“A Failure of Imagination”

In my dream,
the angel shrugged
and said if we fail this
time it will be a
failure of the imagination

and then she
placed the world
gently in the
palm of my hand.

— Brian Andreas

Summer is winding down. Already there are tiny red leaves on a few of the trees and more turtles in evidence drinking in sunshine and heat from their perches of floating mats of grass on the pond.

My prayer these days is for the return of Imagination. Imagination is the fundamentally creative aspect of ourselves capable of crafting our individual worlds anew, of opening to deep wisdom inside ourselves, and of keeping the door of possibility open. But Imagination has its predators: fear kills it off; too much structure kills it off; seeing ourselves as limited and victimized kills it off; relentless multitasking kills it off; labels and judgement kill it off; a high-speed, competitive life style kills it off.

I’ve begun to try to jump start my own imagination by being very selective of what I take in, especially from the media. Trying to get balanced information (forget truth!) by watching the evening news is like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. I watch my pulse rate jump and my feelings shut down as I am barraged by too much information. My present solution for the news is to get a good daily newspaper and an occasional weekly news magazine, and take each article slowly. This allows me to be selective, and to have moments to think about what this event means, and even to put my hand over the article and ask for a blessing for the people and land and animals impacted by that event. It keeps me connected to my world, rather than having to harden myself to it.

Learning to pay attention to what I am thinking helps, too. Am I gripping the steering wheel with anxiety as I anticipate what might go wrong with a planned meeting, or a purchase I need to make, or a decision ahead for the day? So many of us burn ourselves out with the movies in our minds that play over and over again. Putting a “Stop” sign in front of the image, or even saying “Stop” aloud to ourselves can halt it long enough to deliberately put in images of a good outcome as we play the movies forward and open to positive possibilities, resting and restoring ourselves in the process. This, of course, does not mean that nothing negative will ever happen – instead it puts us in the best possible place to create and connect, and therefore helps stack the deck in favor of a more positive outcome.

Getting enough rest and paying attention to our dreams is also another way to encourage Imagination. Many dreams are not random electrophysiologic discharges, but rather metaphoric messages from deep inside. Writing down the dreams we can remember, and wondering what their meanings are, helps keep Imagination alive and active. In my counseling practice, dreams of clients often herald changes they are ready to make in their lives, and guide our work together.

Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” is a beautiful call to begin:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Bless us all,