Awhile back, my family sat in the back yard with a young adult friend as our the six-year-old ran, leapt, and jumped. The child was engrossed in a narrative that only he knew the storyline to, and my young adult friend watched him and sighed longingly.
Are you feeling nostalgic for your childhood, I asked? No, he said, but I am afraid I am forgetting how to play, how to imagine into each moment. He had been through terrible struggle and suffering that year. I could sense his fear that he had lost something that connected him to a source of joy and hope. We spoke then of how imagination is a necessary ingredient in hope, how seeing your way forward helps in creating a future.
Our imagination is more than just fantasy or meta-whimsy, imagining has a physiological effect on our how minds function. The practice of being imaginative creates new neural pathways that allow us to continue to learn new skills and ways of being. Children are now taught how to have a “growth mindset” when encountering challenges and mistakes. This framing helps children grow and establish neural pathways or “ways of thinking” that help them navigate challenges by transforming them into opportunities for growth.
Though our brains stop growing as we get older, our brains keep changing and have the ability to build new neural pathways. The practice of imagination, or visualization or meditation increases our ability to retain neuroplasticity in our minds. The ability to imagine, the power to form mental images that are not present, shifting how reality is experienced is a way we enrich, expand, and find meaning in our lives. The imagination is the seed of possibility.
We emerge from this past year, full of struggle and sorrow, awkwardly greeting a new year with relief and tentative hope. Maybe, like my friend, concerned we have forgotten how to play, find a way to imagine our way forward, knowing that it is always how we must begin again.
Blessings to You All in 2021!
Rev. Kimberlee Tomczak Carlson, Minister of Religious Education