Updated: Jul 18, 2022
Did you know that your body cannot tell the difference between a real an imagined event? This is because we create all the same biochemistry in our body when we imagine something as when we do it for real!
This less well known fact can be both a help and a hinderance if your imagination is running you, and not the other way around.
Miriam-Webster describes imagination as:
1: the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality
2: creative ability
3: a creation of the mind
When imagination is unhelpful
When we are worried, our imagination might use our mind's creative ability to imagine all the things that could possibly go wrong. This shows up in many ways such as worrying if we have locked the door, fretting about a big event like giving a speech before it has happened, or being fearful that we might make a mistake on a first meeting.
Another way our imagination can be unhelpful is when we see our life through our past experiences, like looking through a filter and imagining things that aren't actually happening. This shows up in instances such as believing that people talking behind our backs, that a particular group of people are bad/untrustworthy or we will never experience - ________ - I will let you fill in the blank.
Finally, our imagination can simply create new threats based on small snippets of incomplete and uncontextualised data. For example, when I was a kid, I was convinced that Jaws was going to come up the toilet bowl (and I presume kill me). The movie character James Bond was another person I was afraid of, and Santa, in my bedroom? I only allowed what I thought was a strange man in my room because I knew he brought presents!!
When imagination is useful
However, it isn't all bad. Used with intelligence, our imagination can be a wonderfully powerful tool. Athletes, musicians and defence forces across the world use imagination to enhance performance and prepare for events. They do this by harnessing the power of our imagination through visualisation.
Visualisation is the formation of mental images. When we consciously create our mental landscape, the body responds. In terms of performance, this means a increase in muscle mass, quicker more dextrous responses, less fear and panic in life threatening situations and a general feeling of preparedness.
In mental health and wellbeing, this skill can be utilised to flood the body with happy hormones and increase feelings of wellbeing and calm. This is particularly true if the reason we are feeling low, depressed, anxious and worried is our imagination running on autopilot.
Instead we can consciously choose to create our own narrative that supports our physical and mental wellbeing and in doing so make a habit of being in a positive state.
Here's a little exercise you can try at home:
Get yourself comfortable and prepare yourself to go into a meditative state (meaning relax the body, let go of the day, take a couple of deep breaths).
Once settled, imaging you are standing in front of a doorway. Walk through the doorway, and as you do, leave your busy mind behind you (literally, check your mind in at the door!)
Step into a place/scene or environment that is pleasing to you. This might be a cool forest, a snowy mountain top, by the ocean or soaring in the clouds.
Take a moment to notice everything you can see in this landscape (3-4 minutes).
Notice the sounds (3-4 minutes).
Notice the smells (3-4 minutes).
Notice anything you can taste (3-4 minutes).
Notice anything you can taste (3-4 minutes).
Notice any sensory experiences such as textures underfoot, the wind on your skin, heat or cool (3-4 minutes).
Now choose what inner state you would like to experience. What would make you feel good at this point in time? Take time to really notice what you need in order to make yourself feel good (e.g. to curl up, walk in the ocean, take deep relaxing breaths).
Stay focused on what you would like to experience and allow yourself to mentally experience it (for as long as you would like).
Let your inner state permeate out into the room around you and let it fill the space you are in.
Commit to yourself to remain connected to this inner state. Acknowledge it is always present and you can return back here any time that you need.
I trust you find the above useful. Let me know how you get on! And if you want to enjoy more meditations like this one, guided and with a wonderful group of people, then I recommend you check out my Monday night meditation group. We would love to welcome you!