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Uncertainty and Imagination
The human imagination is a miraculous thing. Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, Charlotte Bronte, Albert Einstein, Georgia O’Keeffe, Walt Disney, Stephen King, Elon Musk, all used the gift of imagination to craft scientific discoveries, works of art, classic stories, and practical products. Your imagination has provided you with answers to complex problems and creative solutions to daily dilemmas. Maybe today you invented a fun game to occupy your home-from-school children for an hour or two. Or you found a way to keep up with all your deadlines while working from home at your kitchen table.
Now let’s add a bunch of uncertainty to the recipe. Uncertainty is a life ingredient that can change everything, like adding too much salt to a stew. A delicious recipe can end up in the compost. When uncertainty is added to imagination the result can be unpleasant, unhealthy, even fatal. I have a friend who calls uncertainty and imagination, partners in mental mayhem.
You can imagine that you have contracted the coronavirus because you coughed today or your spouse coughed, or your kids. You can imagine that your company won’t survive the slowdown and you will lose your job. You can imagine that the stock market will crash and you will lose your life savings.
You can imagine that you will run out of toilet paper or horror of horrors – coffee.
Or you can see what is actually happening in this moment and what needs to be done right now. Even if you are sick with the virus or if you do lose your job and your life savings. Even if you do run out of toilet paper AND coffee, there are always only two things happening. There is the circumstance and there is your thinking. It can look like uncertain circumstances have all the power. That they will determine your happiness and your security.
But that’s not how the mind works.
A client of ours shared with us how her imagination sent her into a temporary meltdown. She is a single parent with two young boys on the autism spectrum. They attend a special school and when school was closed mom planned to increase the hours of the caretaker who usually watches the boys after school until she gets home from work. Then the caretaker is quarantined after being exposed to the coronavirus.
Our client described her imagination creating a tornado of thought in her head. “I won’t be able to go to work. I can’t work from home with the boys here. I’ll let down my team. I was already behind schedule. My boss is already stressed. This will do him in.” And on and on. No clarity and no solutions.
Then one of her sons says, “Mom, I’m hungry.” She realizes it’s well past dinner time and she heads to the kitchen to start dinner. In that moment she notices that her mind has settled, just a little. Dinner was the only thing to think about at that moment. All the other worries faded into the background. This noticing, this awareness really helped. She was able to see what her imagination was up to. And she saw how quickly she knew exactly what to do when she returned to the present moment.
After dinner, options of what to do next came to her. She made a plan. It wasn’t going to be easy but it wasn’t a catastrophe either. In fact, the experience upped her confidence that her wisdom would show up to guide her and give her the answers she needed..
We are living in unquestionably uncertain circumstances, with many unfamiliar things to attend to, but the creative process in your mind remains. Your creative process is either staying present and making wise, practical decisions as they arise or it’s authoring a horror story worthy of a Stephen King novel. And your story won’t get published or make you millions. It will simply make you anxious.
When you forget that your thinking is the sole determinant of how you experience any circumstance you understandably lose your balance. It looks like the power is out there and out there is filled with unknowns and scary possibilities. You scramble to know things and when you can’t find certainty your mind will make stuff up. You occupy yourself with imagined worries.
When you remember how the mind works and its brilliant design to create experience from the inside-out, you settle down. You listen to your own wisdom, you listen to the advice of experts, you make new plans, you hunker down, and you do your best. I have heard from many of you that you are doing just that. You have told me that you are grateful for what you have come to understand about how the mind works. Sure there are times when worry takes over, or impatience shows up in the long lines at the grocery store, or bother arises over the inconvenience of having to stay home. And maybe these feelings hang on longer than you like.
Welcome to the gloriously imperfect human race.
The saying goes that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. I would amend that and add another certainty – you live in the feeling of your thinking. I hope you will use your imagination – your creative power, to create good feelings. Remind yourself of what is important. Have fun with your family. Enjoy the slowdown. Be quiet.