The Importance of Imagination: How My Imaginary Friends Saved My Life
Imagination — the power to form and animate images not accessible to the senses — is humankind’s greatest endowment. Without it, there would be no civilization, religion or culture. Yet we humans too easily disregard the magic of imagination.
Recently, my husband, Payson, found a photo of me in my early fifties. I am sleeping, my hair spread halo-like on the pillow, the top half grey, the bottom a dyed black, my two stuffed toys, Bhalli and Bandar Jee tucked under each arm. I had bought them after the suicide of my then husband, Donald. My sorrow drove me once again into the arms of Mother Imagination and the magic of childhood. My inanimate friends comforted me deeply; I had someone in bed to snuggle with during the dark of my nights.
I gave Bhalli and Bandar Jee away somewhere along the way; they had become moldy and made me sneeze. But they exist as much in my consciousness, heart and soul as my dead parents with whom my relationship continues, like an invisible thread into eternity. Quantum physics’ principle of inseparability, where two particles who have interacted continue to affect each other over immense distances and times, applies, I believe, to our relationships and connections as well.
I am 70 now. I have a loving husband again. But we want love from many sources. I crave it most of all from pets, animals, children. They connect me and other multitudes to the vaster life of which we are miniscule parts. But we don’t have any pets because we live in India for half the year every year, and have been commuting thus for sixteen years.
Age sifts us down to the essentials, and love of all kinds becomes the very essence of existence. Love, if we actively pursue it, can be learned and received in many ways from many sources. The other day, at the very pinnacle of longing for a pet, I bought Noodle, a stuffed dog, for $19.99, and a few days later, Bongo, a tiny bear for $4.99. I brought them home, put them on and in my bed. The first night I brought Noodle home and cuddled him near my heart, he sprang alive in a dream, a tan colored dog, lovely and alive, sitting majestically on a branch in a jungle. Noodle and Bongo live in the dimension of dream where neither time nor space exists, where things are not confined to our classifications, like animate and inanimate.
We err in pitting reason and the ‘real,’ against the imagination. The perspectives that imagination allows us are an inherent, inalienable part of our realities. Einstein knew it and gave precedence to the Imagination above knowledge. William Wordsworth calls it “reason in her most exalted mood.” The scientifically minded may say God is a product of our imagination, but they would have gotten it backwards. We are the products of God’s Imagination.
In Indian mythology, Vishnu sleeps on the Cosmic Ocean and his dream is the world. In life’s journey, the Creative Imagination is our greatest ally. We have a devilish, destructive imagination, too, the one that takes us on bad trips that don’t feel quite so good. Discriminating between imagination that needs to be tamed and the one to be developed is a necessary learning process.
The imagination of children, the healthy kind, the kind that makes us feel good and helps us to adapt to and love the life we have been given,
must be maintained through adulthood because it has survival value. In the light of the dark of night, Noodle and Bongo’s presence and support is palpable. In times of crises and isolation, I have conjured up my own worlds, and lived a real life in them, as real as anything will ever be.
Niels Bohr, the quantum physicist affirms that though the world of the senses is real enough, it floats on a world that is not as real as we think. Most of the volume of an atom is empty space. The American theoretical physicist, John Wheeler, who coined words such as ‘black hole,’ ‘worm hole,’ said, “There may be no such thing as ‘the glittering central mechanism of the universe to be seen behind a glass wall at the end of the trail. Not machinery but magic may be a better description of the treasure that is waiting.”
There is a dynamic relationship between our imaginations and our lives.
Imagination’s power and magic allows us to connect to everything in life, be it animate or inanimate, visible or invisible. We are never alone if we have the companionship of our imagination. Through the eyes of our imaginations we comprehend the truth that the universe is essentially non-local, reciprocal and self-generating. Rumi says we create our reality by looking at it from a healthy or a sick perspective. By having something to love, I am saved. Giving love, even to Noodle and Bongo, these non-breathing beings, is the same as getting it.