At play in the field between imagination, fantasy, and reality


“Logic only gives man what he needs… Magic gives him what he wants.” ~ Tom Robbins

When you steep a while in the world of Story, everything starts to seem a little less “real.” The line between fact and fiction becomes blurred. Even when I work with clients, their businesses and buildings can feel a bit staged, like a game we are all playing. I am aware that few—if any—of them see it that way, so I’m careful about what I say. The truth is, though, that I’ve always had a rather loose hold on reality, feeling more at home in a world of fantasy and imagination than in the hyper-competitive, fast-paced, dog-eat-dog world out there.

This may account for my proficiency at writing proposals and designing buildings. I can cast forward and imagine the shining whole, complete and beautiful. It’s the in-between stages that are more of a slog, with their constraints of budgets and code officials and physics. Slogging is what I was taught—what we were all taught—about turning ideas into reality. In recent years, I’ve been encountering and learning about other ways to do it, ways that reach me on an intuitive level but that mostly elude me on a practical level. These are ancient ways of relating to the world and tapping our human faculties that we moderns can learn even today.

One way of approaching this is found in Martha Beck’s 2012 book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. She writes about Imagining as the third of four “Technologies of Magic.” It’s the final step before Forming, which is a calling-forth into general visibility, rather than the forcing by will, ego, planning, coercion, and all the other methods we are taught in this culture. The first two technologies of magic, by the way, are Wordlessness and Oneness. Dropping into a meditative state free of the sequential, language and rationality-oriented left brain and into a calm, present openness and connection to what is. It is from that state that one can imagine anything. And then form it.

I’m still piecing together how this might work in my own life, but it’s fun to think about. I wonder how it might apply, say, to building a school or place of worship? It’s possible now with sophisticated 3-D modeling tools not only to visualize, but also to communicate that vision to others. But how does “calling-forth” work on a bustling jobsite with hundreds of workers doing dozens of trades? And machinery and materials and project managers, schedules, budgets, safety rules and meetings? It’s all so deadly serious.

I like the playful, barely-real aspect of imagining. Literally anything is possible. Gravity doesn’t even apply. Buildings can be suspended from clouds, or float three feet off the ground. People can step onto hovering disks to get inside. And it doesn’t feel like “inside” the way we know it. More like a rainforest with warbling birds and burbling streams. And just a slight breeze, carrying with it the scent of flowers. Color is everywhere. Green, of course, and also white-petalled flowers hanging from trees. (that you can pick and tuck behind an ear), orange and red fruits, yellow shafts of sunlight.

There are crossovers everywhere between fantasy and the here-and-now. This morning, I caught a flicker of fire in my neighbor’s backyard. Seeing a small brown bird landing on their porch roof, I realized what had happened. The bird had just darted through a column of light shafting horizontally from the rising sun, ignited yellow-white for that instant. I had to wonder at the magic of that fleeting moment. The world is full of these moments. Overfull, like the yellow butterfly that just fluttered across the view out my window. Such moments rush past me constantly, daring me to notice.

And once I have noticed, then what? I wonder if it could be more than a random moment of awe and gratitude, then on with the day. Maybe these gifts are meant as fuel for the work we do in the world, whether on our own or collaboratively with others. We can fortify with these shots of awareness and kinship with the natural world. It feels counter-intuitive to say it, coming from such a deficit of Story about our very real animal-body-spirit-soul connection with the whole community of Life. How on earth does seeing a bird fly through sunlight at dawn help a company with its quest to be more energy efficient? Such is the mystery and wonder of living between cultural stories, and between fantasy and reality.

7 thoughts on “At play in the field between imagination, fantasy, and reality

  1. There is fantasy, which is a creation of the mind. Then there is the alternate reality. Note the word reality. You can learn to go there whenever you need to to get the answers you seek. That flicker of fire you experienced might just be a call to visit your helper spirits to find out what they want to teach you in that moment. You must be ready to receive the gift when it is offered.

  2. And Julie, just so you know this does not exist in my version of the new story.
    “But how does “calling-forth” work on a bustling jobsite with hundreds of workers doing dozens of trades? And machinery and materials and project managers, schedules, budgets, safety rules and meetings? It’s all so deadly serious.”
    Peace. I love you.

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