“Through imagination, we can visualize the uncreated worlds of potential that lie within us.” – Stephen Covey
“I’m Batman today!” I say, bouncing up to the boys. Last week I had to be Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy and once Robin. Today I’m going to be Batman. But their six-year-old faces go hard. They’ve already decided. “Girls can’t be Batman,” says the smallest. “You’re Catwoman”. I imagine throwing my Batarang at him. I imagine racing away in my Batmobile. I imagine climbing the tallest bridge in Gotham just to be alone. Instead, I suck it up and play Catwoman. We run across lawns and up trees, pew-pewing all the way. I purr one-liners I’ve heard on TV. But when the boys go in for supper and leave me, all the way home, I am Batman.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t just want to be Batman in our neighbourhood games. I wanted to be Batman. In the flesh. I wanted his world to flood mine and drown it out. In my near-constant imaginings, I defied gravity and took down villains. I built gadgets for every conundrum. I saved women from assailants and children from bullies and everywhere crowds went nuts. At night, I went to bed with a wish so fervent it was actually a prayer: “Please let me wake up as Batman”. And (I’m dead serious) I believed that if I just imagined hard enough I would actually wake up as a grown man in a teflon suit.
When I tell people this now, they think it’s cute. But to me, it was urgent business. Life was chaotic. The adults around me were out of control. I had no power except imagination. It was my bat-gadget for life design. I’d sit perfectly still and conjure the feeling of vertigo, perched high on a city roof, wind at my back, cape beating around me. The smell of coastal rain. The far-off sound of sirens. “All things are created twice”, says Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. There is “a mental or first creation and a physical or second creation to all things.” It would be 15 more years before I dog-earred the pages of that book, but I was already living its mantra, accessing “the uncreated worlds of potential” that lay within me. So ok, maybe a 6-year-old obsessively channeling Batman is a little bit cute, but it was also an essential act: imagination is our engine of becoming.
I never woke up as Bruce Wayne, but I imagined new lives for myself anyway. Ninja Turtle, Cyborg, Rockstar. Each one a multi-sensorial world. I soon learned that the Romantics called this mental power “universe-creating imagination”, a faculty that dissolves the boundary between dream and reality, creating new worlds. I’m a romantic, 10-year-old me decided. But how does this mechanism of universe-creation even work?
Whether we admit it or not, most of us do believe (or at least hope) that we can change reality with our imaginations. We make vision boards, visualize before the big game, daydream our vacations, and fantasize about unrequited loves. We sit in meditation imagining compassion, picturing ourselves as perfected beings (or hoping just to sit still for a goddamn minute)! Again and again, we beg the universe to bend. Sometimes it feels like it’s working and we’re participating. Other times, reality steamrolls us with other plans. On one side, we’re bombarded with too-good-to-be-true slogans (“manifest the life you want”, “just think positive”) and on the other, pessimists and skeptics tell us the world is cold, non-participatory (“just suck it up and play along”). Neither satisifes. My question hung somewhere in the middle: What’s the real connection between the imagining mind and the manifest world?
Twenty years later, an answer came in a dream. I was on a retreat in the Blue Ridge mountains, suddenly remembering my experiments with becoming Batman and sat again with the question. That night, I found myself standing on a shore looking inland at a grove of trees. A relentless coastal wind whipped over my back, towards the grove. It drove with such constant force that the trees had grown twisted and bent at insane angles. Wild sculptures of earth and air. A dream voice said, “If you change the winds, you change the tree”. Yes, I thought. The shape of the trees are a record of the wind’s course across time. At once, I saw my life as one of those trees: made of earth, growing in a firm, real world. But my mind! That was the gale force. Imagination had been blowing constantly, sculpting my reality all along.
If we look closely, we can feel the force of our imaginations blowing around us, carving who we are to become. We engage with our environment, co-create with it. Our inner and outer worlds tangled in a dance of becoming. We are not made by sheer manifesting will alone, but we’re also not stuck in an unbending world. We are the dancing middle way. We show up with our imaginations, visions, wishes. The world meets us with its circumstances, conditions, and characters. Round and round we go.
I wake and see that I am Batman. My 6-year-old imaginations about being courageous, about persevering and overcoming, about transcending the rules that say what girls can’t do – they were a hurricane that shaped my actions, my responses, my self image. And so I’m a Ninja Turtle too. And a Cyborg and a Rockstar. I am the embodied wisps of all my first creations, flexible and resilient like a tree spiraling upward in a coastal wind. I am better than I imagined.
*Tasha Schumann (aka Tasha the Amazon) is a creator, community-builder, and explorer of the mind. She teaches meditation and yoga in both the Indo-Tibetan and Western traditions, is an award-winning recording artist (Tasha the Amazon) and co-host of the Consciousness Explorer’s Podcast.