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Imaging and Imagining: The dance between what is and what if.

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

Several weeks ago, at my annual physical, my doctor found something that required additional attention. She referred me to get some images taken, Xrays and ultrasounds that would provide deeper inquiry into what was going on.

As I journaled about it, I realized the similarity in the two words: imaging and imagining. One process is about seeing a physical picture of what is actually there and the other is creating a mental picture of what might be. In the span of two weeks between what we knew and what we didn’t yet know, my imagination really stepped up to the plate. Put me in, coach!

I could picture an outcome that felt very positive. All is well, no problems, sense of relief, celebratory communication with my spouse. I could also see outcomes that were filled with dread. Tough diagnosis. Tearful conversations. Ya’ll, in my mind, I was having my will updated and planning which hymns I wanted people to sing at my funeral. Will my kids remember me?! This is not such a peaceful way to live.

What kept me grounded when my mind was auditioning for storyteller of the year was doing my own kind of imaging, pausing to see what was right in front of me: my hands. Paper. Another person. The plant that is slowing dying on the windowsill (at which point my mind would wander again – is this a sign of what is happening to me?!). Bringing my mind back: The color of the wall. The dusty miniblinds. The rising and falling of my dog’s chest as she slept.

This experience of waiting, when my imagination was so good I could write three different novels with the material she created, taught me about the power of presence on a much deeper level than I have known. To keep myself from constant worry, I had to keep bringing myself back to what was really there. I found that my focus has improved over this two week time. My coaching sessions were in tune, my writing focused, my facilitation responsive.

I am relieved to let you know that the medical imaging stuff revealed a healthy me. But as my spouse has told me: Every day is uncertain – there are just some days we are more aware of it. The medicine for the imaginative worry that can accompany uncertainty is what I now call present imaging: taking a snapshot of what is actually there. The floor under your feet. The cat walking by. The clouds overhead. The dirt on the back door.

I am not encouraging you to shut down your imagination. In fact, I believe imagination can support brilliant leadership practice. Imagining a future that is better than the reality of today is a kind of vision that motivates positive action. My encouragement is to check your relationship with your imagination. Make sure it is sharing its at-bats with the reality of the present moment. Do not let it be more powerful than the here and now.

As I sat in the waiting room preparing my mind for what would appear in those medical images, I remembered the words from Terri Kirby Erickson’s poem What Matters, the current poem written on the chalkboard of my office:

the present has arrived

and you are in it. Your heart

is pumping. Your breath moves

in and out of your lungs without

anyone's help or permission.

Let go of everything else. Let

your life, handed to you through

no effort of your own, be all

the proof you need. You are loved.

Take care, Amanda

PS: Imaging will be the focus of the Doodling Collective experience on Feb. 24th. Join us online - it's free, but registration is required.


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