Visualization meditation is an enjoyable and powerful way to harness your imagination in meditation. This form of meditation is different from visualization itself. Here’s how.
You may have heard that elite athletes like the swimmer Michael Phelps or basketball legend Michael Jordon have used visualization. They both learned to visualize themselves achieving a particular goal: finishing the freestyle in World Record time or sinking a winning three-pointer just before the buzzer.
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But why? Well, these sports stars were able to capitalize on an interesting fact about the brain. It can’t always distinguish between something you imagine you're doing and something you’re actually doing. The same neurons fire in your brain in either case, so visualizing the activity in your mind makes it much easier to do in reality – because your brain has already practised it!
Amazing, eh? That’s visualization, and you can see why it’s a common tool for people who want to excel in their field.
Visualization meditation is different. It uses this considerable power of visualization in service of a traditional meditative goal such as developing concentration or compassion, or connecting with a peaceful, space inside yourself.
For example, I use visualization meditation a lot with children because their imagination is so accessible to them. It gives them a fun way to visualize and understand abstract concepts, like freedom or focus or peacefulness.
And, for many adults, visualization meditation changes a black and white experience to one in vivid, 3D colour.
This practice helps to evoke the emotional and sensory aspects of your experience. It’s markedly different, for example, to think about the concept of loving-kindness in the abstract than to feel loving-kindness for your partner or your beloved pet, isn’t it? The visualization helps you to connect with the experience beyond the concept. That’s the key.
“For many adults, visualization meditation changes a black and white experience to one in vivid, 3D colour.”
This form of meditation is a helpful bridge to the many people who find the mental focus of meditation difficult. For them, the instruction to focus on their breath or a mantra or on silence itself is too abstract – they don’t grasp what they need to do.
However, visualization meditation allows you to use skills you’re familiar with to learn something unfamiliar.
The benefits of visualization meditation, especially if you practice with some regularity, are the same as other meditation practices:
Here are two visualization meditations that use traditional meditation concepts: observing thoughts and emotions in a non-judgmental way, and deepening compassion for yourself and others.
This relaxing meditation helps you visualize the concept of non-judgmental observation as a peaceful river. It goes like this.
Continue doing this practice for as long as it feels enjoyable. When you’re done, reflect on this visualization meditation and your direct, sensory experience of having objectivity on your thoughts and feelings. How did it feel? Do you think this meditation could help you when you are anxious, angry or depressed?
Imagining nature and colour during meditation shutterstock/RangArt
Another practice you can try is a loving-kindness meditation to grow your compassion for yourself and others.
Finally, if you’re one of the many people who finds it easier to care for others than themselves, you can start this meditation thinking about others, and then finish with directing loving-kindness toward yourself. You may find this easier.
If you’re someone who has found meditation a difficult or dry, unhelpful mental exercise, visualization meditation may be just what you need. We are multi-dimensional creatures, after all, and our emotions and deeper perceptions are what many of us find bring meaning to who we are and what we do.
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I hope you’ll try these practices or try incorporating visualization into different types of meditation practices. Use the sensory tools I’ve described here to create that multi-dimensional experience for yourself, rather than letting your attention do the heavy lifting in meditation. Enjoy the power of your imagination to deepen your understanding of yourself. •
Main image: shutterstock/agsan drew
Ann Vrlak is Founder of OneSelf Meditation and a meditation practitioner for over 25 years. She’s a Certified Meditation Teacher for adults and for children (the best job ever!). She loves to share how the perspective and practice of meditation can support people with their everyday stresses and on their journey of self-discovery.
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