When I was a child, my imagination was my traveling kit—I come from a family with modest opportunities, so I used my imagination to get me to places I longed to go, meet people I was interested in, place myself into roles that were beyond my possibilities. On weekend mornings, I laid in my bed for hours making up stories about my future, making my life seem infinite. Although my daydreams ceased to play such a great role in my life, my creative, imaginary mind has served me well in work projects, training games, birthday party programs.
I see this same quality in my daughter who shares some of her images of secret doorways, ghosts, wild boars and magic wands. I listen to her with awe and try to catch all her stories in writing.
The beast of imagination: How imagination can create suffering
In Kundalini Yoga, I encountered a different approach to imagination. Imagination is represented by the image of a beast, and many of our exercises were aimed at cultivating this beast. Why? Because imagination can create suffering by feeding our desires, enhancing the longing (and the disappointment) for something we cannot reach, only imagine. It can keep us away from the present moment and our reality. It can also create unrealistic expectations (having an ideal or perfect image of ourselves or someone else) or issues only present in our minds (my jealousy and worry are great players here). I also realized how my imagination is at play in my fear of dogs.
So imagination has two sides: it can create art, novelty, ideas, discoveries, inventions, but also can lead to suffering. By cultivating and directing imagination we can harness its blessings and keep us safe from the harm it can cause. Like my daughter who is yet to learn that spiders, bugs and crocodiles are only images in her head and in reality there’s nothing to be afraid of in her room.
Some questions to ponder about imagination
- What is my definition of imagination?
- In what areas of my life is my imagination active? Does it serve me? When do I find it harmful?
- Do I have issues that are only present in my mind with no real manifestations?
- Do I fear something? Is my imagination active when I’m in fear?
- What roles do I play in my daydreams?
- What were my past desires–what did I want to become? How relevant are they to me today? Do they still exert power over me?
- Do I have an imagined ideal or perfect image of myself? Does this image support me in my life? Are there other images of perfect mother / partner / boss / friend / colleague / child that influence me?
With the use of imagination, we can (re)arrange abstract and concrete images infinitely—what a power to possess! Still, pay attention to what you’re creating in your life: positive, reassuring, inspiring images or an illusion detached from your reality.
My Kundalini book, Kundalini Yoga for the West by Swami Sivananda Radha, inspired this post.