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Inspiration & Learning in unlikely places Part 2 of 4: Imagination and Fantasy

Okay, right at the beginning here, let me say that I do indeed recognise and acknowledge the importance of acceptance, contentment, and being satisfied with what we have; and who we are. At the same time, humans tend to want to strive; and what Imagination and Fantasy offer us is a sense of moving towards something of worth and meaning while simultaneously ‘accepting’ the reality of the present, together with a hope that ‘things can be better’. So I start with two basic ideas:

  1. If we want something to happen in our lives, ‘imagining’ this as a possibility can help this become a reality
  2. Especially if life is hard, it is essential to be able to ‘imagine’ a better future, so that that ‘better future’ can become a reality.

So with these two ideas as backdrop, let me offer you one of the most famous quotes ever:

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.’

And, of course, this comes from the fabulous Mr. Albert Einstein. So he’s a fan. But so are lots psychotherapists‘I use imagination therapy to access deep feelings in order to stretch perceptions, rock the boat and help my clients create lasting positive change in their lives.’ And musicians. Anna Boyd tells us: ‘I think for an artist the IMAGINATION is by far our most precious resource.’ And painters and dancers and day-dreamers – pretty much everyone really! Our own personal histories exist because we ‘remember’ them. We hold our pasts in our minds (and in our bodies and our hearts too, it’s true), but in many ways, we ‘imagine’ our past. And we can do the same with our future.

If we want something to happen, to improve, change, shift; in our lives; we need to be able to imagine it as real. We need to see it, touch it, hear it, feel it, even taste it. Of course, we can imagine not only wonderful things but terrible things. Our imagination can head us towards things we would rather not have. Imagining pain seems to get the brain to ‘go off’, to activate. So it’s not just imagination but what we imagine that matters. Imagining a better life, an ever more fabulous me; something I want to become; feel, learn, or experience, can create hope that this goal, this idea, this dream, this better life, this even more fantastic me, can become a possibility, and eventually, a reality.

And what better place to look for possibilities than the world of Fantasy where anything can happen? In our work with young people, we can borrow directly from this world and for instance, ask a young person to imagine that they are going on a quest. What would their quest be about? What would they seek to discover? To create? What dangers might lie ahead and how would they approach these? Would they go alone or would they have companions? And what magical powers might they have that they could call on? What magical items might they carry that could aid them in their quest?

From here, it’s a small step to inviting a young person to imagine a real-life quest. We might ask: ‘Okay! What is something you want to experience? To do? Learn? Shift or change in some way; about your life or you as a person? Imagine that this becomes a real thing. It happens! How is life at that moment? Where are you? What does it look like? Feel like? Sound like? Smell like? And how do you think you might have arrived at this point in time? What talent of yours, what strength or skill that you possess right now, might have strengthened into a mighty weapon that you have relied on to get you here? (And of course to be used for good not evil!) And what help might you have had along the way on this quest? What people, or places, or ideas, or things might you have been able to draw strength from?’ This attaching of a reality-like experience to a fantasy experience points a person towards their existing and developing internal and external resources and strengths.

If, in our interactions with young people, we can add to this this by creating genuine opportunities for the best in them to emerge then we pave the way for more than hope. We start to create confidence. And if we pay careful attention and notice all the excellent things they do: Their generosity to another person, a simple politeness, a way of managing disappointment or anger, or fear; and we comment on these things, in the right way and at the right time, then young people experience the best parts of themselves as real. They have evidence of the possibility that things can shift. These experiences add confidence to hope. And ongoing hope, possibility and confidence lead to optimism. And we know that optimism is good for us.

Self-fulfilling prophecies are real. How we see ourselves and the world, negatively or positively, can lead to that world, that self, becoming real. The belief fuels the reality. So for any young person, but especially for someone whose life is one of hardship, we need to help engender hope, confidence and optimism. These ingredients add to the strengthening of resilience; the capacity to be aware of the past and its influence, to manage the present and move positively towards the future.

Imagining something wonderful doesn’t guarantee that it will become real, but it seems to be the case that imagining failure almost guarantees it. And there is only gain in imagining something fantastic; creating a sense of taking charge of life, and moving towards that which we desire to be, become, experience, and yes, accepting and embracing who we are right now, while simultaneously aspiring. All sounds a bit oogey-boogey doesn’t it, but it’s still true.

And I must finish with this wonderful quote which embodies ultimate optimism, from the ever-amazing late and great Terry Pratchett. A wizard and a witch are facing an impossible-to-do task and there is only one course of action open to them. The wizard says: ‘It’s a million-to-one chance.’ And the witch says: ‘Yes, but million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.’ (You will find this quote on Page 6 of ‘Equal Rites’)

So what do Imagination and Fantasy offer us? They offer us

  • Hope
  • Confidence
  • Optimism
  • Possibility and..
  • Rresilience.

Imagination and Fantasy? Worth thinking about.


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