The subtitle of this book is incorrect. It reads: “A mindful fall-asleep book.” It has only a few mindfulness practices but concentrates on visualizing, imagining, and relaxation experiences and techniques much more.
Stars Before Bedtime is a short, big picture book at 31 pages, meant to be read to young readers.
The limited text packs in a lot. First, we have the core theme of going to sleep, but this is planted inside the practices and not overly highlighted. The real emphasis is the book’s introduction to some of the night-sky constellations and their mythological characters.
This is where visualizing and imaging come in. Readers are challenged to visualize each character, its attributes, and sometimes its movements. In addition, readers are asked to assume some of these traits as being their own. Here is an example that involves the constellation Aquila (the eagle) and constellation Corvus (the crow):
“Stretch your arms out as wide as you can, like wings, and take a deep breath in. As you breathe out, picture yourself soaring across the night sky like an eagle. With your eyes still closed, place your hands on your belly and take a deep breath in. Fill your belly with air so it gets big and fat like Corvus’s did when he filled it with fruit. Can you feel the breath there? Now breathe out, let it go, and feel the air leaving your tummy. Do this three times.”
The accompanying illustrations are simple in style and color but get the job done. There is enough to convey the central myth around each of the 22 constellations mentioned in the text.
Each two-page spread can keep children (or adults) busy for a few weeks if time is taken to seriously learn and master each technique in Stars Before Bedtime.
Recommended for inspiring children to be interested in learning more about visualizing and imagining.
Stars Before Bedtime By Claire Grace and Dr. Jessamy Hibberd, illustrated by Hannah Tolson
Copyright 2020. Publisher: Quarto Publishing Size: Ages: 3-6 (but adults would do well to practice everything covered in the book, too).
Source of biographical details: Amazon book sales page
“Dr. Jessamy Hibberd is a London-based Chartered Clinical Psychologist, author, and commentator. With over 15 years in clinical practice, she runs a clinic where she works one-to-one with people experiencing common mental health problems. She is the co-author of the international best-selling THIS BOOK WILL series, including This Book Will Make You Sleep.”
“Irish-born Claire Grace studied English and Philosophy before becoming a commissioning editor of children’s books. She is the author of many books for children and has worked on a collection of award-winning titles. She now lives in London, where she spends her time writing, drinking coffee, and dog spotting.”
“Originally from a small town near Leeds, Hannah Tolson moved the long, long way down to Falmouth, Cornwall, to study illustration by the sea. After graduating in 2013, she still lives and continues to illustrate there.”
When I’m making a presentation about Imagination, many people automatically think I’m talking about some form of Meditation. While Meditation is an invaluable approach to inner change and stability, it is very different from practicing Imagination.
Imagination and Meditation manage the contents of our inner life, the thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations we have every day and any day, in very distinct ways to achieve very different goals.
Meditation Meditation, especially Mindfulness Meditation, seeks to greatly simplify the content of our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. It does this by moving our awareness to the senses. The senses provide us with simple impressions. This is far from the typical complexity of how we think and emote. In addition, simply sensing does not require analysis. What we sense: is as it is. Accepting what is allows us to tune down striving.
Our senses also pull us to the present. We spend an enormous amount of our day mentally time traveling to our past or the potential future. This calls up very complex cognition. If we can be in the now, we are freed from ruminating and fearing.
In Meditation, our analytical and striving mind is quieted. We experience a release from striving, and our minds calm and reach an increase of stability and clarity.
Boiling this down to an analogy we get: Meditation seeks to empty the cup of content in our minds.
Imagination Imagination seeks to add mental and emotional content. Not only is it open to the thoughts and feelings of the moment, but it wants to add a lot more content by opening to the unconscious. Our unconscious holds a wild and poetic well of impressions, intuitions, forgotten information, memories, and some say, even knowledge passed to us from humanity’s ancestors (see the work of Carl Jung, especially his work on archetypes).
Armchair Dreamers relax into a more or less dreamy place to let this content come into the mind to observe it and to interact with it. In this process, the Armchair Dreamer finds what they are experiencing is more poetic, poignant, deeper, and insightful than everyday thinking and feeling.
Boiling this down to an analogy we get: Imagination seeks to fill the cup.
Since the later 1880s, imagery has been studied formally within university settings. Researchers have collected self-reports of the imagery experience by interviews, diaries, recordings, and questionnaires. Today we look at how these research questionnaires can help us sharpen our imagery skills and track our progress. We will start with the most current tool, the VVIQ, but I will cover the earlier questionnaires on which this tool is based in the coming months.
The Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ and VVIQ2)
In 1973 the British psychologist, David Marks, published a questionnaire concentrating on how well people could see imagery. This questionnaire, and its 1995 revision, has been used by researchers for more than a thousand published studies.
Its approach is simple. Ask a participant to visualize an image and rank how vivid the image appears in their mind on a 1 to 5 scale. Once the participant has completed the questionnaire, they are asked to close their eyes and each image is reintroduced, and the participant ranks the vividness.
Here is the scale used in the VVIQ2. The rankings are simple and obvious. At one end of the range is not seeing imagery, and at the other end, experiencing imagery of great clarity.
No image at all. You only “know” that you are thinking of an object
Vague and dim
Moderately clear and vivid
Clear and reasonably vivid
Perfectly clear and as vivid as normal vision
3 Ways to Put the VVIQ to Use
These rankings can be quite useful outside of research to help us sharpen our imagery practice.
#1. Use rankings as a ladder to go further into your imagery experience
When we begin an imagery session, most of us start at a ranking of 1, “No image at all. You only know you are thinking of an object.” Deeper imagery work begins at a rank of 3 (“moderately clear and vivid”), so we know that we have to find a way to get from 1 to 3. Relaxing a bit more can help. Whatever technique we use, we will know soon enough if it is working.
If, after about a minute or two, you haven’t moved along in the rankings, you can try something else. I suggest following any image that comes up. Since the image popped up on its own, clearly, it is ready to be experienced to a deeper degree. Follow the image until you find yourself at least at a level 3 ranking, and then bring up the imagery you are interested in exploring.
If you feel too unsettled energetically or emotionally, you can try concentrating on a static inner image (i.e., a coin, a book, a tree) for as long it takes to settle down. Or you can tap a memory and let a memory pull you into images. Keep experimenting to determine what works best for you.
With practice and close observation of our imagery experience in each session, you will get a feel for your movement up the ladder of rankings and you will be able to direct yourself along its course.
#2. See how your vividness develops with practice
With daily practice, even just five minutes a session, your vividness will go up. To see your progress, give each session a ranking. You can give it a ranking at any point, beginning, middle, or end, but I suggest you rank your vividness shortly before you decide to finish up your session. This probably is the point at which you have reached good imagery engagement.
#3. Find out how your vividness differs by what imagery you use
You can use David Mark’s VIQQ questionnaire images to detect if some imagery is more vivid than other imagery. He included 16 items in groups of 4 that test the vividness of nature, people, objects, and movement. I wish he had included basic conditions such as colors, lighting, and textures, but you can also try those. Marks suggests running through the list doing each one with eyes open, followed by going through the items with eyes closed.
Theme: Relative or Friend
For items 1 to 4, think of some relative or friend whom you frequently see (but who is not with you at present) and consider carefully the picture that comes before your mind’s eye
1 The exact contour of the face, head, shoulders, and body.
2* Characteristic poses of the head, attitudes of body, etc.
3* The precise carriage, length of step, etc. in walking.
4 The different colors worn in some familiar clothes.
Theme: Natural scene
For items 5 to 8, think of the sun and the sky.
5* The sun is rising above the horizon into a hazy sky.
6* The sky clears and surrounds the sun with blueness.
7* Clouds. A storm blows up, with flashes of lightning.
8* A rainbow appears.
For items 9 thru 12, think of yourself at a store or a shop.
9 The overall appearance of the shop from the opposite side of the road.
10 A window display including colors, shapes, and details of individual items for sale.
11 You are near the entrance. The color, shape, and details of the door.
12* You enter the shop and go to the counter. The counter assistant serves you. Money changes hands.
Theme: Natural scene: Lake
For items 13 to 16, think of a country scene that involves trees, mountains, and a lake. Consider the picture that comes before your mind’s eye.
13 The contours of the landscape.
14 The color and shape of the trees.
15 The color and shape of the lake.
16*. A strong wind blows on the tree and on the lake causing waves.
* Eight of 16 items indicate activity or movement (marked *).
This large picture book introduces the use of imagination with the help of two engaging animal characters, a simple page layout, and fun drawings of animals and props.
The child will be pulled into and along the story by the conversation between a wolf and a rabbit. The wolf acts as a mentor, teaching the rabbit and, at the same time, providing learning challenges for the guileless rabbit to master. Adult readers will be engaged by the implied danger of prey being so close and for so long near its predator. How can this book have any other resolution than the poor bunny following nature’s path? I’m sure anyone reading this book to a child will be thinking: “Do I keep reading this, or do I put it down?” I assure you this book has an ending surprising to a kid and a relief for adults.
What is essential about this fun book is how it highlights imagination as a thing to do. The child reader will undoubtedly get that imagination is a skill that can be cultivated and strengthened, that it has importance, provides many choices, and by the book’s end, holds much power.
“You need to use your Imagination! That means using words and pictures to create a story,” explained Wolf.
“Use your imagination” is repeated several times, almost as a command. Indeed, the reader will remember that imagination is not only something others do as an experience but something that a person should do without hesitation.
I recommend this book for adults who wish to share their enthusiasm for imagination with very young people in a fast, transparent, memorable, and engaging way.
Title: Use Your Imagination (But be careful what you wish for!) Nicola O’Byrne, 2014, Nosy Crow Press / Candlewick Press, nosycrow.com, 22 pages, 9.09 x 0.2 x 11.42 inches.
“A paracosm is a detailed imaginary world. Paracosms are thought generally to originate in childhood and to have one or numerous creators. The creator of a paracosm has a complex and deeply felt relationship with this subjective universe, which may incorporate real-world or imaginary characters and conventions. Commonly having its own geography, history, and language, it is an experience that is often developed during childhood and continues over a long period of time, months or even years, as a sophisticated reality that can last into adulthood.
The concept was first described by a researcher for the BBC, Robert Silvey, with later research by British psychiatrist Stephen A. MacKeith and British psychologist David Cohen. The term “paracosm” was coined by Ben Vincent, a participant in Silvey’s 1976 study and a self-professed paracosmist.
Psychiatrists Delmont Morrison and Shirley Morrison mention paracosms and “paracosmic fantasy” in their book Memories of Loss and Dreams of Perfection, in the context of people who have suffered the death of a loved one or some other tragedy in childhood. For such people, paracosms function as a way of processing and understanding their early loss. They cite James M. Barrie, Isak Dinesen and Emily Brontë as examples of people who created paracosms after the deaths of family members.
Marjorie Taylor is another child development psychologist who explores paracosms as part of a study on imaginary friends. In Adam Gopnik’s essay, “Bumping Into Mr. Ravioli”, he consults his sister, a child psychologist, about his three-year-old daughter’s imaginary friend. He is introduced to Taylor’s ideas and told that children invent paracosms as a way of orienting themselves in reality. Similarly, creativity scholar Michele Root-Bernstein discusses her daughter’s invention of an imaginary world, one that lasted for over a decade, in the 2014 book, Inventing Imaginary Worlds: From Childhood Play to Adult Creativity.
Paracosms are also mentioned in articles about types of childhood creativity and problem-solving. Some scholars believe paracosm play indicates high intelligence. A Michigan State University study undertaken by Root-Bernstein revealed that many MacArthur Fellows Program recipients had paracosms as children, thus engaging in what she calls worldplay. Sampled MacArthur Fellows were twice as likely to have engaged in childhood worldplay as MSU undergraduates. They were also significantly more likely than MSU students to recognize aspects of worldplay in their adult professional work. Indeed, paracosm play is recognized as one of the indicators of a high level of creativity, which educators now realize is as important as intelligence. In an article in the International Handbook on Giftedness, Root-Bernstein writes about paracosm play in childhood as an indicator of considerable creative potential, which may “supplement objective measures of intellectual giftedness … as well as subjective measures of superior technical talent.” There is also a chapter on paracosm play in the 2013 textbook Children, Childhood and Cultural Heritage, written by Christine Alexander. She sees it, along with independent writing, as attempts by children to create agency for themselves.”
Examples of paracosms include:
Middle-earth, the highly detailed fantasy world created by J.R.R. Tolkien, as expressed in his novels The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as well as a sizable body of writings published posthumously containing fictional histories, languages and other reference material. Tolkien had been inventing languages since his teen years, only later imagining the people who spoke them or their environment.
Gondal, Angria, and Gaaldine, the fantasy kingdoms created and written about in childhood by Emily, Anne, and Charlotte Brontë, and their brother Branwell, and maintained well into adulthood. These kingdoms are specifically referred to as paracosms in several academic works.
K.C. Remington has written over twenty books in the Webbster and Button Children’s Stories series, set in a paracosm called the Big Green Woods.
As children, novelist C. S. Lewis and his brother Warren together created a paracosm called Boxen which was in turn a combination of their respective private paracosms Animal-Land and India. Lewis later drew upon Animal-Land to create the fantasy land of Narnia, which he wrote about in The Chronicles of Narnia.
Additional paracosmists are listed in Root-Bernstein’s Inventing Imaginary Worlds: From Childhood Play to Adult Creativity Across the Arts and Sciences, 2014, and on the related website, Inventing Imaginary Worlds.
An easy, no-fuss, and powerful way to practice visualizing is to take a few moments at the end of each day and run thru our memories of what we did and observed that day. We don’t have to go into every detail, just the highlights will do. A few minutes every day will soon produce big growth in our visualizing skills.
Amount of time: at least 2 minutes
What’s needed: Nothing
Location: Anywhere, anytime
1. Find a few moments when you can run something thru your mind. You don’t have to be in perfect silence or seclusion.
2. Bring up memories of what you did today. You can skip around the timeline or you can start your visualizing with the earliest thing you can remember work your way up to the present moment.
3. Visualize each memory. When you have it, take a moment to sink into the event a bit. Feel yourself being there. Can you sense your movements? Sounds?
4. Don’t knock yourself on working to remember everything you did or in every detail.
5. After a few minutes, finish up. Take a moment to acknowledge that you got some practice in for the day!