Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Exercises In Imagination

( Originally Published 1907 )

"WHENEVER a person wills, or, rather, professes to will, to imagine, he has in fact already imagined ; and, consequently, there can be no such thing as imaginations which are exclusively the result of a direct act of the Will." Professor Upham.

" I am inclined to think it was his practice, when engaged in the composition of any work, to excite his vein by the perusal of others on the same subject or plan, from which the slightest hint caught by his imagination, as he read, was sufficient to kindle there such a train of thought as, but for that spark (and that direction of the Will) had never been awakened." Sir Thomas Moore, "Life of Lord Byron."


The highest imagination involves all the powers of the mind;

Willed culture of imagination secures its greatest efficiency;

The steadfast application of imagination highly cultured to the concerns of life requires the strongest and best-regulated exercise of Will-power;

That means the mighty Will developed all round.

"All the leaders in the world's life have been men of imagination."

It is in the action of the imagination that the question is presented, whether a man's life shall be governed by the subconscious mind to take him where it may, or by the conscious Will in control of that great servant. The imagination should be cultivated because it has so important a place in all our affairs, but its cultivation should always have reference to the sway of reason in conjunction with a reasonable Will. " The subjective mind," well said Olston in " Mind Power and Privileges," "will feed upon, and create, from the material given it by the Will. Schopenhauer said, ` My mind draws its food from the medium of intelligence and thought; this nourishment gives body to my work.' He, however, directed the course of his reading and thought to such things as would bear upon his general theme."

Our task in imagination, then, involves not only action of Will, but as well education of the deepest self in the interest of reason, judgment and right motives in life.


Without dwelling upon the various kinds of imagination, as, the scientific, the mathematical, the inventive, the philosophical, the artistic, it is to be observed that the ethical imagination is by far the most important. The imaginative power is indispensable to Will, because willing involves motives and consequences, and the mind requires ability to see motives and consequences clearly, vividly, and in proper relation.

"In action as in reasoning, the great thing is the quest of right conception."

Many persons will badly because they cannot perceive the full force of antagonizing motives, and they possess small facility for calling up the possible outcomes of actions or courses of conduct. Hence development of Will demands exercise in consideration of desires, reasons and purposes and in forepicturing of consequences.

"It may be said in general," remarks Professor James, " that a great part of every deliberation consists in the turning over of all the possible modes of conceiving the doing or not doing the act in point."


Exercise No. 1. We begin, first, with simple imaginary sensations. Recall a single rose, and imagine its fragrance. Now place yourself in mind before a hill of roses, and imagine the air to be heavy with their fragrance. What would be the effect upon yourself? What would you do in such a case? Repeat this exercise with a drop of musk. Then think of a lake of musk. Repeat with the notes of a song-bird. Then imagine a forest full of birds, all singing.

These exercises should be conducted in a quiet room. Bring the Will to bear with great power upon the work. Make the imagination as strong and distinct as possible. Repeat until the imaginary sensations become as vivid as in life.

Exercise No. 2. Stand by the side of some running stream, or near a water-fall, or in a factory in operation. Now listen attentively to the sounds that assail your ears. There is one general combination of sound. What is it like? What does it recall to memory? What mood does it bring to your soul? After you have become familiar with the whole effect, proceed to analyze it into as many different notes as you can detect. When you have done this thoroughly — have separated the whole sound into its component parts — imagine clearly and powerfully, a great volume of one of these sounds, making it as loud as possible; then continue with another, and a third, and so on, until the general combination has been exhausted.

Lastly, go away from a source of real sound to a quiet place, and recall, first the general harmony, and then its individual sounds as previously analyzed. Continue until the exercise may be carried on with perfect ease.

Exercise No. 3. Recall to memory some distant and real landscape. The difficulty will consist in bringing up the details, but these must be supplied. Resolute practice will accomplish the result desired. By a supreme effort make the mental picture as real as life. In doing this you should try to reinstate the soul's moods occasioned by the original scene. Place your-self, in thought, on the exact spot where first you saw the landscape, and resolutely compel the view to rise before you with as much of detail as possible. Keep the willful mood, and continue with different landscapes until you can summon a vivid picture of real scenery with the greatest ease.

Exercise No. 4. Recall some experience which has made a lasting impression upon your memory. Pass again in thought through its various phases, slowly, carefully, with great intensity of feeling. Dwell upon its cause, its accessories, and its effect upon you at the time. Was the effect pleasant or otherwise? In either case, state why. What influence had it upon your subsequent life? Would you repeat it? If not, why not? If so, may it again be secured and how ? May it be avoided in the future and how ?

Continue with various experiences until the lessons of caution and thoughtful self interest become permanent factors in your mind.

Exercise No. 5. In a quiet room, construct imaginary pictures, such as you have never seen : -- of a bird, grotesque and unreal; of an animal, curious yet beautiful, or perfectly tame but horrible; of a building, magnificent yet mysterious; of a landscape, weird and entrancing or wild but not forbidding. Do not allow the mind to wander into revery. You should preserve the Will-mood as strongly as possible. Continue until control of the imagination has been secured.

Exercise No. 6. Gaze at some large object, and try to discover in or about it a suggestion for the play of imagination. It is a horse? Give it wings, and journey to a distant planet. It is a spool of thread? Make it to be a spider's web wherewith to weave a thousand robes or with which to send messages without unwinding by charging with intensest Will power as you breathe upon it. Continue with other objects and various fanciful imaginings until Will is master of imagination— to call up, to control or to banish.

Exercise No. 7. Select a sentence from a standard author, which illustrates the celerity of a trained imagination, and then will into the mind the complete picture suggested. Thus, Lowell, in "A Moosehead Journal," writes : " Sometimes a root fence stretched up its bleaching antlers, like the trophies of a giant hunter." The man who said this tells us that " the divine faculty is to see what everybody can look at." The "divine faculty" of "seeing should be cultivated. And it may become an Aladdin's Lamp to him whose Will is mighty. Try, now, to picture this root fence of Lowell's scene in such a way as to suggest bleaching antlers. Why did the writer bleach the antlers? Why did he not see them poised upon a row of deer-heads?

Or, take another sentence from the same author : " A string of five loons was flying back and forth in long, irregular zigzags, uttering at intervals their wild, tremulous cry, which always seems far away, like the last faint pulse of echo dying among the hills, and which is one of those few sounds that, instead of disturbing solitude, only deepen and confirm it." Now, if you have not heard the cry of the loon, try to imagine a sound which reminds you of "the last faint pulse of echo dying among the hills." If you have heard these birds, call up the scene and its impressions as vividly as possible. In either case, make the present impression absolutely real. Keep the mind from wandering, holding it to the mood suggested. Then resolutely banish scene and feeling.

Having ascertained what the imaginative element is in such sentences (you can find similar everywhere), proceed to write some statement in which a like play of fancy is obtained. Do not be discouraged. Throw yourself into the mood of imagination. Practise this entire exercise persistently until you can with ease secure the mood and write a sentence of imaginative beauty.

The old injunction, " Know thyself," is by most people sadly neglected. It is worth a deal of labor to get acquainted with this " unknown land." Lowell writes that "a man should have traveled thoroughly round himself and the great terra incognita just outside and inside his own threshold, before he undertakes voyages of discovery to other worlds." This is largely true even of mental voyages. " Who hath sailed about the world of his own heart," quotes Lowell from Thomas Fuller, " sounded every creek, surveyed each corner, but that still there remains much `terra incognita' to himself ? " It would be well if, before trying to read, we could learn how to read; before trying to study, we could learn how to study. These exercises, therefore, have in view the cultivation of one of the greatest of human faculties. They deal with simple matters because this would seem to be best, and they aim at suggestiveness only; but if they are faithfully followed they will result in a developed imagination and, which is particularly to the point here, an increased power of Will of the greatest value in practical life.

Continue these exercises indefinitely.

Exercise No. 8. Examine a machine of not very complex construction. Know its purpose. Under-stand all its parts and their mutual relations. When you have thoroughly analyzed the mechanism, close your eyes and summons it before the mind. Persist in this endeavor until you are able to form a vivid mental picture of the whole. Then mentally take it to pieces. Then mentally put the parts together. Now try to suggest some improvement by which some of the parts may be omitted, or by which parts may be better adjusted, or by which the machine may be made to accomplish better or less expensive work. Continue this exercise with various mechanisms until you are able to see into machinery, can call up to mind its inner construction, and can with ease form mental pictures of its wholes and its parts.

Exercise No. 9. Think of some matter in your life or home or place of business where a simple device or mechanism would prove valuable by a saving of time or money. The opportunity being found, proceed to think out a suitable arrangement for the purpose. Do not become absorbed in this effort to the injury of other interests. The object here is not to make inventors, but to develop power of imagination in order that motives of Will and consequences of action may be dearly perceived. Make this exercise, therefore, a study to such end. Above all, keep a strong sense of Will thoroughly in mind. Continue until you have acquired facility in the constructive imagination.

Exercise No. 10. Recall one of your great mistakes in life, review carefully, intensely, the various motives which appealed to you at that time. Think over their relations, their force, their persistence. Judge candidly whether you deliberated sufficiently before acting. Remember distinctly that you did not give all motives or reasons an adequate hearing. Acknowledge exactly why you yielded to some motives and rejected others. Bring all these matters before your mind with the vividness of a present experience. Then review all the con-sequences of your then choice. In what respect do you now see that you ought to have proceeded differently? Had you so done, what would probably have been the outcome? Suppose you were now to be put back into the former circumstances. How would you decide with present knowledge? To avoid a similar mistake in the future, you must then do what you have failed to do, namely, deliberate carefully, summon all motives into court, hear each plea, give to all adequate consideration and weight, and vividly foresee all consequences of choice as far as possible. The present exercise is designed to assist you to these desired ends. Continue such review work until you have called up for examination all mistakes which you can remember. Meanwhile mightily resolve to forefend the future by giving every important matter utmost careful attention.

Exercise No. 11. Recall to memory some very at-tractive bit of landscape observed in your travels. Let us say it is a great piece of woods seen in autumn. Picture this scene to the soul: the undulating ground, covered with fallen leaves and dotted by occasional clumps of bushes; the many colors of the foliage still crowning the trees, whose numberless trunks lift into the canopy above and afford sunlit vistas in every direction; the play of the winds upon the gleaming leaves, fallen and drooping and still clinging; the vast quiet which broods over all, save when broken by the sighing of the breeze or the call of birds from the open; the swiftly moving stealth of squirrels along the ground or among the branches ; and the strange and pleasurable moods suggested when you stood there in nature's haunt of beauty.

Now invent reflections in connection with this scene. Proceed first, by the law of similarity. Of what does it remind you? You are to make the scene you have imagined the basis and cause of other scenes similar in one or more respects ; and you are deliberately to analyze the suggestion, the two scenes by comparison, and the moods of thought occasioned by both, with reasons for the same. Do not fall into revery. This is downright work. Its value depends altogether upon the amount of Will which you put into it, and the intelligence with which you control the mind during the labor involved.

Proceed, now, to make this scene the basis and cause of another scene by contrast. You are to repeat the above exercise in all respects, except that contrast, and not similarity, is to furnish your material.

Follow these directions daily until their full value is apparent in imagination entirely under control of Will.

Exercise No. 12. The above directions may be repeated by substituting experience for scenery, proceeding, first, by similarity, and then by contrast. In all cases be strongly conscious of the willing sense. Continue the exercise indefinitely.

Exercise No. 13. Read some famous poem of the imagination. It will be better to commit it to memory. Having thoroughly mastered it, by understanding every word, and by vividly picturing in the mind every element of fancy, go on to analyze it, making a clear statement in writing of its consecutive thoughts. Then note carefully every specimen of imagination which it contains. Then determine its faults and its beauties as a work of the imagination. Then observe the relation and dependence of one element upon another. Then ascertain the secret of its beauty and of its power upon thought and feeling. Learn why it has lived and exerts its acknowledged influence. What is that influence? Continue this exercise indefinitely until you have mastered many of the world's great poems.

Exercise No. 14. In a similar manner, read some famous book (not fiction), and treat its imaginative elements as secrets to be discovered and explained. Continue this work with the best in your library.

Exercise No. 15. Take a work of fiction, and give it a similar analysis. You are now dealing with pictures of life and human nature. Read so as to obtain a vivid portrait of each character. Become thoroughly acquainted with all the personages of the book. Study the reasons for their actions. Investigate their motives. Note the influence of ancestry and environment upon them. Observe whether or not they are acting in a manner that is true to life. Would you act differently? And why? Appreciate the fact that they reason falsely and do not adequately consider all reasons involved in choice, and hence, do not give due weight to the best motives that appeal to them. Go on to follow their conduct to consequences. Are these natural — demanded by previous acts and conditions? Could the characters have been improved? Or the plot? Or the general developments of the persons? Or the outcome of their actions and relations?

Make the book a piece of real life, and study it as above suggested, in order, first, that you may thoroughly understand it, and, secondly, that you may apply its lessons to your own life. Continue until you have mastered the best works of fiction in English.

In all this remember that you are cultivating the imagination for the purpose of discovering reasons for or against conduct and of appreciating consequences. By as much as you so discover and appreciate in real life must your Will become strengthened and its determination wiser.

"The determinate exercise of the Judgment," says Professor W. B. Carpenter, "which involves the comparison of ideas, can only take place under the guidance of the Will."

Exercise No. 16. Suppose yourself to be about to take a certain step or to perform a certain act. It is a matter of vital importance. You wish to make no mistake, for your happiness and welfare depend upon your decision. But how are you to proceed?. You may choose one thing or the other. The wisdom of your choice involves the adequate consideration of two matters — motives and consequences. Apprehended con-sequences are motives, but this division is convenient. Under motives may be arranged reasons for and against either choice ; under consequences all outcomes which you can see as likely or probably to follow your decision. If you have cultivated memory, the recollection of other similar problems which you have been compelled to solve will come to your assistance. If you have cultivated imagination, you will be enabled to see clearly the motives that appeal to you, and you will also have power to imagine yourself as entering upon one course of procedure, passing through possible consequent experiences and reaping ultimate outcomes. Here will appear the values of preceding exercises. But above all, you should bring to this imaginary problem (a real problem will serve better) a vivid sense of its reality and importance, and a feeling of strong resolution to consider it with all your might, and to solve it in the best possible manner.

Let us now suppose the problem. You are not fond of the city or town in which you are living and conducting your business. You wish to change residence and business to another place. But there are difficulties in the way. These difficulties you are now to consider.

First, recall all previous experiences in similar matters, and keep them constantly in mind. Secondly, write in brief every conceivable objection to a change. Example: from your present domicile. All your friends and associates are here. You have here a business standing of say, twenty years. Your trade or clientage is established and certain. The town is growing. Investments are fairly remunerative, and they are safe. Your property is located in this place. Taxes are rather high, but not unreasonable, and they represent improvements. Your home is good and pleasantly situated. Your family enjoy fine social relations and are fond of the town. The children are taking root. They have opportunities of value. Schools are first class. Public opinion is sound. Morals are at least average. The churches are fairly active and progressive. Your age is forty-five.

On the other hand : Climate is not agreeable. Some enemies have been developed. Only a moderate business can be carried on here. Investments do not yield a large return. Taxes are increasing. The population cannot exceed a certain rather low estimate. No new railroad facilities need be expected. Manufacturing interests are not likely to become numerous. The surrounding country is agricultural, and it no longer yields its old crops. There are no mineral resources beneath the surface. The place is far removed from points of interest the mountains, the sea, the great cities. You have long been conscious of a degree of discontent and restlessness. You believe that a new environment would stir you up to better achievements. You ought to have a larger return for your investments of time and money. You desire the advantages of a larger sphere. Your family might therein find increased opportunities for enjoyment and a start in life. You have known better society than that in which you now move. The church of your choice is not located in the town where you live.

After these imaginary presentations of reason for and against a change, a decision is still difficult. You must now go on to select tentatively some place to which you may possibly transfer your life. There may be several in mind. Each location must receive a full and careful consideration. You are lawyer and judge, and you must plead honestly as the one, and decide impartially as the other.

In each contemplated move, you must call up every possible advantage and disadvantage, especially the latter, which may be likely to accrue from any choice that you may make. After each case, for and against, has been presented, proceed carefully to weigh them as wholes, taking in the general impression of both. Now note the balance of judgment : " To go, or not to go." Then proceed to review each case, and carefully strike out all reasons that offset one another, noting, again, at the last, the general balance of judgment: " To go, or not to go." If the two general judgments disagree, set the matter aside for future consideration. If they agree, hold the matter in abeyance a time, but resolve to decide definitely after sufficient opportunity for final reflection. If then you are in doubt, stay where you are.

Proceed in a similar manner with reference to the place to which you propose to move. If after a full deliberation you are in doubt as to one place, try another. If, having determined to move, you cannot decide upon the place " to which," remain where you are. If you decide to move, stir not until the new residence has been properly determined. If that is fixed, bend every energy to move to your own advantage. When your opportunity arrives, seize it quickly. Then dismiss absolutely all regrets.

Continue these exercises indefinitely.

The above are rough suggestions merely. They set forth what intelligent people always substantially do with reference to matters of importance. They are here offered because many even intelligent men seem wanting in the power clearly to see motives and possible consequences connected with momentous decisions. There are strong Wills which are not wisely exercised because of a simple lack of imaginative thinking. Many Wills are like guns set with hair-triggers — they go off before good aim can be taken. Deliberation is worth gold and stocks, and it forefends against sorrow. But a good deliberation depends largely upon the imaginative power of the soul. Our great trouble in life is that we " didn't know it was loaded." It is the work of the Will-controlled imagination to know. Here is the great prophet of success.

" Where the Will is healthy the vision must be correct."

Though creative imagination is one of the mind's most wonderful qualities, yet nowhere in school or college do we find systematic instruction in this art. All the way from primeval man — through the swing of the centuries and the upward march of mankind, the imagination has been the basis of progress. As a writer on psychology puts it :

" The products of the constructive imagination have been the only stepping stones for material progress. The constructive imagination of early man, aided by thought, began to conquer the world. When the win-ter cold came, the imagination pictured the skin of the animal on the human body. Will power going out in action merely made that image a reality. . . . The chimney, the stove, the stage-coach, the locomotive, are successive milestones, showing the progressive march of the imagination.

" Every time we tell a story clearly so as to impress the details on the mind of others, every time we describe a place or a landscape vividly, every time we relate what we have read in a book of travels so as to arouse definite images in the minds of our hearers, we are cultivating imagination. It is excellent training for a person to attempt to describe to others a meadow, a grove, an orchard, the course of a brook, the sky at sunrise, the starry heavens. If his description is not heavy, like unleavened bread, the liveliness will be due to the activity of his imagination."

The healthy Will is that which is bent on achieving right personal success by right methods, because self is a unit in the world's complex whole, which is slowly evolving the right universal Will.

The law of all this individual evolution is the double law of self-knowledge and adjustment.

That this law may " come good" in your case, you need to cultivate, and rightly use, yourself and your relations with the world. It is here that imagination plays its part. Who are you? Find that out. What is your best adjustment to the world? Find that out. Learn to see things (in self - in world), first, as they really are; secondly, as they should be for all-round welfare. Then carry out the vision.

The Will must not only be strong; it must also act wisely. Its realest motto is: I RESOLVE TO WILL —WITH POWER, AND FOR THE BEST. THEREFORE, ATTENTION ! TO REASONS AND TO CONSEQUENCES!!

Home | More Articles | Email: