For as long as I can remember, I have spent a large portion of my days living in my imagination. Daydreaming. Fantasizing. Thinking. Creating other worlds, people and scenarios. In a sense, my imagination gave me a secret world in which, consciously or subconsciously, I was superior to others. Privy to something they didn’t know or could not access. Even during social occasions, I would often be fantasizing about someone or someplace else, smiling at the people around me and, perhaps, to them, appearing to engage in perfectly fine conversation, but never truly being there.
Discovering the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, Pema Chodron and Buddhism began my realisation that the present was what I was missing. I won’t write about it at length here–I have written other posts about meditation and presence-practice–but it showed me, in a practical way, that being truly present in the moment is the only real route to inner peace. I certainly do not always achieve this, and there are many, many times when I am swept away again on a apparently unending wave of yearning, dreaming, fantasizing and wishing, but there have been improvements. I am better at accepting my state of mind now, whatever it may be, and constantly, gently, trying to refocus to the present moment.
The issue of imagination, however, is one that I have found tricky. As mentioned in my first paragraph, I have long identified as a dreamer. I love writing and drawing and anything creative, and I have sought solace in books and in fantasy. I have a great affinity for the daydreamers, the children I see sitting in my classroom, staring into space, because I am one of them at heart. And I truly believe that dreamers can change the world.
But I am realising, perhaps later than I would like to, that the dream has to be coupled with presence, and then with action, for anything to be achieved.
I love and respect the imagination. I read stories and poems to the children I teach and try my best to nurture and encourage their creativity each day in the classroom.
But I also realise, upon reflection, that I have lived in an internal world for too long. Many people would not know this about me–I am not a recluse, nor particularly shy, I am a teacher and a friend and a sister and I am lucky to have some wonderful things and experiences in my life–but I know, deep in my heart, that I have not always made the most of my time, nor have I given enough attention to the people and situations around me, until the past couple of years. Even now, it is a constant refocusing, a constant reminding to be present, to be still, to truly give myself to what is in front of me and to give the same respect and reverence to a small room in the city as I do to the unfamiliar, glistening ocean on the other side of the world.
What if we treated everything as though it were new and miraculous? As though it were something we had never seen before?
Pema Chodron talks about giving the same reverence to anger and sadness as we do to joy and happiness. It is not easy, but I understand exactly what she is saying. Everything is as important as the next. Every emotion, just as every place, should be accepted for what it is if we are to make peace with ourselves.
As for the imagination… I believe that it is a wonderful, powerful thing, if used wisely, as a tool for positive change. I also know that it can be immensely helpful for those who are stuck in difficult situations, such as in the hospital or those who are confined by physical limitations. It can bring solace and inspiration, and beautiful works of fiction that can give hope to many and express feelings otherwise left unspoken.
I am learning, however, that the use of the senses and a desire to connect with the immediacy of our situation is an important, one could argue the primary, thing in our ability to cope with daily challenges and find that deep-rooted, inner happiness that comes, not from perfect external circumstances, but from an acceptance of what is and a strong, sensual connection to the world and the people around us.
I am working on this each moment and, whilst I still absolutely allow myself time to imagine, time to dream, time to fantasize, I try to ensure that I do not use my imagination as the sole means of living. I live, and I imagine in order to create. I do not rely purely on imagination to experience life.
It has taken me a long time to realise the beauty of the present moment. To truly look at the small, ordinary things and to feel that they are enough. To fully accept and appreciate the people around me, and to make the effort to get to know them, to reach out, to instigate opportunities and experiences.
I think that, truthfully, on reflection, much of this came from some kind of underlying fear, which meant that I did not want to admit that I needed other people, that I craved strong friendships and laughter and that I would have to put in the effort to cultivate those things. It was all okay, because my imaginary world was so rich and held so much promise. Until it didn’t. Until it started to let me down and leave me feeling somewhat flat and hollow. I recognised that, though fantasizing could be enjoyable, it was strangely empty. Like holing up and eating a load of junk food to mask difficult emotions. It might be comforting for a short amount of time but it is never truly satisfying. There is always a sense of guilt underneath, because we know that it will not help in the long-term.
I am not in any way saying that we should stamp out our imaginations or those of our children. On the contrary. We should encourage them and nourish them with beauty and all the richness of literature, art and nature.
But we should do our best to balance the time we spend imagining with as many moments as possible strongly and deeply rooted in the Now. With as much connection to other people as possible. With as much openness, wonder and acceptance as we can manage.
Then, I believe, the stories we write and the dreams we dream will not be merely a means of escape–tinged with hidden guilt that we, just possibly, should be out there truly living instead of fantasizing–and that our imaginations will complement the richness of life in the most brilliant ways, rather than distracting from it.