Why imagination is important now more than ever

Santa Rosa therapist and life coach Patty Bechtold blogs about why imagination is important for healing and hope at wiselifetherapy.com

Imagination is important. Imagination has saved me a thousand times.

I wrote those words in my journal 10 days ago. It was good timing; I need the reminder today.

Because, as you may know, Northern California is experiencing another onslaught of wildfires. Some of the most beautiful landscapes are going up in flames or being threatened. Smoke covers the skies, spreading far and wide, and the crazy weather and lightening strikes are forecast to return. Again.

Here in Sonoma County thousands of fire fighters are working round the clock to keep the fires away from homes and businesses. Thousands of people have been evacuated from the charming little towns that populate the western part of the county. Again.

All this amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic and climate change. Plus everything else we’re dealing with this year. Let’s just say it seems like stress, anxiety, depression and grief are the order of the day. Again.

So you might be wondering what any of this has to do with why imagination is important.

Well, imagination is important right now because it’s so good for your well being and mental health. And that fact has been front and center for me since I read Cathy Malchiodi’s recent article in Psychology TodayImagination in the Time of Pandemic.

Cathy is an art therapist, educator and visual artist. She’s written a lot of books and quite a few of them are on my shelf. And this article in particular resonated so deeply.

Because if ever there was a time to explore why imagination is important, 2020 is it. No matter where you are or what you’ve encountered, you’ve likely experienced traumatic stress this year.

Consider Cathy Malchiodi’s wise words about imagination’s capacity to heal traumatic stress…

Fortunately, we know a lot more about imagination than we did a decade ago and particularly why it might be key to recovery from traumatic stress. There is even emerging evidence that the brain’s default mode network…plays a significant role in the ability to imagine. This system may support the creative responses key to trauma reparation and the restoration of the imaginative capacity necessary to healing.
We now have many examples of how the capacity of imagination can be harnessed for positive changes through expressive approaches…In order to redirect our attention away from current threats, imagination is one way we have available to negotiate these challenging times, even if momentarily.

Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.

In the midst of unrelenting crises it might feel hard to make space for imagination. But if you’ve been around here before you probably know I love imagination.

And in the women’s circles and writing circles I facilitate I often say just make it up if you don’t know what to write or create. Imagination is important to the process so let it out. It often leads the way to your deeper wisdom long before your rational brain can “figure it out.”

So anything, however brief, that takes you out of your present experience and lets you imagine or pretend is good. (listening to music, anyone?)

Anything that lets your mind wander and move towards daydreaming is good. (hello gardening.)

Any creative endeavor that is process (not product) oriented is good. (I doodle without even really being aware of it sometimes)

Anything that combines different creative processes with movement is good. (singing + dancing = immediate relief)

Take a look and you’ll see into your imagination.

Imagination is important in the midst turmoil because it’s always available to you, there are no limits.

In fact, your imagination may be tugging at you right now with an emerging daydream, vision or fantasy. I’ve found that’s pretty common these days, and often the daydream is about escaping to something better: a better life, a better world, a better future.

Perhaps you bat it away because it seems to be born out of darkness, or at least unrealistic and unattainable. But what the daydream truly wants from you is to go deeper into it, to live it in your imagination.

Thankfully, you can give it life by writing about it.

Not just writing the facts though, but writing “as if” you’re in it. In other words, using your imagination to flesh out the whole story of your daydream, playing it out, and including as much sensory detail as you can. Also, giving yourself free reign to make the story as fanciful as you’d like to.

If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it.

I used to think the point of writing about your dreams and visions was to increase the likelihood that they would come true. But one day I realized that it was the repeating and returning to it—writing and imagining—that was the balm I longed for.

I really could simply look around and view my version of paradise by writing it. And afterwards, I’d feel so much better.

Remember, if you choose to write about about a dream or vision it doesn’t mean you’re in denial about the state of your life or the world. It just means that you’re harnessing the healing power of your innate imagination. And opening yourself up to hope and possibility.

One more thing: in the midst of writing this I remembered one of my favorite songs.

And that would be Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

I’ve been singing it as I write today; you may have noticed I even worked in a few of the lyrics here and there.

After all the writing and singing a visit to YouTube was in order. There are so many good covers of Pure Imagination, but my favorite is still Lou Rawls. (I saw him perform it live in 2001.)

Follow the link below to listen and let your imagination roam. And make sure you scroll down for the lyrics so you can sing along. Dancing would be good too, and perhaps a bit of writing?


Come with me and you’ll be
In a world of pure imagination
Take a look and you’ll see
Into your imagination

We’ll begin with a spin
Traveling in the world of my creation
What we’ll see will defy explanation

If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world?
There’s nothing to it

There is no life I know
To compare with pure imagination
Living there you’ll be free
If you truly wish to be

-Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

Patty Bechtold

Patty Bechtold

Welcome. I'm a Santa Rosa therapist and life coach, and I help women who feel like something’s missing in their lives or themselves. I specialize in self-esteem, anxiety, depression, grief, life transition, and women's groups. On this blog I write about different approaches to help you find your way back to your deepest wisdom. Thank you for being here.