When I was introduced to meditation, I was awed and humbled by how much it changed my life. I was so profoundly impacted by it that, for many years, I considered it the most important thing I could do for my mind and my life.
However, as time went on and I began to understand more about how my brain works, I began opening up to something else - visualization. As I learned more about it, I could see how it was a powerful companion to a meditation practice. These two things compliment and enhance each other so well that I now see visualization as the yang to meditation's yin.
Meditation, as a yin force, is gentle and passive. It allows us to let go, to clear, and to open up to our true selves. Visualization, as a yang force, is active. It's creative. It's the energy we use to build our visions in all the space we cleared during meditation.
We are creatures of habit. This is due to the fact that the more we think and experience something, the more neurons cluster together to reinforce this particular thing. This, essentially, is how habits are formed. Neurons continually coming together is how we save energy. Our brain creates shortcuts, and so when it sees something familiar, it follows the familiar neuron cluster and responds in the same way.
When we break habits, we must literally change our brain's physical makeup. Which is why it can feel so hard to change. Your brain, in all its energy saving efficiency, keeps trying to follow familiar thought patterns, which are just neurons that formed together over time. Depending on how long you've been thinking something determines how deep these rivers of thought go.
A lifelong pattern that's never been questioned can be changed - but it's going to take effort. And this is where visualization becomes a powerful tool and ally.
Trying to change habits in the moment is like swimming upstream in the Nile. Eventually, you're going to get tired and think to hell with it and let go. And then you repeat the thing you swore you'd never do again. You fall back on old habits. Maybe you get really angry at yourself, feeling like you've failed and you're a loser.
If this is you, it's okay. This science, which is known as the neuroplasticity of the brain, is so new it's still in its infancy. Very few of us are taught how our brain actually works. Which can make it feel like we're weak and worthless for not being able to change.
The truth is, I got interested in this because I kept having anxiety, which was making me want to FREAK OUT over nothing. In the grocery store line - freaking out. Waiting for a yoga class to start - freaking out! Asking the librarian for a book - SUPER FREAKING OUT. And why? Librarians are the nicest people and I love them so much.
I couldn't understand why I was so nervous ALL THE TIME. But then I began to understand that my nervousness was building on itself. I began to anticipate myself having anxiety, which made me want to PANIC because I could go Chernobyl at any second. I could be buying bell peppers and have a FULL MELTDOWN and then what!?!?!?
I felt like I had no control over myself or my reactions.
Making it all worse was I kept trying to fix it in the moment. When I was freaking out, I tried calming myself using all the tricks and tools I'd learned. Anxiety would hit and I would breathe and count and do all the stuff I was told to do. But nothing worked and it only made me feel like a failure. It also scared me because I began to believe nothing would ever help.
But then I was introduced to visualization. It was through this that I saw the error of my ways. Rather than trying to change habits in the moment, which Oh my God, no, no, just no, not possible, I began changing them before I ever left the house.
I began laying a new foundation, an alternate belief system for my brain to try on.
The more I visualized myself calm and secure, the better I began to feel. And the better I felt, the more I trusted these new feelings. The more I trusted them, the more I switched from DROP THE BELL PEPPERS AND RUN to, it's okay, breathe, I'm safe I'm safe I'm safe.
Visualization, essentially, created a new story in my brain. And because my brain likes shortcuts and is energy efficient, my brain began following this new story. And then it began to tell it on its own.
Meditation continually helps me to release anxiety that's built up during the day. Meditation is still a powerful tool I use all the time. It's just that I'm now pairing it with visualization, which allows me to replace those anxiety-creating beliefs with empowered and confident ones. Visualization, like meditation, is a practice. It takes time to become familiar with it and to see the benefits of it. But once you do, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.
Sometimes, when I'm struggling with my sense of self-esteem, I begin to think of my accomplishments, good things I've done, positive things people have said to me, and so on. I was doing this tonight as I thought about who I am and where I'm at in life. I was navigating waves of doubt and insecurity.
Who are you to feel important in this world? What have you done to earn that?
And then I wondered... why do I feel I have to think of what I've done or am doing in order to feel my existence is valid and worthy? Have I ever felt a wild flower needs to prove it belongs in this world?
Just think of it - you are walking through a field and suddenly you come upon a glorious yellow buttercup. It has brightened the field and thereby brightened your day. Even better, nobody planned for this flower to be here. It arose from a mysterious and far-reaching chain of events that is part of the ongoing web of Earth life. The fact that you crossed paths with this flower is quite literally a cosmic miracle.
As you gaze upon this flower, do you wonder what it's doing with its life?
Do you wonder if it's actually earned that sunshine it is so freely soaking up? Do you ask yourself if this flower truly deserves, above all other existing and potential flowers, to be pulling in nutrients from the earth? Has this flower done anything special to be worthy of your attention and praises???
I mean, who does this flower think it is!
It would be strange and even depressing to put all of that on a flower, which is valid and important simply because it exists. We intuitively know this, and we allow this knowing to extend to all of the natural world.
We do not question if a moose is living up to its potential. We do not wonder if that hawk soaring in the sky is trying to find its purpose in life. We just know that they are here, and we are so glad they are.
Even the mosquitoes, which literally feed off of other living things, they actually do the opposite of contribute or work hard or share loving kindness, are things we know that do not have to ask our permission or approval to be. We are free to swat them to their death, but don't expect that mosquito to apologize to you or anyone or anything about who it is and what it's done (or not done) with its life. The mosquito knows what created it is something beyond you, and therefore, it owes you no explanation, not even a "thanks for the blood!"
And how wonderful to know that is true of you and I also.
We are also a part of the natural world, even if it seems our world has somehow removed itself. This separation is only an illusion.
Your body is nourished by the the water of the earth. The food you eat, which creates your body, was grown in this planet's rich, musky soil. That sunshine that is so vital to all of plant life is vital to you also. You are a natural part of this world, and whoever you are, wherever you are, the only person you must explain yourself to... is no one.
You are valid because you were created and you exist. You are a wildflower in the sea of stars we call the Milky Way.
You, with every breath you take, are deserving and important. You are a gift from a higher consciousness, and that divine, mystical energy is a part of you right now. It may seem your life is as random as a leaf on a tree, but the thing is, no leaf is random. Each leaf ensures a delicate balance is achieved on each branch.
Sometimes, I will feel that I am valid because I believe in kindness. I boost my self-esteem by reminding myself I am a loving person.
But even this is putting parameters and limits on what is important in this world. Who am I to say anger and angry people are less valid than I? And what about sad people? I used to be the saddest of them all. I was so depressed I scared the people closest to me. Would I, even for a second, consider that version of myself less valid, less worthy of the sunshine that radiates down? Of course not. Not even for a millisecond.
The same is true for other people who I don't always believe are acting in ways I wish they would. There are people who hurt me deeply in the past, and those very people were some of my biggest catalysts to get me to ask deeper questions, to seek what would ultimately become a path of meditation, curiosity and expansion of consciousness. I cannot say they are less worthy or less valid in their journey than I.
They are the leaf on the opposite side of the branch.
We may grow in opposite ways, but we also seek a certain harmony, a certain balance, a certain cohesion that often exists in a greater understanding than I usually look at them with.
And so today, I ask you to try, for the whole day, not to validate your existence.
Do not feel you must justify who you are or where you are. Wherever you are, there you are, and thank you for being there. You don't need to win awards or promotions or even be considered a good person in order to feel perfectly content about being there. All you must do is turn your face up to the sky, feel the sun upon it, and know that what you feel and how you feel about yourself is between you and your cosmic creator.
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Relief From Anxiety or Depression Workbook