Your body often has to be certain places at certain times of the day. If you have a job, your body might have to be at an office for several hours a day. If you’re a student, your body might have to be at school for several hours a day. If you’re a parent, your body might have to be at home, interacting with and raising your kids. Depending on the kinds of commitments we’ve made and obligations we’ve accepted in our lives, our bodies have to physically be somewhere, often on someone else’s schedule.
Our minds, however, do not.
Many people fall into the trap of believing that because our bodies have committed to being somewhere, our minds need to be there as well. This is only partly true.
The whole truth is that, by and large, we can choose where our minds go during the course of a day.
Other people may be able to mandate where our bodies go, but not our minds.
One of the saddest myths about “adulthood” is that, as we “grow up,” we need to blunt our imagination. We’re told we need to stop playing “what if.” We’re told to quit imagining other times, other places, other versions of ourselves, other versions of reality that might’ve been, that might still be…just because “grown ups” don’t play make believe.
It’s definitely true that psychologically healthy, emotionally mature adults have a strong appreciation for reality. They acknowledge things as they are, not as they wish they were. Adults accept even things they don’t like, because “liking and accepting” are two different things— and even if you want to change something, you have to accept it as it is first.
That said…it’s possible to have a healthy, grounded appreciation for reality, while still using our imagination to create inside of us places, characters, and situations that can inspire us, get us through tough times, soothe us, and remind us who we really are and what’s really important.
Imagination and fantasy, in fact, can be our primary weapons in the battle all of us are waging to keep the world from crushing our spirit.
There’s a reason why movies about super heroes and space pirates and historical icons are so popular. They remove us from the here and now, where we have to cope with the problems of boredom; where we have to deal with difficult people; where we have to acknowledge that maybe our lives aren’t turning out as we’d prefer…and they place us smack dab in the middle of adventures and dramas where we can be inspired and awed and touched and edified by the actions and personalities of people who we wish we were.
The thing is…those movies don’t create those feelings inside of us. We already have those feelings inside of us. Movies are just patterns of color and sound projected on a big screen…which help evoke, bring out, the powerful emotions and motivations already inside of us.
We have heroism in us already.
We have the capacity for adventure.
We have the capacity for nobility.
The world has simply made it difficult to access on a day-to-day basis, with its demands and schedules and disappointments and obligations.
The ironic thing is, when many people do engage their imaginations anymore, they do so in ways that harm their well-being. They make up stories about themselves in which they’re inadequate; in which they’re extras in the background, instead of the star of the movie; in which events control them, as opposed to them making a difference.
Imagination and fantasy are uniquely human gifts. Dogs and cats don’t have the developed capacity we have to imagine other times and places. No matter where we’re obligated to be at any given day, we have the capacity to access fantasies and stories that remind us who we are, and what’s important to us…and the best part is, no one needs to know what’s happening inside our heads.
In both of my offices at The Doyle Practice, in Washington DC and Chicago, I have pictures up of iconic heroes. Batman, Superman, Luke Skywalker. I have them up partially because it was these characters who first taught me what it was to be a hero, how important it was to create a life that touched other peoples’ lives, to create work that would live beyond me, like those characters.
But I also have them up because just seeing those characters reminds my patients that they, too, have heroism inside them. They just need to forget, for a moment, that “grown ups” aren’t supposed to use their imaginations, and just…imagine.
You can do this any time of the day. Wherever your body happens to be. In the car; at work; at school. Consciously, intentionally think about a movie, a story, a character, who inspires you. Live in that character’s world for just a moment.
Really imagine it. Come on— you have nothing to lose.
Those characters and places and stories are there to feed you. Let them.
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