When I was a child, my wise mother told me that whatever I could imagine, it could be happening somewhere in the world! Many dreams and imaginings have come true for me, likely because I envisioned them, believed the pursuit of these dreams was worth my time, worked methodically to bring them into form and tried to keep the reins loose along the way. I can cite my parenting, my marriage, my career as a yoga therapist, the transformation of many homes and gardens, weddings, graduations, and even friendships. It helps build my śradhā, or faith in myself, to remember times when my imaginings made the long journey from my dream life, through my hands and heart, and into this living world. In my lifetime I have watched The Berlin Wall come down, Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel go straight from prison to national leadership, and a woman of color elected to the White House. There is plenty of evidence for me that anything is possible
I have found it so uplifting to hear about many of you getting your vaccinations! This whole pandemic atmosphere is something I’d never imagined, and yet now it has become everyday life. Having truly downshifted into stay-at-home mode, I am now challenged to imagine what will come next. We all know that there is no such thing as “going back to the way things used to be”, yet I continue to grasp for anything called normal or stable or even boring! This vaccine’s actual appearance in my life, through your arms, feels like some kind of a giddy dream. It reminds me that anything is possible.
The yoga sutras lists Imagination (Vikalpa) as one of the five kinds of thoughts. Vikalpa can include imagining past situations with different outcomes, daydreaming, fantasizing and future projections. It can cause pain or delight, so we need to use it skillfully, like bleach! I believe in the power of our thoughts and their impact on the flavor or tone of our lives. I do not mean that we can just decide that we will have the lives we want and it will materialize or “manifest”. When I was in kindergarten, the fire department gave us coloring books and said that if we colored in the whole book in a week, we would get to ride in their fancy red truck! The night before the due date, I had only colored 1 or 2 pictures and wished I’d earned my way to that prize. I decided to pray and ask god to manifest the hard, coloring work for me so I could have my fire truck dream realized. Of course nothing changed in the physical world of the coloring book. Even as a 5 year-old I knew it didn’t work that way, that god did not grant wishes nor enable laziness! So how do we recruit support for our imaginings?
In the work of Valerie Kaur, with The People’s Inauguration series, she offers a practice to reimagine the world we want. I’m going to share my version of some of her teachings with you. First, we need time to be in the realm of free thinking. Set aside a truly free time to be away from other people, away from that silly phone and be sure you won’t just fall asleep! Get yourself comfortable, either sitting or lying down, so you can close your eyes and let the ordinary world disappear for a while. With these everyday eyes darkened, you might tune into the idea of having eyes in other places, so you could see what those other eyes cannot. You might direct your faculty of vision inward. The eyes connect directly into the brain and a huge amount of brain energy is used for vision. Reclaim this resource!
Next, scan through your life and remember a time when you felt full of wonder. This notion of wonder might take you back to childhood, when there was so much you didn’t know and wondered how it all came to be. In childhood, I thought adults knew what they were doing, but now I see how we just pretend to know, trying to feel safe or smart. Allow yourself to be free from trying to know anything, and feel yourself open. If you hear some unfamiliar bird squawking outside, instead of running out to catch its color or size, or seek its given name, just make room for that uncanny sound, wondering about that animal. Open your whole self to wondering.
We can learn how to wonder about everything – sounds, smells, ideas, other people we meet in the world. Rather than closing in, trying to name or judge, we can train our minds to wonder instead. We can remind ourselves that we don’t know much, certainly not much about what another person likes, or fears or wants from us. This wonder practice goes against the brain’s job description, which is: discern whether I like it or don’t like it, either push it away or move toward it. Wonder uses using another part of your brain – the right half. Let yourself scan your own memories and land on a time when you felt wonder, friendly curiosity, even delight. Notice how this feels in your body. This is a way to access your right brain wisdom. Really feel your body’s sensations – do you feel light, spacious, buzzy? How is your breath? Breathe with whatever you are feeling. This is part of you, like a friend you forgot. You might even ask this part of you for its name, so you can call on it.
Now, bring to mind a part of your life that feels difficult, maybe some part that seems like it won’t ever change. Instead of your usual ideas about this, open to the situation with wonder, calling on that friend from the last paragraph. Recruit those same body sensations. Staying present with the difficult situation could be more like watching a movie of a life. Allow the lines to get blurry and the fixed ideas to have more wiggle room. Now you can begin to imagine what you’d like to feel in that scenario, with the foundation built on your felt sense of wonder. Let those body sensations work creatively with your amazing mind. Let your body lead the way. Taking guidance from the body, the logical part of your brain can problem solve. Listen for one small, manageable action you can take. It could be very simple, like taking a walk or turning off Netflix 30 minutes earlier tonight.
We can use this practice as we reimagine the world we want. Rather than just accepting relief from pain, we can imagine robust health! Pay attention to those aspects of our world that seem unchangeable, which you want to see changed. Nothing is permanent. Nothing. How shall we shape this future, what can we imagine? We must believe that we are all worth the trouble and follow this up with actions, small, humble, everyday actions. We are not alone – everyone wants to be happy! Are you willing to let your imagination and your wonder take the lead?
I would really love to hear your dreams and visions! If you take this to heart, let me know what comes for you, what you have imagined. This is a time of great wonder, and we are still confined to our caves or cocoons for the foreseeable future. We have time, take some time, and play a bit.
I hope this is helpful to you. Let me know if you’d like to learn more about Valerie Kaur’s work.