It’s hard to remember now, but I think childhood is the time when we are most likely to have an active imagination. We accept fictional stories without questioning and allow ourselves to enter worlds where anything can happen. We can use our imagination to transport ourselves to another place.
For me this was the world created by Enid Blyton in the Magic Faraway Tree. An interesting group of characters lived in this tree, all with their distinct personalities and particular ways of doing things. A series of lands arrived at the top of the tree and the children accompanied the little tree characters to these lands for lots of adventures, and misadventures. Near misses and joyous fun were the order of the day.
Of course, as in most children's fairy tales, things always ended well. Life lessons were also learned along the way. Although they sometimes wanted to stay, they always had to return to the tree, and their home ultimately, before the land left or they would stay there forever. There were some lands they were very desperate to leave as soon as they could.
As we get older and enter adulthood, it seems that this capacity to imagine, this interest in fantasy, this ability to step outside of real life into something completely different, seems to become a distant memory. We get caught up with reality and truth. As if there is one reality and one truth. We are told not to be silly when making up stories. We are encouraged to be present and consider others. We are taught that there are particular ways of understanding the world. It’s hard within that environment to hold on to our imagination, to remain creative and open to the unknown, of what perhaps is not and cannot be real.
Image courtesy of wikimedia commons
I was reminded of this recently when an ex-teacher talked about her grade 2 children having an enormous capacity to write the most beautiful stories. She admired not just their imagination but also their self-confidence to write and present their stories with gusto to their peers. She recognized that she had lost this art and worried about her role as a teacher in reducing children’s capacity to hold on to their creativity. This had led to her own decision to recapture some of this and to take a break from teaching to study writing.
On listening to this young woman as she spoke of her own personal journey, I couldn't help but wonder what schools and the world more broadly, might be like if we had more teachers (and parents) like that, recognizing the very real harm that comes from anything we say or do that reduces creativity, blocks the imagination, or privileges reality over fantasy.
The journey of rediscovering creativity is a challenging one. Being open to thoughts and ideas that you may have previously dismissed. Noticing all of the little things that happen around us. Knowing that there’s never just one reality or one truth. Reading widely and allowing an entering into worlds that are unfamiliar and unrealistic for us.
It’s almost like digging deep into the soul or tapping into a part of the brain that has been inactive or eroded and bringing it back to life again.