You have, inside your skull, an engine of almost infinite possibility. It’s your imagination. With them, we can travel to faraway lands, relive memories, conjure fantasies and even affect our physiologies. After 131 college students were taken through an exercise visualizing lemons, 94% reported increased salivation. They imagined the scent, shape and texture of a lemon, squeezing out and sipping the juice, and their bodies responded. (When I played along, I found myself squinching my face after I visualized drinking.) It’s a simple, but powerful, example of our imaginations at work.
When I was first diagnosed with MS, I remember lying in my hospital bed envisioning a horrendous future. I lost sleep. I entered a season of depression and frustration. I have a terrific imagination and I had no idea how to put it to good use. Decades later, I understand that visualization and fantasy can be my friends.
How can we invite imagination to help us?
1. Imagination relieves pain and discomfort.
When I had regular migraine headaches, I listened to Jon Kabat-Zinn ‘s mindfulness meditations. Bringing gentleness and curiosity to the sensations in my body relaxed me and lightened my load. Patients with intractable pain are using virtual reality visors to augment their imaginations and lessen their discomfort. Why be in agony when you can swim with dolphins?
Might you bring loving spaciousness to your pain?
2. Imagination helps problem solve.
When you run into problems, imagination fuels creative solutions. (“Wouldn’t it be cool if…?”) As I sit in my wheelchair, a bungee cord holds my feet from spasming and a school tray covered by a pillowcase and a towel holds me upright. I am controlling the computer mouse with my head and a smile. All of these life, enhancing tools are products of others’ imaginations.
What’s a practical problem you are facing? Imagine some creative-kludgey solutions.
3. Imagination increases compassion.
Listening to the people around us, we can imagine what life is like for them. Traveling beside them through their joys and sorrows, we can respond with empathy. Even when there’s nothing to say or do, our loving presence helps them and being with them enriches our lives.
Listen attentively to someone. What do you imagine life is like for them?
4. Imagination leads to joy.
My apartment overlooks a street used by bicycle and scooter commuters. Many of them, on their way to work, have expressions of serious determination. The other day, I watched a bike zigzagging down the sidewalk. What’s the cause of this erratic path? I wondered. As the rider came closer, I could see his big grin. He was playing! Imagination fuels creativity and whimsy, adding delight to our world.
How can you play today?
5. Imagination fills the world with magic.
At a writing workshop, we were directed to take a walk as though we were 10 years old. My childish self filled the world with magic. Each tree might be sheltering an elf, each butterfly was a fairy. My surroundings gleamed with possibility. As an adult, I forget that the world is as magical as my attitude makes it.
What magic might you find in the world today?
Dare to use your imagination as you move through your life today. It can help you deal with uncomfortable situations, solve puzzles, bring you closer to the people around you, increase your happiness, and fill your world with possibility.