Stories, fables, myths, and fantasies – words often used to denote what we do not consider to be real or factual. A closer look suggests they’re our way for exploring the reality we find ourselves in.
Ursula Le Guin asked her mother the meaning of fantasy. She was told that originally fantasy, or phantasy, derives from the Greek phantasia, meaning, to make visible. Later, she explains, it came to mean the opposite, a hiding from the real:
‘So the word fantasy remains ambiguous, standing between the false, the foolish, the shallows of the mind, and the mind’s deep, true connection with the real.’*
Le Guin suggests fantasy “displaces” us, moving us into an unfamiliar world, and I wonder whether the rediscovering of story, myth, fable, and fantasy can help us make the moves we need to in a world that is becoming increasingly confusing and concerning – that is, anxious, depressed, bullying, reactive. (Le Guin reminds her listeners and readers that J. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was written in a ten year period from 1937-47.)
These works of our imagination allow us to ask questions of “the way things are” and also to posit possibilities that are more hopeful for both individuals and the communities:
‘They help us to bring our imagination to bear on the world before us, enabling us to form a judgement on what world we live in and where we might be going in it, what we can celebrate, what we must fear.’*
These expressions and articulations of our imagination – including art and poetry – are critical for testing what is (check out Seth Godin’s insightful post on how what is essential becomes surrounded by what is inessential but we give all of it the same value); Richard Rohr here connecting our human maturity with our ability to see:
‘Spiritual maturity is largely a growth in seeing, and full seeing seems to take most of our lifetime, with a huge leap in the final years.’**
Of course, it isn’t always so. The possibility of seeing more can elude us as we grow older, this difference expressed here in the distinction between the beginner’s mind versus the expert’s mind:
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities but in the expert’s there are few.”^
This seeing of something more beyond what we can measure is also articulated by Roz and Ben Zander in their hopeful The Art of Possibility:
‘[A] universe of possibility stretches beyond the world of measurement to include all worlds: infinite, generative, and abundant.’^^
We are, of course, speaking of the future. The future cannot be measured as it hasn’t happened – and there’s no such things a the futures – but it can be told in stories with lots of pictures (please).
What fantastic things dare we imagine?
(*From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)
(**From Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)
(^Shunryu Suzuki, quoted in Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)
(^^From Rosalind and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)