“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” – Carl Sagan
When you look up at a starry, night sky, what do you see?
Do you see distant stars twinkling in a dark abyss connected by intricate constellations? Or do you see a colossal array of Gods, warriors and mythical creatures floating majestically in a vast cosmic ocean?
For centuries humans have wondered what could be taking place in the mysterious skies that lie above them. As a species we are instinctively drawn to the heavens when searching for meaning and the purpose of our existence.
Not only did ancient people use the stars to plan the planting and harvesting of their crops, but they also used it as a stage for their mythology and heroes. According to them, the Universe was alive, intelligent and revered as a wise seer that provided guidance on how to preserve order, instill moral values and even predict the future. Centuries later, when science took precedence, it gave us a sense of the unfathomably large scale of the Universe and our humble place in it.
Whenever we’ve had to decipher the unknown, the incomprehensible and the mysterious, we humans have turned to our imaginations. Within our minds lies a magical realm where anything is possible. This limitless place is a fertile ground where we can unapologetically play, dream and dare to be. Our imagination is a sacred portal through which streams of consciousness flow from the divine ethers of creation, and instantly transforms our world from black and white to Technicolor.
Imagination, from a mundane perspective, is a byproduct of the biological synthesis of billions of neural synapses in our brains that rapidly make connections between various thoughts and memories stored in our subconscious. This mechanism blends ideas in a way that enables us see things not as they are, but as they could be. Aristotle described the imagination as a faculty that produces, stores and recalls the images we use in a variety of mental activities. Immanuel Kant saw the imagination as a synthesizer of senses and understanding.
Imagination is not only intrinsic to our nature, but it’s an indispensable asset when it comes to promoting progress. The greatest innovators had to dig deep into the creative domain when trying to overcome the challenges and limitations of reality. They solved problems by tapping into their imagination to come up with solutions that hadn’t yet been conceived of. Great ideas such as the light bulb created by Thomas Edison or the recognition of evolutionary patterns in biological species by Charles Darwin was stirred by imaginative impulses. Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview for life’s coming attractions.”
We are all naturally gifted with a buoyant imagination. It functioned in its full glory when we were children. We could turn the most simple setting into a magical experience. A cardboard cereal box could be turned into a spaceship, a swimming pool could be seen as the vast blue ocean, actions figures could be used to choreograph epic battles and a simple eye patch and wooden stick could instantly transport us to the Black Pearl to assist Captain Jack Sparrow. As a kid, I thrived on entering the fantasy worlds of video games and Disney movies where I could go on adventures to strange lands. From a young age I knew the importance of having access to an alternative universe that I could retreat to whenever I want to escape reality.
Unfortunately, as most people grow up, they become increasingly disconnected from their imagination, because today’s schooling system and professional career roles encourage us to develop and rely on the logical and rational. Technology has also watered down our urge to dream and engage in original thinking, and the rapid pace of modern day life doesn’t give us the time and space to explore the immense and untapped potential that lies within us. Imaginative breakthroughs have become as fleeting and rare as a shooting star.
Yet, there is still hope. In her groundbreaking book on creative living, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert emphatically reminds us that we all have extraordinary treasures hidden within us. She says, “Bringing forth those treasures takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion. We simply do not have time anymore to think so small. It’s your birthright as a human being, so do it with a cheerful heart. Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you. Your very body and your very being are perfectly designed to live in collaboration with inspiration, and inspiration is still trying to find you—the same way it hunted down your ancestors.”
Once we’re able to acknowledge these treasures that are hidden within us, all we need to do is nurture our abilities to weave out new webs of new possibilities. We must first look at the source of our perceptions, and that is our knowledge. Our information diet is directly connected to everything that we already know.
When we develop new understanding of the world, we can build a bridge between what we know and what’s possible. Imagination is like a muscle that we flex every time we enhance our knowledge, and we use it to bypass the boundaries of our existing thought patterns. Here are six ways we can make it happen:
1. Make time for reflection: Accessing our imagination requires us to steep ourselves in different forms of consciousness. We can access higher levels of consciousness by incorporating various contemplative practices into our lives such as meditation, journaling, yoga, visualization, prayer, nature walks and quiet seclusion. We need to eliminate passive activities such as watching TV, and shut out forms of external stimulation and impulses. Turn off the noise, sit for a while, and see what comes to mind. A calm and balanced mind that has strong present moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, body sensation and the environment has a higher chance of learning new things and coming up with creative ideas.
2. Storytelling: Humans have always had a natural penchant for storytelling. . We love to recognize patterns and connect the dots of our lives in a way that makes sense to us. You can jump-start your imagination by using creative thinking to fabricate interesting narratives that you can share with others. Visualizing and writing about these narratives in a journal will enable you to construct a coherent storyline with all the objects and people that you’d like to include. Strive to create powerful stories that highlight the positive aspects of your experiences, as well as the lessons that you’ve learned so that you can inspire others.
3. Engage in physical activities: The mind-body connection behooves us to prioritize the care of our bodies. Physical activity pumps up the oxygen levels in your body and increases the blood flow to your mind. So, whenever you feel stuck or you’re facing a dry spell in your creativity, wrap up and get moving. Whether you choose to run, lift weights, play sports or do Pilates to get into motion, it should leave you feel energized and stronger. Before you know it, your creative flow will be unblocked and you’ll have the clarity to see problems differently. Physical stimulation will essentially jumpstart your creative juices and generate new ideas.
4. Expose yourself to art: We’re all drawn to certain forms of art such as movies, theatre, music, paintings, sculptures or dancing. Exposing yourself to the creative works of others is not only enjoyable, but you’ll get a different perspective. Art is nothing but a representation of another person’s unique form of expression. If you come across an art form that particularly moves you, I suggest that you grab your journal and make notes about your experience and document your feelings.
5. Travel: Our imagination can stagnate if we’re stuck in the same boring environment. In those situations, we need to get out and change our surroundings. You don’t necessarily have to get on a plane to do this. You can hop in your car and drive to a nearby city or neighborhood to see and witness new things, and meet new people. Go to a scenic spot, sit on a bench and observe the people who pass by. Instead of working from home, you can try changing your venue and work in a coffee shop. According to research, coffee shops have the perfect decibel for brainstorming and creative thinking. If you have the time and finances, visit countries where you can immerse yourself in a new culture and can learn about different ways of living. By exposing yourself to new worlds, you’ll be able to break out of the norm and think in unconventional ways.
6. Socialize with different kinds of people: Develop connections with a variety of people with whom you can synergize your energies. Get out of your comfort zone and attend events where you’ll have the opportunity to network with people who can stimulate your thinking and broaden your horizons. The simple act of brainstorming, planning and even talking with people who are on the same wavelength can inject inspiration, and open your mind to new understandings. In his book, A Curious Mind, Oscar-winning producer, Brian Grazer, writes about a personal discipline that he’s had since his early days in Hollywood called “Curiosity Conversations” where he schedules meetings with some of the most famous influencers like Muhammad Ali, Jeff Bezos, Ronald Reagan, Wolfgang Puck, Gloria Allred, 50 Cent and countless others. He says, “It’s totally refreshing to be reminded, over and over, how different the world looks to other people.” By learning from diverse people, he was able to imagine and produce incredible stories such as A Beautiful Mind and Splash.
Don’t be afraid to step into the alternative realm of your imagination. Do your best to nourish it with high quality experiences. The whole Universe lies within you and you have easy access to it if you get onboard the spaceship of your creative thoughts. As you voyage into the orbit of your imagination, you’ll discover exciting worlds just waiting to be explored by you.
All my best on your journey,
Question: What are your favorite techniques and tools to boost your imagination?