When someone comes to see me for help with depression, an autoimmune disease, cancer, or anything else, I’ll ask what they want to create in their life.

A lot of people answer, “I just want to feel better.”
I’ll press them: “Anything else you want?”
“No, just to not hurt anymore, just to feel better.”

Now, this goal makes a lot of sense when you are in constant pain. However, I’ll often encourage this person to get in touch with something else they want, with the use of an undervalued tool: imagination.

We get imagination drilled out of us at an early age—most people don’t believe it is as valuable as hard work or logical reasoning. For the most part, we make grades in school for the latter two, not for dreaming up some fantastic creation. The same goes for earning a paycheck. We are usually paid to produce, follow orders, make manifest others’ dreams in someone else’s framework.

Of course, hard work and logic are invaluable skills, necessary partners to imagination. But imagination deserves more of the spotlight.

Let’s say you have cancer, and all you want is to feel better again. This is a worthy aim, but if this is your only goal, then you are still giving cancer a lot of your power. It’s the thing to overcome, to fight against, and when it’s gone, what will be the driving force in your life?

Why wait until the cancer is gone to decide that?

What if imagining what you want to do once you’re healthy could actually smooth and speed your recovery?

This imagining doesn’t have to be as big as a new career or remodeling your home. It can be as small as “I’d like to cultivate one close friendship,” or “I’d like to plant some lavender in my backyard,” or “I’d like to treat myself to fresh fruit every morning,” or “I’d like to learn to rock climb,” or “I’d like to play my old drum set again,” or “I’d like to take my grandkids on fun outings.”

Give your imagination some time to run free. Let it toss some crazy, impractical, childish dreams in the mix. Let it carry you to an idea that is sacred or beautiful or silly or hopeful for you. And then, let yourself really imagine what it would feel like to live that idea, with all of your senses.

Then, if you want a small challenge: choose one imagining and do one thing this week to move toward it. Buy a lavender plant or some peaches. Invite that potential friend over for coffee, or call the friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Check out a book or magazine about rock climbing. Make a date to take your grandkids to the pool.

There are so many things that threaten to wrap around and strangle what we might dream for our lives. Be aware of this, but dream anyway.

If you don’t have much energy, be easy on yourself: let your imaginings be as doable as the next breath of air. But still, let yourself imagine.

Sometimes, it’s been so long since you’ve imagined something new that you need a kick start. That’s okay—you can ask for help.

Listening to the song of that dream can often show you the next solid step in the dance with and through the illness you are facing. If you can allow your vision to expand to be broader than the painful grind of your current challenge, then you may be surprised by what options you see arise. And as you cultivate imagination with small things, you also strengthen your muscles to imagine and create larger things, like a life free of chronic disease or full of meaningful relationships.

Wherever you are today, I wish you a vibrant imagination, one that opens up your world.

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