Five things I am learning from my work in collective imagination
Some of the key things I am learning from my work in collective imagination: Imagination uses feeling and thinking, portals help people access imagination, imagination is a force that can change the world, the key is imagining together (‘collective’ imagination), and imagination leads to action. Enjoy!
1 — Imagination Uses Feeling and Thinking
The first thing I wanted to mention is that we often think about imagining as a “thinking” thing. We talk about “rethinking” and “thinking” about the future. But what we found is that our imagination practices and labs really focus a lot on the feeling. And actually we need to start cultivating a new feeling of the future, feeling into what the future can be like.
We find that creating a space for developing that kind of intuition and cultivating a space for the subconscious, and really creating a safe space for people to reconnect with their emotions and feelings, especially when talking about the future. The future can bring up some very difficult feelings, because when we reflect on the future we end up reflecting back on ourselves.
One of the Moral Imaginations exercises walks people through imagining that they’re waking up on their 90th birthday, and they’re speaking with their grandchild. And that grandchild asks “Granny, what was it like to be alive in the Great Pandemic? What happened? What did you and your friends do? What did you do and how did it lead us to be in the world we’re in today?” In the lab 2 weeks ago some of the community members reflected back to me and the team that this is bringing up a lot of very difficult emotions, feelings of guilt, feelings of shame — like I should have done more. We talk a lot about thinking when we talk about imagination, but we have found it is a very heart based, emotional process.
So this is one part of cultivating everyday imagination — is to create these spaces to reconnect with their feelings and safe spaces and also reconnect with their intuition.
The Empathy River — Watchet Imagines Lab
This was one of the images that came out of the Watchet Imagination Lab, of an “Empathy River”. The community was imagining we need to rise up as a river of empathy and flood out the sticks in the mud, the sticks who are saying “it will never work, who cares!” I loved this image and this big flood of creativity and imagination which will just flood out all of the things that are resisting the change that communities want to see.
I wanted to read this quote by Kim Stanley Robinson:
The virus is rewriting our imaginations. What felt impossible has become thinkable. We’re getting a different sense of our place in history. We know we’re entering a new world, a new era. And we seem to be learning our way into a new structure of feeling.
I’m really interested in what that is — that new structure of feeling.
2 — Portals Help People Access Imagination
This image is from one of the Moral Imaginations practices where participants, community members, enter a “portal” — using an image of a portal in order to access the imagination.
Although you can’t guarantee magic, you can create the conditions for magic. So within the Moral Imaginations Lab, we guide participants to set up their imagination space, bringing items that remind them of imaginative times, of magical places from their childhood… All of these little rituals that can help create the conditions to access that place of dreamlike imaginary quality.
We talk a lot about “serious play” in Moral Imaginations. We like to think that imagination has to be playful and unbounded. But we have to take it seriously again. We actually really need to take it seriously and make space in our lives for that. So, taking walks, reconnecting with a sense of dreamlike quality, recording our dreams. These practices can help cultivate that sense of imagination.
Artwork can create a portal
This is a digital artwork by Sara Summers, a Watchet community member, who created pages and pages of poetry and art in the Imagination Lab. People found their own ways of accessing the place where reality and magic blurs. Where can we find these portals in everyday life or when we think back into the past. This image brings that feeling of magical realism and dreamlike quality.
3 — Imagination is a Force that can Change the World
Imagination is a powerful force and really quite a sacred thing. The biggest changes changes in the world, the biggest shifts in our society all started in the place of imagination. What’s more is that there’s something really exciting about the idea of collective imagining. So we can share an image and make imagination become real.
As part of the Watchet Imagines Lab, we spent time exploring what a new economic system could look like — and explored this through visioning, metaphor, poetry, art and theatre. These different modalities brought the reality of people’s lived experience and stories together with their visioning and conception of a new economic system.
The perspective Moral Imaginations brings is the perspective of future generations, the perspective from past ancestors and the perspective of non-human beings including the land and place — so these different lenses also allowed people to zoom out and explore the future of Watchet from these different angles, allowing them to connect with what truly matters to them.
4 —The Key is Imagining Together — Collective Imagination
Imagination is often referred to as a solo activity. In our Western society we think of the people who really imagine are authors, artists, writers… And often that can be quite a solitary thing. What we have found in our Imagination Labs is that the real key to the creativity that comes out of these sessions.
Our methodology uses a collective place to capture thoughts and creativity during the 4 days of the Imagination Lab. We were expecting around 20–30 pages, but we have 156 pages of poetry, artwork, imagery, all sorts of things that are extraordinary. When we reflected on it and asked “how did this happen?” and “where did this come from?” We think it’s because it’s a collective imagination process.
We think it’s down to the way we do the imagination process in the sessions is that it’s not about Sara or Rob or Brendan, and us as individuals. This is very important and comes from the field of systems design. It’s that we’re creating together, and it’s that process of creating together that takes the pressure off. And then the creations are so much bigger than what we could have expected for any one of us alone.
5 — Imagination Leads to Action
Lastly, what our work centres on is bridging imagination with action. The power is in supporting people to expand their imaginations, to explore them, to access their feelings and thoughts and complex decision-making in imagined states, and then bridge what is understood and learned with the present-day world make meaningful changes.
Of course, when people see things differently and discover new aspects of themselves, their actions in everyday life also change. These changes may be subtle, like choosing to take a greener route in an everyday commute, or shifting the way a father speaks to their baby daughter when she’s misbehaved. They can also look like concrete new projects that emerge from the collective imagination space.
In the Watchet Imagines Lab, people dreamed up events (like a spoken word event, a family nature connection event), a continued collective imagination community of practice with weekly online sessions where anyone could host an exercise, and (pictured above) a “No Judge Club”, a concept created by Kate Kennedy which is an in-person regular gathering where people from the Watchet community can come together and talk and connect in an intentionally judgement-free space.
Imagination is powerful because it can lead to changes in how we think, feel and act. Hopefully the above has given you a taste of the work we are doing, some of the different aspects of how that work leads to real world change, and what we’ve been learning about how to support people to cultivate everyday imagination.
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