Sometimes I find myself confronted by my own ideas that I myself don’t like.  One of these times was when I contemplated the down side of imagination.

There are probably few words that have a more universally positive connotation than
“imagination”.  I would put it in a very special category with concepts like “creativity”, “passion” or even “love”.  So what could be a dark side?

I’ve often felt that humans think too much, and that the more we get lost in cognitions the less we are present to our current experience.  Years ago I started wondering where the “tipping point” was:   when did we start finding it so difficult to live in the moment?  And then, as I often do, I started thinking about children.

An infant, theoretically, is perfect at living in the moment.  It’s probably a pretty safe bet that a 4 week old is not worrying about what’s going to happen next week, or what the future holds.  They are truly in the moment and just experiencing whatever is happening for them (warmth, cold, hunger, etc.).   One of the ways that begins to change is with imagination.

The Oxford Dictionary defines imagination as “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses” (bold italics added).   There is a beautiful aspect to this and this definition conjures up images of Picasso or Beethoven. But there’s also this reality:  the essence of imagination is moving away from being in the moment and into an entirely cognitive process.  Imagination may be one of the ways we most strongly differentiate from animals, and while I am sure it provides us some soaring highs, I wonder if there’s not a cost of some very serious lows.

I love the axiom that what makes us sad is not what is, but the comparison of what is to what we think should be, or could be. If we didn’t know it was possible to have a different amount of money, we would never be bothered by not having what we perceive as enough. There’s also the axiom that anything we can imagine can be achieved. The dark side is that anything we can imagine can also possibly NOT be achieved, and then we are left suffering from something that was never real in the first place.

I want to be, and continue to be, a “fan” of the idea of imagination, but I also think these reflections are hard to avoid.