Talks by Rob Burbea supplementing, elaborating, clarifying previous materials on Soulmaking Dharma

Talk 1

What’s Meant by Imaginal Here?

  • Imaginal is way more than images that come up in the mind’s eye (Intra-psychic images)
  • Difference between imagination of Papancha and a mindful use of imagination (in metta practice)
    • The latter is deliberate, it keeps awareness of the energy body, there’s an intention behind it
  • There can also be “healing imagination” - Imagining healing figures
  • All those aren’t necessarily imaginal
  • We can think of a spectrum going from papancha to fully imaginal
  • Difference between how Rob uses the word Imaginal and how Hillman or other psychologists used it

What Makes Images “Imaginal”?

Aware of the dangers of lists becoming too strict and prescriptive, Rob made a list of elements that make images Imaginal. The list is more meant as keys to deepen one’s practice, but it shouldn’t be regarded too strictly.

Looseness with precision

We don’t reject concepts and delineations, we start with where we are and allow elements and qualities to expand and develop

  • ”Imaginal” is more about the Way of Looking than the Object

    • Included awareness of the energy body
    • less fabrication
  • Love and being loved

  • Eros

  • Beauty

  • Sense of dimensionality (depth) opening to a sense of divinity

  • A sense of beyondness (there’s more to the image than one can grasp)

  • Autonomy (images have their distinct independent being)

    • Two-ness (me and the image)
  • Infinite Echoing between the image and my life

    • Images pregnant with meaningfulness
  • Images not reduced, limited to one meaning

  • Neither real nor not real (Imaginal Middle Way)

  • Not-nonconceptual (it involves conceptuality and logos)

  • Timelessness

  • Humility

    • We feel humble in relationship to the image
  • Reverence

  • Grace

  • Duty

  • Trust

  • Primary intention is not for self

  • Brings a sense of Soulmaking

    • Eros-psyche-logos dynamic is stimulated, expands and fertilized
    • More than heartfulness
  • Images are part of a bigger context of possible other images (concertina?)

Sensing with Soul

  • Almost interchangeable with “Imaginal”
  • Seeing the “real world” around us imaginally

Imaginal and Soulmaking are dynamic experiences, getting more complicated, deeper, expanding, affecting the sense of self

Talk 2

Letting Images Arise

  • Play, patience and experimentation are key
  • Sometimes we try too hard
    • Once we notice that we may want to dwell in some Samadhi or Emptiness practice
  • We don’t want to only practice imaginal
    • We want to alternate, move in and out of practices, put down images
    • We can even let the mind drift for a while
  • Sometimes we need to stop meditating
    • Imaginal images may already be in our lives, in how we see our lives or the people close to us
    • We don’t need meditation to see them, just some understanding and awareness to notice them

Possible Techniques

  • Deepening into Samadhi or Emptiness practice and then relaxing the attention
    • Can be fertile grounds for images
  • Recalling a dream figure or image and meditating on it
  • Deliberate meditation on certain figures
    • Tantric deities, characters from history or literature that touched you, or people you know
    • Your body as a body of light
    • Playing with different images
  • Image of descending a staircase towards a cell, and finding out what’s there

Remarkability of images is not that important

  • Images that don’t seem remarkable can still be considered “imaginal” and have soul resonance
    • We shouldn’t dismiss images that come up too quickly

Talk 3 - 3 Elements

Nothing makes an image inherently “imaginal”.

If it is imaginal it will depend on how that image relates to the person who’s having it

Energy Body

Energy body is a way of looking or conceiving the body as a space of vibration, energy, texture

  • Body is not limited to the scientific materialist view

  • Not a specific experience but a range of experiences


  • SoulMaking Dharma
  • Eros, psyche and logos are involved
  • One way to intend Psyche is Image
    • May not be image in the obvious sense
    • It may be the fantasy of what is happening, and the Self in relation to it
  • A sense of newness, expansion of boundaries, of opening the heart
    • An image doesn’t necessarily need to be involved
    • Newness may bring a sense of eros
  • Playfulness and heartfulness also key components

Loving and Being Loved

  • The imaginal being loves you in a particular way, specific to that image
  • Love is two ways → We also love the figure
  • Our definitions of love are often very narrow
    • Love can be rigid, stern, disciplined but also soft, warm, comforting etc…

Talk 4

Middle Path of the Imaginal

  • Open to receiving, while also deliberately bringing up the elements
  • We receive grace, gifts (receptivity, flexibility, attunement)
  • Not just about technique, but technique is a component of it
  • Not completely in our control
    • Soul is greater than me, than ego

Sparking Imaginal

  • Elements in the list can serve as sparks
    • Once one is present, it creates a quantum leap bringing us to the imaginal
      • Not necessarily like switches (on/off), more like spectrum
  • We can gradually “turn on” elements by paying careful attention to them
    • We can play around with the relative emphasis of our attention
    • It can be mostly focused on the energy body, or on the image, or on emotions, while keeping a subtle awareness of the other elements


  • We need to be familiar with how eros feels
  • Eros supports an opening
    • Craving is constricting, limiting


  • There’s a huge range of beauty that we can feel touched by and open to
    • Like love, our view of beauty tends to be limited
  • This practice encourages us to look for different kinds, flavors of beauty


  • Perceptions/images are not flat
  • They have a depth that leads to a sense of divinity
    • Infinite possibilities for the experience of divinity
  • We tend to have “resistance” to the word Divinity, because of its associations and histories
  • In this practice, we don’t consider divinity as “more real”
    • Divinity is consider as deeper in the sense that it takes more practice and sensitivity to sense them
    • Not ontological distinction, but epistemological
    • Divinity is neither real nor unreal (Emptiness)
  • Similarly, we don’t see the material as unholy or illusion


  • Quality of being given, receiving something
    • A sense of gift, surprise
  • Not arising because of luck, or because of my clever engineering


  • To be in “awe of” something greater, beyond us
    • Involves the heart and soul
    • We can feel it in the energy body, a sense of pliability, softening, opening, energizing
  • Reverence sometimes associated with a sense of “should”
    • Not the case here, a reverence associated with Eros


  • Modernism made us arrogant in some ways
    • Mastery over nature, we can fix and control everything etc…
  • Does not imply self-shaming, blaming or punishing, or anything that is life denying
    • Even if we don’t explicitly mean them, humility sometimes gets confused and mixed with those
  • Doesn’t preclude empowerment
    • Empowerment and humility can co-exist. Only if we don’t identify with either
  • Act of bowing (not necessarily physical)
  • Humility goes with reverence and respect for the other, and for the self
  • Humility involves participation of the Self, not an alienation
    • I am included in what I am humble towards
  • Humility (like grace and other elements) itself can become image, an object of eros
    • It can expand, break, shift, transform


  • Sometimes disturbing images may arise that may feel wrong, inappropriate, pathological (sexually related or not)
    • Can we put a grain of trust that there’s a greater, soul intelligence that our mind doesn’t understand?
    • Sometimes, simply trusting the image will cause it to transform, sometimes it won’t
    • Can we stay with it?
  • If the energy body feels better, even if our mind is disturbed by the image, we can use that as an indicator that we’re on the right track


  • Not necessarily only in regards to images
  • If we get a new idea, or a new way of looking that we hadn’t seen before, we might feel a sense of duty to pursue it further


Imaginal practices make us question what is our ontology and epistemology