Imaginal Love

[Although I never planned to take this long of a break from WordPress, I have been finding it difficult to make time for writing and reading here. I can’t, not that you are asking, offer any good reason for my prolonged absence. If I don’t find time to make the rounds, please know that you are all in my thoughts. I hope spring beauty finds you well!]

“Everything is what it is because of where it is ‒ its boundaries, its place between the clearing and the darkness. As we are always a clearing of consciousness on the edges of unconsciousness. We are always surrounded by darkness all around. This is what keeps us from freezing up. If we forget this, we die. We become idolators of ourselves.” Tom Cheetham

It’s as if we are the sand at the shore continually mingling with the dark waters. But we are also the dark waters crashing the shore, quickly absorbed through the cracks between the sand. In that place where the broken sand further dissolves through the repetition of ebb and surge of tidal waters, we are most alive.

Readers of Tom Cheetham’s previous works will delight in his latest book, Imaginal Love The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman, where he offers us a more personal glimpse of his journey of understanding, entertaining, reconciling and incorporating the disparity of ideas found in the writings of Henry Corbin and James Hillman. I admire his approach and sympathize with the need to enjoy the fruits of these great writers through what is revealed, not only through their similarities, but also where they differ.

There is a necessary tension between Corbin and Hillman that if allowed to work on us, reveals deeper and more nuanced layers of understanding. Over time, when seen as part of the work we are tending, this tension transforms into a source of resonance in much the same way that string tension on an instrument makes music.

Corbin in particular, focused on the necessity of there needing to be an other; an angel, or spiritual twin, which, in an ongoing relationship fostered through a practice, reveals to us the unknown, or unconscious, so necessary for keeping the soul alive and in motion. By an “other,” I take him to mean any sense of otherness in our lives, of either day world or dream world, which by their difference from us cause a triangulation that reveals another option, or a third dimension. Love often does this. It opens us up to each other in ways that reveal something new. But for Corbin, the angel is not human, but encountered in a contemplative state he referred to as active imagination.

“As an essential correlate of imaginal loving, this Angel also individuates. Meeting one’s angel corresponds to what Jung called individuation. But as Corbin tells us, and Hillman has repeatedly reaffirmed, it is not my individuation that is at stake but the individuation of the Angel.”

This slight revision of Jung’s idea of individuation places emphasis on the process as necessarily a relational one. It takes our care and love for the angel as “other,” something wholly different from ourselves, to open us up, thereby encountering and revealing what we can’t readily see through the singularity of our being. Here is where we can experience Ta’wil, or the lost speech. Cheetham, like Corbin, emphasizes the need for an anamnesis; Plato’s re-membering of what has been forgotten by, or lost to, the world. Through personification of an other the “not me” is revealed. The particular distinctions between oneself and an other serve as a medium of exchange, so necessary for encountering the new and the unknown. It is an essential antidote to counter the cynicism and apathy of one’s personal journey which is often loaded with the perceptual habits of whatever culture one belongs to.

Modern culture places great emphasis on finding love through the similarities between us. Here, Cheetham suggests that in denying the distinctions and differences their place in an ongoing engagement which allows them to work on us, love and feeling become abstracted into generalities which are liable to literalizations and static ideas of ourselves and others. The particularity of the distinctions between us, when revealed, rather than abstracting, ground our experience into storied places, events and persons. The difficulty lies in losing the static sense of oneself and others and in seeking and expecting the new and unknown to appear. The unknown, is after all, inexhaustible.

“The so-called inner world is continuous with the outer. Ideas are not in the head ‒ they are in the world. They change the thinker and they change the world. Emotions are not private ‒ they spill out all around us and manifest in our behavior and our relations with other people.”

We use descriptives like “inner” and “outer” perhaps because we see and experience boundaries between things, places and people. To a large extent our language creates boundaries; a digital paving on an analog world. But, also, so do our individual bodies and the mortality of our finite life span contribute to the sense of boundaries.

Using the poetry of Rilke, Whitman and others, Cheetham emphasizes the need to see through these artificial and conventional boundaries. When we do, the world’s aliveness opens up to us, as does our sense of identity.  A necessary, but false construct called “me” and “you” are seen through. Our sense of ourselves and others can then expand and extend beyond ordinary boundaries to where one can sense and feel that we are the cosmos; an expression of the totality of the universe and whatever lies beyond.

Moving Forward

The deep parts of my life pour onward,

as if the river shores were opening out.

It seems that things are more like me now,

that I can see farther into paintings.

I feel closer to what language can’t reach.

With my senses, as with birds,

I climb into the windy heaven, out of the oak,

and in the ponds broken off from the sky

my feeling sinks, as if standing on fishes.

From Rilke’s Book of Images, in Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Robert Bly (New York: Harper & Row, 1981)

Cheetham goes on to examine his own personal experience with the ideas of Corbin and Hillman, and how he discovers a symmetry between them. Their ideas, when juxtaposed, can give us a well-rounded view of ourselves, others and the world by giving imagination, myth, soul and spirituality a central place in our day-to-day lives. In summary he says:

“What they share however is profoundly important: a passionate belief in the utterly central place of imagination in the fabric of reality and a commitment to the importance of the freedom of the individual human soul.”

Cheetham, Tom (2015-03-24). Imaginal Love: The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman. Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

20 thoughts on “Imaginal Love

  1. theburningheart

    Cheetham wrote in his biography somewhere in 1994-1997:

    “My immersion in Hillman’s work led to my first encounter with the writings of Henry Corbin. I well recall my delight and puzzled astonishment as I first made my way through Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi. When I discovered that this scholar of Islamic mysticism and master of Western theological and philosophical thought had been the first to translate Heidegger into French, my fate was sealed. I found myself unable to escape the fascination of his idiosyncratic and audacious theology. An attempt to come to terms with the consequences of his sweeping vision of the unity of the religions of the Abrahamic tradition occupied much of my time for 20 years.”

    Well, I think we share that interest, in common, I have sustained that same interest since 1972, or so.

    Great post Debra, I had heard of Cheetham before, but never read him, thank you for bringing him into my attention.

    Blessings. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheetham’s book, All the World an Icon, came out around the time that I finally felt ready to read Corbin. I’m glad that I read Cheetham’s book first as it served me well as an introduction. After reading, Alone with the Alone, I swore that I would read it again soon. It’s been five years or so, and I have not even picked the book up! Life got busy, work got crazy and many of the things that are of primary importance to me have been shelved. Finally, this summer I will nearly retire and look forward to doing more writing, reading and spending time with my family.

      If you enjoy listening to lectures, Tom was a guest on Commonweal and you can listen to his talk here:

      Blessings to you, Brigido!

      P.S. Happy lunar eclipse!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. theburningheart

        Reading a Teacher of mine already death introduced me to Corbin, who was my introduction to Ibn Arabi, now I have read, and study many of his works, right now as I mentioned to you somewhere hope to read his monumental work The Meccan Revelations, as well as the Whole Masnasvi of Rumi.

        Let me just say I wish I had, when I was young at the age I discovered Corbin, and not today, unfortunately, I do not speak Arabic, neither Farsi, so I had to wait until both works being translated, neither work translated fully yet, but I have enough material to keep me busy for the rest of my life, not to talk about the other many interests I hold.

        My point reading Corbin, was just the appetizer before the real meal.

        Blessings Debra. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. a fitting ‘return post’. I am tempted to say, welcome to my world!, as I recall your comment on a somewhat recent post of mine as to my infrequent posting. 🙂 I have always wondered *how* people generally find the time to post so often and still live a fairly full life in the ‘real’ world. I post when I feel the muse guiding (she creates the necessary writing space) and for me, this is the most genuine kind of sharing I can offer.
    I appreciate the *content* of your posts and am happy to wait until you are ready to present your offering. thank you! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I so appreciate your understanding! I do find my life very full right now and less inclined to write. Everything is in flux and I am okay with that.
      Thanks so much for your note 1Weaver!


  3. Welcome back Debra!

    The Rilke poem is beautiful and so is this post. So delicate and profound and unique to who you are and who you are becoming. I understand how challenging it can be to keep up the momentum of blogging and commenting, etc.

    However, it is pleasure to have this cozy cottage where we can all sit by the fire and tell our stories, or let the fire tell them for us…



    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your words said it all Debra… ““Everything is what it is because of where it is”,, We are all where we need to be, doing what we need to be doing.. Have a wonderful Spring.. And loved your post..

    Love and Light..
    Sue xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello Debra,
    Beautifully flowing, rich writing and I think that Rilke summarizes where you are right now, doesn’t it? I hope you have returned for good. I have been spending way less time on wordpress as well but I do not want to give it up.
    Warmest wishes and hugs,


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