Imagination is a Muscle

A workout at the shore for both body and mind

Last weekend I brought my stationary bike trainer to Goose Rocks Beach in Maine where we have a small cottage on the water. With three months left before the 3-day, 300 mile Chefs Cycle ride for No Kid Hungry, the bike goes everywhere I go. This is the third year that chefs will be riding to raise money to help end childhood hunger in the U.S. For most that is their passion. But many have also realized that the bike offers a path to the healthy lifestyle that’s eluded them until now. I’m not a chef, but instead one of the ride organizers, and that’s been the case for me as well — a few lost pounds, more energy, less stress.

But the benefits are not just physical. On the bike trainer in front of the picture window in our bedroom, my focus while pedaling is the vast expanse of ocean and shoreline at which I never tire of staring. I start to think about its appeal this day and every day, whether sunny or stormy, tide in or out, crowded or empty. Given the very cold water, it’s not about the swimming. We don’t own a boat — so rule that out. The longer I gaze out the more I come to realize what the ocean and its beaches are about, at least for me: imagination.

Photo credit: Natalie Starr

The view from my window is straight out and straight up — nothing to confine one’s vision or thoughts. Here one’s imagination gets as vigorous a workout as any my body gets on the bike. Who are those two distant figures at the other end of the beach? Distant specks — one in a red jacket and one in black? Are they visitors, tourists, cousins, lovers? Where did that driftwood roll up from? Somewhere along Maine’s mid-coast? Africa? The Caribbean? What else is swimming around out there besides the seals we see lolling on the rocks? Where is that freighter moving east across the horizon headed and what’s it carrying? If I could see all the way across, what would I be looking at? Ireland? England? France?

Imagination is a muscle that needs to be exercised and toned. This is its SoulCycle. Imagination is where most of our failures lie, both professional and personal. We often misunderstand setbacks to be failures of planning, strategy, money or time. But they are really failures of imagination. The binary choice of either / or that constrains us. Accepting the narrow set of options defined by conventional wisdom and failing to recognize possibilities that are unconventional.

Imagination can’t just be activated upon demand. It’s needs to be constantly flexed, tested, stoked and stirred. The best way to make sure it is there when you need it is to not put it away. For me, the one place it is always present is at the shore.

Our anti-hunger and anti-poverty work at Share Our Strength, and at our consulting subsidiary Community Wealth Partners, depends on imagination as much as any other resource. Achieving a nation where there is no kid hungry begins with imagining it. So does enlisting thousands of chefs to raise hundreds of millions of dollars — whether in kitchens or on bike trails — to ensure stronger, healthier kids. So does restoring bipartisanship to our politics and creating opportunities for civic engagement for everyone with a strength to share.

All of human history affirms that what we imagine we can achieve. I’m glad to keep pedaling here at the oceans edge, so long as the view enables me to see what is not yet there.

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