For millennia, this time of year has been a season of rest and introspection — a season of dimmer days, longer nights, hunkering down and huddling together. A season of relying on the fruits of the year’s harvest, appreciating the warmth of the hearth, sharing stories, reconnecting with mystery and the mystical, and keeping hope alive. And while we’ve co-created a world that invites — even requires — us to be artificially alert and frenetically active this time of year, I believe we, our families, our communities, and our work are served by remembering what our bodies and the natural world are trying to tell us: slow down, listen, reflect, gather, and let things lay fallow and germinate.
As I reflect on this year, and listen not just to what the season is inviting but to conversations around me, I’m struck by the stuckness in many people’s lives. Colleagues in large organizations share their apathy, hopelessness, and frustration with broken systems and institutions which oppress and numb them. People from all walks of life and beliefs share their increased mistrust in our government and its leaders to behave reasonably and act in our best interests. Lady friends share their waning hope of ever having a truly juicy, fulfilling, reciprocal romantic relationship with a man. And longtime activists and diversity champions disclose their true feelings about change — that inequality is an inevitable feature of the human condition, that racism will always be around, and that violence against women is inevitable as long as there are men.
I’m becoming convinced that the greatest crisis facing humanity (especially in the USA) is not our economical challenges, our dysfunctional political systems, our failing healthcare systems, our weak educational institutions, human rights violations, racism, or even persistent violence against women and children. I’m beginning to think the real crisis is something even more profound, and at the root of all these other crises: our poverty of imagination.
If we can’t even imagine a world without racism, sexism, inequality, violence or poverty, how can we possibly create such a world? If we truly believe in our core that such phenomena are inevitable features of humanity, our actions will be forever dictated by those beliefs and sabotage what we say we are doing, and what we say we are about.
This is therefore also a crisis of integrity. If we say we are “against” something but can’t imagine it not existing, or we say we act “for” something but can’t imagine it ever becoming reality, we are out of integrity, and acting dishonestly.
Thoughts become beliefs. Beliefs become actions. Actions create structures and patterns. Structures and patterns create worlds. We have created this world we live in. Therefore, we can create a different world. This requires us first taking responsibility for creating this world and our lives. Once we take responsibility, which is an acknowledgement of our power, we can exercise that power to create something different.
But first we have to be able to imagine it. Imagination is dreaming something we may have never seen or experienced before. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine working less than 60+ hours a week and making good money. I couldn’t imagine enjoying my work and having enough free time to pursue poetry and music AND experiencing financial serenity. Now I have all those things, because I decided life was too short to be miserable and afraid, and I insisted that there had to be a better way. I imagined something different and I committed to making it happen.
There was a time when I couldn’t imagine being in a relationship with a man — especially as a woman over 40 — that was intellectually and physically stimulating. I couldn’t imagine feeling emotionally safe and cared for, experiencing shared power, and having excellent communication. I couldn’t imagine a relationship that met all my needs — even needs I didn’t know I had — and allowed me to be all of me. Now I have a relationship like this, because I decided to have faith that something I’d never experienced before actually existed, and insisted on not settling for anything less.
Imagination is a r/evolutionary act of faith. It’s being able to envision and embody something that has never existed before, and insist on making that a reality — no matter how long it takes.
Every step in our evolution has been fueled by our exceptional creativity. Imagine what we could accomplish if we redirected just a fraction of the smarts, time, energy, creativity and money we spend in creating brilliant innovations in technology, marketing, and the film industry and invested that in envisioning (and creating) a world that works better for more of us! Imagine what we could accomplish if we each stopped investing so much of our personal smarts, time, energy, creativity, and money in initiatives, organizations, and activities that are not in alignment with our values, do not support our vision for a world that works better for more of us, or do not bring us joy! Imagine what would be possible if we stopped investing so much of ourselves in initiatives, organizations and activities that may look or sound good but aren’t accomplishing anything meaningful, making any progress, or meeting any important goals!
Imagination, then faith in that imagination, then mindful investment of our precious gifts in activities that inspire and feed us will get us where we want to go, individually and collectively. We must insist on nothing less.
Imagination also contributes to gratitude, which is a necessary but seemingly contradictory partner to striving to create a better world. Constantly focusing only on what is missing and what is “wrong” can cause a chronic state of dissatisfaction and pessimism. Constantly focusing only on gratitude and what is “right” can lead to complacency and naïve optimism. We must have gratitude and work towards improvement.
If I can imagine not having a miraculous tool like a smartphone to help me find an address in an unfamiliar city, I can be grateful for this miracle and not take it for granted. If I can imagine not having an automatic garage door opener on a cold winter day, not having heat in my home, not having something healthy to eat in my refrigerator (or having a refrigerator), not having the right to own property or drive a car or vote or wear pants…then I can feel grateful for the many miracles in my life and be inspired to create even more. I can be grateful for the many individuals whose striving enabled me to enjoy these miracles and privileges, and feel inspired to keep “progress” moving forward.
So start small this season! Imagine enjoying a holiday meal without stress or strife, with people you truly love and who love you. Make the necessary changes in your behavior and habits to make it so. Be fierce about your vision and your happiness! Imagine a holiday season with minimal stress, guilt, frustration, and overspending….and maximum joy, delight, love, abundance and gratitude. Hold onto this vision, and insist on making it happen, even just a little more than last year.
May this season of rest and introspection inspire gratitude. And may this season of mystery, miracles, story, and hope inspire a richer imagination in all of us. BIG imagination…that truly changes the world.