Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Imagination Development

Originally posted on November 29, 2013

So there’s the name: Imagination Development. Imagination can and should be developed! It’s a theme that helps rationalize some hobbies, or it could be a hobby in itself. It’s a kind of mental yoga. Stretching and bending the imagination, playing, pretending, consciously daydreaming. It relates to Jung’s suggestion that we actively imagine.

Most people don’t imagine a lot. They’re sort of told that imagination is too close to letting your mind run loose, which is too close to madness; or heresy. George Orwell’s scary dystopian novel, 1984—written in the 1950s—described how political incorrectness could be a capital crime.

More commonly people are taught the de-facto religion of scientism, that reality is only that which is material and measureable. But kids know the world of “IF” is a whole realm accessed by imagination. It is not to be scorned.

Of course people imagine! They do it to varying degrees, and they do it frequently. They just don’t think of it as a dimension of their personality that they could consciously develop. It seems to many as a secret, like masturbation. (Indeed, with the continuing publicity being given to overt sexuality, that which is “private” shifts from sex to other mental forms of enjoyment.”

Imagination Takes Off

People get funny notions, and I want to celebrate these: They give spice to our humdrum lives. For example, I have one acquaintance who, upon getting a porcelain penguin as a gift over thirty years ago, started collecting penguin figurines, soft toys, puppets, all sorts of variations. She also read up on this. Other people have a fancy for certain types of animals, and behind most collectors of all kinds there are other, often subconscious subtle fantasies. My point is, first, as a certified psychiatrist with many qualifications, I want to assert most imaginative activities are just fine; second, we might flourish more of we could admit to ourselves that we like this or that and come out with it to friends.

Maybe what I’m suggesting is to be more conscious of what used to be called eccentricity so as not to be annoying to others, but yet to own, enjoy, and get validated for uniqueness. Let it be known that everyone has quirks and it’s good to admit it. It’s a shift away from the idea that it’s good to be “adjusted.” indeed, we need to pop the bubble of the illusion that there is such a thing as “normal.” We need to recognize that the idea that we should rid ourselves of quirks is misleading and limiting.

One way to do this is to realize that quirks and eccentricities are extensions of imaginativeness, and that dimension of the psyche is valid; it satisfies many longings that cannot be satisfied by mundane existence. These are not to be explained away or “cured.” (Well, maybe if the fixation involves behaviors that are problematic, but then perhaps the challenge is not to turn away from the attraction of the symbolic object, role, field, whatever, but rather to align it so that it’s not problematic.)

Sometimes this involves changing some friends or clubs or who you expect to get validation from, because some folks aren’t going to be able to enjoy your enjoying yourself that way. So to some extent, eccentricities are socially defined. If you can find some folks (especially in close family) who like you that way, go with that!

One step beyond coming to terms with it is opening the object of fascination to your conscious mind. You may find it opens you to other things you enjoy imagining, stories, myths, characters. The goal is to enlarge your sense of living, to consider and maybe even enter an identity that partakes of more than mundane reality.

All this goes against a shallow and servile attempt to adjust, as if being like everyone else is a good thing. It used to be seen that way, and no one ever said that it’s not so. They dared not, because there were authorities who presumed to make judgments about what was okay to think and what was seriously “sick.” Or perhaps “irreverent.”

Responding to this, first, I’ll note that we’re entering an era of spiritual privilege. This is an unusual concept, but perfect for the 21st century. In the not-so-distant past it was so taboo to open one’s mind to anything good about a religion different from one’s own that it was seen as not only a betrayal of one’s own religion, but in some countries, punishable by execution—being murdered by the state. It hasn’t been that bad in the West, but only with the more accelerating inter-mixings of faith in the last forty years has it become not murderously sinful to shop around a bit, find what combination of practices and ideas works to help one feel connected. That’s spiritual privilege.

Related to that, we need a category of psychological privilege, perhaps: People can entertain a variety of roles, identities, multiple role identities, and this can be done while still being deemed eminently sane. As the comedian Mel Brooks said on a record (remember those?) in the late 1960s, playing a role as a psychiatrist, “I’m the guy who says who’s crazy and who’s just (wink) foolin’ around.” I love this quote, because what Brooks is talking about is a vast realm of imaginativeness about what is consciously fooling around. Comedians who play characters do it, and some people get these actors confused with the characters they play.

The point of this essay is to lend a positive voice for asserting the right and value of developing one’s imagination. There are so many ways to do this, at Halloween, with one’s kids, role playing in improvisation classes, and so forth. Doing folk dances allows for a mild assumption of the role suggested by the dance or the national style. Dressing up for Halloween is becoming far more popular, and some folks seriously get into their horrific roles, perhaps taking on a persona in a haunted house.

I hear objections, and I’m tempted to do two things: answer them; or ask the questioner to introspect as to why this proposition is uncomfortable for them. It may be that the second approach is deeply fruitful, because there are so many ways that we are brainwashed to imagine the most desperately anti-social roles. Of course I’m not advocating this! But the flooding of “what-if’s” even in myself is a clue to the power of these negative messages.

Well, I’ll just put this out there and see what folks say.

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