Imagineering the Soul
Look to innovative thinkers like Walt Disney’s Imagineers to revitalize your spirit.
I recently heard for the first time the term imagineering in a minister’s sermon. She said that Imagineers—the people who create theme parks—are aware that we want more than fun or entertainment when we go to places like Disney World. We’re thirsting for meaning and purpose in our lives. Imagineers help visitors find what they’re looking for and give them hope that dreams can come true. Why not do some imagineering for the soul?
Imagineering, which combines imagination and engineering, couples creativity and practicality. Imagination refers to the act or power of forming an idea or a mental image of something not immediately present. Engineering, on the other hand, is the application of resources to bring an idea into reality. Though often associated with Disney Enterprises, imagineering was introduced by Alcoa Aluminum around 1940 to encourage innovative use of aluminum. Imaginative ideas had to be generated and then engineering applied to turn the ideas into useful products. The imagineering concept is now being applied to such diverse enterprises as urban planning, the transformation of societies, health promotion programs, and improvements in mobility devices. How can we apply this concept to spiritual revitalization?
Of course, there’s no guidebook on how to do this. No one can tell you what to do with your life or how to navigate the path from wishful thinking to reality. There are, however, some principles used by Imagineers that might be helpful. Walt Disney’s path to success included attention to the 4 C’s: curiosity, confidence, courage, and consistency. We might use these same 4 C’s as a framework for spiritual revitalization or imagineering for the soul:
- Curiosity. The imagination part of Imagineering is fueled by curiosity, which usually involves an eager wish to learn about something. The “something” may be concrete and exist in the here and now, but it can also be in the “what if’s” and the possibilities of life. Curiosity opens the door to these possibilities—it’s the key to discovery. Disney Imagineers recognize the importance of each new idea, no matter how small or insignificant it may at first appear. They’re curious about where a spark of imagination might take them. It’s a bit like brainstorming, where all ideas are considered. Walt Whitman’s advice—“Be curious, not judgmental”—seems to be their mantra.
- Confidence. Imagineering also takes confidence. If you think of yourself as a “not very confident person,” remember that confidence is a trait that can be nurtured. Confidence is about believing in yourself. Perhaps you’ve tried something, and it failed. Don’t let that erode the faith in yourself. Give yourself credit for trying and focus on the fact that it’s not you that failed. It’s the path or approach you took that didn’t work. Nurture your confidence by trying something else. Inaction after a failure or disappointment breeds doubt and fear. Don’t go down that path. Honor your ability to be resilient.
- Courage. Moving from imagination to engineering takes courage. The first step may or may not work, and you may have to venture into unfamiliar territory. This became very real for me when I decided to accept an assignment as a freelance writer. I had never conducted an interview before and this assignment required interviewing professionals in a field I wasn’t familiar with. I remember the anxiety I felt as I walked into the office and was introduced as “the writer” for a magazine. From childhood, I had always wanted to be a writer. I learned along the way that it takes courage to become what you want to be. You have to be willing to take a chance, to push your boundaries into the unknown or unfamiliar. I’m inspired by the words of the Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard: “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.”
When I think of what it means to be courageous, the image of a samara comes to mind. A samara is a winged seed that, when lifted by the wind, can travel many miles before falling to the ground and putting down roots. Some seeds fall close to their parent plant; others are carried by some force to a greater distance from where they were produced. There’s an advantage to this process. If all the seeds stayed next to the parent plant, the resulting crowded condition would make it difficult for many of the seedlings to survive. David Haskell, in The Forest Unseen, describes samaras as seeds that are willing to risk flying above the canopy and into the open sky without knowing for sure where they will land. That takes courage. Imagineering for the soul may mean going beyond traditional ways of doing things and traveling as far as the wind will carry you. Like samaras, you may then discover new places and possibilities for the deeper realities of your soul to emerge.
- Consistency. Imagineering is a verb, and the process requires action over time. Caring for the soul and creating an environment for it to grow requires consistency as well as creativity, confidence, and courage. I was recently reminded of the importance of consistency by a yoga instructor at the closing of our weekly session. Yoga, she said, is not a practice or exercise. It’s the science of being in alignment and harmony with ourselves and the world around us. This state of being isn’t static; it requires constant tuning or fine-tuning. Like yoga, imagineering for the soul is a journey through life. Consistency helps us stay the course as we make this journey. We continue with the process, even if it’s difficult.
Imagineering is more than imagination or wishful thinking. And to be an Imagineer of your soul, you’ll need to find and apply resources that work for you. While such resources as science and technology are invaluable for making our lives more convenient and comfortable, different types of resources are needed for adding depth and meaning to our lives. For Imagineering the soul, art, poetry, prayer, meditation, and yoga may be helpful. Other resources for Imagineering the soul might take the form of singing, forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku), or caring for the Earth and each other. Two books by Thomas Moore—Care of the Soul and A Religion of One’s Own—provide rich examples of how to apply soulful resources to everyday life.
You don’t have to be hired by Disney Enterprises to become an Imagineer. You can invite yourself to work as an Imagineer of your soul. For success in this endeavor, you’ll want to to remember that a focus on meaning and purpose, rather than entertainment and fun, is what it’s all about. October 10, 2019–