Imagination is the spark that lights the flame of creativity. And without finding a way to be creative in our lives, we become dull, purposeless people, limited by the futility of mortal existence. We become, as poet T. S. Eliot would have said, the "hollow men". We look to the future instead of the now, making plans for tomorrow instead of creating today. For many of us, there comes a time when we no longer even think of exciting plans for the future. Rather, we live in the past, telling ourselves that what we failed to accomplish last year or last week we will also fail to accomplish today.
Why do we focus so much on how our lives and circumstances limit us rather than focusing on the limits we put on ourselves? Perhaps, some of us are blinded to our own self-sabotage. Or, maybe, we listen too often to those who tell us that we must be "rational" and "realistic". We are often told by many philosophers that we must be guided by reason, and that when we let ourselves fall away from reason, we will be prey to all sorts of delusions about life and ourselves. Well, a life guided by reason can be very productive. However, a life guided by reason alone can be bereft of both hope and happiness. For life itself is not always reasonable, which means that it is up to us to go beyond the boundaries of reason in order to transcend the often unreasonable challenges that beset us.
Where reason can be strict and limiting, imagination is boundless. When we were children, our imagination was at its peak, unfettered by the constraints that a society full of "reasonable people" would put upon us. I think Picasso summed up this truth well when he said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."
The world is a harsh reality to face, and without putting one's imagination to work it is difficult to see beyond it. One wants to hold onto dreams and believe in the impossible, but the longer one lives, the more inclined one is to lapse into despair. And once a person begins to view his life through the lens of despair, it is usually only the sheer force of will-power that can turn things around. Often, it is easier to stop hoping than to continue to have one's hopes dashed to pieces yet again. And when one ceases to feel the urge to pursue a purpose in life, the creative instinct becomes dormant. Once a fire has died out, only ashes remain, and though there are those who, like the Phoenix bird rise from the ashes, most of us do not.
Yet, often, a spark remains -- a spark that contains the seed of imagination. For we humans are not merely thinking creatures. We are also feeling creatures. And just because our mind tells us that all is lost, it doesn't mean that in our hearts we have truly given up. Perhaps, our intellect, always looking for that which is real and dismissing everything else, will attempt to persuade us that our imagination is useless. But since life is less about what happens to you than it is about what you do with what happens to you, it would seem that the ability to imagine is essential.