Cedric's Pagan Thoughts

The spiritual meanderings of a NeoPagan shaman, an eclectic Wiccan, a Celtic musician, a world traveler, a bard, and an uncompromising cat-loving Bast-worshipper

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Meditation and Visualization

A few years ago, I was asked to teach a class on meditation and visualization. These are two areas that are critical to Wiccan practice but are often much misunderstood. Here are the notes for that class:


the practice of turning one’s conscious attention to the unseen and/or inner world

Meditation often involves entering a trance or altered state of consciousness. In this state, the distinction between our conscious and unconscious minds begins to blur.

Most people, when they think of meditation, think of the Eastern ideal of emptying the mind of all thoughts. While that is a valid method/goal of meditation, there are many others, and striving for the somewhat difficult goal of silencing the inner voice can get in the way of other fine meditative practices.

Why Do We Meditate?

Proponents of meditation are quick to point out various benefits to physical, emotional, and spiritual health, many of which arise from meditation as a tool for relieving stress. I once knew an office worker who took a brief “meditation break” every afternoon; all of her coworkers were in awe of how energetic, focused, and calm she always was.

In addition to the simple stress-relief bonus, meditation also allows you to access your subconscious mind, which has several benefits. For one, your subconscious mind has control over your physical body. Furthermore, your subconscious mind connects to the Cosmic or Divine Consciousness, so it is your gateway to the unseen world.

Before and After Meditation

Be sure to center at the beginning of a meditation. Similarly, when you are finished with a meditation, take a few moments to slowly become aware of your body. Blink your eyes, wiggle your toes, and sit up slowly; then perform a grounding activity, such as having a few bites to eat. Many Pagans find it useful to record any experiences or insights gained in a journal as soon as meditation ends.


Because meditiation begins with relaxation, I’d like to cover a few methods of relaxation that you might find useful.

Phasic Relaxation: Starting with your toes, tense and then relax each part of your body, one part at a time. When you’ve worked your way up to your scalp, tense and then relax your entire body.

Slow Breathing: Breathe in for four counts. Hold your breath for four counts. Breathe out for four counts. Wait for four counts. Repeat for as long as you wish. (You may prefer to use a phrase in the place of counting to four. Such phrases include “Om Mane Padme Hum” and “Honor, Power, Peace.”)

Riding the Elevator: This is a method based on visualization, which we will discuss later in class. To use this method, see yourself in an elevator going down. With each floor that you descend, your body becomes more and more relaxed. (If elevators make you nervous, take the stairs.)

Seeing the Spiral: Visualize a rotating spiral.

Methods of Meditation

Freeform Meditation: Sit or lie in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Find a position in which you are comfortable enough that you won’t be distracted by discomfort, but not so comfortable that you are likely to fall asleep. (I like sitting on the floor with my back against something.) If white noise helps cut out the world, put on a recording of soothing sound. (Ocean waves or new-age music are popular for this; avoid anything that will be too distracting.) Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax. If you are having trouble relaxing, use one of the methods mentioned above. Don’t particularly try to think about anything, but don’t worry if something pops into your head. Let your thoughts and impressions go wherever they wish to go. You may be quite amazed by the realizations and/or images that come to you. Continue for as long as you feel comfortable meditating.

Focused Meditation (meditating on something): This type of meditation is very similar to freeform meditation. The only difference is that you focus your attention on something that will serve as your starting point. The goal is typically to gain a deeper understanding of or insight concerning the subject of the meditation. For example, you might meditate on any of the four elements, a myth, a person you’re having a problem with, a place, a rune, a tarot card, a painting, or a situation. Once again, don’t try to control which thoughts or impressions come to you—you’re not trying to think something through logically; you’re letting your mind roam freely in a particular direction. As with freeform meditation, you’ll know when you’re done.

Chanting Meditation: Some prefer to chant, either silently or aloud, a repetitious phrase while meditating. The phrase performs the duty of tying up the part of the brain that could easily be distracted or sidetracked, thus allowing the meditator to focus on the unseen.

Moving Meditation: Certain forms of work or physical activity, especially those that are repetitive and rhythmic, are conducive to achieving a trance state, much the way that chanting works. A friend of mine meditates while trimming dead branches from trees, and I find that digging or doing other mindless work frees my mind to wander, with the result that I sometimes have surprising insights or even psychic flashes. Some people can enter a trance though walking, drumming, dancing, or running.
[Practice brief Freeform Meditation]



Visualization: a technique of communicating with the subconscious mind by means of creating images in the mind’s eye

Visualization is taught in conjunction with meditation because the two often go hand-in-hand in Wiccan practice. Visualization can help you achieve a meditative state, and visualizations increase in effectiveness when performed in a meditative state.

Why Do We Visualize?

Ever hear the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words? It’s doubly true when we’re dealing with the subconscious mind. Your subconscious has amazing powers, but it’s a bit like a U.S. infantryman—it grasps pictures far better than it grasps words.

Certainly, you can influence your subconscious with words. That’s why affirmations and spells are effective. But images—that is, visualizations—are often more powerful.

The funny thing about your subconscious is that it really doesn’t know the difference between a visualization and reality. Thus, when you visualize, your subconscious accepts the image as real. There’s a classic psychology experiment in which one group of people practiced shooting baskets for a specified period. A second group did not practice. The third group’s members weren’t allowed to practice, but were instructed to picture themselves successfully shooting baskets. At the end of the test period, the first group showed a marked improvement while the second group showed none. But the third group—those who had visualized—showed nearly as much improvement as those who had practiced. Clearly, visualization has the ability to affect reality.

In addition to allowing you to affect your subconscious, visualization is an important tool for manipulating energy.

Types of Visualization

Spell Visualization: Most spells include the visualization of an image that somehow represents the goal or action of the spell. It might be literal (you see yourself at your new job) or it might be figurative (you see yourself picking dollar bills from a tree). You might visualize Ganesh removing obstacles from your path. You might visualize your doubts and fears melting like a candle. There’s really no limit.

Guided Meditation: While in a meditative state, you direct your mind’s eye to form images described to you by the person leading the meditation. (If you don’t have someone else to lead a meditation, record the descriptions with a tape player and then listen to them while meditating.) Pay attention to details that arise without being described in the meditation. Also, be aware that people/images you encounter during a guided meditation may have something to say to you. Indeed, getting such entities to speak to you may be the goal of a guided meditation. (It sometimes happens in a guided meditation that images totally unrelated to the narration will come to you—in a sense, you wander away from the tour group. There’s nothing wrong with that. You are seeing what you need to see, so just relax and go with it.)

Flash Visualization: In this method, you don’t worry about achieving a deep meditative trance. Instead, you very briefly visualize your goal, and then you do it without doubt or hesitation. For example, say you’re playing darts. Visualize the dart hitting the bulls-eye, relax, and throw the dart. Don’t think about aiming; don’t worry about anything. Just release the dart. This tool is very useful for achieving physical results.

Self-Enhancing Visualization: This is similar to shielding, in which you visualize a protective shell around yourself. In a self-enhancing visualization, you picture yourself as you would like others to see you: attractive, charismatic, intelligent, persuasive, mysterious, charming, amusing. Alternatively, you can just picture an aura of light (preferably in an appropriate color) surrounding yourself. If you need strength (physical or emotional), you might visualize yourself as a lion, a mountain, an oak tree, a giant, or the Goddess Durga. The reverse technique is also possible. Some people, by picturing themselves as unobtrusive and projecting the idea that they are unnoticeable, can effectively drop out of sight. It’s not that they’ve become physically invisible; they’ve just become unobtrusive. (Note: Many people achieve these effects without realizing it. Have you ever met one of those people whom you never saw approach—they were just suddenly there? I knew a man who never said good-bye; but at some point, everyone would notice that he was gone. On the other end of the scale, there are those people who instantly attract attention or command silence when they speak. Many of these people unconsciously visualize themselves as large and charismatic.)

Going Back to a Dream: Visualization can be used to help you interpret a dream. In this technique, you want to recall the dream in as much detail as you can, and then picture yourself back in the dream. The difference is that now you are in complete control of the experience. Did the dream involve unfinished business? Finish it. Were you puzzled by the behavior or presence of someone in the dream? Stop the person and ask for an explanation. (You can even talk to objects or animals in this way. Hey, it’s your dream.) Was there a disturbing image in your dream? Find some way to set it right.

Building the Garden: Many people find it useful to create mental landscapes for themselves. These may be gardens, temples, forests, castles, apartment buildings, or anything else that works. The important thing about such landscapes is that the meditator returns to them time and again. Often the visualized landscape represents the psyche of the meditator.

Thought-Forms: Some practitioners speak of performing a visualization with such consistency and focus that other people actually see the visualized image. When this happens, the image is called a thought-form. I’ve never actually created a thought-form nor have I ever seen one, but it’s certainly an intriguing idea.

A Few Words About Meditations/Visualizations

Some people find it helpful to have specific visualizations that they repeat from time to time or in certain situations. For example, when I’m tense and need comfort, I visualize a huge, black, purring mama cat; I’m her kitten. A similar visualization is to see yourself in the lap of the Goddess, however you picture her, or perhaps on the shoulders of a benevolent father God. When I want to help someone calm down, I picture a shower of water flowing over them, washing away their concerns. Many of my meditations begin with picturing myself in a particular location that has sentimental value to me.

While image often plays a primary role in visualization, don’t forget your other senses. Besides seeing an orange, try to smell it, feel it, and taste it. If you visualize a waterfall, hear the rushing water and feel the cool touch of the droplets on your skin. You can even employ your sixth sense during a visualization. As with a verbal description, the more senses you can engage, the more effective your visualization will be.

If your visualization involves a journey, it’s a good idea to include a “return”—a period during which you visualize yourself returning to your body. It may be useful to see yourself returning over the landscape you’ve already traversed, perhaps shutting any doors you have opened during the visualization.

Some Common Questions about Meditation and Visualization

Q: I can meditate for only five minutes. Am I a failure?

A: Not at all. If you can meditate for only five minutes, then meditate for five minutes. After that, take a break, do something else, and then meditate for another five minutes. Before long, you may be surprised at how long your meditations are. However, it’s quite possible that you will have very powerful experiences during brief meditiations.

Q: Can anything bad happen to me while I’m meditating and visualizing?

A: I’ve never known anything bad to happen to someone in those situations. Now that doesn’t mean that you might not encounter some frightening or disturbing images. Usually these images represent something you need to deal with. If you can, approach the image without fear, trying to understand and accept it. If you can’t, remember that you can always open your eyes and get out of the visualization. Sure, it’s better to take your time returning, but if you are truly scared, remember that you can get out in an instant. If you are particularly worried about confronting an image, ask an experienced person to serve as your guide.

Q: Is it okay to meditate while I’m driving?

A: Probably not. When you’re driving, it’s best to focus your attention on the seen world, not the unseen world. Having said that, I’d like to add that you’ve probably entered a trance while driving—most drivers do. Road hypnosis is a common danger on long road trips. But it’s best avoided, not sought out.

Q: Is it hard to learn to visualize?

A: Believe it or not, you have probably already visualized quite a bit. Our culture trains people to visualize by teaching them to read. Any time you picture a character in a book or think about how to follow a set of written directions, you are visualizing. Now you just need to learn to use visualization as a magickal tool.

Q: Do I have to look like me when I’m visualizing?

A: Heck, no! If you prefer to appear as a bird so that you can fly or a fish so that you can swim or a dragon so that you’ll feel safe, go for it. (Personally, I always have big angel wings so that I can fly.)

[practice one or more guided visualizations: seeing a candle flame, removing boulders from a field]

Appendix A: Visualization Practice

The Lemon: Picture a whole, unpeeled lemon, perfectly ripe and yellow. As you take it in your hand, feel the soft firmness of its skin under your fingers. Run a thumb along its dimpled surface. Now pull the lemon to your nose and inhale the citrus scent. With a knife, slowly cut into the fruit. Listen carefully to the zipping sound of the knife penetrating the lemon’s skin. Cut into the meat of the fruit and pull the zest apart; smell the more pungent aroma the lemon gives off now. Pull the lemon open at the cut; the cool juice drips onto your fingers. Bring the open fruit to your lips; taste the tart juice with your tongue. If you wish, squeeze the lemon juice into a glass and pour cold water over it. Then stir in sugar, listening to the tinkling of the spoon on the glass. Now take a drink.

[As you finish this visualization, check to see if you are salivating. Professional singers and public speakers often visualize lemons in order to counter nervous dry mouth.]

Head Turning (adapted from Urban Shaman by Serge Kahili King): Begin with your eyes open and looking forward. Slowly turn your head to the right, carefully noting all details of your environment. When you have turned your head as far as you can to the right, take note of the rightmost extent of your vision; pick an item to mark that location. Now repeat the process, turning your head to the left. Next, close your eyes and visualize your environment, imagining that you are turning your head first to the right and then to the left. Realize that in your visualization, your head can turn farther than it did when your eyes were open. Finally, open your eyes and repeat the head-turning. You will find that you are able to turn your head farther the second time than you could the first.

Relive a Memory: Think of the most attractive person you know. (If you can’t decide which person get the title, just pick someone who strikes you as attractive.) Now recall the time you first saw that person or the first time you noticed how attractive that person is. Where were you at the time? What was he/she wearing? What features struck you as attractive or appealing? Chances are, you are visualizing that person without even planning to. There’s also a good chance that you are having a physical reaction to the memory.

Candle Flame: Close your eyes and picture a candle flame, see it flickering. Make it rise higher and higher, up to several feet. Now make it shrink, decreasing to where it is barely burning. Allow it to grow back to its regular height, and then picture it changing colors. Return it to its original color and make it shrink until it sputters out.

The Quarter (adapted from Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson): Visualize a quarter vividly. See its shape and color; feel the ridges along its edge with your thumb. Get a sense of its weight in your hand, and tap it against a surface to hear the sound it makes. Now visualize that you are in a place where you walk on a regular basis—your home, a nearby sidewalk, the parking lot where you work—and you find the quarter. Imagine the scene of finding it as vividly as you possibly can. Repeat the visualization several times a week, and take note of how many quarters you find.

Removing Boulders: Picture yourself standing on the edge of a green, grass-covered field. The scene is beautiful and sunny, with a gentle breeze, but there are huge boulders littering the field. One by one, push the boulders out of the field; don’t worry about them being too heavy—in a visualization, you have the strength of giants. Continue until you have cleared the field, then admire how much better the field looks.

[This visualization is a handy tool for literally removing obstacles and burdens from your life. In that sense, it is a spell.]

Webmasters/Ezine Publishers: Free professional content - pre-licensed to you. You are invited to use any or all of the Pagan thoughts articles by Cedric in your publication or website. The only requirement is that you include the by-line of the author, including the name and website of the article.


Post a Comment

<< Home