The heavens of imagination

Imagination widens perception by opening the senses and heart, and thus enriches our experience. In turn, perception opens up the heavens of imagination. Imagination fosters creativity, problem-solving, frees us from boredom, alleviates our pain and stress, enhances our pleasure and enriches our most intimate relationships. Without imagination there is no hope, no chance to envision a better future and no goal to pursue. Inspiring people who lead by example to bring real change have strong imaginations, which open them to many possibilities. Imagination is what led an Australian senator to breastfeed in Parliament, clearly leading by example. Although it may have not been the best environment for such beautiful moments between mother and baby, that gesture was a creative strategy to generate a synergic movement. Isn’t breastfeeding in public something that our indigenous cousins have done for all our human history and are still doing? It was interesting to see the humane, alive expressions of the politicians attending the meeting, who commonly appear angry or tense. This is called the oxytocin effect or heart resonance! We know that oxytocin is responsible for our feeling of love, social connection, trust and generosity; the social scientists call it the “molecule of social cohesion”, which means that when this hormone is running high in individuals and society, society comes together and harmonises, rather than fragmenting and falling apart (Kok & Fredrickson, 2010). Who knows if by being exposed to this and similar gestures of human connection, policy makers’ focus would more often shift towards better investments in childhood and families?

Imagination allows us to evoke in the body, e.g. in the muscles, an activity that we perceive in ourselves, just as an external stimulus does (Ruggieri, 1991). Professor of Clinical Psychophysiology Vezio Ruggieri explains that it is because of the relationship between imagination and perception (body process) that imagination can influence physiological processes. Therefore, imagination can be used as a powerful source of well-being and healing during pregnancy, birth and bonding. For instance, if we believe that trees can provide a healing energy, without wondering whether this could be true or not, what does seem to be true, is that when we believe it and do something about it - for example by sitting close to a tree in order to calm down - then we do indeed feel calmer. I quickly learnt the self-regulating homeostatic function of these beliefs and imagination during my visit to the Himba. Believing in the soul of the child before conceiving it boosts the couple’s fertility. Indeed, our beliefs affect our cells, physiology and health (Lipton, 2015).

When we imagine something, the image can trigger sensations in the same way as an external stimulus. For example, inducing imaginary relaxation in a pregnant or birthing woman can have the same effect as inducing it with an external stimulus. If a mother imagines talking to her unborn baby and believes he is listening, or cradles him with rhythmic deep breathing, this has a physiological effect on her and the baby. Her mental representation of the baby evokes real bodily sensations of pleasure or relaxation that are passed to the developing baby. The Italian word sentimento derives from “sentire” (sensing), which links directly to the sensory experience.

Art therapies aim at widening the spectrum of imagination and perception, and that of experience, freeing us from genetic determinism, repeated patterns, and inhibiting blockages used as self-defence (Ruggieri, 2001). Those who have experienced trauma may use excessive muscle tension to block painful sensations felt during the traumatic event. Therefore, transformation occurs through a therapeutic approach including valuation and reorganisation of posture and movements, such as freeing the parent’s gesture of holding the baby and rendering it mindful and attuned. Parents’ inner worlds, love and all emotions become manifest through their posture, breathing, movements and other body language, which convey their way of being in the world and relating to the baby. Babies sense the quality of their caregiver’s gesture and posture, its vitality and mindfulness - if it is tense or relaxed, full of vitality or apathy, approaching or avoiding - and this sensory experience shapes their spectrum of perception and mental representations.

Hypnotherapy, shamanic work, sound work and mindfulness can have the same effects. Scientists have discovered that being surrounded by birds and hearing their sounds is good for mental health and an antidote to depression (Cox et al., 2017). There may be calming or curative elements at work here, but it is also true that imagination is a powerful healing source. If we can use our minds to enter positive states and hold positive beliefs, these can in turn contribute to a form of nourishment or healing. This is what indigenous mothers have done for millennia to prepare mind, body and soul for conception and welcome the child into a healthy womb.

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