Recently I had the joy of spending three days at the “happiest place on Earth” with my wonderful family. The trip to Disneyland was an early celebration for my 30th birthday and while I went there expecting I would be annoyed by the mass consumerism and wastefulness, I quickly fell in love with the fantasy land. I have many happy memories of being at Disneyworld as a child (and some not so great memories like when my whole family liked Thunder Mountain Railroad and I hated it for whatever reason), there’s something about going there as an adult that I almost liked even more.
For a few days I got to remember what it felt like to exist in a world where the imagination reigns as the supreme force of being. Where I could eat a caramel apple while watching a parade and singing “It’s a Small World” (my second favorite ride only to Space Mountain) to myself (and of course to annoy my family). Then I could go on a few more rides, eat a corn dog and watch a fireworks show. Not just any fireworks show — a Disney spectacular with shooting star fireworks, Tinkerbell flying in front of the castle, and inspiring music blaring across loud speakers.
Everything about Disneyland is impeccable and a part of a much larger behind the scenes picture. Even while I was aware that the music, fireworks, light shows, parades, and rides were all perfectly timed and orchestrated, it still felt magical to me. I got spend time at a place where I could myself to feel all the excitement of being alive and anything being possible. Afterall, that’s what an idea and the imagination is…it’s a possibility of something that either exists or hasn’t existed before. Disneyland for me is a tribute to what could be. The plaque near the entrance gives visitors permission to leave behind reality and enter into fantasy and the imagination. What is the imagination and why don’t we usually spend much there (unless we take a trip to Disneyland of course)?
Imagine comes from the Latin word “imaginare” meaning “to form an image of, represent.” Imagination signifies “the faculty of the mind which forms and manipulates images.” I recently completed a class called “The Creative Imagination” where we studied the Romantic philosophers and their influencers. It was quite at treat to spend an entire semester inquiring about the imaginative process. Before the Romanticism Movement, the word “imagination,” as “phantasma” (or fantasy), was most associated with Aristotle who describes it as “the process by which we say that an image is presented to us.” It was also bound closely with common sense. According to Aristotle, “The soul never thinks without a mental image [phantasma].” In this framework, imagery and imagination, have essential, but utilitarian, roles to play in all forms of thinking, but not necessarily in the creative process.
Thousands of years later, Romanticism blossomed and the imagination was revered as the most important aspect of the creativity. Romantic thinkers defined it as the ultimate creative command of nature because it was able to reconcile opposites we experience as human (such as spirit and matter) in the world of appearances and grant access into worlds outside of reality (just like Disneyland). As the etymology suggests, imagination allows us to read nature, symbols, and our own inner imagery. Because of this inner experience, imagination connects us to our own unique expression of the divine, which I call (and many others) as soul. The soul transforms us through the imagination and pulls us towards dreams and fantasy. While imagination may not come from our mind, it can be a play of thoughts. It seems to me we are usually aware when we are fantasizing, daydreaming, or spending time in the imaginary realm and is therefore a part of thoughts as well as outside of them.
I believe the imagination is only one thread of creative and higher knowledge that also includes inspiration (which comes from something outside of ourselves) and intuition. Imagination and inspiration serve as initiations into intuition. With inspiration we receive images that the imagination holds and then understand them through our intuition. When inspiration and imagination are used together they explore the experience of creativity that is individual and collective to create something that reconnects us to the whole. Imagination, with inspiration, allows us to experience an inner and outer experience of ourselves. Unlike imagination we don’t will it forward and unlike inspiration it doesn’t come from something outside of us. We “know” things with intuition without being able to reason where they came from. Intuition creates a new sense of being that allows us to exist in the world in a new, transformed way. Imagination alone doesn’t produce this higher, more developed state of being. In imagination we wonder about our next step or direction and in intuition we are guided by something simultaneously outside of us and within. Intuition combines the best of both worlds to grant us access of earthly knowledge and the higher spiritual knowledge.
This was why for me Disneyland and Romanticism are so great for our sense of self, they both give credit to the imagination for getting closer to the true nature of who we are. Here’s what Walt himself said about Disneyland: “It has that thing – the imagination, and the feeling of happy excitement – I knew when I was a kid.” (That’s me VERY excited about seeing Captain EO to the right.) We aren’t supposed to stay kids or only reside in fantasy, instead its a phase we go in and out of. Sometimes we are inspired, other times we are imagining things that don’t exist or creating fantastical stories (or in my case words), and then sometimes we reach a place beyond inspiration and imagination where we just know something magical happened. Something kind of like visiting Disneyland.