When I was a kid I spent summers at my grandmother’s house in the woods on Long Island. The days were sweet and slow. There were no other kids, no toys, no video games. There was a vanity brush, a whisk brush with a china torso as the handle, that looked like this;
She sat on my grandmother’s dresser and her purpose was to brush lint off clothes. There was another object–a piece of raw plywood cut in the shape of a Dutch girl with a pointy bonnet and clunky wooden shaped shoes on her feet. The features of her face were sketched in with pencil. These two objects were central to my play as a child. I looked forward to arriving at Grandma’s and finding them again and again. With them I created endless adventures, stories, and dramas. That they were hardly fit as toys mattered not a bit. My imagination needed only these modest props to ignite an afternoon of play. Children have no problem engaging imagination, but as we “mature” sometimes the imagined is sacrificed for the “real.”
Fantasy and the use of imagination serve the development of the future. By imagining what can be, expanding beyond familiar and known territory, a person can begin to envisage new and exciting possibilities. When fantasy replaces reality, we say it is a delusion. But according to Dr. James Doty, a Stanford based neurosurgeon and the author of Into the Magic Shop imagination offers a powerful tool for shaping reality. He says, “The brain doesn’t distinguish between an experience that is intensely imagined and an experience that is real…[and] it will always choose what is familiar over what is unfamiliar.”
In my work as a therapist, I often encourage a client to imagine a desired outcome. By engaging the imagination fully, a person can begin to create something for themselves, something new, exciting, transformational, even fun.
Here are the guidelines:
- Choose a quiet, relaxing place and close your eyes.
- Imagine yourself into a desired situation.
- Do not entertain any reality based limitations such as time, money, companionship, etc. Hold the attitude that everything is possible.
- Sink into the imagined scene as fully as possible with great detail. For example, what are you wearing? Where are you located? What is the weather like? What is around you? Who is present?
- Play the scene out. What happens?
Using the imagination in this way will give you new ideas about what you are craving from the deepest part of yourself. Later on, once you have an idea about what that part of you is yearning for, you can shape taking action considering not only the imagined, but also the limitations of reality.
But don’t DON’T bring reality in too soon!