Common steps and sub-activities
Suppressing the imagination
One of the truly unique and inspired aspects of the system known as The Cloud of Unknowing is the author’s statement that we must, during contemplation and detachment, suppress the imagination.
One of the big hindrances to any form of genuine spiritual experience is an active imagination. In effect, as you lie there at peace, your imagination produces the ‘experience’ for you and not the Composer. The function uses your Memory and Perceptions and takes something of what you really want to have happen and in effect produces a fantasy.
In my research I estimate that about 80% of the supposed spiritual experiences described by people in books and on the web are actually the work of the imagination – not the work of the Composer. It appears that in medieval times, they had the same problem...
The Cloud of Unknowing
The neophyte hears and reads that he should cease using his external faculties on external things and work interiorly. This is true as far as it goes but because he does not understand how to work interiorly, his efforts miscarry. He becomes morbidly introspective and strains his faculties, as though by brute force he could make his eyes and ears see and hear interior things. In like manner he abuses all his senses and emotions. Thus he does violence to his nature and drives his imagination so mercilessly with this stupidity that eventually his mind snaps.
Then the way is clear for the mind to feign some fantasy of light or sound, some sweet odour or delicious taste. Or the devil may excite his passions and arouse all sorts of bizarre sensations in his breast or bowels, his back, loins, and other organs.
Yet unfortunately, the poor fool is deluded by these wiles and believes that he has achieved a peaceful contemplation beyond all temptation to vain thoughts. Indeed, he is not altogether wrong, for he is now so satiated with lies that vain thoughts do not trouble him
The output of the Composer is in reality relatively easy to spot, it is wholly unexpected in its content, rarely makes any sense whilst it is happening, often uses scenes or images outside anything the person has experienced before and is entirely symbolic in content. It will only mean something once it has been unravelled and dissected. It is the closest to a waking dream you will ever get.
A fantasy is what you would like to have happen, probably in your Subconscious, and follows a progressive almost logical course and rarely provides anything that is unexpected.
The Cloud of Unknowing
With the faculty of Imagination, we depict to ourselves the likeness of things present or absent. Imagination itself and all the images it acquires are contained in the Mind.
Imagination at one time co-operated completely with Reason. Like a handmaid, it faithfully reflected each image as it really was and thus Reason was never deceived in its judgments by the distorted likeness of any material or spiritual thing. Now, however, this integrity of our nature is lost, and Imagination never ceases day or night to distort the image of material creatures, to create counterfeits of their spiritual essences or to conjure up fantasies of spiritual things in our minds.
Without the help of grace, it is liable to great error in perceiving and thus produces many counterfeits of reality. The undisciplined nature of Imagination is evident in the experience of neophytes newly turned from the world and beginning to give themselves to the contemplative way of life. It is with great difficulty that they wrench their minds away from the myriad delightful thoughts, images, and daydreams of their past which the unruly Imagination continually projects onto the screen of their minds.
As these neophytes progress in the practices of the contemplative life, …meditating faithfully on their own human frailty, … and the truths of the interior life, Reason is gradually healed, regaining its rightful ascendancy over the Imagination
If you are imaginative, you are imaginative, but you can suppress the imagination during this stage by doing as the author suggests and ensuring that you forget memories and any perceptions that arise. Let it go, go with the flow.