A person’s ability to imagine is a potent source of power that every person alive possesses. We may believe that our imagination has been displaced by pain and trauma or that we no longer have access to it, if indeed we had any to start. Or, we may be operating on the assumption that we need to think our way out of the emotional and psychological quagmire that keeps us fixated on our problems. I believe, that regardless of the state we are in, our imagination is available to us and can become a potent ally in our efforts toward health and wholeness.
We are all born with the power of imagination. Think about it. Can you remember a time in childhood when you were so immersed in play, your imagination so taken with the imaginary world you had summoned up that what your mind had created seemed absolutely real to you?
I remember creating a home in the woods across from my childhood home. Tree trunks became walls, mounds of snow were fashioned into chairs and fixtures. What my friends and I created was absolutely real to us. I’m pretty sure to the eyes of an adult it would simply have been snow and woods. My perfectly crafted kitchen, complete with a pot of soup atop a beautiful white stove would have been rocks, and branches.
Our imagination is a source of power available to us at all times. Those of us who have been traumatized or who have suffered severely in our lives have turned a good portion of our imagination over to our pain. What is fear if not a thing devised by our imagination? Perhaps the more potent our imagination, the more severe our pain.
Since my accident and subsequent PTSD, all it takes is a flash of an image at the right moment to set my heart racing. In a nano-second I am plunged into the arena of my imagination, re-living the accident as if it were presently happening. I had just such an experience last week while exercising at the club I recently joined.
I always choose a treadmill that faces a large window, so that I can focus on the big beautiful tree across the parking lot, rather than the TVs that are on the wall to either side of the window and always on. I had done so this day, but I just happened to glance at the TV, almost a side-wise, mostly unconscious glance at the screen to my left. Just as I did, an image of a man driving a car, his face painted with impending doom and terror, flashed before my eyes. In the following nano-second the impact occurred, and my imagination jumped into overdrive. In a split second, I was thrust into the midst of my own nightmare. Captured unwittingly, I felt as if I had no control over my suffering.
If we can recognize the power that our imagination plays in our lives,both for good and ill, we can begin to direct its course. We can choose where we will put it to work. You may say, “but we have no choice when fear overtakes us, when the physiological effects of PTSD become the driver of our emotions and imaginations” but, I believe we do have a choice. Our basic survival instinct may be broken. Our brains may replay horrific images and memories, seemingly without our say-so, but I believe we can, bit by bit, take back our power and retrain our imaginations to work in our favor and in cooperation with our healing efforts.
Using one’s imagination to counteract depression, anxiety, and trauma is a tool that is always at our disposal. Instead of choosing to let fear run the projector in our mind, we can choose hope, beauty, love, and reinforce these things as often as possible in our day-to-day lives. It’s not a quick fix. It’s a process, a practice, and ultimately a choice.
This is the fundamental principle behind the gratitude journal. When we stop and think about something good in our lives for which we can be grateful, a mini-film plays in our imagination – a reliving of something positive – and positive feelings flood our bodies. This, my friends, is far better than the flood of fear that when left unchecked leaves us only to continue suffering.
Making the choice to pay attention to what our imagination is doing, to become conscious of the imaginings that are transporting us to painful places and choosing, when we can, to imagine positive images and outcomes can begin to create an environment where healing can take place. Our imagination can become our best friend instead of our worst nightmare.