The Mithal

  Contrary to the American consensus view, which focuses on the material world as the only true reality, existence is a many-layered phenomenon. There are inner realms of non-material reality—a realm of light, a realm of energy, a realm of images—that are almost completely lost to modern consciousness because they do not exist in the consensus framework. Access to these non-manifest inner realms has atrophied, through lack of use, in modern man.

One of those inner realms is the Mithal, the realm of images. It was forcefully articulated by the 12th century Sufi mystic, Ibn Arabi. This realm is a rich storehouse of experience. Meaning is encoded directly into the symbols, archetypes, and images that live in this realm. This layer, the imaginal or mythological layer, is just as real as the material world but simply of a different order of reality. Images exist and have their life in it solely as images, without materiality. However, they are alive and dynamic. They appear in consciousness and cause things to happen in human minds and lives.

The images appear in consciousness wrapped in mystery. They operate on a different basis than the material world, a basis so deep in the Field that we cannot fully grasp it. This realm of imagery is accessible to us, but we must interact with it on its own terms, respectfully. It does not appear on demand. It comes both in dreams and in waking states, sometimes unbidden and almost always laden with deep meaning. It appears only as an act of grace. However, if we lay the groundwork properly, give it our full attention and wait respectfully, it will usually appear with its surprising depth and startling information.

Images from the Mithal are so woven into our life experience that we seldom notice them independently, unless they have a dramatic impact. Occasionally they arrive in consciousness with transformative information that shakes the whole system of the psyche. Jungian depth psychology has built its practice around attending to the images and their information. Jung realized that images are the language of the unconscious mind and the language of the soul. Jungian practice today follows the imagery of dreams closely to observe the unfolding of the soul and the interface of that unfolding with life’s dilemmas.

Jung deeply investigated the role of imagery in his own psyche. He had extensive conversations at the inner level with Philamon, a long-bearded, fancifully dressed, Pagan entity with wings. Over a period of years, his interactions with Philamon yielded great results. Jung credited Philamon as the source of many of his deepest insights into the human psyche. He once said that he owed his career and his stature in the field to Philamon. At a minimum, his experience with Philamon was formative and seminal. Jungian work today makes use of imagery in a form called “Active Imagination.”

Ibn Arabi had a similar experience nine centuries earlier. Arabi was the greatest philosopher of his age. He wrote something like 400 books, and is still revered today as “the Great Sheikh” or “the Great Teacher.”

Ibn Arabi reported that, in his imagination, he walked around the Ka’aba in Mecca with Sophia, the Goddess of Wisdom. Sophia took the image of a beautiful young girl. As they walked around and around the Ka’aba, they had long, involved conversations about the nature of Reality. Arabi credited these interactions with Sophia, as Jung credited his with Philamon, as the source of much of his insight.

In the modern world, Tibetan Buddhism has the most sophisticated use of images. A central practice in this belief system involves bringing up deities in the mind’s eye and inter-acting with them. The Tibetan iconography is extremely rich, and the deities are visualized not just by themselves but in context, with individual palaces, consorts, attendants and attached minor deities included. Behind this exotic use of the imagination is a deep and skillful transformative intent. Each deity represents a quality that the devotee is reaching for and needs to apply in his own life—strength, peace, will, compassion, clarity, etc. By visually communing with the deity who embodies this quality, the devotee absorbs some of the quality for his own use. When the visualization/absorption practice is finished, the deity is consciously dissolved. The Tibetan practice is based on the belief that our minds are the source of our experience. It is a powerful and skillful use of the Mithal.

Einstein used imagery in the Mithal to work out his theory of the relativity of time and space, as did Friedrich Kekule in arriving at the molecular structure of benzene. All innovation, in fact, scientific and otherwise, begins with images of the thing being brought into manifestion. It moves through that level before entering the world of forms.

Joseph Campbell said that there are two periods in life when the imaginal realm is most important. The first is the period from 4-12 years old, when the images and archetypes of mythology teach the young person what and how to be, what to grow into. The second important period is in older people, when mythology and deep imagery appear to carry the person through the last phase of life and out the last door, the “Grand Egress.”

Older people, who are done with the hectic outer life, with its focus on family, children, career, success, relationship and material well-being, naturally and increasingly turn their focus from the outer world to the inner realms. Jung said that, as we age, we naturally withdraw from life and slow down somewhat. This creates excess libido that goes into the inner realms, into the Mithal and into mythology. This reorientation requires less energy and more contemplation, and yields more depth, richness and meaning. Older people, growing progressively less interested in achievement, begin to look intently at their lives for meaning because they are trying to make sense of what they have experienced. So, it is a natural thing to turn to the inner, imaginal realm, where that meaning resides.

Our culture has an unhealthy relationship with images. On the one hand, their power is recognized by the advertising industry and turned toward manipulation. So, we are inundated with a cascade of images in our daily life, many of which are devoted to stimulating consumerism. On the other hand, the culture denigrates the importance of the imagination, considering inner experience to be baseless, unimportant fantasy and hallucination. It can only be this way in a culture that is overwhelmingly materialistic. Non-material realms such as the Mithal are summarily dismissed. There is no recognition that the Mithal is a powerful, deep, creative and generative part of Reality, that it plays a central role in the evolution of consciousness. Though we use it constantly to our benefit in our life experience, we do not acknowledge its power and importance. The Mithal and its imagery are a central and mysterious element in the realities of the Field. Perhaps we are growing toward a time when our perceptions will make a place for this deeper truth.

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