Imagination: a Blessing and a Curse
“It is said that when the heavenly powers gathered at their huge conference table and considered the evolution of humans on the planet Earth, they had great concerns over the erratic behavior of these particular beings. On the one hand, the courage and occasional unselfish love that humans demonstrated clearly called for a reward from heaven. On the other hand, their tendency to behave with fearful selfishness indicated that they merited heaven’s punishment.
The powers debated for long hours trying to decide which course of action was most appropriate. Finally one junior member cut through the debate and said, ‘Let’s begin with reward. I suggest that we bless them with a mind that is capable of remembering and imagining. That way they can learn from the past and anticipate the future. Therefore they will be able to plan and create great wonders.’ They all agreed that this reward was fitting so they caused it to be.
Then they turned their attention to the appropriate punishment. ‘How shall we punish them?’ they asked. The junior member spoke quietly with a trace of sadness. ‘ We already have,’ he said, ‘the blessing will also be the punishment.’ *
Our imagination is a wonderful gift. With it we are able to plan great projects such as a city that will allow for access to all the essentials within walking distance, eliminating the use of cars and lessening the emission of green house gases. We can think about a loved one and plan a party that will make them feel loved and appreciated. Or just remember a special time we enjoyed together and bring a smile to our faces. We can close our eyes and imagine walking along a sunlight beach, enjoying the sounds of the waves, without ever having to get on an airplane. We can use it to relax, to practice a sport, to dream about our future.
Unfortunately, that same imagination can cause us countless hours of worry and anxiety as we imagine the worse possible outcomes that might occur. We see a story about an earthquake in Japan and our imagination creates for us a picture of that same disaster in our town. What would we do? How would we cope? We begin to lose sleep, feeling like we would not be prepared. Or when our loved one is late coming home from work we imagine that they are killed in a car accident or have arranged a clandestine meeting with another lover.
It is when the imagine “runs away” with our mind that we develop anxiety patterns that begin to cripple us. Rather than using our imagination to develop a “plan B” that would be helpful, such as a survival kit for an earthquake, we spin our wheels in worry, thinking more and more devastating thoughts. As the fear and anxiety increases we find ourselves unable to think clearly and respond appropriately to the actual reality. We create such a complete picture of “reality” in our imagination that we fail to stop and question the validity of it. Instead our physiological response system reacts our “imagined reality” as if it were true. Adrenaline and cortisol flood our system until we are overloaded and stressed out.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is beneficial in dealing with a runaway imagination. A trained therapist can help isolate the thoughts that are causing the anxiety and teach us ways to challenge our thoughts to decrease anxiety. Research has shown this therapy to be a very effective means of reigning in an overact imagination to combat anxiety, anger and depression. For most people, it is more effective than medication alone.
If you are interested in learning more about this treatment modality, click on the link Cognitive Behavioral Therapy . Guided imagery can also be beneficial in dealing with chronic pain and relaxation. For more information on this approach, click on the link Guided Imagery . Learning to decrease the negative effect of imagination frees up energy to use it to benefit our overall joy in life. It facilitates tapping into the reward while diminishing the punishment aspect of imagination.
The story at the beginning spoke of two aspects of the mind that were given as reward and punishment: remembering and imagination. This newsletter only addressed the imagination. Next month, we will look at “remembering” to see how this can be a reward and punishment as well.
*Story taken from The Tao of Forgiveness, by William Martin.
When Panic Attacks, David Barnes, MD
The Feeling Good Handbook, David Barnes, MD
Guided Imagery for Self-Healing, Martin L Rossman, MD