Never underestimate the power of the imagination, says Jo Buchanan. It has a way of becoming reality.
Imagination has been around for as long as humankind, responsible for fairy tales, beautiful music, art, literature and thousands of inspirational inventions. The tallest building in the world and the most magnificent pharaoh's palace began with imagination, somebody's dream, even though science and logistics were required later, to manifest it physically. Hopes and dreams are what keep many of us going. 'Dare to dream!' they say, 'Follow your dream!'.
The wonderful world of the imagination is a very real parallel universe for many children. When I was a child I had an invisible playmate called Hopalong. Maybe the name came about through the Hopalong Cassidy comics. Maybe it was a result of my desire to have a pet kangaroo. I don't remember. Luckily, I had parents who encouraged Hopalong and, when required, Mum would set a place for him at the dinner table. At night he was always included in my prayers along with God bless Mummy, God bless Daddy.
I believe that encouraging children to use their imagination provides them with a mental skill that serves them well when they begin school and are confronted with the task of writing creative stories, poetry and art work. Exercising the imagination is like exercising muscles in order to excel at athletics. The more easily a child can imagine, the more effortless the exercise. If a child is criticised for his imagination, he may in turn eventually become his own worst critic, relinquishing the gift of creative thought altogether.
Encouraging children to visualise passing an exam or bypassing their logical minds to imagine a special painting for an art competition can bring about positive results, especially in the area of a child's self esteem.
Sportsmen use the tool of imagination to visualise victory in an upcoming match. Actors, when attending auditions, visualise themselves landing the coveted role. Imagining/visualising can also bring about dramatic changes in health.
Gone are the days when Western medicine believed solely in the physical mechanisms of the body and that a person is made only of physical and chemical reactions that can only be measured and treated scientifically. The belief that mind, body and emotions interact freely with each other is now accepted, as many physical ailments are traced to stress, burn-out and suppressed negative emotions such as anger, guilt, fear. Sometimes the mind is so powerful that if a person believes they have developed a serious illness, even if they haven't, their constant imaginings may produce disturbing and painful physical symptoms.
Aristotle introduced the concept of imagination into philosophy, naming it 'phantasia', stating that the soul never thinks without a mental image (phantasma). He believed that our desire for anything not actually present to the senses must be 'mediated by an image of the desired object or outcome'. We do this when we visualise a better job, a more desirable partner, a trip overseas or a full recovery in health, drawing it from the world of our imagination into physical existence, 'creating our own reality'.
Imagination is neutral limitless potential. It is we, as individuals, who are responsible for injecting it with positive or negative elements. An example of positive input is visualising and praying for a recovery in health or envisioning a successful promotion at work. An example of negative input is illustrated in the Aboriginal ceremony of 'the pointing of the bone'. The following true case is an example of the imagination operating on a level of intense fear.
In 1953, a case of the pointing of the bone was reported worldwide in newspapers. A young Aboriginal man by the name of Kinjika had defied a law of his Arnhem Land tribe and had been summonsed to appear before his council of tribal elders. He had refused to do so, and run away. The angry elders promptly sentenced him to death. The tribal executioner performed a ceremony in which he loaded a bone with deadly energy, powerful enough to span hundreds of miles.
'Bone pointing' is said to leave no trace and never fails to kill its victim. Kinjika, who knew he had become a victim of bone pointing, became mysteriously ill and was flown 'in a terminal condition' to a Darwin hospital. Although doctors could find no wounds, injuries or signs of disease, his vital systems were rapidly closing down. In the words of a hospital spokesman, he was 'exhibiting the signs of a person dying of extreme old age'. Despite desperate attempts to save him, the young man died on his fifth day in hospital. It was his mind, his fear, his belief in the power of the bone that caused his death.
For five years, I was admitted one afternoon a week to Mulawa Maximum Security Prison in Silverwater, Sydney to teach the inmates meditation. An important ingredient of leading the women through a relaxed guided visualisation was their ability to imagine. Though their physical bodies remained seated on the floor of a filthy room with barred windows, for a short time their minds and souls visited ocean shores and mountain forests. Those who took on the practice of meditation and visualisation as a personal daily practice gradually released the need for valium which was freely administered to the inmates at 5pm every afternoon. The women accepted valium to take the edge off the grim reality of being locked up. The warders issued it to calm things down. For those who replaced their afternoon medication with the practice of daily meditation, the natural consequences of better mental health were obvious.
Another instance of using the imagination as a tool for positive outcomes occurred whenever an inmate was due to go to trial. The women were often locked up for weeks, even months, before going to court. I would prepare them by helping them to develop a relaxation exercise they could do while in the court room. They would follow this by imagining a fair outcome - visualising a fair and just judge and jury, remaining calm while being sentenced and visualising and feeling relief that it was the best positive outcome. One woman, I'll call her 'Judy', had the technique down perfectly. She practised every day, determined to be in control of her emotions and reactions on the day. Everything went according to plan on the day until the clerk emerged from a door at the back of the court room. Judy shared a previous unfortunate history with the man and seeing him appear interrupted her carefully prepared visualisation of how the proceedings would unfold with feelings of panic. She could have given in to the emotions that suddenly overwhelmed her but, amazing herself, she immediately exercised the power of her imagination to replace his head with the head of Daffy Duck. From that point on, every time she had to look at him, she saw Daffy Duck and was able to sustain her composure and sense of calm. Words could not describe how proud I was of how she spontaneously dealt with the situation, pulling out every tool from her world of imagination to see the trial through as planned. In fact, she did receive a fair judgement and punishment. When she was eventually released from prison, she joined the small meditation class I held at home on Thursdays nights especially for former inmates.
We are all artificial constructs of our consciousness. As soon as our consciousness changes the perception of who we are, we literally become the changed person. The first step towards creating a promotion at work for instance, would be to imagine it in every detail. The second step would be to feel the excitement, the adrenaline rush, the thrill that would accompany its achievement - emotion fuels and empowers the imagination. The third step would be to start acting as if you already have the promotion. Buy the appropriate clothes you would need to wear in your new role and start wearing them. Act as if you are already that person. Your life will begin to reflect the things that are representative of your new lifestyle. Once you begin to walk and talk the new persona, sending out signals that this is who you are now, others will pick up on these signals and respond accordingly. Cause and effect are a continuum. What you put out is what you get back. The thoughts, words, beliefs and actions of today automatically create the consequential reality of tomorrow.