Visualization

I have recently become very interested in visualization. I’ve heard about the benefits of using it in meditation mainly. I’d like to start learning more about it. Even just daydreaming is apparently beneficial. I used to daydream a lot when I was younger. I don’t know when I stopped doing that. Maybe it was once I had been let down one too many times as a teenager. I began fearing my daydreams, thinking I was just getting my hopes up, setting myself up for disappointment. But now I think I did myself a disservice in viewing it that way.

Even though I now see that daydreaming is perfectly healthy and can be a positive, mindful practice, I still have lingering negative feelings attached to it. When I think about daydreaming, I am thinking about imagining things that haven’t actually happened or things that might happen in the future. Visualization can include daydreams, but it is distinct in the sense that you can also visualize places you’ve been, people you know, even things you have felt. For instance, yesterday during my short meditation, I was unable to settle my mind enough to focus on my breath. Instead I decided to picture myself seated on my favorite giant rock along the river. I went through every detail of what it felt like when I was there in the past and put myself back in that mental space. Allow me to take you there with me for just a moment.

It is summer. The smooth surface of the heavy stone beneath you is cool despite the warm air all around. You breathe in. The air is thick and soft. You breath out. You feel a gentle breeze pass over you. You hear it rustling the lush green leaves that surround you in this private place. Mixing with bird songs in the distance and the crisp collision of the waves against the bank, it creates a symphony that sends shivers down your spine. The earth is breathing too. It has its own soothing rhythm. Even with your eyes gently closed, you know it is very bright out. The sunlight creates a reddish hue on the backs of your eyelids instead of the blackness that usually resides there. You can feel the prickling heat of the rays against your skin, your shoulders, your cheeks, your open palms.

Wasn’t that pleasant to read? Did you feel the sun? Did you hear the rustling leaves, the waves? Isn’t it amazing how vividly our minds can reproduce these things for us wherever you are? I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and joy as I visualized this beautiful summer day that I nearly wept. I don’t have much experience with visualizations like this. Apparently they can get even better and more detailed with regular practice. I enjoyed that meditation so much that I even went through a catalogue of moments like that in my memory as I fell asleep last night. One that I was particularly struck by was the memory of a day last summer.

I try to practice my yoga outside whenever I can. It would probably even be nice to do in the snow, but I can never get myself to overcome my hatred of the cold to try. I have a big backyard and usually have my cat and dog outside with me as I do my daily practice in the shade of a big tree near the rusty orange creek that runs along the road behind my house. If it’s rainy I will sometimes still do my practice outdoors, just under my small covered porch. It’s just big enough for my yoga mat, and it’s a little slanted towards one side, but I like to think it’s a nice challenge for my balance. Last night the memory of one of those days practicing on my porch as the warm rain fell hard just a few feet away took my breath away. What a beautiful moment! A moment that was just for me. A moment that I can return to whenever I want. I let the sound of that far off rain soothe me to sleep.

It made me wonder how many other sweet simple moments I have stored somewhere inside my head. I had never really thought to look for them before. I am excited to start searching. I also want to start actively collecting these moments. When I discover myself in one of them, I want to practice using mindfulness to store as many of the small details as I can so that I will be able to reproduce it for myself later on. This life is so strange, isn’t it? I’ve inhabited this mind for over 27 years now and I am still discovering new ways to use and enjoy it. Do you practice visualization? What kinds of things do you like to visualize?

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Meditation Metaphor

Imagine the mind as a flowing river. Normally we, ourselves, are submerged in the rushing waters of our own minds. Trying desperately to keep our heads above the current. We are swept along with every passing thought. Unable to separate ourselves. Meditation is a chance to step out of that raging river.

When we sit down to meditate, we have stepped onto the bank of the river. As we nestle in, the sunlight begins to dry our dewy skin. We align our backs with the trunk of a sturdy tree. We imagine our own roots sprouting from the sits bones, anchoring us. Finally finding solid ground after being carried by the cold rapids for so long.

As we watch the river in front of us, we notice leaves falling from the tree and landing on the water’s surface. These are our thoughts. Fragile and fleeting, the river carries them off quickly. As we meditate, our job is not to stop these leaves from falling, nor is it to catch them or collect them from the water. We simply observe them. We watch them land on the water, floating gracefully for a few moments before the current carries them out of sight. We don’t need to identify the leaf or discover why it fell. We don’t need to stop the flowing waters. Just watch. Just breathe. Feel your new roots grounding you, anchoring you in place. Secure as we watch the river of the mind and it’s many thoughts.

This is one way to visualize meditation. It isn’t about control. We can never hope to control our minds. Meditation is about observing. We are watching ourselves. Noticing what it feels like to exist. Maybe as we watch, realizing some of our own patterns, and maybe not. Just giving ourselves permission to sit on the bank for awhile. To just breathe, just watch, just be. It may even be helpful to visualize yourself at the side of a river as you meditate. Whenever you notice yourself getting tangled in thought, bring your mind back to the image of the water. Imagine the thought falling as a leaf into the river, and watch it go. We are not the leaves of thought. We are not the swift waters of the mind. We are the one who watches.

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