This is a photo of the tire swing that used to hang from the pear tree in my back yard. My sons loved to swing on it, throw balls through it, and climb the tree from it. I loved seeing them play here because it usually meant they were using their imaginations.
As my sons will tell you, I’m always reminding them to use their imaginations. I’ve often told them – if you use your imagination, you’ll be smarter and happier when you grow up.
There are all the usual reasons for them to use their imaginations – to engage in imaginative play, to be creative, to be self-directed. But the main reason I think it’s so important is because it gives them a way to begin to explore their interior world.
When children use their imaginations, they are getting a sense of an inner life, a part of themselves that is constant no matter what external events take place. The more they become familiar with this inner life, the stronger and more resilient they will be as adults.
All of us depend upon the structures in our lives to support us, to provide us with identities. We have a career or profession that defines what we do, how we spend much of our time, and how much money we make. We have intimate relationships with others that also define us. We perceive ourselves as wives or husbands or mothers or fathers. There is also our health that often shapes our identities, as well as our age. If we become ill, our self-image and role in the world changes.
But the structures we depend upon are not permanent. They fluctuate and change. We may, at one point in our lives, experience our entire life change in an instant. The rug may be suddenly pulled out from under us. This may happen through an accident, a death, a financial loss, an illness, a divorce, or a natural disaster. When our structures are shattered, we often experience a profound sense of disorientation. We feel alone and uncertain. However, if we are familiar with our inner world, with that part of ourselves that is ever constant, we will have an inner ground to stand upon.
There is no way to develop this inner world outside of being in it.
We can explore our interiors through contemplation, meditation, and mindful activity. When we allow ourselves to just be in this interior space and to explore, we stretch our interior boundaries, and we expand our world. However, for children, one of the best ways to do this is through imagination.