How does imagination fit into the process of reflection and meditation?

A student asks:

I’m wondering about how imagination fits into the process of reflection and meditation. How important is it to use our power of imagination in our practice? For example you sometimes encourage us to ‘act as if’ or ‘pretend’ or ‘make a leap’ perhaps in the context of linking into the qualities of a Buddha. It seems vital to do this as otherwise how would we ever move from our very mundane view of experience?

Lama Shenpen replies:

What a great question.  I wonder if this is where I would use aggression in the same way that Trungpa Rinpoche uses it.  When we try in an ego-centric way – or a separated-off way to manipulate our experience to be what we think it should be – then it’s kind of aggressive, ambitious and pushy.

But when we are simply playing in the openness of awareness – trying things out in a relaxed and gentle way that feels really alive and kind of beautiful. At least seeking the beauty of truth – what is true is also beautiful – we kind of intuit that – what is ugly feels wrong – until we see the beauty or wisdom in what seemed ugly before.

That I think is what we are talking about also when we say we use our imagination to make leaps or gain new angles on reality.


How do we learn to open and trust all experience as Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity, especially if our experience is one of anxiety or trauma? If I try to imagine a world of boundless love and equanimity I feel safer for a bit but then I notice an anxiety that I am simply making it up and not being realistic… I guess that this is where using imagination cannot replace genuine realization?

Lama Shenpen:

Yes that is right. That anxiety and doubt is intelligent – it knows the difference between what is real and what is made up.  But the leap of imagination was a tiny opening that shows you another possibility even if ever so briefly – the task is to build up the habit of returning to that possibility again and again every time it get lost – just seek it out again with a light heart – or as light as you can manage!


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