March 26, 2009

A Short Visualization Lesson

A friend recently asked members of an internet forum my wife frequents whether anyone could give her advice on how to practice visualization. The following is an e-mail I wrote her. It turned out so well, I decided I might as well post it. The text draws from various materials I've read over the years, among them: Shakti Gawain, The Master Key, and, of course, AMORC teachings. I didn't consult anything while I was writing it, so this is (as Joseph Lisiewski would put it) my own "subjective synthesis" of the topic. So, although virtually none of the material is original, this is my own unique way of putting it together and my idiosyncratic way of expressing it.


With the passing of years, I have become wary of giving people advice. Often they misunderstand it. They make you responsible for what happens when they follow it. But most often, they don't make any use of it because it involves doing something.

But in this case, you have actually asked for advice concerning something specific. And the specific thing you ask for is the most powerful tool available to the human mind, and the thing most likely to make a difference in your dire situation: the art of visualization.

I am no expert, and my track record of success is far from perfect, but I use the skill fairly often, and I have convinced myself that it works. At this point, I am perfecting my understanding of this art, and how to use it in my efforts to unfold my being and, simultaneously, in my efforts to be of service to my family, my friends and my community.

The technique of visualization is essentially fairly simple, but there are certain things one has to understand before one uses the technique. I'm sure some of this is familiar to you from Anthroposophical concepts, but it never hurts to review (repetition is the essence of education!).

The mind consists of two "sides": the conscious or objective side, and the subconscious side. In essence they are one, but they are like the two sides of the same coin. The conscious mind chooses, analyzes and discriminates. The subconscious accepts everything that is placed into it, like seeds into fertile soil, and nurtures it, and grows it to maturity. The conscious mind's job is to filter the input into the subconscious mind, so that only those things grow there that are beneficial and in harmony with our life's plan. If we allow fear, hate and doubt into our subconscious, then we will eventually harvest a crop of even greater fears, hates and doubts.

There is one more thing about the subconscious: at its very depths, it is in communion with the universal mind, the source of all things; God. In its task of growing things according to the demands of the conscious mind, its resources are infinite, just as God is infinite.

So, in order to change the world our subconscious creates for us, what we have to do is change the instructions we give our subconscious.

The subconscious speaks a language which consists of symbols. So to speak to it, we have to fashion our message in symbols.

So much for my "nutshell" introduction.

The technique:

1. Decide what you want. This sounds easy, but it's actually the trickiest part. What we want has to be something that not only benefits ourselves, but others as well. It has to be fairly specific, so that we don't send the subconscious a vague, confusing or contradictory message. You need to be able to formulate what you want in one, or at most, a few sentences. It has to be positive. The subconscious doesn't understand negatives. (i.e. You shouldn't say "I don't want to be poor." The only part of that the subconscious will understand is "poor", so that's what you'll get.) Once you have an idea of what you want to have (either a thing or a situation) that will benefit you and at least one other person (the more the better!), you should think about it and test your emotions. If you detect something negative, you need to define that negative emotion and examine it. This is important. If you go into the active work of visualization and only then discover negative emotions associated with your desire, then you will waste your time, because this negative emotion will work against you, since it will enter the subconscious at the same time as your visualization.

Let's say your desire is to get a guitar. The negative emotion that might come up is guilt. "I don't deserve a guitar." First you have to accept this feeling and acknowledge it. Love it, like a little child. Then you have to patiently explain to it why everything is OK. "Of course I deserve a guitar. I plan to use it to make myself and others happy with the joy of creating music. Music is a powerful tool for healing the mind and the body." And so forth. You need to examine this desire, and interact with and neutralize any negative emotions that might arise in contemplating it, until you feel (as you should) that it is the most natural thing in the world that you should have it. If, after this process, you still have lingering negative emotions attached to your desire, you should probably put it aside for a while. It's not really going to manifest for you under these circumstances.

2. Assuming you have worked with your desire and have a positive attitude toward it, it is now time to formulate your "image" of your desire. What you have to do is create a full scene in your mind, complete with elements from every one of the six senses you can work into it. This scene is a vision of what it will be like when the desire has been fulfilled. Let's take the guitar as an example. You picture the guitar in your hands. You see the beautiful gleam of sunlight in the grain of the wood. You feel the smooth surface as you place your hand around its neck and the cool feeling of the metal as you place your fingers on the strings. Smell the fragrant wood scent rising from the sound box! And then you strum the strings and hear the lovely resonance of the chord singing from the entire instrument. Notice that this is not just visual sensations; it incorporates, tactile, aural, and olfactory sensations.

3. Then comes the work of actually doing the visualization. If you are a relative beginner, you need to give yourself the best chance of concentrating by withdrawing to a silent place where you can sit or lie comfortably for several minutes without being disturbed. You need to slow your breathing to a rhythm that relaxes your body. You relax until you have fairly much forgotten about your body, and are mostly a mind floating in the semidarkness. Now you create your "image" of your fulfilled desire. You have to imagine it as already fulfilled. It has already succeeded, and you are overjoyed to have this gift from the Cosmic Mind, from the Universal Storehouse. It is also important that you don't give the subconscious instructions how to fulfill your desire. Don't tell it which store to get the guitar from, or who should bring it to you, or how much it will cost. Stick to the essence of the desire. The guitar. Let the subconscious make the arrangements.

And now comes the SECRET! It's not really a secret, since you'll find it in any number of books, but it's the part everyone forgets, and has the most difficulty including in the visualization: emotional energy! In the visualization of the guitar, the emotional content would be the joy of having the guitar in your hands, and the joy at the knowledge that it is yours to use and to make beautiful music with. You really have to FEEL the joy, and electrify the visualization with that energy. This can be the difference between a successful and a failed visualization.

4. Now comes the really tricky part. Take a deep breath, and as you blow it out, forget what you were just visualizing. Put it out of your mind. Go about your business. Clean the house. Cook. Go grocery shopping. Read a book. Anything. Just don't think about your visualization. If you keep holding it in your objective mind, it won't release into the subconscious, and it won't have the chance to undergo those truly mysterious and miraculous processes of the deepest levels of consciousness.

5. If you feel it's necessary, you may repeat the visualization several more times, but you should wait at least a half day in between visualizations. The ideal time to visualize is right after waking up in the morning and right before going to sleep at night. After a certain number of visualizations, one should decide to let it go for good. When to do that is a matter of feeling and experience. But for a beginner, it would be wise to let go of a visualization after a few days.

6. Once you have visualized, you should follow up with activity in the objective world. Go to the store and find out if there are credit arrangements for buying instruments. Decide to sell something to start saving for the guitar. Whatever. Don't assume the guitar will just fall in your lap. But the interesting thing is that once you start to make the effort, you will often find that you are met halfway, or more than halfway. You save one third of the money, you get another third through some mysterious source (say, a tax refund you weren't expecting) and on the same day you notice the guitar is on sale at a 33% percent discount. Wow! And three weeks ago you thought you'd NEVER get the money together for the guitar. Sometimes it happens like a lightning flash. After visualizing, you get an unexpected phone call from someone who wants you to teach a children's folk music class, and they'll buy you a guitar so you can do it! I once visualized a car I needed because my old car had broken down. The next day I was talking to a friend who was moving to Hawaii and needed to get rid of her car. She hadn't heard I needed a car. She gave me hers, and told me to pay her whenever I had the money.

That's about the shortest I could make this advice without leaving out the essentials. Use it! It works. It can be frustrating, because there are many elements of our own minds we need to have under control before we can get consistent results. The most frequent cause of failure is what is called "cross currents". That happens when you spend ten minutes a day visualizing something, and then five hours worrying and generating negative thoughts that counteract it (i.e. "I'll never have a nice guitar!" "Only rich people get high-quality instruments!" "With all the bills I have to pay, I'll never be able to save money for a guitar!" “I never get the things I need!”) You have to be on your guard that you don't spend time thinking thoughts that counteract your visualization. For that matter, we always need to stand sentry at the gates of our subconscious.

And now I leave it all up to you. In diligent hands, this technique can work seeming miracles.

Love, Theo


anthromama said...

Can you talk at all about how this compares with the idea of prayer? (I have no idea what praying really means. It's something I'm beginning to explore. So there might be many ideas there.)

Can you visualize something happening to benefit another person, but not something tangible? Like, "I wish Joe could be patient."

The Scribbler said...

Anthromama! Good to see you here.

What a huge can of worms you open! There is, naturally, an overlap between visualization, prayer, and meditation. I don't really want to get into it now, but perhaps I'll just have to do a short posting about prayer this week. I, also, have only relatively recently started concerning myself with prayer, and realizing the importance of it.

I don't necessarily think that tangible is the ultimate criterion for what can or cannot be visualized successfully. I think something only needs to be definable or,... well,... visualizable. Taking your example, it would be quite easy to visualize ol' Joe sitting in the middle of chaos breaking out all around him, and Joe sitting there looking like serenity itself. Though, I would find that to be interfering in someone else's life, if Joe was my friend or relative. That is to say: it might work, but you just got wrapped up in Joe's karma by doing that. Maybe Joe needs to learn an important lesson that'll finally get him to see the error in impatience. Gotta be careful about interfering in other people's trials!

In such a case, I might do something more prayer-like: invoking contact with the divine and asking that Joe be given the light and strength to understand and overcome his problems. Can you sense the difference? I actually do this quite often (almost daily): visualize people being filled with light. It's had dramatic effects on several occasions.

anthromama said...

Yes, I see the difference. That's really why I asked: I want to be very careful, ethically speaking. I want to help someone, but not control them per se, or interfere in what is truly a karmic issue. But if I see someone appearing to be stuck in a negative mood or habit of behavior, I'd like to try to help. My sense is that effort would come closer to praying for strength for that person than to visualizing something specific happening.