“Who can give the Childlike Empress the new name that will make her well? Not you, not I, no elf, no djinn, can save us from the evil spell. For we are figures in a book — we do what we were invented for, but we can fashion nothing new and cannot change from what we are. But there’s a realm outside Fantastica, The Outer World is its name, the people who live there…have had the gift of giving names ever since our worlds began, In every age it’s they who gave The Childlike Empress life, for wondrous new names have the power to save. But now for many and many a day, no human has visited Fantastica, for they no longer know the way. They have forgotten how real we are, They don’t believe in us anymore.”
– The Neverending Story by Michael Ende trans. Ralph Manheim
Avi: I asked my friend Professor X to join me today. It seemed only fitting that in writing about this month’s theme of imagination in spiritual practice, I include the voice of somebody who is a true member of our collective imaginarium.
Prof X: Nothing about us without us, hmm?
Avi: Yes, exactly, but beyond the issue of representation, I invited you here to help me talk about imagination because every time I tried on my own it came out sort of flat.
Prof X: The imagination is a living thing, we are not dealing with dried butterflies pinned to the collector’s specimen board. The realms we access with the imagination are but the perceptible edge of a vast multiversal field of pulsating psychic energy manifesting through image, symbol and story. It cannot be known by analysis, only through experience.
Avi: I agree. Growing up, I always felt a natural pull to fantasy novels, D&D and comics – anything that involved exploring or inhabiting worlds beyond the obvious material world. But as I grew older, there was a kind of tension as my peers moved on and started to regard such things as escapist and anti-social. I had a hard time adjusting to living in just a single world, I felt like a mutant trying to pass as a normal human.
Prof X: Indeed, the power of astral travel is common among the gifted youngsters at my school. It sounds to me like you could have benefited from attending.
Avi: You don’t know how much I wish that had been possible, but I did the next best thing in high school, I was a drama kid.
Prof X: I sense that this solution did not last.
Avi: That’s true, when I left for university I felt more and more social pressure toward taking a rational analytical approach to understanding reality. This really affected me somehow.
Prof X: Would you be willing to show me the imprint?
Prof X: Open your mind, that’s it, now we can travel together to the crucial point in your story.
Avi: I’m seeing myself on my 18th birthday. I’m attending McGill University, and I’m walking through the woods of Mount Royal Park. I’m alone, but I look so happy. I’m waving some tree branches I found on the forest floor around like swords. Watching this memory, I feel a bit embarrassed. My past self is oblivious to what other people in the park might think.
Prof X: Of course he’s oblivious to the other people, they are not currently occupying the same world. His senses are utterly focused on the other world.
Avi: The other world?
Prof X: Here, let me show you, I know you still have the capacity latent within you. Focus on your past self, that’s it, try to see what he is seeing.
Avi: I can see it now, his body is in the park, but the rest of his being is somewhere else. It looks like somewhere in the Mediterranean, he’s dressed like a hero of Greek myth and the weapons he’s wielding are shining with the blessings of the gods.
Prof X: Indeed, and there before him the monstrous brute he’s fighting, it is one of the Hecatoncheires, the Hundred-Handed.
Avi: But he’s just pretending. I was just pretending. I used to do this kind of make-believe play all the time, until… well, now that I think of it, this must have been one of the last times I did it with such complete unselfconscious absorption.
Prof X: From your perspective he’s pretending, it’s only make-believe, but in this moment he is there, inhabiting that mythic world. The battle is real, not here in the material plane, but in the astral realm which is just as real. His heroism in that world is undeniable, and he reaps the glory of those deeds. The light of the imaginal world is filling up his soul, your soul, with every blow, every near miss.
Avi: [crying softly] The feelings of that day are flooding back into my body. I felt that turning 18 was some kind of threshold, becoming an adult, and my greatest fear was that I’d lose this power to be in other worlds as fully as this world. So on the day when I officially became an “adult,” I was determined to prove to myself I still had it in me to get completely lost in make-believe. There was no greater joy, no greater meaning in my life than that. I didn’t want to lose it.
Prof X: Well done. You’ve identified the wound we’ve been sniffing out, a psychic snarl in your personal myth. Your past self is fighting desperately against the adult world, a world that he perceives as a terrible threat to that which he holds most dear. But it is a losing battle and unconsciously he knows it. Here on your 18th birthday, your heroic self lives to fight another day, but soon after this he will become entombed on this mountain. Can you show me how that happened?
Avi: I can’t remember exactly, my sense is that the decline in these abilities was gradual but relentless from this point over the next decade.
Prof X: That may be so, but in great stories, there are always key moments, touchstones that evoke the larger pattern. If you cannot find one of these, your memory of them may be blocked. I believe that this younger Avi, the one here desperately fighting to hold onto his imagination, he is the key to unlocking those memories. Go to him, find out what he can show you.
Avi: What do you mean? This is just a memory, it’s in the past.
Prof X: The past remains alive in the imaginal realms, you only have to step across the psychic threshold, and treat it as more than a figment. I will use my psychic blast to thin the barrier between your present and your past, it will only last for a moment, you must seize the opportunity or it will be lost.
Avi: I want to do it, but I’m not sure how.
Prof X: Trust your intuition, and make the leap, I can’t hold the opening much longer.
Avi: I’m grabbing this fallen tree branch from the ground, I can feel the roughness of the bark, the autumn chill in my fingers. I’m running to him to help him fight the Hundred-Handed. I see the monstrous giant raise his fist to squash my younger self. In the nick of time, I raise my branch, no, I raise the great club of Herakles, a boon I attained through many trials. The monster’s titanic blow reverberates through the divine weapon into my arm, but the block holds. My young self looks at me in surprise and delight. He flashes a quick smile before dashing between the giant’s legs and grievously wounding him on his thigh.
Young Avi: We’ve put the beast on the run, he won’t be bothering the Aegean for some time. What are you doing here?
Avi: Do you know who I am?
Young Avi: Of course I know you, you’re me, I’m you, but I’ve never seen you here before.
Avi: There is something that will happen to you, something that takes away our power to inhabit other worlds. I came to ask if you could show it to me, take me to an episode in your future, my past, where this loss of power occurred. Together, we might be able to do something about it.
Young Avi: Sorry, but I have to stay here, on this perfect day when I defied the odds. I’m 18 and I still have my imagination, let’s just have fun and forget about what’s going to happen.
Avi: I’m sorry, I can’t forget, and I know that on some level you know what is to come. Staying here won’t stop it. What are you afraid of?
Young Avi: Everybody I see who’s older than me has lost the key. They are gray people living in a drab world, prisoners in the iron cage of mundane life. I feel like I’m living on borrowed time, it’s a miracle I’ve kept my power this long, but I won’t let it go, I made that promise to myself.
Avi: No matter how hard you try, you can’t hold onto this gift all by yourself. You can’t defeat the gray people all by yourself.
Young Avi: I don’t want to think about that. How are you here anyway if we lost our imagination?
Avi: Many years later, at great cost, I found partial access to the imaginal through spiritual practice. Even now, after years of struggle, I haven’t regained the natural ability you possess to inhabit and move through other worlds so effortlessly. Maybe this is because you are still stuck here, still grasping hold of this treasured memory. To be fully restored to our powers, I need you to be with me in the present. I need your vitality, your heroic spirit, your wild abandon.
Young Avi: NO! I won’t leave, you can’t make me! Today is my birthday, I get to have fun, I get to do whatever I want.
Prof X: I sense a psychic storm coming. We’ve got to get out of here before it breaks upon us. You can’t force your younger self to go, it will only amplify the backlash. You have to give him time.
Avi: But I can’t just leave him here, he needs me and I need him.
Prof X: The best you can do is find something to serve as a psychic anchor to your present life, something you can give to him that will act as a point of connection.
Avi: Hmm, I’ve got this crystal bead from the mala I’m in the process of making. It’s strange, I put it in my wallet this morning before I left to write in the cafe. I don’t know why I took it with me, but now it seems like the perfect thing. When I add it to the mala and chant with it, the power of the mantra will strengthen my connection with this part of me.
Prof X: Excellent, I will assist you to transfer your psychic signature into the bead. It is done.
Avi: Young me, I present this to you as a birthday present. I know I can’t force you to change, but I hope you’ll keep this in your pocket until I see you again.
Young Avi: Thank you for the nice bead and for keeping me company today. It might have been kind of lonely out here otherwise.
Prof X: Quickly now, the storm is about to arrive. Let’s return to the present.
Avi: Phew, we made it back to the cafe in 2023, I hope young Avi will be okay.
Prof X: He’s stuck there and suffering for it, yet you need not despair. The courage and compassion you expressed today has firmly planted the seeds of healing. You just need to keep nurturing their growth. Now, will you look at the time, it seems we got quite absorbed on our little journey. Don’t you think you’d better tell the readers about this month’s meditations at CEC?
Avi: Good call, I almost forgot.
For our month of imagination, CEC teachers have prepared practices that explore and stimulate the imaginal realm through myth, soundscape, subjectivity, and song. Come prepared to enter the inner wilds and stretch your concept of what meditation might be!
*Avi is a CEC teacher and founding Board member, a meditation teacher, spiritual practice guide, and web developer . He believes that every individual has a unique spiritual journey—there is no one-size-fits-all approach. He teaches in a geeky but accessible style, drawing on contemplative techniques,
philosophical dialogue, and direct spiritual experience.