One of the most essential, yet difficult, skills we must learn in order to navigate life well is discernment. In other words, good judgment–knowing who and what to trust. We ask ourselves: What do I know? What do I believe? How can I be sure what is “real” and what is not, what is “true” and what is not? How will I know the difference? And as soon as we start to ask these questions, we quickly discover we have myriad other questions in need of answers: what is safe, what is good, what is balanced? Indeed, what is “reality” and what is “truth”?
I unexpectedly waded deep into these inquiries recently when I picked up my 6-almost-7 year old granddaughter from her friend’s house. I innocently asked her what she and her friend did for the afternoon, to which she replied with complete gravity and all earnestness: “We were having a discussion about you Grandma, and your experience with fairies.” And with this my granddaughter began a serious inquest into whether fairies are real, and how to know. “Grandma, do you believe in Narnia? Yes? I do, too. Have you ever been there?” (I replied: “No, I have not been there, but I have been to places like it!”)
My granddaughter has been quite sure for as long as she can remember that I am an expert on the unseen world, and she suspects that I am myself some sort of a fairy grandmother. This is not new. But now she is at an age when she is struggling to integrate her imaginary world with the outer world, and has many questions.
She is right on time. Many cultures, traditions, and child development specialists mark the “age of reason” as beginning at somewhere around 7 years old. This is when the rational mind starts asking hard questions and doubting the inner and imaginal realms. Young children do not distinguish their fantasies from objective reality; to them their imaginary experiences are real. As it is undeniably necessary for survival that we know how to distinguish illusion from so-called reality, we strive to teach our children the difference between the two. And we most often do so in the same way we were taught, as we grew older: not to believe in fairy tales, so to speak. But in the process, this gets conflated into a most unfortunate message of don’t trust your imagination.
As important as it is to be well grounded and developed in rational and analytical ability, it is equally critical that we do not reject or discard imagination, for it is a valuable tool for accessing and providing us with information and opportunity. In purely pragmatic terms, it is a resource we cannot afford to ignore. Imagination is one of our subtle senses, part of our inner perception apparatus, which is an important component of our human navigational system.
Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and legions of other inventors, original thinkers and entrepreneurs knew this, and relied upon their own imaginations, and looking behind its images for vision, inspiration, invention, brilliance and breakthrough. Imagination is an important feature of genius.
As we come of age, at whatever age that happens, the key is not to mistrust or disbelieve our imagination, but, rather, to learn to properly evaluate subtly perceived information. Develop your imagination! And be discerning.
“Learning to trust the imagination is based upon using it and finding out how it can help you…Literal-mindedness will not help you here. Engage with the metaphor, the image, the feeling, the inkling that is just within your grasp. Use your subtle senses, not your everyday senses. Follow the story or scenario that’s unfolding within you. If an understanding forms in your mind, or a sense grips your body, follow its meaning without shouting it down with your disbelief. You and your senses are a valid source of wisdom. You don’t need to depend on experts to trust and validate your understanding.”
We each work with multiple senses to access and interpret information, including both our rational, linear abilities, and also including our non-rational, non-mental faculties. Our own imaginal realms are invaluable sources of information beyond language, and a gateway to insight, or what I call inner sight. Just as dreams can often contain important insight, so too your imagination offers you understanding, discovery, motivation, creativity and direction.
In order to develop good discernment you must practice. Begin, as I did with my granddaughter, by learning the feeling sense of truth, accuracy, and what is helpful. I will write in more detail in my next Blog about the practice of discernment. In the meantime, trust your self. Trust your gut. Your feeling sense will tell you what “feels right.” When your subtle senses, including your imagination, perceive truthfully and with clarity, you have a feeling sense that is gentle, smooth, not anxious, not forced. You feel safe. And before accepting any information, always ask yourself: How does this serve me and others in a positive way?
 Matthews, Caitlin, Psychic Protection, Ulysses Press, 2006, p.41