The simulaton life is a rich life experience provided by training our
minds to consider simulations of natural and human phenomena often
in order to gain depth in understanding, awareness, and compassion.
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imagination as a provider of quality of life
Eric Klinger defines daydreaming as a short-term detachment from one's immediate surroundings, during which a person's contact with reality is blurred and partially substituted by a visionary fantasy, especially one of happy, pleasant thoughts, hopes or ambitions, imagined as coming to pass, and experienced while awake. The byproducts of daydreams are often imaginative events and situations that provide a nice segue from a chapter on dreams (chapter 5) to a chapter on imagination (chapter 6). Just as our daydreams can provide us temporary pleasure, our imagination can be a source of pleasure on a regular basis — especially if we hone our ability to empower our imagination to improve our quality of life.
The recent hypotheses about dreams provide a perspective on imagination in a way that connects the two. If dreams truly are often a natural by-product of a brain isolated from new sensory inputs and released from maintaining a strong sense of self, we can learn to invoke our dream facilities through disconnecting from sensory inputs and removing ourselves from a self-focus. To many who pursue meditation as a practice, those goals will resonate well. Meditation practice is often pursued in quiet and nurturing locations where sensory inputs are simplified. Meditation practice often involves a focused awareness intended to eliminate the strong sense of self we rely upon in many day-to-day transactions with others. Imagination and meditation intents diverge from those similarities as the intent for many who use meditation includes the intent to super-focus the sensory abilities by attending to sensory perceptions provided by breath or vocalizations. Imagination differs in its intent to fabricate sensory experiences in order to let the brain function as if those experiences were physical in the environment.
Dreams and imagination differ in regards to consciousness and intent. When we imagine, we can purposely introduce thoughts to our brain and embellish them by consciously giving them priority use of our brain. Dreams usually lack the conscious control we experience with imagination, just as imagination usually involves conscious thought we lack while dreaming. Imagination may be a luxury in many human circumstances where we cannot afford to give up brain function to purposely play with ideas that aren't necessarily present in our environment. If so, I was blessed with a lot of such luxury as a kid. My father provided me the place and time to be imaginative as he appreciated spending time nearby but without tangible tasks. My mother brought home to me a rich amount of detail from a hectic work environment that was completely foreign to my experience — forcing me to often imagine her point of view. In that latter case, imagination was not as much a luxury but a necessity for me to develop the ability to provide meaningful communication in response to her vivid stories. I remember fondly a young life filled with imagination and daydreams — most definitely a source of pleasure and intrigue. That young life provided skills I use often today and so I am thankful for it. To get a sense of where imagination got me, I provide a story here.
While developing a young career in the early 1990s, I went through a necessary but unfortunate process from the perspective of an entry-level employee: a corporate take-over. An external management team bought out the company I spent my waking hours supporting through an innovative and vigorous training program that had entrenched me in an enjoyable office culture. Organizational effectiveness had dramatically been impaired by a downturn in the economy — magnified by investments in non-performing assets of which the company had had no previous experience managing. Hundreds of years of "customer first" priorities swapped out overnight with a vision of the future where the stockholder became king — a vision where we were going to be the main stockholders.
It had taken me three years to get accustomed to the corporate world again after enjoying a wonderfully expansive and mentally freeing time in graduate school. In the academic setting, I had been spoiled with an open schedule and yet blessed with solid time management skills that let me work effectively when my biorhythms suggested best (often at 5am in the morning). I had no problem thinking creatively and innovating new ideas to offer my employer. Like many others, I had some rough times trying to convince others of pursuing exciting change in a company that had been successful doing what it had been doing for a long time. I liked the people that were a by-product of that culture and I liked the technological infrastructure years of success had been able to acquire. I bought a house, married a wonderful young lady, and started considering the prospect of starting a family.
The new management team, having arrived overnight from Wall Street with a "double your profits" mantra got on my nerves straight away. Their vision of a rosy future for the company and me was far from a rosy picture I could paint for myself. My imagination could not steer me to their point of view but instead immediately suggested opposite images in my mind's eye. As they lectured to us in packed auditoriums, they tried to plant a picture in our heads that would come to life. In my mind's eye, I could see them enjoying that future world as they conjured up iconic details of what that life would be like. It was easy to put them all into that world with large grins on their faces. It seemed near impossible to imagine myself with a smile on my face working alongside them.
My imagination was troubling me often at that point just as it had eight years previous. Back then my imagination provided impetus to make a major career change after my first attempt at the corporate world. I had been struggling to fit in with my first corporate job. I survived by redirecting any angst into enjoyable activities, outside of work, in an architectural pleasing city where the young filled the streets. One night as I was having a hard time sleeping during a busy stretch as I was away at a client site in a rural town, I stared at the ceiling of my hotel room where a curious pattern of ceiling paint caught my attention. The room was quiet and I had started to fall into a dream state where I was losing a mental connection with my conscious self. I experienced myself waking back up and was surprised to see a sixty-five year version of myself staring down from the ceiling.
He was not happy. He was furious at me for having played it safe in a lucrative profession for a lifetime. He spoke with glaring examples of where I went wrong at every turn and how I had been duped into a life others would readily want but for which it was clear I could never be content. I was tired and not in an arguing mood so I listened readily for a couple of hours as he spoke his mind. His face changed at times to take on the form of other sixty-five year-old men I had noticed counting the days to retirement at clients for which I had spent time working. Those men had all been friendly to me and I had had more than one lunch on them thanks to their generosity. As the image morphed between familiar faces, I noticed a similarity between them. Each seemed hollowed out by life — the same life my sixty-five year-old me was recounting to me to as if straight out of some A Christmas Carol of mid-summer.
I woke up later that morning with a strong conviction that I was not going to continue this current career path for very long. I surprised myself with the conviction I heard in my voice when asking my mentor to be transferred to a different job function, even though it would mean significant re-training. Those advising me in the company would not allow me to wander from the "trail of gold" they were sure I was well within reach of succeeding upon. Their conviction in return intimidated me so I turned my sights to graduate school to please the sixty-five year-old vision of myself. It was the first time a strong bout of imagination had helped me think through my life for the better — started by a dreamlike experience but fed with conscious details that helped me think through possible future plans for myself.
Eight years later I was in my second corporate stint, after having made a career change that I felt confident had put me on a better path. No spontaneous or dramatic source of imagination came to me a second time to help me think through my situation. I had promised the company five years of five projects and was finishing up my third on both accounts. I sucked it up and realized I needed to finish up that commitment for my own sense of reliability. And, I began to use imagination to help get me through the two years left.
Of all the little imaginative worlds I would imagine throughout the day to help me put my life on hold with perspective, my favorite was the ritual I called my morning ‘Nam hump. As soon as I parked my car, locked my bicycle, or stepped off the bus, I painted a vivid jungle scene lining both sides of the street I would follow from where I stood to my office across town. I imagined I took each step with trepidation because a sniper was about to take me out with a bullet to the head. I imagined myself loaded up with thirty pounds of gear, walking slowly through the bush trying not to be heard. I imagined myself alone and disconnected from any group of people who were supposed to be there with me. I remember being very good at imagining the situation as it provided me what felt like an appropriate visceral response. My heart would be beating fast enough that I could hear the blood pulsing through arteries via the bones in my ears. My breath would become choppy. My step would become erratic enough that I couldn't quite catch a rhythm to my stride. Of course the anxiety of an unknown future added to the ability to feel what I imagined to be the feelings of a vulnerable undertrained grunt during the Vietnam war, but I felt I conjured up my best sense of what it might be like from a naïve perspective.
As I shared memories of my ploy in later years (I had to remove myself from the corporate world to feel comfortable sharing those memories), other people could make me feel like I had been greatly disrespectful to those who had served overseas in unfamiliar jungle surroundings. That feeling would not last long for I knew I was trying first and foremost to find compassion and empathy for something I would hope never to have to face in my life. I had conclude that compassion had to be a positive thing, no matter at how arrived. Those who had been in that situation would never dare use that specific imagination to get them anywhere — in fact, more often they would spend time trying not to imagine being back there if at all possible. Many people assured me that I could not possibly have conjured up the feeling to any meaningful degree compared to the real thing. I humbly accepted their perspective.
That's a scary perspective for I certainly would not have lasted long in a real version of what my imagination conjured up. By the time I arrived at the security check-in for the building in which I worked, I was relieved and thankful and more than willing to put in a good day at the office — for the love of the present moment I would be able to experience that day. My imagination again was teaching me important life lessons that I learned to build upon to remove worry about the future out of my life's journey. There were many other scenarios I began to play with in my head — trying them on for size. I read voraciously in order to improve upon them — imaging myself as an actor preparing for a role in a theatric play.
Authenticity turned out to be a meaningless metric as I look back. No matter how realistic or not my imagined surroundings or plot might have been, they did the trick of helping my life along. They got me thinking about important quality of life issues with access to all my emotions and sense of urgency — whenever I was willing to confront decisions through imagination. Imagination became a great friend and important arsenal in my decision-making process. No longer would I move forward on any path without imagining all the possible places it might take me so as to better decide if I would take that path. Imagination gave me the strength to take a road less traveled. Once again, I appreciated the luxury of having time to imagine every day. Only through getting hooked on imagination did I start to investigate careers where imagination would be critical to success and an expected part of every day's work.
I like the expression, "your imagination got the best of you", but not for the typical use of those words. I once scared myself by imagining someone had whispered my name in my ear while I was home alone as a teenager. My heart rate accelerated as I wondered who could have said my name. I investigated an imaginative list of sources that got more and more supernatural as it went on. Those supernatural sources were out of my control and as a result I got a real good dose of my "imagination getting the best of me" — in a visceral way I can remember. I ended up running out of the house and into the street to calm myself down.
I have morphed the meaning of that expression for my own use over time. Having realized my innate abilities at being imaginative, I have learned to pursue opportunities where I can let my imagination get the best of me — meaning that I take imagination time seriously and give it the best of my ability, attention, and intent whenever I want to be imaginative. In that light, I have learned that my imagination deserves the best of me when I am present with my intent to imagine something. I have also learned that the something I imagine should be something meaningful for my quality of life. If I am struggling with understanding someone else's point of view and it is causing me to struggle with negative emotions, I focus my mind on a task of trying to imagine any possible world where their point of view would be correct. For example, if I am driving on a highway and a car comes flying by me at an unsafe speed, I imagine that the person has ingested some form of poison and needs to get to a hospital quickly. If a friend hasn't shown up for a lunch date that I was excited about, I imagine the friend sitting with me talking about one of our favorite subjects that I hadn't thought about in a while. Through a litany of techniques I have acquired over time, I have learned to use my imagination to make the best of a bad situation without adversely affecting those around me. Using imagination as a quality of life process has gotten easier and easier to do. It requires less time and effort. Imagination hasn't taken away my ability to be assertive, but I have found more patience in finding the better times to be assertive — when others are in a neutral, listening mood. I have also used imagination in working through ways to be assertive.
Nothing gets me nodding faster than when I hear the adage "we wouldn't have gotten ourselves into this situation if our leaders had had more imagination". Sadly, it seems so often associated with a government action or military faux pas that we look back upon with disgust. I suspect at times that imagination would not have been a salvation because those in charge actually wanted to pursue the approach taken irrespective of the consequences, which were not guaranteed at the time. They lacked the necessary intent of imagination and focus on imagination irrespective of any abilities they might have had to imagine. I found evidence toward that point of view through my experience of being immersed in the after-effects of a corporate take-over, where they used imagination as a tool to convince others after their minds were made up. I often see a lack of compassion from those who lead us down roads we don't want to go down ourselves. They sure seem like they can't imagine our perspective. I am not one to suggest they do imagine it but then dismiss it — that just seems too callous upon living a simulaton life rife with imagination.
In previous chapters we investigated observations and experiments that suggested the brain considers certain information the same no matter where it lies on a true-false continuum. As we get better at learning where imagination can (and cannot) fool the brain, we get better at using imagination to work towards intended results. As I worked hard to imagine myself hearing crickets and other noisy insects on my morning walk to the office, I got better at experiencing their presence viscerally. As I worked hard to trick my vision into turning a maple tree into a variety of jungle vines, I became better at thinking about jungle surroundings. As I became better at biofeedback loops between the experience of my body's response and my mind's creation of situations that would generate that response, I experienced my brain turning on thought processes I could never remember having access to in a relaxed or numb state. If depression is truly the lack of feeling, I learned to let my imagination keep me away from being depressed.
Continuing on an investigation of the simulaton life, we can add imagination to the list of allies we have for creating quality of life. Given today's tools available to us, we can let the investigations in our imagination become artifacts that we can return to over time. We can create artifacts for others to consider. No doubt many of the scenes we have experienced in films came from someone's imagination — mixed with bits and pieces of life experiences. Imagination provides the opportunity to influence the design and development of the artifacts envisioned in chapter 4.
We all have the ability to imagine and hopefully we are working towards providing the luxury to do so as part of a right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness for every sentient being. The better our artifacts in efficiently providing us access to a good priority of concepts and details we need to understand, the more time we have left over to imagine and still get the world's activities accomplished. Imagination can help us better perform the many tasks a complex activity requires.