Visualization holds a prominent place in the practices of most contemplative traditions. In one of Buddhism’s central texts, the Visudhimagga, for example, numerous visual objects are outlined, everything from coloured wheels to bloated corpses.¹ The student is directed towards a particular one depending on their temperament.
We probably don’t need to go to that kind of depth. The fact still remains, however, that “visual meditations” can be potent tools for healing and relaxation. In this article I want to look at two techniques.
A visualization is merely a mental image that is taken as the object of focus during meditation. The power of these “mind images” rests in the psychological impact they can have on us. Holding your attention on a decaying corpse (a Buddhist technique), for example, is going to have a different effect to imagining rays of compassion radiating to your loved ones.
You can use visualization meditation purely as a means of healing and relaxation, or as a springboard for experiencing deeper meditative states. The reason that it is useful as an initial practice is because it brings your thoughts (or your thinking faculty) into accordance with your intended aim – to focus. If we jump straight into “mindfulness of breathing” for example, it can often feel that we’re fighting our minds. By actively engaging our imagination to create a fiction we cut through this problem. Equally, a visualization used only for cultivating a positive state of mind is perfectly valid.
Visualization 1: Rays of Light
- Begin by settling yourself. Sit in a meditation posture and take a few deep, calming breaths.
- When your feel ready, imagine looking with your mind’s eye into a deep, clear blue sky. In the centre of this open space is a sun.
- Experience the blue sky as your mind: pure, broad, free of constraints.
- As you continue to hold this image, imagine the sun pouring light over you.
- Experience the rays of light as nourishing. Your worries and pains fade in its presence.
- Rest in this healing light for as long as you wish to.
- Whenever thoughts creep in, return to the image, experiencing it in all its vividness.
Visualization 2: Happiness for Yourself and Others
- Begin, again, by settling yourself.
- When ready, visualize yourself standing next to a beautiful fountain.
- This fountain, flowing with the purest water you have ever seen, exists in your own, radiant inner space.
- Experience the safety of this place. Feel yourself relax.
- Next to the fountain is an empty cup. Fill it with water and drink from it.
- As you quench your thirst, you feel a growing sense of well-being. It feels good.
- Next, invite your loved ones, your friends, to come and take a drink. Visualize each one.
- Relax into the joyfulness around you.
Other Visualizations to Try
“Metta-Bhavana:” A Buddhist meditation in which you visualize offering loving-kindness (metta) first to yourself, second to someone whom you care about, third to someone to whom you have neutral feelings and finally to someone with whom you are upset or angry. It can be a deeply healing (not to say an uplifting) practice.
Chakra Meditation: Some people find that they’re well suited to meditating on particular chakras. Have a look at our guide.
We also have a selection of visualizations on our little CD of guided meditations.
Using Your Own Visualisation
You can choose any image that evokes certain feelings (contentment, energy, confidence) to use as the object of a meditation. As mentioned earlier, the power of visualizations lies in their ability to foster certain feelings. Choose an image that represents what you want to experience. Don’t worry too much about making the right choice, allow you intuition to guide you.
(1) Daniel Goleman, The Varieties of Meditative Experience, p7.
Daily Meditations for Calming Your Anxious Mind by Jeffrey Brantley, M.D. & Wendy Millstine, NC.
The Power of Stillness by Tobin Blake
Image credit: Noisy Mist by Ram Yoga