Theo Jansen designs beasts that are animated by the wind. If that makes no sense to you, then watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Qdr5vZ5btU

His imagination, and his ability to bring his ideas to life, is remarkable to say the least. The human capacity to imagine futures that we have never experienced is extraordinary. Imagination is the reason we have art, literature, medicine, architecture, music, poetry, film, and technology of all sorts.

The evolutionary development of imagination has shaped so much of what makes us human. And…if we do not use it skillfully, it can cause a lot of suffering. What I mean by this is that we can imagine future threats, and then perseverate about them. We can get our body all geared up to combat a future that does not exist and may never come to fruition.

Mindfulness is the practice of observing and accepting present experience for what it is. This practice builds our capacity to find a bit of space from our thoughts and feelings. With practice, we can discern the difference between creative imagination – the type that Theo Hansen uses to design his “Strandbeests” – and threat-based imagination.

Rather than treating every ominous thought as the truth, we can see them as neurological phenomena that may or may not have evidence behind them. We can identify patterns of thinking that pull us away from what is happening around us and into rumination that leads to a defensive stance in the world.

When my clients begin to practice sitting quietly and paying attention to their experience, many of them are surprised at how negative their internal voice is. The goal of mindfulness is not to think positively all the time or to extinguish negative thinking – some cautionary thoughts are super useful. The goal is to develop wisdom and clarity so that we are not swept up into every thought.

The result of creating some space in this way is that we can begin to lighten our grip and see some wonderful things about life that we might be missing when we are lost in our thoughts. There are miracles happening all around us all the time – humans being kind to one another, sunrises and sunsets, birth and death, plants turning sunlight into food, clouds moving water across the globe, the breath moving through our body, a simple smile extended to a stranger.

Imagine a life where you are present to the miracles and challenges around you. Imagine noticing when you are spinning in your head and bringing your awareness back to this moment. Imagine responding to the people in your life with compassion and courage rather than out of fear for a future that doesn’t exist. The truly incredible thing about being human is that we can intentionally turn this imagined future into reality through practice.