Imagination, the noun, does not exist, because imagining is activity, not a thing. We do this activity, sometimes more, sometimes less. Sometimes we are stuck in not being able to imagine how to move forward and create and love. This stuckness, like imagination, is itself an activity in which we engage.

Imagining is a transitory activity that can set us on the path of creation. We imagine something and create something else. What we create – words, music, images, a wooden tool, an electronic tool, a garden, a social movement – is never the same as what we imagined. The real doing of creation always takes an unpredictable course, because the materials have their own life and their own patterning independent of our desire to bend them. But thanks to the imagining, to the desire to see something, we take the first steps.

William Blake deified the process of imagining: to him, when we imagine and create, we are most fully human and most fully divine. “The Imagination is not a State: it is the Human Existence itself.”

Creativity is another of those “things” that doesn’t exist. You can’t measure it because there is no it. You can’t “have” it. Sometimes you do it, sometimes you take a rest. To Jung, active imagination was the pathway to creating. The work of active imagination allows us to bridge the gaps between conscious and unconscious, logic and fantasy. It opens pathways to collective patterns we share with other people. Follow impulse in creative expression, see where it leads, let images unfold into an extended drama. We go from island hopping to pursuing a story with a shape. We find our unique linkage to nature, culture, and psyche.

Stephen Nachmanovitch, Ph.D., is the author of two books on the creative process, The Art of Is: Improvising As a Way of Life, and Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art. An improvisational violinist and composer, he performs and teaches internationally at the intersection of performing arts, multimedia, philosophy, humanities, and ecology.