I heard a story about a taxi driver who everyone thought of as well-traveled, a world citizen who had visited just about every known place.
His passengers, whether occasional or frequent, found him an enthusiastic conversationalist, eagerly asking about their own home towns or destinations and offering information and insights from his own recollections — or so they thought.
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As it turned out, this man had never traveled more than a few hours’ drive from the city where he lived and worked. At least, his body never had. Through years of taking an active interest in other people and through reading and other studies, he knew a great deal about places he had never actually seen. He had a mind that integrated history, culture, architecture, the arts, politics, and ever so much more.
When he was asked whether he wanted to physically visit other places, he replied that he didn’t feel the need to – for him, the visits within his mind felt sufficient.
We hear similar stories about people in prisons or prisoner of war camps who rose above their circumstances and gained new skills and education. I have read about POWs who taught each other how to play musical instruments, though they didn’t literally have any. They used their imaginations and simulated the playing. Then, upon release from the POW camp, many went on to perfect their skills.
Before I appear to be trying to put travel agents and airlines out of business, I want to confirm that actual physical travel is a wonderful thing. But that does not negate or override the value of being a sincere listener, seeking opportunities to learn and be enriched daily, translating ideas into reality, and nurturing a vivid imagination.
In his book Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha spoke about travel in this mystical way:
… the spirit and mind of man traverses all countries and regions and even the limitless expanse of the heavens; it encompasses all existence and makes discoveries in the spheres above and in the infinite reaches of the universe.
Elsewhere he identified imagination as one our five inner powers, the others being the common faculty (the link between outward and inner powers), along with thought, comprehension, and memory.
Considering the potential of imagination, I wonder what else I can imagine and bring into being. What if I imagined being more productive and helpful to my friends? What if members of a family imagined a happier home? What if a majority in a community imagined a cleaner environment?
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I’m not proposing that we engage in magical thinking, but I am suggesting that if enough people shared a vision then they could bring that vision closer to reality. Unity of vision empowers us to achieve great results. Through commitment and effort we can accomplish the practical steps. Trust in others, clear and honest communications, and patience — the bedrock for building unity — form the foundation for lasting progress.
None of this is easy, but it can happen. If that taxi driver can travel around the world without leaving his hometown, and if POWs can learn to play the guitar without one, then surely we can improve our own selves, our families, our neighborhoods, and our communities. It begins with imagining what we want to experience in reality, and then we can move actively from inner space to more outward spaces.