Cultivating Our Imagination

How little in our culture do we cultivate our imagination! We treat the imagination as if it were a poor relative of the rational mind. A somewhat distracting side journey on the larger logical journey of life. And yet, when we look at it, we realize that through the centuries most of the important discoveries and innovations in art, religion, and even science, were generated not so much by logical, rational, step-by-step thinking as by intuition, sudden flashes of insight and imagination.

Well, as magicians, how do we cultivate our imaginations? The answer is that we need to begin to practice the art of allowing visual images to form in our minds. The simplest approach is to lie down on a sofa or bed, close your eyes, and start imagining. And that indeed is the heart of the work. For these periods cultivating the imagination to be effective and not turn into nap time, one needs to understand that for this even to be real inner work, it must be both regular and conscious.

By regular, I mean that I need to set aside a certain period of time for this cultivating of my imagination every day – though I need not become a slave to this and feel that everything will fall apart if I miss a day. It might be five minutes or ten minutes, or whatever you decide. It is less important how long you decide to do this each day, and much more important that you do decide, that you decide to begin.

When I say this needs to be conscious, I mean that before I begin each day’s session, I must decide in my mind what area I’m going to allow my imagination to roam. I might, for example, spend many sessions imagining my opening in a performance. I might imagine the audience. Someone gives me an introduction. I’m introduced, and I walk out and – what? What happens? What do I do? What do I say? The possibilities are endless, aren’t they?

During this work of cultivating my imagination, I don’t need to make any concrete decisions about my actual magical work. That can all come much later. Here I’m simply concerned with letting my imagination flow, without me getting in the way. At first, of course, you may feel awkward or even a little ill at ease. That will pass. Sometimes at first, your imagination seems to go blank. That, too, passes, once you’ve realized that you can’t really force anything — and so you might as well relax and see what happens.

Working with our imagination calls into question the value of will power, tension, and conscious effort as real aids to creativity. The truth seems to be that most of us simply can’t sit down and, through an act of will power or conscious effort, make ourselves creative. And gritting our teeth and getting tense doesn’t help much either. What is needed is a calm relaxed and receptive state, a state of openness, a state of listening and waiting and seeing for our selves what our imagination creates.

I suppose that for many contemporary magicians, these ideas about nurturing our imagination are almost like being invited to visit another planet. It isn’t surprising that these kinds of thoughts and ideas are so alien to modern conjuring, caught up as it is with tricks and moves and methods. Yet the truth is working with our imagination and with our powers of inner visualization, this has always been part of the magician’s inner training. From the very dawn of magic, this means that magicians have always needed to make a decision, to take time out of life’s busy schedule, to explore and empower their own imaginations through conscious and regular inner work. This has always been part of the way of the magician, even if modern magicians, traveling on the road of forgetfulness, fail to realize it.

Cultivating our imagination, finally, helps us realize the value of solitude, of spending time alone, working with our magic for the sheer delight and joy of it. I believe that great magicians always have been born out of these moments of solitude. For me, then, if I were to sum it all up for you, the way of magic is not so much the way of learning magic tricks – that any monkey can do. No, the way of magic, rather, is the way of slow movement along a path; a path of growing and learning to be a magician.

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