making any difference in your spiritual life whatsoever if you’re not being held in the container of your imagination. A labyrinth provides sacred space and time to notice images you see around you and in your mind’s eye, follow your thoughts, examine your feelings, listen to your senses, and trust your instincts.

The last time I walked a labyrinth I realized I was feeling anxious about a new experience I was about to have with people I didn’t know. Would I like them? Would they like me? How should I act? This kind of self-consciousness is typical of introverted types. Stay open to everyone and everything. Release your attachment to outcomes was the message that came. My time with them was effortless and enjoyable.

“Imagination might be the most powerful tool we have in making sense of the complex world and times in which we live.” Lauren Artress, The Path of the Holy Fool, p. 19.

“The Franciscan theologian Bonaventure…describes the soul as a mirror. Our human task is to keep the mirror clean, unclouded, so it can reflect the vision of a loving God. We do this through self-reflection. Self-reflection is an act of the imagination. The ability to self-reflect is a mark of spiritual maturity.” Artress, p. 28.

I look forward to reading the rest of this book. What tools enlist your imagination and aid your spiritual growth?

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.com. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, is available at Schiffer, Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit and wherever books are sold. Subscribe to her newsletter at www.jeanbenedictraffa.com.

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Comments

8 Responses

    1. Thanks Trish,

      Oddly enough, I think Bonaventure was on to something. it really is an apt metaphor. My soul has brought me some amazing insights while I sit in front of my round, lighted makeup mirror. You’d think that would be all about vanity but for me it seems to be more than that. Something about focusing on the physical acts of applying face cream or lipstick frees my thoughts to gaze ito that in-between place where some of the most surprising images reveal themselves. I first noticed it 30 years ago was when I was writing The Bridge to Wholeness. The images of lilies and roses came to mind and within an hour I wrote the fairy tale, The Lily and the Rose, that opens the book. It’s happened several times since then, almost always in regard to my writing. It guess my soul likes to communicate with my ego through mirrors!
      Love you, Jeanie

  1. Brilliant! In pure synchronicity Jeanie as you’ve started one book, I’ve finished another, “Living Between Worlds” by James Hollis … which I’m going to read all over again now because of its profound richness and deep insights. Furthermore, let me start at the end and enter life’s Ariadian labyrinth and book backwards, which surely is the path of the Holy Fool anyhow … by sharing that Hollis, through all his meanderings and sixteen books later, found that it’s the “journey” itself we take through life, the very paths themselves that will and do become our true “home” in this world … not any one destination or place on the map.

    Words that resonated so deeply with last night … for as I closed the book, my poetic imagination awoke and recalled all the different places, people and other “way stations” on my soul’s journey thus far. Yes, yes, yes! It’s been an arduous labyrinth of a journey for sure and in pretty much exactly the way you describe your own life … full of unexpected twists and turns, ascending and descending in equal measures! I remember the eagerness and naiveté of my early years of searching, believing that by just taking this short cut or that detour and I would reach my true spiritual destination in no time. What a Holy Fool I am!

    Thank you so much Jeanie for sharing your wisdom and illuminating imagination as the sacred bridge that it is between spirit and matter. Oh, how you channel the Goddess Ariadne Herself as your words and wisdom offer all a sacred red thread from which we follow through the labyrinth of our lives until we reach the center of our own heart … a thread I hold onto again and again when facing yet another Minotaur on the way! A thread that tells me I’m on the right path which means I’m already home. Your new book, “The Soul’s Twins” will land in my hands at the weekend, I cannot wait! Love and light, Deborah.

  2. Oh my! I love Hollis’s insight that it’s the “’journey’ itself we take through life, the very paths themselves that will and do become our true “home” in this world … not any one destination or place on the map.” I’ve never thought of that, but, of course! I heartily agree. It’s all those twists and turns and dead ends and synchronicities and insights and locked gates that open of their own accord when the time is right that fill our lives with meaning and show us how well we are known and loved. That’s what comprises our true home in this life.

    I would modify that last by saying our true “spiritual” home. It’s not a church, not a specific religion, but moving through our lives consciously, paying attention and making meaning for ourselves out of everything that happens. And yes, that is a journey for all Ariadnes, all holy fools who live between worlds. This is a label I’d be proud to wear.

    That’s an amazing insight, a huge “Aha” for me, especially coming on the heels of writing this post. Thank you very much for that, Deborah. I’m going to order “Living Between Worlds” right after I finish this. As you may have noted, I’m on a reading binge and loving it, so thanks for the rec. I can’t wait to hear what you get from The Soul’s Twins. Thank you for that too. Love and light, Jeanie

  3. Such a lovely post Jeanie thank you, and the labyrinth is a perfect metaphor! I’m fetching a dear friend from the airport this Friday (about an hour and a half away) and on the way back home I’ll stop in at a nursery with a few stores and a delicious coffee shop outside of which is a labyrinth. I know that Nicki will love this. I’ve walked this one before and its always struck me how waylaid I can get. This turn, that turn? Will I get on the right track? The last time I walked it was with a recently widowed girlfriend and she loved it too … there’s something about letting the ego take a well deserved break and just be with the ‘task’ at hand and let whatever arises to arise. And feel the connection to the Self. I like that the word imagination contains the word image and by extension imago …

    When I go walking, usually on my own, I have no planned route in mind .. on occasion when I walk with son Mike and we go out his place onto the road, we wonder which way to turn, left or right. One of picks up a leaf or something, toss it in the air and see which way it falls … then that’s the way we go .. and we take it from there.

    I love James Hollis and his writings …

    Love, Susan

  4. Thank you Susan, for sharing your experiences with the labyrinth. How perfect that you have one on the way to the airport and your friend will love it! Maybe you’ll receive some new insights when you walk it with her on Friday. 🙂

    Yes, it is about giving the ego a break and just focusing on the images that come to your mind’s eye as well as your physical eyes.

    I love your leaf guide!

    I ordered Hollis’s “Living Between Worlds,” after Deborah’s comment. I’ve spent much of my time there since I began working on my dreams. The almond-shaped mandorla between two overlapping circles has been my abiding image for that space for several years. I see walking the labyrinth as another way to get there.

    Love,

    Jeanie

  5. Dear and divine Jean ,

    your post are food for thought , what you write is a treat for eyes , mind and soul.

    Center of Atom is Zero energy like water , one can not draw line on water till it is liquid so no memory happens normally till age of 3 as we live in union of matter and spirit ( a state of total bliss and Happiness ) . we may not have the memory of this time but but this taste of oneness will become ultimate search of life once we loose it . we loose it as ego of matter starts which solidifies liquid , and the mind emerges and lines of memory get imprinted .

    Mind is a bridge between Body and Soul or Matter and Spirit . Imagination is search of spirit and research of matter or spirituality and science together .

    Circle of life starts with coming out of center like the arm of clock moves from o degree to 1 , 2 3, ……. 359 this is the journey of life in a field of mystery with zig zag patterns of Labyrinth . as we move away from Zero , questions arises of matter and spirit , why , what and how brings imagination and creativity for objective growth and subjective growth .

    from 1 degree to 359 degree is mind only the moment 360 degree touching O degree is finding that state of Total bliss and Happiness what we call Enlightenment or a journey of Mind to No mind . O and 360 is union of wholeness and nothingness.

    Referee is a symbol of this union with awareness , alertness , knowledge and wisdom who witness Game with Neutral mind or no attachment to any of the team and enjoys the Game most but to be a referee one has to be a player first which is to know win and loss of matches or a journey in lost and found of a Labyrinth.

    I take lot of time reading what you write , it gives lot of imagination to me , will order the books recommended in your post .

    Stay Healthy and in Harmony of matter and spirit.

    love all .

    ram

    1. Dear Ram,

      Thank you for sharing your most imaginative associations and images with me here. I see that you know well the value of imagination. I love the way you use it to uncover the secrets of the most ordinary of things—the numeral 0, water, the arms a clock, a referee—and connect them to the mysteries of Spirit and Soul. The more I learn about and use my imagination, the more convinced I become of its extraordinary powers for growth, transformation, integration, and healing. How have we ‘civilized’ humans managed to discount and ignore such a beneficent natural gift for so long?

      Thank you for reading my posts attentively. I am honored.

      With love and best wishes for health,

      Jeanie

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