Kim Bateman begins her series Imagination Infusion.
When I was a little girl, a fox lived under my bed and there were bats in the rafters who waited to lay eggs in my hair while I slept. Getting into the bed every night was quite a feat. I would turn out the light and race with great urgency, jumping from as far away as possible so as to avoid the dark space between the floor and the bed while not getting too close to the ceiling. Those creatures of the night were just waiting for me. I feared that a stray arm or leg might dangle over the side during the night and I could wake with my fingers or toes nibbled off, or worse, my whole limb. And sometimes, I could hear the fox in the wee morning hours licking his jowls, or the bats rubbing their wings together in anticipation. I was prey and I knew it.
In the deep of the night, I would often shriek in horror. My father would appear bedraggled, and ask what was wrong. I would wail, “There’s a fox under my bed and there are bats in the rafters.” My father, like most loving fathers, believed he could fix the situation. He would produce a large flashlight and we would get on our hands and knees and he would show me the space under the bed. “See, there are no foxes there.” Then he would do the same with the ceiling. “But THEY ARE THERE,” I would insist. And he would say, “No, they are not,” and he would pat me on the head and put me back in bed. We repeated this exchange for many months.
One night as my father was tucking me in bed, he said he had something for me– something very powerful. From the folds of his jacket, he pulled out an imaginal sword. He said, “This is the magic, blue sword of St. Michael and foxes HATE this weapon. If you are in danger, you lift this sword and the mere sight of it will make the fox go away.” He also placed a pretend vial on the nightstand and told me that it was filled with pixie dust. If I put a little on my hair each night, the bats would no longer think it was a good place to lay eggs. I exhaled deeply, relieved that my nightmare was over. Someone finally understood! After that night, the fox and the bats no longer bothered me.
Rational problems require logical solutions. But, complex, feeling-based problems beg for imaginative responses. Telling a depressed person to “look on the bright side,” an anxious person to “just chill out,” or a grieving person to “get over it” is like telling a drug addict to “just say no,” or a homeless person to “buy a house.” Though well meaning, it doesn’t work. In our culture, we spend a great deal of time on our hands and knees shining the flashlight of rationality on issues for the sake of clarity. Additionally, we should learn to sit with the ambivalence, discomfort, and complexity that the mystery presents. In holding this tension, we might find that new images emerge that more deeply reflect the nature of the issue. This series will explore the power of imagination, beginning with a widowed Mexican immigrant who was given a vagus nerve implant. The next story relays a creative pathway through the horrors of ritual abuse in a black catholic church. Then, we will discuss how an ancient martyr who was burned at the stake helps a woman cope with chronic pain. Robert Frost said, “We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.” Let’s say hello to the fox under the bed, sprinkle pixie dust in our hair, and dance. Maybe a secret will be revealed.
Kim Bateman, Ph.D. is the author of Crossing the Owl’s Bridge: A Guide For Grieving People Who Still Love (Chiron, 2016) and “Symbolmaking and Bereavement: The Temples at Burning Man” in And Death Shall Have Dominion (Interdisciplinary, 2015). She presented a TEDx talk called Singing Over Bones (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3hibkFcld0) and serves as the Executive Dean of the Tahoe-Truckee Campus of Sierra College. Visit her website:http://www.kim-bateman.com for information on speaking/workshops, blog, and client services.