So how does the imagination, as a cognitive function, shape our world? Well, if you have a mindfulness practice or have ever taken some time to sit in silence, you may have discovered that your mind is anything but silent. Most often, when people begin to sit, they instantly notice this and run from the cushion screaming, often claiming “I just can’t meditate!” This is an attempt to get away from truly delving in—I mean it can be uncomfortable. It’s amazing that we can even hear each other—oh, and this explains a lot! The inability to hear others is a product of being distracted by our own internal dialogue—but largely, this happens unconsciously.
Our awareness has been trained in this culture to protect us from the fact that a large part of our individual experience of reality is a projection of this internal dialogue. Of course, our experience of reality is also shaped by historical and socio-economic factors—and I’m not suggesting that we brush this aspect of our awareness aside in preference to mindfulness practice. However, I do believe that a mindfulness practice actually increases our awareness of the many factors shaping our lives, not lessens it. I know that when we are distracted, unfocused, and disconnected— yes, even by social media, our ability to utilize our power effectively to leverage change is defused. This is coupled with highly elevated emotions people are experiencing right now, with many feeling a greater disconnect in their communications and relationships than ever before. The feeling can be described as if we are living in alternate worlds—this is known as cognitive dissonance--feeling like strangers living in a strange world.
However, mindfulness can offer a much needed sanctuary from the constant barrage of social media and creates a space to reconnect with our own experience—self-knowing—an important form of knowledge. As the account of Oracle of Delphi in Greece goes, the words “know thyself” were written above the door to the sacred Temple of Apollo, perhaps pointing us back to our own unlimited source of imagination and wisdom. Just like mindfulness shows—when you really start to look, you begin to see the spirit of true wisdom is always there, inside waiting patiently through eons for each individual to awakening to it, listen to it, and act from it. In this way, theoretically we are all potential visionaries, because we all have access to our own imagination and wisdom—but it takes going in. I won’t lie—this takes immense courage and honesty; it’s difficult. Sometimes it seems a lot easier to get caught up in the constant news cycle and blame those around us. And while although this is true, there is one more important part; the scariest part of this all, is facing ourselves. Many of us no longer trust ourselves, let alone other people.
I truly believe that mindfulness, the practice of regular self-reflection, allows an individual, like myself, to more readily build self-trust which is based on compassionately observing the limitations of my intellect—that labels (yes, even ones like visionary), the judgements, and political opinions I have. The more I practice, the more quickly I can return to the deep listening, dis-identifying with my small and seemingly important perspectives I hold on with a death grip. Mindfulness returns my freedom to choose to stop relating to people through my mental constructions of them, blocking connection and creating defensive positions. I can listen to others with an open heart, not my political agenda. This is the toughest of all, because it seems like the stakes are so high right now. But isn’t that what true democracy is about--including others and their perspectives, so we have an inclusive government that considers the rights of all?
So, I practice, I listen. I access my internal reserve of imagination and wisdom characteristic of visionaries—and I trust it! Please note, that by nominating myself a visionary I am not crowning myself with a significant title, like I’m special (well maybe a little); I’m suggesting that my practice is special because it offers me and many people an anchor in the stormy sea of our world right now. It actually allows me to live more democratically—the dream in which our nation was founded.
I invite all visionaries to join me in living this dream, not deferring it for the next president who more effectively represents me. I don’t think we can wait. Practicing mindfulness is democratic; it expands my freedom to imagine new ways of solving old problems; it gives me an alternative way, more free way of being in the world, and it brings me the stillness I need to move from wisdom. In this way, mindfulness is extremely practical—and can’t be pushed off as something ethereal, intangible thing that only visionaries or romantic idealists do.
In fact, it could be argued that our forefathers were visionaries who happened to ground their visions in practical steps to make their world better. Perhaps, as their inheritors, this time, we can envision a way of making everyone’s world better—not just a select few.