3 Meditations on Truth & Imagination

Truth & Imagination

Reading Time : Just over 7 minutes

As people struggling to locate our coordinates in a new and uncertain world, we navigate between our natural reality on the one hand, and our imagination on the other.

Perhaps we need to meditate on such a subject and escape to the imaginative world of Prospero, Caliban, Don Quixote, Sancho Panzo, Mr. Fogg, Passepartout, Auden, and Jeeves—to distract (and refresh) ourselves with the hope that doing so will return us to the social, physical, and historical phenomena swirling about—and within—us, so that we can come back to ourselves when the pandemic ends with enough spirit to lift any unnecessary gloom and the wisdom to enjoy a more balanced, enlightened, and jovial sense of time.

What follows, for those interested in a daydreamer’s meditations, are a few reflections that came of contemplating “Balaam and His Ass.” (which can be found in The Dyer’s Hand, a volume of Auden’s prose about which I’ve written elsewhere).

Meditation #1: The Relationship Between Truth and Imagination

What is the relationship between truth and imagination with regard to the government’s handling of our “plague” (as described by the U.S. President) – musings on the relationship between science and political narrative.

“The natural is always without error, but the other [that which is of the mind] may err through a wrong object or through excess or defect of vigor.” – Dante, Purgatorio XVII (tr. John D. Sinclair.)

Imagination Extends Limitlessly

Imagination extends limitlessly into the universe. Its possibilities are ecstatically—seductively, intoxicatingly—infinite. “Without imagination, I remain an innocent animal, unable to become anything but what I already am,” writes Auden. To have no imagination is to be dead. But imagination’s playful enjoyment of infinite possibility, its blissful ignorance of the impossible, exists only to the extent that imagination remains within itself. Spurred on by desire, it ventures into nature to feel embodied existence, and meets with limits that render its imaginings unfeasible.

Facing the prospect of economic disaster, the U.S. President imagined a harmless, mild virus that would pass without much ado. Strong desire for a healthy economy urged him to imagine the virus would pass with little or no consequence. He denied the claims of scientists, the World Health Organization, for example, and dismissed the science that spoke on nature’s behalf. However, eventually nature asserted itself so forcefully that the President’s imagined possibilities became impermissible—and unreal. (His well-meaning wish to banish the virus by Easter was destroyed by scientists’ warnings of death).

The Tension between Nature and Imagination

Even now, there exists in our land, a profound tension between nature and imagination. To impose imagination on nature—to pretend that what is limited is limitless—is a fatal miscalculation. But to succumb entirely to nature without imagination leaves no possibility for one to become more than what nature determines, which leaves us beasts: uncreative and  enslaved by our environment, unable to participate in the process of becoming—of becoming and living as imaginative, creative beings who endow the material world with spirit. Events such as famine, plague, war, or the collapse of a nation, are spiritual, as much as they are physical, wounds. They limit the physical possibility of realizing anything we might imagine—a capacity born of the infinite, spiritual aspect of our (human) nature.

I don’t blame a President for wanting to maintain the spiritual, imaginative heart of a nation. But to do so by disregarding nature, is an unwise course, and a species of delusion that will harm rather than help any citizenry the President has vowed to serve.

If I were to enter a boxing ring with Mike Tyson, imagining myself to be a great heavy-weight boxer, I would surely meet with nature most bitterly, and much to my physical detriment.

A Self-Imagined Expert is Not an Actual One

A self-imagined expert is not an actual one. Perhaps as a society we have strayed too far from genuine truth. Is our detachment from basic, immediate reality not the more serious threat to our (and our nation’s) health and well-being than, for example, a virus dubbed ‘COVID-19?’

Meditation #2: The Imagination of a Holy Fool

Imagination is a factory of notions and possibilities. Infinite options appear from nothing. Imagination prints its own money, endlessly and forever. Its possibilities are limited only by imagination itself, which grows in power to the extent that it’s cultivated by experience, the literature (of letters and science), and education. Reading the teachings of great Buddhist Masters, for example, informs my imagination about possible ways of life—a peaceful existence in the mountains among flowers and trees with perhaps a cow, and a small group of friends with whom I’m studying truth.

The Realizing of our Imagination in the World

A notion is realized when desire brings it from imagination into the world—into nature—and when the sheppard-ed notion, now with its form in the world, survives. When our imaginings are realized in nature, we’re most happy. Of course, the realization of our imagination in the world, though it satisfies us greatly, does not mean that others are happy for its realization. Different objects of imagination, upon becoming realized in the world, have different effects. Hitler’s imagination unleashed the Holocaust. Jesus’s imagination gave humanity a way to bear earthly suffering, and all of those who gave birth to the Judeo-Christian teachings, as well as the ancient Greeks with their science, plays, poetry, and philosophy, contributed to the imagination that set the foundations for Western Civilization.

Faced with pandemic, we have at our disposal a trove of documents that can be used to address both our personal and social response.

The Buddhist will ask: how might this opportunity be used to bring all those who wish to awaken to awakening? How can this circumstance be used to raise Bodhi Mind?

I have seen a number of young artists and photographers trolling about Varick St. and the relatively desolate streets of the West Village, filming or photographing the signs posted on closed shop-doors announcing modified business hours and (hopefully) temporary closures due to COVID-19.  Artists use imagination to make art, to create meaning out of what’s going on to help us deepen our understanding of ourselves, so that we’ll emerge with an enriched appreciation—more love, trust, and respect—for who we are as people and a society.

I believe we ought to support—as sponsors or practitioners, or both—such spiritual, philosophical, and artistic efforts, even when we fear for our lives. Perhaps, in such circumstances, especially so—if we have the surplus and the means to do so. Write a poem, start a garden, do a weekly run—or sit in meditation, in silence, on a bench by the Hudson—with a friend.

Regrettably, I fear that American culture, though it does have the means to support art and enlightenment, has become so systematically debased and callous that any real virtue, any appreciation of anything more than that which supports the economic system and the psychology required to keep it running (though these things are important), that what nurtures goodness and genuine well-being, is barely—if at all—recognizable.

If art is made these days, it’s largely for status and profit—because without support, an artist can’t survive. This has brought about the tragi-comical state that anyone voluntarily sacrificing his or her interests to bring about the realization of wisdom and compassion is seen as a fool, a kind of Don Quixote—who, as Auden reminds us, is “perfectly well aware that he has failed to do anything which he set out to do.”

The Holy Fool Who Obeys a Sacred Calling

This is Cervantes’s poignant message: better to be a holy fool who obeys a sacred calling than the hypocrite who pays lip-service to virtue, blind to their moral and spiritual shortcomings, and too lazy, hardened or proud to change their ways. But also, that we, through our environments and the choices we make and have made as individuals over centuries, have created the world in which we live.

Indeed, what we do with our imagination, and how we choose to realize it in the world—what we help into life, what we choose to support, however we chose to support it (mentally, spiritually, emotionally, economically, physically, or with our attention), has profound consequences for our own life, and the world that is always acting upon us.

In the social rupture caused by pandemic, what is our opportunity? Who do we need to be? What do we need to do? It will benefit us to answer such questions—asked out of concern, not just for the body, but for the human spirit—with an honest look at the effects—and effectiveness—of our power.

Meditation #3: Returning to Truth  

To master the art of well-being one must come to know that that which nourishes the body, nourishes the mind, and vice versa. I began Rolfing at the behest of my first Zen Master before he died at the age of 107. I would spend three hours at a time with him, every day for months on end, Rolfing his aged body. I was lucky to be able to be in such a position. I miss seeing people in this way now that we are all subject to social distancing, for Rolfing is a kind of meditation for me—moving in response to a body and its life is an enjoyable meditation.

People often ask me what they can do between sessions to maintain the results of Rolfing. I have been asked this since I began working with people in 2006. And, among other practices, I often recommend meditation.

Meditate, Garden, Walk, Run, Landscape and Cook

Meditation doesn’t need to be the cross-legged sitting meditation I did for over 10,000 hours in my ten years at a monastery. One can garden, walk, landscape, run, or cook. Many physical activities, by the power of their natural rhythms, help the mind settle, smoothing and harmonizing its sometimes sharp and jagged edges.

Bringing the Mind and Body to Harmony

My endeavors, whether they be through Rolfing or the spiritual life and meditation coaching I do with people help to make the body and mind more supple, flexible, and fluid. But the aim of this fluidity is to bring the mind and body in harmony in such a way that one can move freely between one’s imagination and natural reality, realizing both in such a way that people are happy for the accomplishment.

My wish as a healer is to help every member of society return to themselves, to a genuine experience of life so that one by one we can return our nation to truth. I don’t know if I will succeed, but I, like Don Quixote, am willing to pick up my lance, follow the way of an errant knight, who, however foolishly, knowing that I will likely fail, shall nevertheless obey my calling if only because it’s there and there is no one else to do it.

I hope that someday, one or two more fools will join me.

Related Posts

Bodhi Heart BH logo in black on a cream background
6 Reviews on Bodhi Heart

Unfortunately, Yelp doesn’t show all of our client’s reviews on their website. 18 of 50, almost half of them, are hidden. But we want you to be able to see them all. See the excerpts below or read the full review by clicking the “Read on Yelp” button and logging into your Yelp account.

Joshua Levy
Joshua Levy
I have bee seeing Soken for while now. If you have some sort of lingering physcial malady go see him, don't wait. He's pretty busy and it might take some time to get in so call right now. Some of my injuries and pain that I have had for years have been greatly relieved by his rolfing work and he's also just a great human being. I would totally go see him for his other services as well. Rolfing doesn't need to be super intense though it can be. He will calibrate to what you need
Philippa Newman
Philippa Newman
I cannot recommend Soken highly enough. He will literally transform your life. I first came to meet Soken for his Rolfing services when I had been living with unbearable lower back pain for over a year. Numerous visits to doctors, various x-rays and months of physical therapy later, I was no better off and desperate to find an alternative solution. Having read about Rolfing as a technique, I discovered Soken's practice in NYC. I am now back pain free and able to do things I thought no longer possible. As I learned more about Soken during our Rolfing sessions, I became interested in his spiritual life coaching /contemplative guidance program. His carefully tailored program has given me enormous insight, and I am a better person, mother and leader as a result. Soken has a calming, peaceful and reassuring presence, and I am extremely grateful to have met him when I did.
A Rice
A Rice
Soken is an amazing coach that will get to the essence of your issues. Difficult issues seem to become easier handle talking to Soken. He is a great coach to have, especially in these times. He is clear and ensures you leave each session with an understanding and a plan of action.
Maya Kumits
Maya Kumits
I’ve been going to Soken for years for my bodywork and sending everyone I know to him too. The work he does with his hands is incredible - I cannot say enough good things. This review, however, is for life coaching. I was faced with a decision recently that I was having trouble making. I was going in circles. I kept changing my mind because I ultimately had no idea what to do. I felt lost and confused. I reached out to Soken for help and was so glad I did. After struggling for weeks trying to figure out the right thing to do, a 1-hour call with him gave me the clarity I needed. By answering a series of thoughtful questions and hearing my answers reflected back to me, I was able to untangle the signal from the noise. By the end of the call, the answer revealed itself. It’s been a few weeks since our call and I still feel great about the decision. I’m so grateful to Soken for helping me with this and won’t hesitate to reach out again for more life coaching.
Marni Gordon
Marni Gordon
I highly recommend Soken as he's a fantastic coach! Soken really helped me set clear goals and measures, helped me to get to insight, and ensures that I have a strong action plan with accountability in every session. Soken's coaching helped me overcome the fear of taking the next step. Soken is sensitive and provides compassionate support through the process.
faraz khan
faraz khan
Soken is an exceptionally intelligent person who seems to understand any multiple of bodily issues. I've been struggling with a reoccurring injury the past few years, and already after the first session I can sense a lot of good has been done. I highly recommend him to anyone 😊
Shonni Silverberg
Shonni Silverberg
I got to know Soken as a client of his Rolfing practice, where his expertise was immeasurably valuable in treating my plantar fasciitis. During the COVID crisis, Soken introduced me to meditation. Practicing under his guidance has been extremely helpful in these turbulent times. Shonni J. Silverberg, M.D., New York, NY
Anaina Mascovich
Anaina Mascovich
The meditation guidance and talk last night was phenomenal. I have had instruction on Metta meditation before, but your explanation offered so much wisdom and direct understanding. Much Gratitude to You Soken.
Lena Elkousy
Lena Elkousy
This review is long overdue, and I would give 10 stars if I could. I cannot recommend Soken's work highly enough. Rolfing is an investment in my physical and emotional health that I wish I had made long ago. To put it quite simply, Soken has changed my life. When we work together, he listens to what I say and what my body says, and works with me right where I am. He is a true healer. In our first series of sessions, he permanently relieved shoulder/neck pain and unfurled a chronic knot that no amount of years of deep tissue massage could even touch. One side of my ribcage was bound with fascia and scar tissue from physical and emotional trauma, to the point that I couldn't breathe into my lower right lung without feeling cramping in surrounding muscles. Over a few sessions, he set me free, and you can actually see the difference in the shape of my ribs. In a series other sessions, he relieved sharp cramping in my feet that I've dealt with since childhood. As a yogi and meditator myself, I find Soken's integrative approach quite profound. Do yourself a favor and an act of self love: and go see this wizard.
Stella Nyla Jules
Stella Nyla Jules
Soken has been transformational in improving and diminishing the increasing pain in my neck and shoulder that traditional physical therapies failed to resolve. His patience, caring, and intuition are top notch.


download the quick-start guide to meditation

Bring more calm peace into your your life.