What is Imaginal?

What is “Imaginal”?

The term, Imaginal was coined by Henry Corbin (1903-1978). At the heart of the concept is the “image.” Imaginal Wisdom holds the significance of working with images as they arise in the individual and collective body, mind and imagination. It is the image that constitutes the language and landscape of the soul. Doing imaginal work brings respectful attention to the wisdom inherent in the images that arise.  Soul is capable of accessing and relating to all aspects of being, despite our mental judgements or social norms about what is acceptable and not. This allows to go deeper than the consensus reality we all agree upon and into a reality full of complication, authenticity, and possibility.


Imaginal Wisdom is an exploration of theories and practices that support more effective and creative cultural leadership. In traditional community work and healing work we are used to working in analytical and intellectual modes. When we engage in imaginal practices, we engage in a form of truth as revelatory, versus the dominating force of objective truth so cherished in our prevailing context. Imaginal work asks us to work from a deeper, more creative, more soulful place. This in turn allows for more resilient and accountable relationships.


Imaginal seeks to better integrate the so-called “right/left brain” dichotomy.  It is designed to help leaders enhance their skills through deepening, complexifying and embodying experience--especially those that plague our social justice and peace-making movements.

Activating the imaginal within us is as simple as flipping on a light switch; the power is already there. Likewise, the imaginal is already in and all around us. We only need to recognize it and foster it.  The imaginal comprises the invisible, intangible, and non-rational dimensions of being. Under the sway of the imaginal, the impossible becomes possible, the unacceptable acceptable.

Imaginal work can help you relinquish your commitment to control, to binaries, to right and wrong and connect with your Inner Child. The inner child is so honest and so close to direct experience. The inner child can connect us to our own direct experience so we do not have to be locked in the prison of our conditioning. Sing songs to your own imagination. “Wake up sleeping beauty!” Set an intention to woo her back into a prominent place in your daily life. Invite her back. I have such a wonderful loving, abundant relationship to my imagination. Everywhere I turn, I can see and feel my imagination ignited. The deeper my trust in her grows, the more fun and rewarding life seems to become.

When we decide to turn back to the imaginal...playing with that inner and outer diversity—magic and possibility are released upon the world.

There is a  distinction to be made between consensus reality and imaginal reality. As one can imagine, consensus reality refers to what presents itself to our senses and upon which we can collectively agree, more or less. For example, under the principle of consensus reality I present as a large bodied African American woman in her 60’s. I am a relatively self-sufficient professional person with advanced college degrees. I fill many roles in consensus culture, including mother, grandmother, spouse, teacher and more. Under the idea of imaginal reality, I am a neglected and unwanted child who I sometimes refer to as “Orphy”. I am the grown woman who in my meditations takes her sad and angry single mother (who in the visualization is an infant) into her arms and carries her into an ocean of love wherein each is held in the healing waters of the Divine Mother. I am the rageful woman, enslaved and untamable, storming at racism and the insistence of too many white folks who cling stubbornly to pseudo innocence. I am the Goddess who gathers all the white folks into her arms to reassure them of their goodness until they can believe it for themselves. I am the ant crawling along my counter’s edge, oblivious that death is imminent. I am the sweet, sticky juice from a Fuji apple, running down my own chin. An imaginal orientation allows for all this variance. It respects multiplicity and multidimensionality. In imaginal reality my people were never enslaved, or if they were, they signed up for it as part of some messianic mission to save the souls of white folks. Surplus/imaginal reality dares us to flip the script on any story we no longer want to live by.

The imaginal is embedded in African-American culture by way of African-derived cosmology, philosophy and spirituality. A few of the qualities of this cultural continuity are: personalism, dynamism, spontaneity, soul force and communal consciousness.  These spiritual principles helped enslaved folk to endure the horrors of slavery, and indeed to create culture with such force that the imprints have made their mark in nearly every corner of the globe. People of the African Diaspora retained elements of these imaginal practices for hundreds of years despite the fact that they were the object of derision and mockery. Over time many of us have lost touch with these Africanisms in favor of and sometimes in defeat against cultural values of rationality, objectivity, formality and predictability.  Scientism has come to replace indigenous ways of knowing. As conceptual thinking gains ascendency, imagination is relegated to child’s play and art. We starve ourselves of its life-giving qualities. Our commitment to homogeneity, individualism and soullessness undermine our inherent connection to the imaginal. Where we insist upon polarized ways of thinking, the imaginal offers us a means of getting free from the weight of dualistic participation in life.