Imaginativefulness and the Fisherman
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
The other day, I was bicycling along the Dijle river to Leuven when I passed a young man fishing and wearing a bike helmet. Now, if I was a practitioner of mindfulness, I would have observed the young man, observed what he was doing, perhaps what he was wearing. I might have noticed the light wind blowing, his expression. I would have paid attention to how seeing the young man affected me. I would have noticed my feelings. But, I did none of that. I am a practitioner of imaginativefulness. So, I really do not remember what he looked like, what colour clothes he was wearing or much of anything. If I had to pick him out of a police line-up today, I would probably not be able to do so.
But, where my memory fails me, my imagination serves me. Wearing a biking helmet while fishing was enough of an anomaly to me that it excited my imagination. I wondered why the young man was wearing a helmet and fishing. Sure, I get that he had probably bicycled to his chosen fishing spot. But, why not take the helmet off while fishing? I would.
A Multitude of Imaginative Possibilities
Was he afraid of catching a big fish that might bounce off his head? Was he afraid of falling and hitting his head on the shallow water?
Perhaps he cracked his skull on the way to the fishing spot and hoped the helmet would hold his brains in while fishing. Sure, the logical thing to do under the circumstances would be to seek medical help, but brain injuries can affect rational thinking.
Perhaps he was in a hurry and had no time to take his helmet off. Maybe he suddenly remembered that he had promised his wife he would bring dinner home, but had lost his money gambling so was trying to catch an edible fish fast.
Or, maybe his was a poor family and by fishing for dinner, on his way home from the factory, he hoped to save some money to buy his baby daughter a birthday present next week.
Or, could it be that he was a spy hired to watch me and was only pretending to fish? If so, he is not a competent spy. He should have taken the helmet off. Then, I would never have noticed him − but my bike ride would have been less interesting and less imaginativeful.
Anyone Can Be Imaginativeful
I shared this story with friends, some of whom proposed additional explanations of their own.
If he was fishing without a licence, he probably wanted to be ready to flee the police.
Maybe his bike fell in the water and he was fishing for it.
It could be a fashion statement.
Perhaps there had been a raft of bicycle helmet thefts in the Leuven area and the young man reckoned the safest place for his helmet was on his head.
Being imaginativeful is not difficult. My friends, some of whom are not naturally creative, had no difficulty in coming up with ideas, especially once I shared my own ideas and gave them the freedom to be imaginative.
Why Not Just Ask the Fisherman?
A couple of friends asked me, if I was so curious, why I did not stop and ask the young man why he was wearing a helmet. There are two reasons. Firstly, I have a highly active imagination. On the 12km (about 7.5 miles) bicycle ride from my home to the Leuven library (where I was headed), I am likely to see numerous things that briefly capture my imagination and are just as quickly forgotten. To stop and enquire about every imagination-exciting thing I see would turn a 40 minute bike ride into a two hour bike ride!
Secondly, it is not necessary. Imaginativefulness is about imagining possibilities. In doing so, I created numerous possible realities in my head in the space of just a minute or two. Asking and finding an answer would have collapsed all of those possible realities into a single reality. Unless the fisherman's explanation was particularly unusual, I would have been the poorer for having reduced potential realities to a single reality.
Not an Alternative to Mindfulness
Imaginativefulness is not an alternative to mindfulness. It is neither better nor worse. They are two different disciplines and you can easily follow both. Mindfulness seems to benefit wellbeing and perceived health. It seems to be good for reducing stress and anxiety.
Imaginativefulness, on the other hand, is about exciting the imagination. It is good for creativity, innovation and problem solving. I doubt it has any real health benefits. Indeed, uncontrolled imaginativefulness can lead to anxiety and stress. When the children of a parent with an overactive imagination are late coming home from an event, the parent's imaginativefulness can go into some very dark scenarios, as I know from experience.
Try Imaginativefulness Yourself
Try practicing imaginativefulness yourself. Visualise the scene with the fisherman. Why do you think he might have been wearing a helmet while fishing on a river?
Better still, go out for a walk, observe things around you and play with them in your mind. Imagine how things interact. Question anything that sticks out in your mind and answer in your mind.
Let your mind run free as you do this. Walking is good for that. Research has shown that walking boosts creativity. Your mind roams more freely while you walk. You are less likely to self criticise and more likely to make unexpected intellectual connections that lead to, well, imaginativeful thinking.
Once you get in the habit of being imaginativeful as an exercise, you will find that you can also use it when you need imaginative ideas to solve problems and achieve goals. Rather than struggle to find ideas, go for a walk and be imaginativeful. And be sure to bring a notebook along so you can write down the inspirations you discover in your own imaginativeful mind.
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