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.
The following are some simple tools to keep on hand for anxious moments.
The first is a calming statement that will bring you into the present moment and help you to see things different. The second is an Inner Peace & Relief Cheat Sheet. It's a one page sheet for you to print out and keep on hand. The third is a six minute audio with empowering affirmations.
One of the hardest things about anxiety is that it rips me out of the present and scatters my energy across all future possibilities. My mind gets lost in places I'll feel uncertain, people who will make me feel unsteady, and results that will make me question my self-worth.