“Most people have no imagination. If they could imagine the sufferings of others, they would not make them suffer so.”
- Anna Funder, All That I Am.
I've just finished reading Anna Funder's brilliantly researched novel: All That I Am, which traces the lives of a group of anti-Hitler activists in exile who gradually become aware that they are not beyond the reach of Nazi cruelty. The book suggests that the sufferings imposed by Hitler's regime were due to a vast and tragic failure of the human imagination. The watercolours Hitler produced whilst attempting an art career are evidence of this.
The line I've quoted from Funder's novel led me to contemplate the art of imagining, and the act of putting oneself in the shoes of another person.
With that in the back of my mind, I began searching for another book to read, I randomly picked up an autobiography of the poet William B Yeats, The Unicorn, W. B. Yeats' Search for Reality, by Virginia Moore. I dipped into the book, also at random, and by strange coincidence, on the page I opened, the word 'imagination' appeared several times. Moore was exploring William Blake's influence on the philosophy and work of Yeats, specifically Blake's championing of the quality of Imagination (he was fond of capitalising abstract nouns, probably to lend importance to, or to personify, the qualities they signify).
Blake saw Imagination not as a silly realm of fictive irrelevance, but as something vital to the very existence of human beings, a divine gift awakened by Jesus in particular. He saw the growing rationalism of the European mind as a force smothering the capacity for imagination.
From the perspective of yoga, with its system of chakras, as elucidated by Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, imagination is a quality of the Agnya Chakra (or brow centre), opened on a cosmic level by Jesus. This is not to say that only Christians are capable of empathy; in fact Europe, the seat of Christendom, has seen some of the worst persecutions of the 'other' in the history of the world.
At the Sahasrara Chakra (or crown centre), which is the next step in the evolution of consciousness, the universal Self is realised. After Self-realisation, a person not only can imagine themselves in the situation of another person; they actually share Selfhood with that person, transcending the duality of 'me' and 'other' in a single cosmic Self. Imagination becomes Reality.