• lynneeveratt

Use your imagination

With this week’s 5-Minute Recharge, my goal is to convince you to use your imagination, one of the most potent, yet often overlooked instruments your wellness toolkit. In the famous short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” that first appeared in The New Yorker in 1939, author James Thurber describes how a mild-mannered man breaks free from his lackluster life through a series of heroic fantasies. Walter Mitty gives us an insider's view of imagination, and the hint that something deeper than comic escapism is happening when he slips into his pocketa-pocketa-pocketa daydreams. In real life, imagination can be a lifesaver. While imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Viktor Frankl would imagine being reunited with his wife or lecturing students on his psychological and philosophical theories. “My mind still clung to the image of my wife,” Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, describing his imagination as the life preserver that kept him afloat amidst the misery of the Holocaust. This week I encountered two experts from diverse psychological fields—the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and sex therapy—who approached imagination from different angles, yet came to the same life-affirming conclusion: Imagination is not a luxury or an indulgence. Imagination is essential to a life well-lived. In his groundbreaking book The Body Keeps the Score, pioneering psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk describes his experience treating people with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Although the roots of their trauma were unique, his patients had one characteristic in common: they had lost the ability to imagine. Everything they encountered was filtered through the darkened lens of their pain. They couldn't envision new possibilities, so their lives remained stuck in a traumatic loop. “Imagination is critical to the quality of our lives,” writes van der Kolk. Imagination enables you to break free of routine, to alleviate pain and enhance pleasure, and to tap into a deep well of creativity that can make your life better. Hopefully you have never experienced anything approaching the horrors described in The Body Keeps the Score, but we’re all currently immersed in the shared trauma of a global pandemic. In a recent episode of the Prof G Show, relationship expert Esther Perel asserts that in our attempt to flatten the Covid-19 curve, we have also flattened ourselves. Life, Perel says, is a balance between two fundamental needs: the need for security, safety, and predictability and the need for freedom, adventure, and curiosity. The pandemic has knocked this balance off its hinges. Safety has eclipsed freedom as the dominant need, and Eros, the drive that connects us to a sense of vibrancy, openness, and aliveness, has been shut down. Sexuality is the flashy part of Eros that gets all the attention, but it’s not the whole thing. You can tap into the power of Eros, transcend the limits of pandemic reality, and get a hit of what Esther Perel calls the “antidote to deadness” through your imagination. Your imagination muscles may be flimsy from underuse, so take a few minutes to do this simple imaginary workout: Think of something you’re looking forward to doing once the pandemic is over. Close your eyes and try to evoke as many senses as you can. As you anticipate a future event, what will you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste? For my imaginary escape, I imagined being in a club listening to live music. I played a recording of a live session featuring an artist, Eilen Jewell, whom I had seen perform in person before the pandemic. As the earthy sound of Americana washed over me, I imagined sitting in a club with the aroma of frothy beer mingled with fried comfort food—why isn’t this a scented candle?—and the cozy feeling of people gathered together in their shared affinity for a tributary of music far from the mainstream. Your turn. Where will your imagination take you? (Here’s a Spotify playlist to spark your imaginative powers.) “Without imagination there is no hope, no chance to envision a better future, no place to go, no goal to reach.” - Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score

Some imaginative alternatives to “How are You?” Links to fuel your imagination:

Have a fantastic day! Lynne

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