The word “practical” has several definitions which I “imagine” must be taken into consideration in answering this: likely to be effective in real circumstances or feasible; suitable for a particular purpose; realistic in approach, et cetera. Imagination is the faculty or action of forming ideas or images in the mind; or the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful.
Keeping that in mind I absolutely know that at times my imagination is ridiculous, though I feel in those circumstances its purpose is to amuse me, or if I share it with others and if they listen, my hope is it triggers them to join in the crazy journey for the fun of it or to create something “out of this world,” maybe like Neil Gaiman does in his novels.
Imagination is an absolute necessity, and hence practical, in multiple practices, particularly in self-discovery, personal growth or mental health. For me, and others who engage in such practices, imagination is key to Gestalt therapy, shamanic journey work, and hypnosis. How many times have I descended that dark staircase, come to a door, and opened that door to discover what’s behind it — or what’s in my consciousness or unconscious.
My imagination has brought me misery in the form of worry — will my addicted children survive their addictions; why won’t my romantic partner answer his phone; will we survive the existential threat of climate change? — but worry serves no useful purpose (though it can be an impetus to seek a solution), and I’ve learned to let worries hover in the background and get off the ride pretty quickly these days.
But imagination can have more practical value than just regurgitating concrete facts, which perpetuate a certain reality that is not serving anyone. John Lennon’s Imagine is the perfect example of instilling in every human’s mind that there really could be a world without countries, no religion, no war, no possessions, no greed, no hunger. With that seed planted, people might start actually contemplating that their clinging and regurgitating “my country, my religion, my whiteness, my possessions, my, my my” is in fact causing all the problems in the world and they might start contemplating a different world, and within that contemplation they see that the world really could BE AS ONE. Imagine living with less. Imagine sharing all we have, knowing there will always be more than enough for everyone if everyone shared. Without that seed planted, that shift in thinking, no changes will be made by me or anyone, so, yes, my imagination in that regard is very practical for the survival of humanity.
Imagination is absolutely necessary in order to read a novel, or even to listen to classical music, but even modern music engages imagination. Though your imagination didn’t create these things, without an imagination you cannot take an author’s words and walk with them through the scenes and emotions depicted. Whether images are formed in listening to music or whether it’s simply emotions that have been stirred, the catalyst for either, I think, comes from imagination. The journey never starts without imagination. I know people who claim they just cannot read a novel, and they don’t. I know them well enough to see they dwell in a very concrete world, focused only on what they can see and touch, and they lack the ability necessary to be able to transport themselves into a world of imagination.
I believe imagination is the fuel to sexual excitement, with or without your lover, in just about every instance. So its practical purpose there is to ensure the continuation of the human race.
But of course, imagination is the key to the creative process. Imagination is the creative process. It is, for me, an idea or thought that frees itself from the conditioning that attaches itself to the thoughts that chatter in circles through my mind, plowing the same old, now infertile, ground. Imagination is creation in both its initial thought and in what it produces. It is both the seed and the chicken as it’s both a process and its end product. It’s the seed that brings a novel or film alive and takes us all on the journey in the non-concrete world, like Leo DiCaprio’s movie Inception.
It’s the inquisitive, imaginative mind that questioned beliefs: is the earth flat; does the sun revolve around the earth; will taking a bath cause disease; how do ants form such straight lines; how do bees find flowers or make honey; or what was the reason life split between plants and animals; or can mankind fly light years away to another galaxy? It’s the imaginative mind that thought up safety pins, paper clips, hairbrushes, paper, printing presses, photovoltaic cells, and, yes, nuclear bombs. It’s the imaginative mind that finds solutions to problems; it can conceive of a better way of doing things, leading scientists to new theories or discoveries that can serve (or destroy) mankind as those ideas are brought into the concrete world.
I don’t expect everyone or even a few to follow my fanciful flights of imagination, i.e., I am a Spoon, but I find imagination practical in regards to my life. Without an imagination I would not have benefited from my shamanic practice, hypnosis, therapy, or any other paths I’ve walked in search of undoing old myths that protected me when young but hindered me as I grew older. Without an imagination my creative writing would be nonexistent, nor would I have benefited from the fanciful thoughts of so many writers. Without an imagination, I would not have dared step off the ledge into the full slipstream of life, sailed the ocean, had adventures. Without an imagination, I honestly don’t believe I would have found the peace and happiness I have in my life today because I would have believed the unhappy world in which I was born and raised was the only reality permitted; without my imagination, I would not have striven to let go, to surrender old, unskillful thoughts and imagine a more perfect world.