ON IMAGINATION – and the power to make things right.

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on June 9, 2014

Logic will get you from A to Z; but imagination will get you everywhere.”

― Albert Einstein

Lake and Fog


I have always been partial to fairytales and science fiction because they helped me explore lands that I could only dream of, until, as a young child, I realized that I often dreamed of them while awake, and that I had the power to make entire worlds come alive in my head. So I have always been interested in imagination and the internal realms that it helps to bridge. To imagine is to see beyond the limits of what reality imposes. It is to move outside of the container of our world and play with possibilities of what could be. But being a psychoanalyst, what is most interesting to me about imagination is that it allows us to make things right, or as Walt Disney said, imagination restores order. I believe he was talking about restoring a personal order, taking what has happened in our lives and might continue to be present in our internal world, and making sense of it anew. Imagination helps us to make things right in the same way that fairy tales help us in the processing of trauma: it gives us a vehicle within which we can visualize and think of a different ending and other possibilities, as well as rehearse and invent ourselves in different ways. Fairytales do this through their narrative and story, when someone else’s imagination captures ours. But with the use of imagination it can all happen inside our head, putting us in charge of the narrative, the characters, the action. I think Walt Disney must have known this, as he believed that storytellers reconstruct personal narratives into stories that reach all of us, and in the process change us. Yes, imagination has the power to mend, repair, soothe, hold and contain our internal experience, including changing it into something we can live with and move beyond. This is how we build our internal world(s) and rehearse what our external one might look like.

The OED defines imagination as:

1) the mental faculty or action of forming mental images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.

2) scheming or devising a plot with fanciful thoughts.

3) the creative faculty of the mind, the faculty of fanciful thought, the ability to frame new and striking concepts.

This definition explains why psychological theories of imagination have to do with cognition and perception –of images- but have little to do with the dynamic use of imagination. I will not bore you with these, and instead,  ask you to consider how we use our imagination.  Take for instance, what we do when we direct our attention inward, when we begin to imagine our thoughts and give them shapes, colors, narratives, as we begin to animate our internal life. The same can be said when we choose to meditate, or follow a relaxation exercise, we focus on internal sensations and play with imagery that makes it more dimensional to us. Or think of what happens when we read a novel and begin to know the characters and their lives: They become our friends or enemies, we feel about them and what they think and do, we become involved with them and their story, as if we could step into the book – and we do!

True, imagination can also help us to escape. We can think of this particular use of imagination as one of the many protective mechanisms of our mind, like a form of dissociation that retains the ability to create and is generative rather than disruptive. Imagination requires us to be active in the animation of our internal world, look beyond it and return to it restored. Perhaps this is what writers and artists do when they are most productive.

Our imaginative abilities have been there right form the beginning of time. In fact, it is unlikely that we would have evolved as a species if it was not for the use of our imagination and the ability to play outside the proverbial box. Imagination involves the ability to form internal images and sensations that are not perceived through our senses but nevertheless utilize them. It often involves memories, emotions, feelings, as well as our present and past experience and the ability to play. Our innate ability to imagine allows us to invent partial or complete personal realms within our minds- to be used as we wish.  As such, imagination is involved in creativity, and is a major player in the arts: literature, dance, painting, and music. The use of imagination also helps in problem solving, and in integrating experience and processing what we learn. It is a key to engaging in the world in an open manner, helping us to look beyond the immediacy of our own experience and step into the others shoes. It turns out to be crucial in the making of personal meaning,  the development of empathy and compassion and the ability to form relationships (think about the experience of falling in love and its use and reliance on imagination). Imagination is a powerful agent of change – for what we imagine can help us to shape the realities of our lives.

 “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Albert Einstein



ON MINDFULNESS – and minding your p’s and q’s.

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on March 31, 2014

imagesMindfulness is a term that gets used a lot these days, despite the fact that it has been around for centuries. Eastern thought, primarily Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism, and meditative disciplines have always had the concept of mindfulness at their core. The idea of mindfulness has entered western ideas through the world of spirituality and meditation, as well as through disciplines like yoga. In psychology, the meaning of mindfulness has been equated with being conscious and thoughtful about one’s experience and actions, having nothing to do with spirituality. In the realm of the behavioral sciences, mindfulness has always had to do with mind, and the process of our subjective experience. Interestingly, when we take both Eastern and Western notions of the idea of mindfulnesss, they provide a bridge between our internal world and the external realities of the world, and as such,  a way to connect emotions, thoughts and actions.

Put simply, mindfulness is about living thoughtfully. But what goes into being thoughtful? In psychoanalysis we are fond of using the term consciousness, by which we mean our experience of being aware. And what about awareness? Where does that fit in the sphere of mindfulness?  So many words to describe one experience.   Awareness is part of being mindful, in the same way that being conscious is. Both words describe a process of bringing one’s attention inward, of looking at our feelings and thoughts and how they affect our behavior and actions. Awareness allows us to have a subjective sense of something that leads to knowing what it is. Being conscious and aware lead us to being mindful, to being able to think and consider options and choices, to being able to alter our behavior and thoughts- and here is the cherry- to being able to change our very neural structure. Yes really.

Eastern disciplines arrived at mindfulness through various philosophical teachings and meditative practices which continue to be valued because their practice changes the self at its core. In western thought we have moved closer to these practices and ideas not only through various forms of spirituality, but through the fields of psychology and neurobiology.  The relatively new science of interpersonal neurobiology has validated many psychoanalytic ideas, and tells us that nature and nurture are inevitably intertwined rather than independent from or merely interactive with each other. Intertwined. Woven into the very fabric of each other. Inseparable. We are what we experience because what we experience stimulates and shapes the development of our brain and nervous system. Our mind is both embodied and embedded in relationship. Our personal neurobiology is relationally determined. This not only means that our early interactions with primary caretakers are responsible for the shaping and development of our neuronal systems  and the way we respond to intimate relationships later in life, it also means that relationships (therapeutic or otherwise) are the primary crucible for development and potential change.

Think of it- we are born into a relational system made up of the mother/infant dyad and the interactions that take place between them. It is up to the primary caretaker to introduce the infant to the world and mediate their internal experience of it. It is the primary caretaker that “regulates” early experiences for the infant, and that regulation is based both on the caretakers own internal experience  and her interactions with the infant. It is this interpersonal attunement between mother and child that shapes the ability to self regulate, and in adulthood, it is the capacity to self regulate that leads to mindful living.

Remember the adage “mind your p’s and q’s”? It reminds one that we must pay attention. It reminds us that what we do, down to its most refined detail, has meaning, impact and consequences- not only for us, but very likely for others as well.  Mindfulness is about minding our p’s and q’s: It is about being able to look at what we do, think about what motivates our actions and consider how our behavior and actions impact others. It is a concept that incorporates both the “I” and the “us”, the individual and the community. Psychology and psychoanalysis have tended to use the terms mindfulness and consciousness to define the experience of self-observation, introspectiveness and self-awareness. But  mindfulness also includes an awareness of others as recipients of our actions and shapers of our experience.  Mindfulness is inherently a relational term because it speaks to the nature of inter-subjectivity.


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February 10, 2014

Recently I posted a blog on the power of laughter and humor. I was writing about the  kind that makes your belly tremble and your chest heave. The kind that moves the neurobiology of your insides and translates into mood shifts on your outside. The REAL kind. Today’s post is about its opposite, what I […]

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It is the end of another year and beyond the celebrations and hoopla of the holiday season, it is a time to take stock of our lives, and for many, a time to think of what needs changing. The New Year often brings resolutions, and those resolutions are based on a reckoning with ones desires […]

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THE COMPANY OF MEN – And why it is important.

November 11, 2013

Having written about women, and how important it is for us to have other women in our lives (http://drceccoli.com/2010/06/its-a-girl-thing/ ), it is with great pleasure that I once again step outside my world to dive into the other dark continent- the world of men, and how important men are to each other. Men need other men- […]

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ON MEN: Shaken and stirred.

October 29, 2013

Ah men. That other dark continent that somehow is supposed to be clearer, simpler, more known. To whom? I wonder. Other men? As a woman writing about men, I find myself besieged with stereotyped notions of masculinity and what it means to be a man. Culturally and societally embedded ideas within the folds of my […]

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I have been keen to write about masculinity and men for some time now, and am aware that in doing so I am traversing the great divide of difference between us. As a woman, I cannot avoid these differences, nor would I want to, rather I intend to speak from a position of difference. In […]

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The Shadow of the Thing: Remembering the Unthinkable.

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Today marks an anniversary which I do not like, yet feel compelled to post on, since it is the “thing” that changed everything I knew up until the day that it happened. It is the one event in my privileged lifetime that reminded me of how fragile our sense of wellbeing, how frail our very […]

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Horcruxes and the Return of Bad Objects.

August 19, 2013

It has been a while since I wrote about Harry Potter and the particular magic that J.K. Rowling’s stories hold for me, and well, it just would not be my blog if I did not post about her alchemy from time to time. So Potter heads unite, here we go. Today’s post is about Horcruxes […]

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