Private Revolution: I Is for Imagination

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” ~ Albert Einstein

"Imagination" by David Werner (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Imagination” by David Werner (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

How much untapped power exists in our imagination?

When I saw the movie Precious, which received wide critical acclaim, I was hoping it wouldn’t be a case of going into a movie with such high expectations that my experience would inevitably fall short.

I wasn’t disappointed, in part because one aspect of the film took me by delightful surprise: the role and strength of the main character’s intensity of imagination.

What Is Intensity of the Imagination?

Imaginational intensity or excitability comes from the personal development theories of Kazimierz Dabrowski. He proposed five different kinds of intensities—his term is usually translated as “overexcitabilities”—that many people experience: intensity of the intellect, intensity of the emotions, psychomotor intensity, intensity of the senses, and intensity of the imagination. Some people have nearly all of these intensities, while, in other people, one or two seem to predominate. Dabrowski described imaginational excitability as follows:

“Imaginative excitability reveals itself in the form of daydreaming, in the intensification of night dreams, in illusions, in artistic ideas arising, which point to the tendency toward dissolution and disintegration of one’s adaptability to the narrow actual reality.” ~ Dabrowski, Kazimierz, Personality-Shaping Through Positive Disintegration

Michael Piechowski writes that intensity of the imagination means “free play of the imagination, capacity for living in a world of fantasy, spontaneous imagery as an expression of emotional tension, and low tolerance of boredom.” He lists these ways that intensity of the imagination can be manifested (from “Mellow Out” They Say: If I Only Could):

  • Frequent use of image and metaphor, facility for invention and fantasy, facility for detailed visualization, poetic and dramatic perception, animistic and magical thinking

  • Predilection for magic and fairy tales, creation of private worlds, imaginary companions, dramatization

  • Animistic imagery, mixing truth and fiction, elaborate dreams, illusions

  • Need for novelty and variety

What Precious Can Teach Us

The character of Precious not only taps into her imaginative power and intensity to deal with the circumstances around her, she also keeps this part of her life private (at least on film—I am curious to read the novel to see how it may differ). Whereas, in the course of the story, she slowly learns to trust and confide in others, we do not see her talk about this most inner part of her experience.

Who can blame her? Overexcitabilities or intensities are not always seen as positive, especially in young children who need to move to think (in the phrase of Ken Robinson) or, like the main character in Precious, whose power and drive of imagination take her away from the world around her to a completely different place, time, and reality. In very young children, intensity of the imagination is, if not always valued, at least tolerated. A five year old having an imaginary friend is seen as normal. However, a seventeen year old’s is not.

At the same time, Precious shows no embarrassment or shame regarding her flights of imaginative intensity, and this is, I think, one of the movie’s most important messages: Our imagination can help to save us, if we allow it to. Even for children or adults in less heart-breaking circumstances than those of Precious, intensity of imagination can be used to think about our futures, which might make it more likely to delay gratification today.

While I was watching the movie, I was taken back to my own childhood and teenage years, when I used my imagination on a daily basis, and when I imagined myself doing and being in ways that I now push aside as childish fantasy. It is time to reclaim my imagination as a friend and valuable tool.

Here are some of the ways you may experience intensity of imagination (remember, you will probably not relate to all of them):I

  • You often use metaphors when you think, speak, or write.

  • You enjoy fantasy-based computer or role-playing games.

  • You can easily get lost in worlds of your own making.

  • You like to invent things: stories, solutions, tools, or art works.

  • You choose fantasy reading or movies much of the time.

  • You write poetry or stories for your own enjoyment.

  • You remember your dreams and nightmares in vivid detail.

  • You imagine (and perhaps fear) the future and the unknown.

Did you have a strong and vivid imaginary life as a child?

Did it ever wane? Why or why not?

Do you ever stop yourself now from tapping into intensity of imagination? Does your imagination ever scare you?

Do you ever use your imagination consciously as a way to grow, or even to escape momentarily?

See also:

This post is part of the April A to Z Blog Challenge. For more on my 2016 theme of Private Revolution, see A Is for Ambition. Click here to read all posts in the Private Revolution A to Z Challenge blog series.

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