Books: Can Imagination Be Trained, by Joy Gabrielle

Where does creativity and imagination fit into our lives? In the article “Can Imagination be Trained? A Crucial Question for Schools Today”, published in the Journal of Anthroposophy and featured in the book, Waldorf Education, author Christy Barnes looks at the value imagination plays in our schools and tackling the challenges we see in our world today.

For most, it is common to value how accurate or efficient something may be – whether we are determining what new product to buy or in talks around large-scale issues such as transportation barriers in our city and our economy. Future generations are expected to enter the workforce strong in these skills and enthusiastic to make a difference in their communities. Few would argue that a “head start” can benefit young minds down the road, and as adults, we are confident knowing that classrooms are teaching children to read, write and think analytically at younger ages than before.

It’s pointed out that under this orientation of learning, working, and greater academic pressure on kids, we have taken on a mechanical approach to the way we think and solve problems. Commentary of the world becoming more “soulless” and cold is not a new topic of discussion, and here Barnes points to our youth lacking imagination that deprives them of meaningful experiences in their lives. For the most part, society separates the concepts of intellect from imagination, where Barnes describes our perception of imagination as “pleasant and admirable embellishments to cultural life”. What is really meant by imagination? This article speaks to the sense of feeling connected to the world around us and to others, being in awe of the depth of nature and the interconnectedness that is all around us.

Barnes’s article gives several examples that can ripen our imagination, and a simple but worthy example – this one in particular for a child – begins by asking us to observe a leaf on a tree. By giving full attention to the leaf, we can see that the leaf shoots out from the stem, the veins that branch off and how the leaf tilts towards the sun for nourishment. This observation is not a surprise to us, but it provides an opportunity to see what simply is around us.

Moving onto the next part of the exercise, we turn our attention to similarities in our surroundings. It’s easy to see the commonality between a large river and the smaller streams flowing into it, though size and shape are different. The circulatory system in the human body, powered by our lungs and heart, and pulsing into the rest of our body through our arteries, veins and capillaries, is a similar structure. Barnes says seeing these similarities, even among the differences, allows one to notice “where shapes or qualities of…images converge upon or overlap one another like the intersecting arcs on a surveyor’s map, “X” marks the spot where the treasure is buried…. an unseen idea or law”.

Poets Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats speak to imagination as the gateway to understand the unseen – in which a true understanding makes sense of our “seen” world. In our lives, we can all take this opportunity to see the interconnectedness around us and awaken our imagination. Who knows what type of treasure will be there for us to uncover?

Joy biopicJoy Gabrielle has a background in science, is currently working as a health promoter in a hospital, and will be volunteering at a Waldorf school in September 2013.