Read an Excerpt
imagination is the most important faculty we possess. It can be our greatest
resource or our most formidable adversary. It is through our imagination that
we discern possibilities and options.
imagination is no mere blank slate on which we simply inscribe our will.
Rather, imagination is the deepest voice of the soul and can be heard clearly
only through cultivation and careful attention. A relationship with our
imagination is a relationship with our deepest self: Whether we have cultivated
our imagination or not, we each have a lifetime of patterns and habits of
thought embedded there, based on past experiences. Our expectations of
ourselves and the world flow from these patterns. Suzi Gablik writes: "What we
are learning is that for every situation in our lives, there is a thought
pattern that both precedes and maintains it. So that our consistent thinking
patterns create our experience. By changing our thinking we also change our
experience. . . . The basic step is to confront what we actually believe" (p.
is a way of knowing what it is we actually believe. Bernie Siegel (1986) is a
medical doctor who deeply respects the power of the imagination in regard to
physical healing. He asks his cancer patients to draw images of their treatment
in order to
deeply held beliefs about the treatment options. He has learned that the belief
of the patient, not the objective benefit of a particular therapy, is the
greatest factor determining effective results.
what our beliefs are requires confronting ourselves, our fears, and our
resistance to change. Once we know what our real beliefs are, we can allow them
to evolve and change if they do not serve us. Fear will throw up difficult and
unpleasant images at the gate of the imagination. Many of us worry that if we
delve too deeply, we may find terrible things, or nothing at all, no options,
no solutions. Joanna Macy (1983) works with the imagination to get people to
break through apathy about being able to affect the ecology of the planet and
other big issues facing all of us. She finds that at first fear and despair
arise and even seem overwhelming. Once that despair is felt and acknowledged,
however, it passes and new options arise that empower individuals to think of
new ways to view the problems and to create new solutions.
making is a way to explore our imagination and begin to allow it to be more
flexible, to learn how to see more options. The major problem for most of us is
that we allow fear to stop the imagination before it really begins to work.
Shaun McNiff says that the image never comes to harm us, and I agree. Our fears
exist to protect us from what we imagine to be harmful. We need to respect
their purpose, to see our fears without allowing them to control the great
potential of the imagination.
trying to change beliefs through making art, begin by taking an inventory of
some beliefs that you hold.
of the imagination.
Make a list of your beliefs about imagination. Include any phrases or truisms
you have heard, like "It's only your imagination," or "You're letting your
imagination run away with you." Try to articulate the belief behind such
statements. Sort your list into statements of belief that are positive and ones
that suggest the imagination is dangerous or trivial. Make a check mark by any
of the beliefs you are willing to change. See if you can restate them as
beliefs you would like to hold.
wealth of the imagination.
the imagination is a potent form of preparation for making art. Imagining can
be done anywhere, anytime. It is a form of play that feeds our inner self: It
is a little like stocking the shelves. Later, at another time, art making can
bring forth what we've imagined and allow the image to take form.
first step is simply to become aware of the endless stream of images that are
available during a day. There are visual images, everything from the rumpled
bedclothes, your face in the bathroom mirror, and the steam rising from the
shower, to the images of suffering children that flash by on the evening news
or the pattern of tree branches against the sky that you see as you walk down
the street. There are internal images that can be called up at will, like your
sister's face when she's laughing, or evoked nonintentionally, as when you
remember a special place when you hear a certain song on the radio. Colors,
smells, sounds, weather—all of these stimulate imagery to rise within us.
dreams and daydreams we elaborate images into stories. The imagery of others is
also a source; books, movies, poems, are filled with images that we transform
by taking them into ourselves. Yet, in order to get through the day, most of
the time we screen out images or are only peripherally aware unless something
dramatically different comes into view. A spectacular sunset or a car wreck
will command our focus on the ride home from work; otherwise we may be lost in
thought and oblivious to the images that surround us.
first step, then, with no outcome in mind, is to begin to practice awareness.
Play with the different ways in which you can be aware.
images are already here.
reading for a moment. Sit back in a relaxed posture. Let your eyes fall on the
images around you.
birds are perched on a wire against a gray November sky outside my window. My
desk is crowded with family photos, piles of books, a half-woman, half-deer
talisman I made out of sticks, a plastic cow.
the images around you. Appreciate the richness of possibility. Pick one image
to follow. Notice its color, shape, texture, detail. Where does it lead you?
How did it come to be in front of you? Imagine an art work based on your image.
What would it be like? A huge soft sculpture of your stapler? A pencil drawing
of the tree outside your window?
with your awareness by opening it to include as much as your eyes see. What do
you see on the periphery of your vision? Now close your eyes and shift to the
pit of your stomach. What is the sensation? What image does it evoke? Open your
eyes and go back to your first image. Focus on it; does it seem different?
Focus on one detail of that image. Let it go.
what comes up. Sometimes simply shifting our focus to images rather than
immersion in our inner dialogue can be a means of achieving relaxation. It is a
goalless opportunity for the mind to rest and replenish. At odd moments,
practice this skill by choosing to focus on a particular image, then
consciously letting it go. It is particularly helpful for relaxation to focus
on images of beauty in nature. If your energy is depleted, try focusing on
flowers, trees, plants, the sky. Allow yourself to rest in the beauty of what
you see, and let that perception replenish your energy. These are very simple
means of achieving awareness.