Earl Burton, who founded the Fellowship
of Friends in 1970, keeps reminding his
students that imagination
is the most persistent obstacle to being
In his words, “Imagination is the
natural state of man and the number one
problem in awakening. If we truly understood
what imagination is, we would deflect it
The state of imagination is starkly revealed
in the Dutch manuscript painting you see
on the right. Here, a maiden represents
the intellectual part of the emotional
center—the realm of the steward—overcome
by the perpetual wheel of imagination. Instead
of looking through the physical eyes with
attention, the intellectual part of
the emotional center is distracted by the
constant flow of the many
‘I’s. Meanwhile, the wheel
is being turned by a donkey that symbolizes
the intellectual part of the instinctive
center. About this painting, Mr. Burton
commented: “This illustrates what
occurs in the minds of men: the intellectual
part of the instinctive center manipulates
The aim of the work, of course, is to reverse
this process: to consciously deflect the
wheel of mechanical ‘I’s and
turn our thoughts the other way—with
‘I’s. That is, to be present
instead of in imagination. As Mr. Burton
has said, “Man is asleep, imagining
that he is awake, and his greatest error
is that he finds the subjects of his imagination
more interesting than his own presence.”
have always known about the power of imagination,
although they expressed it in different
symbols. For example, the Jewish tradition
stressed guarding against ‘temptation’,
the Christian tradition warned about ‘evil’,
and much later the Sufi tradition poeticized
the ‘veil’. But they were all
talking about the same thing: how imagination,
manipulated by the intellectual part of
the instinctive center, displaces presence.
Schools of the past also knew that the only
way to overcome imagination is to be present,
and how difficult this is. It is difficult
because the steward, which comprises a small
number of work ‘I’s, is surrounded
by thousands and thousands of mechanical
‘I’s that oppose presence. When
speaking about this recently, Mr. Burton
said: “It is called the Work because
is the path of greatest difficulty. Entering
imagination is the easiest of all things,
whereas having a work ‘I’ engage
divine presence is the most difficult of
Mr. Burton explains that, “If you
want to get rid of imagination, you must
do the looking exercise or the listening
exercise [actively looking and listening
with divided attention are two of many methods
we use to deflect imagination]”. He
adds, “You cannot just wish imagination
to go away because the next ‘I’
is already in place to keep you in imagination
if it is not a work ‘I’. And
when you are present, you must anticipate
that the intellectual part of the instinctive
center will try to do something to lure
you away from presence.”
Prolonging presence requires constant vigilance
with divided attention, accompanied by the
relentless effort to recognize imagination,
deflect it, and return to presence. As the
Persian poet, Sanai, said, “Return.
Even if you have broken your vow ten thousand
times, return again, return.”
our web site in 8 languages
Robert Earl Burton teaching
Esoteric keys to understanding The
We offer a series of free introductory lectures
in cities around the world. To register:
Call our USA information line (1-800-642-0212),
Find a center nearest you.
An introduction to the system
The system is ancient, objective
The microcosmos man can transcend
Schools use precise methods for awakening
The four lower centers
(requires lecture 1)
How the lower centers function
How the lower centers displace presence
Using lower centers to reach higher
Promoting and prolonging presence
(requires lecture 1 and 2)
The steward and intellectual parts
The instinctive center as the ‘mind
behind the machine’
Specific ways to promote and prolong
of Friends is an esoteric school with
centers worldwide. Membership is monthly.
Find a center nearest you.
‘The Wheel of the Brain’, from
an 18th century Dutch Manuscript. (The image
reproduced here is for spiritual and educational
use only, and is not to be used for any other
Thoughts on imagination
A man does not see the real world. The real
world is hidden from him by the wall of imagination.
Each center has its own form of imagination.
are asleep and dream they are awake. Imagination
is always ready to work in us and deceive
us. When self-remembering appears, it is immediately
squashed [by imagination].
thing that completely satisfies the machine
is imagination. However, it does not satisfy
the higher centers; imagination is repugnant
to them. All the actions of the intellectual
part of the instinctive center are aimed at
luring one away from the present into imagination.
Robert Earl Burton
not dwell in the past, do not dream of the
future, concentrate the mind on the present
not wander; do not wander; remain mindful.
are fond of our involuntary thoughts, and
that is why they come.
Philokalia; Evagrios the Solitary
practicing remembrance until the world of
imagination is lifted from you.
that the science of unveiling has no end to
Ibn Ata Allah
away from the market bazaar of thought-traffic.
Tear away thoughts and uncover consciousness.
Unveil the beautiful bride.
have to evaluate how you spend every moment;
with Presence or in Negligence.
trouble at every moment, and when it comes,
encounter it as something expected.
Philokalia; Theophan the Recluse
have gone out [of imagination]. I am alive!
Journey Forth By Day (The Egyptian
Book of The Dead)
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