John Lennon’s lovely lyrics have once again emerged in my consciousness and have begun to transform my own imaginative processes. I have been dismayed at the tenor of most of what I glimpse in popular entertainment media. I use the word, “glimpse,” because I pay very little attention to that field. However I catch enough around the edges to know that various forms of horror and dystopian themes permeate the entertainment industry.

I used to dismiss my distaste for these genres as a product of being a curmudgeon, an out-of-touch old fart whose opinions need not be taken seriously. However, as I watch the world become more and more an expression of our collective imagination, I realize that I want my own imagination to contribute something else entirely.

If I am to use my imagination for helpful, kind, and encouraging purposes I must pay close attention to the fuel that feeds my imaginative processes. In many ways, my ability to imagine is contaminated by the ambience of my culture. Greed, violence, and fear are powerful forces within my society, but I don’t have to allow those forces to be the energy of my imagination. I want to take in energy that helps me imagine a world in which violence and fear are transmuted by the Tao into creative and constructive action. I believe that the imagination that produces dark, violent, and dystopian films, games, and literature is tragically harmful to the world. Quality of production, skill in story-telling, and inclusion of kick-ass heroes and heroines does not mitigate the damage that is being done to the collective unconscious. We are becoming the product of our pooled imaginations. We need inspiring and hopeful stories, not to fuel denial or Pollyanna escapism, but to transmute the very real and potent energy of imagination into humane and supportive expressions.

My imagination is takes its cue from my reading and viewing. Then my conditioned mind uses my imaginative center to produce all sorts of frightening scenarios, horrible images, and disastrous outcomes. Then I replay them in an endless loop, feeding again and again the fires of a dystopian world. Graham Greene once said, “Hate was just a failure of imagination.” I don’t want my future to be determined by a failure of imagination. I’m going to keep authentic human kindness in the stories my imagination spins; the stories that end up in print or the many stories that simply circle through my daydreams. I’m going to imagine a utopian future rather than a dystopian one.

It can be argued that dark themes are part of the human condition and that their exploration is a necessary part of literature and film. I agree that the Yin side of human nature is real but much of the current exploitation of it is unbalanced and dualistic. A Taoist imagination should be guided by an overarching understanding of the unity and connectivity of the Web of Life. Truly excellent story and art can emerge from this understanding of unity. Literature and film need not be sappy drivel, that itself would be one more form of contamination. It can be courageous and compelling, but it should always keep in mind the quality of the images it is feeding to the collective imagination. Entertainment is insufficient as a guideline. Profit is certainly insufficient. Realism and drama in themselves are insufficient. If we are to construct a future that finally sets aside our fear and violence, our collective imagination can not continue to produce the media, literature, and dramatic arts we now churn out. 

Our habit of unconscious participation in a “ failure of imagination” must be broken so that creativity can be in service of humanity, compassion, and beauty.  We must treat the energy of our thoughts and the nurture of our spirits with a deep respect for the power inherent within. We will become what we imagine. Literature, art, and music throughout history is filled with inspiring, beautiful, and stimulating creativity. What are you using to feed your imagination? What, in turn, are you imagining?