Imagination can be trained

Is your imagination razor-sharp? What is the best way to get your creativity firing on all cylinders?

Every one of us has an imagination. But not all of us choose to use it. Imagination is in my view an often underused quality in modern life.

Imagination doesn’t tend to respond well to tension, stress, or being rushed or forced. Imagination flourishes when you give it room to breathe.

In his beautifully written autobiography My Last Breath, surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel offers advice on how to get one’s imagination firing on all cylinders. He says:

“I’ve always believed that imagination is a spiritual quality that, like memory, can be trained and developed.”

The secret for Buñuel was to build times of “reverie,” of “meditation” into his life. And what is the most conducive place in which to do this?

An exercise in solitude


For Buñuel, times of meditation and reverie were to be found in a bar. His recipe for the perfect bar seems to chime very nicely with some of the ideas in my blog post from a few years back, calling for spaces in which quiet is venerated: What’s the first rule of Quiet Club? Buñuel’s dream bar looked like this:

“The bar is an exercise in solitude. Above all else, it must be quiet, dark [*], very comfortable – and, contrary to modern mores, no music of any kind, no matter how faint. In sum, there should be no more than a dozen tables, and a clientele that doesn’t like to talk.”

He also generously provides his recipes for the perfect martini, and for “one of my own modest inventions, the Buñueloni”** (should you wish to try the latter, I’ll leave you to discover it in the pages of this lovely tome).

Our surrealist friend would sit in silent reverie in his preferred bar for three-quarters of an hour, most days. During this time he would give his imagination free rein.

Then, his “screenwriter-collaborator” Jean-Claude Carriére would arrive, breaking the silence:

“I’d hear his punctual footsteps on the stone floor; he’d sit down opposite me at the table, which was the signal for me to tell him a story that I’d made up during my reverie.”


I can only imagine what these stories were like. If you have ever seen, for example, Buñuel ‘s collaboration with Salvador Dalí, Un Chien Andalou***, you will appreciate that our Señor B’s imagination was fertile in the extreme.

I love Buñuel’s view that “imagination can be trained and developed.” Buñuel built time into his every day to enjoy the cocktail hour. His rituals for building the time to imagine into his life are exquisitely individual. What worked for him wouldn’t necessarily work for anyone else. But how each of us allows our imagination room to breathe is as individual, as unique, as we are as people.

Like insomnia, in reverse


The secret to imagination is not only to be found in a bottle, though. Just because drink did the trick for Buñuel, it might not for you.

Monty Python’s Michael Palin, for example, would swear by running as a way to relax his mind and allow the imagination to flow. In his 1980s diaries, he notes (I paraphrase) “running is never negative.” Running could also be rather lucrative for Mr Palin. In his diary entry for 12 March 1981, he recounts a frustratingly failed attempt to write:

“The hour passes with hardly a line written. It’s like insomnia, in reverse. The mind refuses to wake up.”

He decides to go for a run. “As I pound up the hill, a title occurs to me – The Missionary Position.”

During the run, the title edits itself down to The Missionary and “the subject matter of the film swims into clear focus.” He returns home “45 minutes later muddy but feeling that I’ve made a breakthrough.” By late 1982 the film had been written, financed, made and released.

What circumstances help get your imagination going? Is it possible for you to make any or more (delete as applicable) time to do whatever it might be?

If you don’t yet know the circumstances that are conducive to your imagination, you can have a lot of fun discovering them.

Give it a try.

Imagination can be trained.

May you be nothing but kind today, to others and to yourself.

May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.


* Further emphasising the need for darkness, Buñuel contends that “views are usually liabilities where bars are concerned.” Inarguable?

** Despite the rather key role that beverages would seem to have played in his life’s work, Buñuel notes: “I should take this moment to assure you that I’m not an alcoholic.”

*** Through the magic of Youtube, you can view the 1926 Buñuel/Dalí collaboration, Un Chien Andalou. I must warn the squeamish, though, that this is pretty strong stuff in places.

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