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We know that visualization works in part because the construction of the mind is such that it cannot tell the difference between a vividly imagined scene and one that actually takes place. So when we create scenes of future states that we want to bring about, the mind experiences them as real. That’s one reason why visualizations reduce our fear of change and move us closer to what we want to have or to be. Because we have already “lived it,” we are not as afraid, and the reality does not seem as foreign or as unlikely to us.
Another purpose that visualization serves is training. Sports figures repeatedly imagine themselves playing the perfect game as a means of improving their game. In their mind, it’s as if they have already played perfectly, so they know how to do it and are even practiced at doing it. For that reason, visualizations play an important part in their professional training. Using the same technique, we can prepare ourselves to make amends, to let go of regrets, and to grant forgiveness. Yet there is still a mystery about how creative visualization works, especially when it results in profound changes that seem beyond our own capabilities to bring about.
Two very good books describe how to use creative visualization for purposes of healing: Patrick Fanning’s Visualization for Change, which is a
detailed handbook on creative visualization, and Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization, which takes a somewhat different approach to describing the process. Both books are listed in appendix A, “Recommended Reading.” This chapter provides general guidelines for using creative visualizations, but it cannot completely substitute for the thoroughness of these books. You may want to read them as well.
Guidelines for Visualizing
Creative visualization is not difficult. The following guidelines will increase the effectiveness of every visualization exercise that you do.
1. Determine the objective ofthe visualization.
What specifically is it that you are attempting to accomplish with this visualization? Is it to let go of a specific resentment, to forgive another person for a certain act, to encourage yourself to work a step, or to forgive yourself for holding onto a regret? Whatever the objective, it must be clear because it will define the content of your visualization.
2. Determine the content ofthe visualization.
What picture can you create in your mind that will capture what you are trying to bring about? One approach is to imagine the scene with the literal events taking place before your eyes. You could imagine yourself, for example, apologizing to an individual you had harmed, saying the very words you would say in the very room in which you expect to say them. An alternative approach is to create a metaphor or analogy for what you are trying to achieve with the visualization.
A metaphor is something that acts as a symbol to represent something else. For example, you could choose a small bird held in your hand as a metaphor for your regrets. In the visualization, you could see yourself opening your hand to release the bird—and your regrets. Then, with pleasure, you would watch the bird fly away, never to return, leaving you happy and without regret. A metaphor is preferable
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to a literal representation when the metaphor feels more comfortable or when a literal visualization would be too complex to capture what you are trying to achieve.
3. Eliminate distractions.
Find a quiet place, close the door, unplug the phone, tell others in your house to leave you alone, use earplugs, or do whatever else you need to do so that you will not be distracted during the visualization.
4. Get comfortable.
Assume a comfortable position for your visualization. Recline on the sofa, lie on your back, sit in a chair, or choose some other position that is comfortable and relaxing for you.
5. Close your eyes.
Close your eyes to focus your attention inward and to shut out the visual distractions of the world. Since you will be creating your own visualizations on the blank screen of your mind, competing visual images from the real world should be eliminated.
With your eyes closed, enter into a state of relaxation. Release the anxieties, worries, fears, and obsessions of the day. Feel them drain out of you. If necessary, use one of the many exercises that can induce relaxation. A simple such exercise is to breathe deeply, counting slowly backward from ten. With each number, feel yourself sinking deeper and deeper into a relaxed state. A more elaborate approach is to tighten and relax each major muscle ofyour body, one at a time, beginning with those in the hands and concluding with those in the feet, feeling your relaxation deepen with each muscle tightened and released. Since your most natural periods of relaxation are just before falling asleep and just after waking, these two times of the day are highly effective for creative visualizations.