How To Engage Your Imagination As A Spiritual Practice
Finding Wonder In The World
I’ve forgotten how to imagine; I’ve forgotten that the world is a magical and miraculous place. At a certain point, life became serious, bogged down with tasks and to-do lists. And this mindset began to impact the most personal parts of my life, including spirituality.
But what if spirituality isn’t always about rumination or taking on a serious posture while contemplating the deeper questions? In the religious teachings of my youth, there’s a parable about childlike faith, and the story encourages humility and wonder rather than piety or intellect. It also encourages asking questions without needing definitive answers.
Children are excellent teachers for this. They’re always wondering about the world: Why is the sky blue? Why do lions roar? What makes the earth spin? An imaginative spirit keeps them open to possibilities and grounds them in the present moment. Is it possible to find that once again?
Imagination invites us to breathe, to dream, and to be fully present to the wonder of it all. It can even become a spiritual practice of its own—but we have to choose it.
You don’t need to be religious or subscribe to a higher power, either. I no longer practice the traditions I grew up with, but spirituality remains a part of my life through mindfulness, prayer, and rituals. Even if the word spirituality scares you or feels a bit woo, remember that anyone can benefit from wonder and imagination, and spirituality is entirely personal and unique to you.
If you’re reconstructing a spiritual practice as an adult or exploring it for the first time, here are a few tips for creating a non-religious spiritual practice.
How to Cultivate Your Imagination As A Spiritual Practice
1. Read Children’s Books
Spirituality can sometimes feel inaccessible and high brow, especially in literature. I’ve purchased countless spirituality books only to find them ridden with archaic and pretentious language. (Which truly does little for sparking my imagination.)
Children’s books, however, are lighthearted and playful. They invite us to return to our inner child by offering simple, encouraging messages about wonder, play, love, and mindful living. The books don’t have to be about spirituality, either.
And for ones specific to spirituality, I love: When God Was A Little Girl by David R Weiss, Happy: A Beginner’s Guide To Mindfulness by Nicola Edwards, God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, and Can You Hear The Trees Talking? by Peter Wohlleben.
2. Record Your Dreams
Humans have always been fascinated by dreams and the stories we create while we’re asleep—in fact, one of the first recorded dream interpretations dates back to Mesopotamia. In many ancient traditions, dreams were even believed to be prophesies from God, and I like to think they can be potential portals to a spiritual world.
Try keeping a dream journal to reflect on the stories, imagery, or themes. Use this journal as a source for creativity and consider drawing or painting your dreams, or writing them into a song or story. What is your imagination telling you as you sleep? And how can you apply that same wonder to your everyday life and spiritual practice?
3. Explore Art Mediums
I used my bedroom walls as a canvas when I was a teenager. I loved painting words and abstract images, and I somehow convinced my parents to let me practice on our home. Those late-night hours were both sacred and spiritual, my mind swirling with creativity as the brush guided my hand in unpredictable strokes.
My new apartment has lovely lighting, and I’ve recently wanted to try a drawing class or invest in an easel. I imagine myself creating as part of my morning meditation and daily spiritual practice.
Art helps us flex our imaginations and find a “flow” for our experiences, as professor and art therapy researcher Girija Kaimal tells NPR. That flow, she explains, is “that sense of losing yourself, losing all awareness. You’re so in the moment and fully present that you forget all sense of time and space.”
It can be any kind of art, too—from painting to weaving to pottery. “Anyone can try art—and no matter what your skill level, it’s something you should try to do on a regular basis,” says Kaimal.
4. Get Outside and Explore
Does the world feel predictable to you right now? Especially this year, as we’ve spent most of our time indoors, everything can start seeming familiar. Bland, even.
Extensive travel isn’t an option at the moment, but we can find inspiration when we get outside and explore our own cities. Whenever I leave my apartment in search of an adventure in my neighborhood, I remember how vibrant and surprising the world can be. This wonder keeps me curious and open to possibilities. It also helps me feel more connected to the world, and in turn, to myself and my spiritual beliefs.
The next time you leave your home, consider taking an unfamiliar walking route and try a walking meditation. Eat at a new restaurant on the other end of town or lounge in a park that isn’t your usual hang-out. Pay attention to the streets, the landscapes, and the unfamiliar faces—I especially love tips 32 through 51 in this list of mindful activities. Bring a notebook if it helps you to record your thoughts and observations. The world is grand and beautiful; if only we’ll look up and see it.
Wherever you go on your spiritual journey, I hope you embrace wonder and seek out the magic happening all around us. Rekindle your childlike spirit, ask questions without needing answers, and balance rumination with play.
And then, turn that magic inward. Nurture your soul with imaginative and creative practices—you might just find deeper meaning and purpose.
How do you engage imagination in your life and spiritual practice? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below. x
Kayti Christian (she/her) is an Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for enneagram 4s and other sensitive-identifying people. Outside of writing, she loves hiking, reading memoir, and the Oxford comma.