The Lost Art of Imagination

I saw this on Twitter yesterday:

“This tweet is officially permission for you to be less productive than usual, and to not feel guilty about it, and to instead focus your energy on taking care of yourself because you are *literally* trying to survive a horrifying chapter in a history textbook.”

For days after the chaos in the Capital, I found myself checking my phone again and again, scanning headlines for new reports. I refreshed my feed over and over, as if to will it to present me with something new, something encouraging, something hopeful. After several days of this, I realized that my obsessive desire for reassurance revealed something else.

Events of the past year not only put our futures on hold, but we were living in a state of relatively high alert. What unwelcome event might surprise us next?

Many of us (ok, me) crossed the threshold into 2021 hoping to make it to January 20 quietly, then begin the slow climb back to the ordinary, when we could look forward to a movie with friends, dinner at a new neighborhood bistro, or weekend drives to the mountains. We’re not there yet.

So what do we do in the meantime?  

Home in on our own sphere of influence. With so many events occurring in so many arenas beyond our influence, pulling our energy inward to focus on what we’re able to manage, gives us a modicum of control and sustains our energy. Doing that with kindness and love for ourselves has a remarkable ripple effect that spreads to those with whom we connect, making our immediate environments a more humane place to inhabit.

Take a mental vacation. One overlooked essential to human health is imagination. Allowing our minds to freely wander is a universally human characteristic. A 2008 research study (Harvard, of course) found that we spend a substantial number of our waking hours in nondirected thought. And because our imaginations don’t distinguish fiction from fact, the joy that we get from imagining a vacation, summiting a mountain, or buying that coveted leather bag, is as real as the vacation, the summit experience, or the purchase itself.

Imagining optimistic or hopeful outcomes also builds confidence and resilience.

We engage in this innate human experience intuitively, yet often without awareness, potentially missing out on its powerful benefits.

So until we’re able to share a dessert, fly afar, or gather in celebration again, enjoy the daydream. We’ll get there. I’ve seen it in my mind’s eye.