"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere." – Carl Sagan

Reading “Ruby's Sword”, I find myself smiling as the author describes how the little girl, Ruby, laid down on the ground, looking at the blue sky as a single cloud went by. The wind blew and the grass parted to reveal SWORDS!

Oh, how wonderful and exciting to follow her adventures with her "swords." And in the end, her brothers, who had not been interested in playing with her, were doing all they could to convince her to allow them to help her in building a castle.

The scene was especially delightful to me because Ruby and her brothers were having so much fun using their imaginations. They were the perfect example of Sagan's words -- imagination carrying us to worlds that never were. But oh, the places we can go!

The places we can go with an imagination are limitless, and I wonder if you and I might need a refresher on what imagination is, why we need it, how we lost it, and what we can do to reclaim it and all its wonder. Imagination is the action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses. It is a gateway to another world. If your world is sad and stifling, what better way to temporarily escape than to use your imagination?

When our sons were little, they spent a lot of time imagining they were the characters in their favorite movies. I'll bet you remember doing the same. And then they grew up, just like we did, and the world told them to get serious. Maybe it's time we take a serious look at undoing some of the damage the world causes.

When children turn 10 to 12 years old, they begin to stop pretending in their play -- no more playing school, playing worker men or women in the backyard, playing with dolls in a make-believe world. And part of that is because society tells them to grow up.

Maybe the better thing would be for us to encourage children to enjoy imaginative play and capitalize on an imagination that allows them to see the world as it could be, not as it might be in that moment.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of being part of a community-built playground project. They were happening all over the area, and the wonderful thing was the school children came up with the names and descriptions of the items to be built. It was magical. If you look around where you live, there is probably a science center of some kind near you.

In a quick search, I found Discovery Center at Murfree Springs in Murfreesboro, Hands On Science Center in Tullahoma, Adventure Science Center in Nashville, and Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga. If you aren't in my area, you should see what nearby communities offer.

Why do I want you to take a child to a science center? Because science centers foster learning and imagination, and imagination leads to invention (and sometimes being with a child can spark an adult's imagination, too). Not everything has been invented, after all, and we just never know when a lightbulb will go off to bring new ideas to help make life more pleasant, less difficult, or more interesting. You or your child or grandchild or neighbor's child might just be the next surprise inventor!

How do we get our imaginations going when we're no longer in school or playing with children?

"The surest way to provoke the imagination is to seek out environments you have no experience with. But experience something enough times and your brain becomes more adept at processing this information. As the connections between neurons become more efficient, your brain doesn't have to work as hard," according to Gregory Berns at Emory University. It sounds to me like doing something you don't think you're already an expert in is the idea here.

Maybe that's why our photography group is such a challenge for some great photographers. They are used to one style of photography, and suddenly they are being asked to step into an area that pushes them to think differently. It might be a little humbling to expose yourself to new things, but that seems to be where our imagination begins to flourish. You're a great baker? Maybe you should delve into other types of cooking.

Believe it or not, video games do a lot to call on your imagination. Please don't dislike me for saying that. Children and adults can benefit. Minecraft, Tetris, and Sims are a few examples of video games you might have seen which require you to use your imagination. In fact, most every video game calls on your imagination, you just have to be sure not to get lost in an imaginary world.

Whether you are encouraging a child or want to improve your own imagination, here are some suggestions:

• Use imagination to solve everyday problems. How could you get from point A to point B in a different way?

• Read (or listen to) books, discuss ideas with friends.

• Daydream. After all, as Edgar Allen Poe said, “They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”

There's a wonderful world waiting for you to bring your imagination, be inspired, and inspire. Using our imagination will help us live fuller lives, and without that, we do risk going nowhere.

In the words of Maurice Sendak, Let the wild rumpus begin!

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at (stories@susanbsteen.com).

Recommended for you