The recorded life of human imagination glows with extraordinary accomplishment. All the fabulists — from Homer, Aesop and the Grimms to H.G.Wells, Kafka, and Bernard Malamud —writers, poets and playwrights have enriched us over the centuries with the far-fetched products of their fevered imaginative minds. Their world of make-believe and fiction has colored our more usually concrete and problem-solving lives with images, stories, possibilities, creations that far exceed our usual mental diets.
From the adventures of Odysseus to the lives of the dybbuks, from the authors of Tarzan and Captain Kirk, from science-fiction writers who live in the future, from all the fictionalists who live in their made-up universes, persons with a rare gift for creative ideas and stories have pointed to a world far beyond the usual, the observable, the here-and-now, the consensually agreed-upon “real world.” The world’s literature, and perhaps all the world’s arts, have grown from the minds and capacities of a rare breed of imaginalists.
These special people with vivid imaginations and a capacity to share their fancies with the rest of us deserve our gratitude. While they have often been condemned, even punished for their crazy tales that challenge our more “normal” ways of thinking, their capacity to stretch the bounds of the everyday may border on madness or show itself as skillful craft. They weave their ideas into our more mundane surfaces and often help us live a richer life for their efforts.
The capacity for make-believe is so highly valued that in many a kindergarten class, exercises in imagination form part of the daily fare for many of our children. Teachers encourage little ones to take a chance, to draw outside the lines, to create, to make up, to pretend. For some children, this is a great pleasure, the joy of permitted freedom — but for some, a torment. I remember I used to need to be able to draw inside the lines. I used to love to “line up in size places.” The safety and certitude of the rules was wonderful for me. At 40, I was able finally to “draw outside the lines,” as I became a painter of make-believe. Many people need time to be able to pretend. As a child in an immigrant Jewish European family, the daily dose of shared chaos within the Holocaust experience was “creative,” chancy, wild enough for me. A bit of predictability was for me a heaven of sorts.
So, we are all different when in comes to the capacity for creating and for appreciating make-believe. Some children are terrified of dolls, puppets, and masks. Others revel in stretching reality. It is amazing to realize how much we all share the capacity for imagination. I would only point to one area in life to confirm this assertion: each night, every night, we dream. From earliest brain development (presumably in most all mammals) to the mind as it engages with dying — i.e., for the whole of one’s life — dreams fill our sleeping minds.
And dreams are a most vivid demonstration of the mind at work and/or play in making things up, in creating, in storytelling, in make-believe. In dreaming, we create, participate and live in a make-believe world — for a time. All of us. No matter one’s capacity for imagination in waking life, in dreams, there is a democracy of imagination– some more, some less, but all of us busy through the night and sleep making up dreams.
This world of imagination is an amazing one — with rules and requirements all its own.
Why and how come remain mysteries. But we all have the capacity and all have extensive experience living imaginary experiences in our sleeping minds. This fact is especially important for persons who experience themselves as barren or depressed, and for those who have been criticized or have criticized themselves for a lack of creative spark. Such persons need to become aware of their dreaming minds. They have been making up stories since infancy. This imagining mind belongs to and is a rich capacity for everyone. Everyone, in every clime, in every era in history.
The only conditions are that one is asleep, that no one but the dreamer is watching, that the internal and external critics are inactivated, that no one is keeping score or giving grades. In such conditions, one is free to make up all manner of things. No charge. No fee. Just pure freedom, in the deep privacy of sleep. Watch what happens tonight or tomorrow night or this week.
Notice your imagining minds at play. Not all fun. Some of it silly or dark or scary. But your personal and private imagination nonetheless.