Our planet is in grave danger. Pollution, war, and the plundering of natural resources afflict her. Warring cosmologies and the resultant policies produce inflammations, which are inimical to planetary health; and we, who are the cells of the global brain, are challenged to go deeply into the planet’s hidden operating files to untangle the messed up connections. What are these hidden operating files? They are the underlying rules of operation — like the hidden operating files that establish the way the computer starts up. Similarly, the Earth’s hidden operating files put in place all the functions necessary for it to operate healthily.

This article is written in collaboration with Raqib Ickovits.

Our planet is in grave danger. Pollution, war, and the plundering of natural resources afflict her. Warring cosmologies and the resultant policies produce inflammations, which are inimical to planetary health; and we, who are the cells of the global brain, are challenged to go deeply into the planet’s hidden operating files to untangle the messed up connections. What are these hidden operating files? They are the underlying rules of operation — like the hidden operating files that establish the way the computer starts up. Similarly, the Earth’s hidden operating files put in place all the functions necessary for it to operate healthily.

These files include all the functions of nourishment, resource management, and waste product elimination or reprocessing, and of healing various wounds that are incurred in the daily planetary operations. We now are at the point of producing great waste without having the means for timely elimination or reprocessing, and the wounds that are routinely inflicted on the Earth are not given adequate care and time for repair and healing. We therefore need to upgrade our planet’s operating files so they can handle the increased speed of change and the routine damage on a planetary scale.

While I was in deep meditation, it came to me that it is useless to try to solve the conflicts of the world on the plane in which they occur. We cannot use equal force to oppose the karma loosened on the world without bringing about an even greater cataclysm. If we try to solve physical problems at the same physical level as those problems, it is probable that the change we introduce will cause a destabilizing reaction at that physical level when the planetary body seeks to establish stasis under the new conditions.

Efforts to heal the planet on the exoteric level are therefore bound to fail. The usual methods are futile. We must find other means to effect change and healing, to impact the hidden operating files so as to accommodate today’s realities. In response to this challenge, I have been guided to work on a subtler plane in order to untangle some of the binds that afflict our world.

How did I come to this alternative of reaching to a meta-level so as to affect change that could safely and adequately respond to the necessary planetary healing? This inspiration to work on a subtle plane occurred when I was treated by a healer who used an energy healing method. By a guided imagery process, he would take me into realms I could not reach by my own will. In these realms we traced back the roots of some behavioral, emotional and mental tangles that had brought about my ailment; and then, by our exploring those roots and with conscious effort, we removed the tangles and I was healed.

This experience led me to consider that, by entering the matrix field of an organism on the micro scale, we can untangle conflicting impulses and bring about healing. Because of the healing I experienced after entering the matrix field, from whence the physical body is a continuously sustained outgrowth, and consciously re-imaging some of the conflicting tangles in that matrix, I now wonder: Can this same technique be applied at a macro scale to the entire planet? Can we enter the matrix field of the Earth and change the conflicting tangles so as to heal our planet?

There is scientific support for this approach. A biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, has identified inter-organism matrix fields that he calls morphogenic fields. Such a field is energized by beings living within it; and the field, in turn, provides order and harmony for those individuals. When a morphogenic field is healthy, robust, and energetic, the units living in it create a balanced ecology. However, if the field is sick or askew, the units within it struggle and fight against one another. We see this in the prevalent geo-planetary tense environment — the competitive, and hostile struggles among the various inhabitants on and in the body of the Earth.

I believe that the current morphogenic field of the planet is shattered and broken and that, in addition, the great dreams that energized nations, traditions, lineages and religions are weak and anemic. The discords have proven not to be solvable on the rational or political level, for these conflicts are energized by realities that operate on a much more subtle level.

It is my working hypothesis that, by entering the morphogenic field of our world, we might affect the clearing and harmonizing of that field. This will, I hope, result in a shift on the physically manifesting realm.

It seems to me that the planet’s morphogenic field is akin to what in many esoteric disciplines has been called the imaginal realm. Consider, for example, that between the intent to raise my arm and the action of raising it, there is the act of imagining the raising of my arm. We take this intermediary act for granted because it is so automatic. But imagination provides the vital interface between the intent and its achievement, between thought and physical reality. This interposing stage between the incarnation of thought in image and the presence of the image in being is the realm of the imagination. In the same way that imagination intermediates between our thoughts and actions, the imaginal realm also forms an intermediary plane of existence between the realm of pure spirit and the realm of physical manifestation.

The Sufis speak of the imaginal realm as ‘alam al-mithal. In Hebrew, it is called the olam hamashal. It is the realm of imagination, the realm of parable, the realm of dreams. It is the world of good and bad spirits, angels and demons, helpers and tricksters, the world the shamans seek to enter in order to align and harmonize — that is, if they are working for the side of good. Those practicing black magic enter this world in order to use its powers to achieve other aims.

The imaginal world is in a different dimension from the one we usually are aware of inhabiting. Yet the imaginal world also has its own realities and operating principles, and these realities can be apprehended once we have developed subtlety in our imagination. This realm can be difficult to understand because our thinking is limited by the reality maps that favor and support reason and sensation while devaluing the reality maps that come from feeling and intuition.

So how do we begin to understand and access the imaginal realm? The answer may surprise you.

When my son was quite young and I would put him to bed and say the night prayers with him, he would, like so many other children, want to prolong the time we spent together. Often he would ask questions in order to open up new areas for conversation. One night he said to me, “Abba, what happens to people when they die? ” I asked him what he thought; and he replied, “We have two lives, the waking life and the dream life. When we die, the waking life dies but the dream life goes on.”

My young son’s reply shows a remarkable insight. Many people think dreams are nothing but the foam on top of sleep, but that is not quite accurate. It is true that many dreams are just fluff, but some dreams come from a greater reality that can lead us back to their source.

The river of dreams shows a way to the imaginal realm. In our dreaming life, we encounter images and ideas without physical form. At first, it is difficult for our minds to grasp these dream images; however, after we learn to focus our attention, the contents of the imaginal realm become palpable and real. How do we accomplish this manner of mindful focus? We learn by paying attention, encouraging, and not censoring the flow of images, emotions, of all the senses that pass through us in dreams and meditation. The ebb and flow, the energy arising, the running and returning of the images, feelings, and intuitions are important signposts in this training. At times I speak to people about dreams, and I ask them how their religious commitment and spiritual work manifests in their dreams. Very often people respond with a blank stare. Most people dream about work, friends, or relationships. Some of these dreams are pleasant and others are like nightmares. But few people perform spiritual work in their dreams. Working on our dreams — watching and actively entering and directing our dreams in order to affect change in the physical planes — has been a strong focus of many esoteric traditions. People who have done spiritual work in their dreams have found that there are some dreams that, in themselves, contain healing properties. One example is dreams of inclusion, where opposing forces or competing heroes reconcile or work together for a common larger purpose. We need to encourage, focus and amplify such dreams.

It is long overdue that we, the dwellers on planet Earth, see the diversity of people’s talents as complementing and supporting each other. The image I use is an organic model of each nation. Each tradition on the Earth functions as a distinct vital organ that supports the overall health of the planet. Note that the full set of organs is needed in order for the organism to function properly. Also note that the failure of even a single vital organ can result in the cessation of life for the organism. The fundamental importance of getting along together cannot be overemphasized.

Our planet is currently gravely ill and needs healthy dreams. It therefore becomes very necessary that those of us who meditate, contemplate, and are involved in spiritual practice produce healing dreams for our planet. For example, given that the increasing levels of pollution in the earth’s environment are impacting the future ability of various plant and animal species to survive is a long term threat for the health of the planet, we need to “see” the healing effect of less pollution and better waste management in order to clear the channels of the planet’s energy flows. We cannot just sit and consciously design dreams, however. Dreams have to arise from the deep place within us. We cannot manipulate their content. Nevertheless, we need to be able to dream healing dreams. But how?

Today, there are many people who are able to speak about the imaginal realm. People in the New Age movement, the Course in Miracles, books on tantra and shamanism, all speak about this subtle world. However, the number of adepts who are able to actually enter into those regions is smaller than in earlier times; and while there are many workshops, courses and books available, we lack the empirical know-how to enter these regions and to bring healing to them.

We need people, adepts, who might guide us to learn more about the subtle realm. Our traditions report of people who were able to enter these subtle regions and work in them. There were Sufi shaykhs and dervishes, shamans and yogis, lamas and other adepts who were able to enter the subtle regions and work within them. For many Hasidic masters, the entrance into the olam hamashal was a precise art. They would enter the imaginal realm to seek deep wisdom — from which they derived sermons and teachings — and also to draw down healings and blessings for their flock.

There are methods in the esoteric recesses of our spiritual lineages that adepts and intuitive geniuses have used in the past. I believe that some such people exist among us even now. They are spiritual pathfinders — psychonauts — who manage to enter into other territories of consciousness. I believe that there are still some such adepts who could be brought together in order to hold the planet in a healing field.

In the past, those who did deep inner work were less interested than other people were in the mundane affairs of the world. Hermits and yogis sought to go beyond the activities of mere house-holding mortals. They performed their sacred duties while others maintained life in the here and now. But now our nest is becoming so fouled that all of us may lose the world we inhabit. The universe has toiled millions of years to produce our conscious life, and conscious life is in great peril. If the esoteric disciplines have any answers, it is urgent that they be put in the service of healing the planet. We need to create the field in which the adepts can work right now. Can we support the formation of a seed group that takes on the task of entering the imaginal realm at an appointed time and leads us to new visions and icons for healing the planet? Can we also find adepts to train apprentices who can continue the adepts’ work and refine it further?

But what are we to make happen and how? We don’t have a shared reality map for our work. We have deep urges and wishes to work for the common good without the functional know-how needed to make the important difference. If some of us are put together, we begin to joust for our own specific assumptions and theories to prevail. We need a common purpose and methodology for those of us who would dedicate ourselves to this work.

Consider, for example, the complex confluence of know-how and skills required to build intricate “defense” machinery. The social coherence and implicit collaboration of scientists and technicians is astonishing. Now compare this confluence to the lack of sophistication, precision, communication, and cooperation among those who wish to work for peace and healing, and how primitive the state of awareness and skills is becomes apparent.

We must be able to work with each other on a more subtle and sensitive level in order to be able to enter the imaginal realm. Partnering and working on the subtle planes is difficult. We will need those who have served as leaders, directors, and guides, as well as others; but the imaginal realm has been neglected since the end of the Renaissance. Until fairly recently, only mystics, Sufis, Hasidic rebbes and Vedantists have paid attention to it. Reclaiming this sacred treasure and developing this technology in a modern context, including other disciplines such as therapy and art, is essential.

The impulse to help Earth heal is impacting many people sensitive to the planet’s current plight. In various ways, these people have agreed to be deployed in Earth’s service. They have come to agree that no single individual can do this work alone, that it will take the talents and experience of a group of people who have some experience in such work and are willing to work as an ensemble. It is important to be aware that we are not alone in this vital task. Intelligent entities are urging us on and are eager to help us. We are being aided in the subtle realm. Each of the realms of existence has messengers or angels who mitigate the actions and information necessary for communication in that realm as well as with the other realms. The more we reach out, the more access to these helpers we develop. By recognizing this and utilizing their help, we can make a profound impact on the future of the planet.

Do you recall the photo image of the earth from space, that beautiful blue and white jeweled globe glistening against the black background of cosmic space. Can we do something to sustain that beauty? The challenges of this moment defy us to respond!

Reprinted from Elixir: Consciousness, Conscience and Culture, No. 1, Autumn 2005.


Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi with Raqib Ickovits
Accessing the Imaginal Realm