Live Out Of Your Imagination

Live out of your imagination, not your history – Stephen R. Covey

I mentioned this quote a few posts back. I am not the greatest fan of New Year’s resolutions but if I was forced to choose one for 2011, I think this is as good as any.

We each have a history. I occasionally wonder if I really do possess a part of my brain that remembers every single detail of the life I have lived up until now. If I do, it appears powerless against the more dominant function of my incredibly selective memory. I am often aware of how many events are coloured by my emotional responses, my obsessions, misunderstandings or longings. So much of memory can be airbrushed or distorted and over time we create a narrative that suits the colour and shape we wish our life to be. The overarching narrative that we craft can be a positive story that nourishes us and helps us to live effectively, or it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy that keeps us stuck in destructive patterns that undermine our happiness and growth.

Being that it is notoriously difficult for any of us to view life without gazing through the emotional filters peculiar to us, it might be argued that we already live out of our imagination and very little out of our actual history! But if personal history is the ‘story’ of  our lives – no matter how selectively stitched together that might be – then the challenge to live from our imaginations is actually about a process of becoming aware of, and freeing ourselves from, any ‘themes’ that we have built up over time. These themes have a habit of acting like predestined grooves or tracks; we can find ourselves unconsciously driven as opposed to consciously driving.

Of course, this is not all our fault. We have caregivers, communities and cultures that shape us; we learn very early on from these what is acceptable behaviour. For many of us, authentic emotional self-expression can be stifled or even oppressed by the rules and structures placed on us from without. In some cases this is necessary, for instance if we have the urge to torture and kill, then it stands to reason that we are taught to police or monitor such urges in order that we can function healthily as part of a group. However, many of our emotional urges are perfectly healthy but fall foul of the restrictions of culture or family. We internalise this conflict between who we truly are and who we are expected to be – this can have devastating consequences. The tragic rise in suicides of gay teenagers in America in recent times illustrates just how much.

I often feel I struggle to transcend the expectations of my family and my class. Both have shaped me in ways that are both positive and damaging. I was drawn from a very early age to the world of the arts, something that most of my family couldn’t understand or appreciate; coming from a poor working class background, it just wasn’t done. People from my council estate didn’t become writers, dancers or musicians, unless it was ‘merely’ a hobby and therefore not taken seriously – at best it would be considered delusional to think it a possibility; at worst it would be viewed as avoiding the business of real work and responsibility. I was the first in my family to go to University and this was met with hostility and resentment from some family members, as if I had betrayed some unspoken law.

Willy Russell’s wonderful play Educating Rita has it absolutely right: as Rita is irrevocably changed by her exposure to an intellectual world that her class experience has denied her, she finds herself increasingly alienated from her background but also unable to authentically feel a part of the world she aspires to. It’s a painful place to be because ones sense of belonging and of having roots is lost – you can never go back and the directions of the new world appear written in an unfamiliar language. So many of the working class folks I have spoken to who now find themselves in middle-class professions and lifestyles, speak of secretly feeling that they don’t belong. I think of it as moving to another country and learning a second language but only being able to think and dream in your native tongue. The challenge is to learn that this place, although unsettling, offers the opportunity to truly live from the imagination, to find who we are, who we could be; to draw up our own maps and signposts as much as we are able; to learn to speak fluently the language of our souls.

Our histories are important to us; they offer us wisdom and guidance but they are not necessarily who we are. Who we are is in the process of a continual unfolding, born again and again into being in an ever-changing now. By living from our imaginations, not our histories, we claim the freedom and responsibility to be authentically ourselves. It’s not easy but I am hoping that with sensitive and mindful awareness, I can come to a place where I feel a greater ease with myself and my place in the world.

'Mirror of my Future, Reflection of my Past' by Mara Berendt Friedman



  1. john said,

    January 27, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Hello Maria,

    Thats a long article, yes I experienced that not really belonging in this situation, more than 25 years ago when I was promoted from `the tools’ to an office environment, but after time it all becomes normal, then 15 years later we were privatised and I found myself back where I started, which again is hard because a person does change over time, the important thing though is to try and be yourself, both at work and at home, not always easy.

    Change of subject, went to the Met in Ventnor, that you mentioned a couple of months ago, we were there two Sats. ago for lunch, very nice. Good food and clean.

    Thats all, Blessings, John

  2. luckyloom1 said,

    January 27, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    Glad you enjoyed the Met John – I love the view! Plus getting a flake with my coffee! :0)

    Going back to ‘being oneself’ and feeling comfortable in the world, I find that the bottom line is having confidence. Ultimately, feeling that we belong in the world is aided by feeling that we belong in ourselves. Knowing and liking who we are goes a long way. Not sure I know who I am yet! :0) So not sure what being myself is, which is bloody annoying! :0) I guess we look for validation in those we love; if who we are is not compatible with who we love, it can make feeling sure in the world a little tricky. We have to validate ourselves in the end, I guess, and find those kindred souls whom we feel at home with. I think that goes a long way to finding a sense of belonging.

  3. john said,

    January 30, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    Hi Maria,

    Not sure if most people, if they were to think about it, would know deep down who they are. As a society we have an aweful lot of crap from the mass media put on us, (who’s wearing this, dating who etc.). I know what I dont want to be, I know what I want to be, but who am I ?, mmm, not sure really, Husbund, Dad, Grand-dad certainly, the thing is, trying not to hurt others but to be open to who you are and that is not always easy.

    Bright Blessings Maria


  4. luckyloom1 said,

    January 31, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Yes, I agree, keeping that balance between being true to who we are and not hurting others can be incredibly hard. When we take a closer look at ‘ahimsa’ or ‘harm none’ , we quickly see that these notions are much more complicated. I think that we can only try and take each situation on its own terms, knowing that there is no set way of dealing with things. It also helps to remember to have a little compassion for ourselves and the mistakes we make – intentions are important too in helping us to accept the impact we have on others.

    Blessing John,

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