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.
In my guided meditation Expect Miracles I ask you to start looking for miracles everywhere in your daily life.
The more you see miracles, the more you will believe in them and the more they will show up. It's using the basic Universe principle energy flows where attention goes. When you think about something, and you feel good about it, it makes an energetic connection in the quantum field, which then manifests that thing in your physical life.
In other words, get excited about the miraculous nature of life and your life will become miraculous.
Asking you to start looking for miracles everywhere can seem like a high order. Who in this world of struggle and conflict sees miracles all the time? All of us. It's simply a matter of changing your perspective. Miracles really are around us all the time, so long as we're willing to see them.
For real? I mean really. I'm just sitting here drinking my coffee. How is that miraculous?
The real question is, how is not?
Let's imagine you've just gotten a cup of joe from your favorite coffee shop. You're walking out with a paper cup full of piping hot dark roast. Let's take a look at that simple paper cup that's so magically holding your liquid from sloshing to the ground. And I do mean magically. Do you know that the atoms that compose you, me, cups, everything, never touch each other? That's right, it's an illusion. Between every single atom is an imperceptible cushion of space.
The fact that the cup appears solid, and that your hand holding it appears solid, is one of the miraculous illusions of this world.
How does this happen? When atoms reach a certain point, they are no longer attracted to each other, but start to experience repulsion. The closer they get the stronger this repelling force is. Which means the more you try to force them together the stronger the force is pushing them apart. How strong? Stronger than any force we're capable of producing here on this Earth. Which means that two of the most microscopic building blocks of life area capable of exerting more strength, more POWER, than the strongest person alive.
The smallest pieces of this world contain power. That in itself is rather miraculous. You are created of those pieces. You are created of billions and billions of powerful atoms, atoms which are working in their own divinely intelligent and miraculous way to keep you together - or at least, seemingly together. Let's not forget those atoms like their space.
So this cup you have is kind of amazing, and we've barely scratched the surface of its fascinating makeup.
If you collapsed the empty space of a cup and somehow overpowered those powerful atoms, the actual dense matter of your cup would be less than a fraction of a grain of sand.
Along with there being space around atoms, there is also space within the atoms. Around each nucleus, electron and proton is also space. A lot of it. The world is much less dense than it appears. We just take for granted that the way our eyes process reality is the whole story.
It's not. Far from it.
Now we're starting to understand how wild and strange your cup is. But we should go deeper. Let's consider the material that makes up the cup and take a look at this paper receptacle. Paper's not special, right? Okay it's got that weird space between the atoms thing going on, but beside that, it's just paper.
Is anything just anything? Where did the paper actually come from? It didn't just appear as a cup in the coffee shop.
It had to start as a tree. A tree has a protective layer of bark, which acts like your own skin, protecting its interior from the outside elements. It also has a system of veins that run sap up and down it in order to nourish the tree, much like your own blood system. A tree is a living, breathing part of this world. It's not just a tree.
But how do we even have trees that can be turned into paper? Where did the first tree come from?
In 2007, tree stumps that were 385 million years old were uncovered. Trees have been living and evolving on this earth longer than any human ancestor. A lot longer. About 379 million years longer. When you stand before a tree, you stand before something that connects back to a time that we know almost nothing about. The trees connect back to the mysterious and miraculous birth of life as we know it.
There's more to it than that. Trees are grown in special harvesting places called managed timberlands. The logs are shipped to sawmills for processing... oh but wait, that's not simple either. What are the trucks made of that ship the logs?
What about the person who drives the truck, the person who can never be again and was never before? That special person who is them self a cosmic mystery.
The tires for the truck had to be made, the metal was made somewhere. All of these separate parts of the earth turned into a truck, so that someone could ship logs to a processing plant to make paper.
And then there's the wax that lines the cup, which has its own mind boggling story of how it came to be. Nothing in this world is simple. Everything is connected to everything else. Those trees that make the paper? They were nourished by the water that cycles through the sky and earth, by the soil that has been on this planet for billions of years. When you hold paper, you hold something that is connected to all of time and creation on this planet. It's that amazing.
To say that the entire world conspires together to make a little cup that holds your coffee would be true. If that isn't miraculous, I don't know what is. Not to mention the fact that we've already established the cup itself, with all its space filled atoms, is miraculous in nature.
And that's just the cup. We didn't even get into the coffee inside of it. When you sip coffee, you sip something that is only made possible by a complex and fascinating series of events. It's something that passed through the hands of people half a world away, was shipped by fuels that came from inside the earth and was brewed by somebody who is made from the same materials as the stars in the sky.
Everything in this world can be looked at in this way. Including you. Maybe even especially you.
There are miracles all around us. Life is the miracle. You are a miracle.
It's often just a matter of change in perception to see how miraculous this life and world are. Why not take a moment and marvel at what's happening all around you right now? As I said in the beginning of this blog post, that which is like itself will be drawn to itself. Think about miracles, notice them, and notice how your life changes.
Your destiny is to fulfill those things upon which you focus most intently. So choose to keep your focus on that which is truly magnificent, beautiful, uplifting and joyful. Your life is always moving toward something.
- Ralph Marston
Could you use a little help shifting your focus into a more positive space? Try this free 5 minute meditation on your breath and your inner light. To see more meditations in this series, go here.
Whenever I'm working on a creative project there's always a moment when I begin to doubt everything I'm doing.
I start looking at what I've written and feel it's stupid. I feel my idea's are stupid. I feel everyone is going to think everything I do is stupid, and they'll wonder why I ever thought I was worthy of their time or energy.
As I was putting together a journal for this website, those doubts began to sneak up on me. They kept whispering from behind me, No one is going to like this. Just look at it. Admit it, it sucks. Normally, I listen to this voice without question. I feel myself sink into my chair, agreeing, Yes, this is stupid. And so am I. But the other day, as this voice came up, I just couldn't bear it any longer. And so I said to myself, I'm not going to play this game any longer.
And that's what it is. A game where I pretend I have nothing good to offer the world. A game where I pretend I'm nothing, I'm a nobody, and I will always be that way.
It's a game I play with my brain. One part of my brain gets scared. It fears all these uncertainties. And so it does everything it can to try and get me to stop. While another part of my brain, that knows nothing of this fear and is only excited, suddenly forgets everything else and agrees with this small part of me that has no vision.
It's amazing that this very tiny part of my brain can feel so BIG and POWERFUL and like it KNOWS SO MUCH.
This tiny voice likes to see if it can gain control of the show. It likes to see if I'll let it be in charge. It has no business being in charge, and it knows this. It knows there is a whole ocean of passion and power within me, and this little voice likes to try and convince me that IT is the ocean, rather than the drop.
This game has become so tedious for me. It's exhausting. And repetitive. And quite frankly, boring. Nothing interesting ever comes from playing this game with myself. The outcome is always the same. I feel lower and lower until I give up on myself. And then I wonder why things don't work out the way I want to. And then eventually I remember who I really am, and I start again, on something different. And then eventually, that little squeaky voice comes back, knowing where my fears are, planting seeds of doubt.
But I can't anymore. I can't play this game with myself. I refuse. I'm no longer going to pretend I have nothing of worth to offer this world. I'm no longer going to play mental chess with the part of me that acts out of fear and does everything in its power, including insulting me, to hold me back.
Instead, I'm going to give that small voice a hug and have a long, overdue talk with it.
I'm going to ask it when it first learned to tear me down in order to feel safe. I'm going to ask it why it feels safer criticizing me than encouraging me. And I'm going to ask it what it needs in order to give me love and support, to trust in the flow of my life, and to have fun with who I am and what I'm doing.
When the small, critical voice within me is ready to answer, I will listen with patience. I will listen with love. I will give it the love it never got, and I will remind it that self-attack is not the only way to feel safe. Self-love is another, and better, option. I will love myself so fully that what happens outside of me will be just that - things happening outside of me.
Although it's tempting to get angry with this voice, to blame it for my anxiety and my fear, I know it's just doing what I asked it to do. At some point in my life, I learned that the only way to be safe is to cut myself down before other people do. I internalized the belief that I'm not good enough, and it's only a matter of time before other people reflect this back to me, so why wait for them to say it? The other part of me, the bigger part that only wants to love me, tried to out maneuver this tricky little voice, but it was always quicker, always one step ahead, and thus, the game began.
Now that I've dropped my game pieces and walked away, that critical voice inside of me will have space to see things different. Rather than being consumed with planning its next move, it will be free to contemplate what I've known all along - I am worthy and I am loved eternally by Divine forces.
That part of me that is small and yet so LOUD will finally see that the only way I could have won that game was to lose. It was a game I was playing against myself and there was no way to come out ahead. The only way to win was to wave my white flag, surrender, and enter into peace talks with my own self.
If you need a little help getting your own thoughts off of self-defeat and onto empowerment, try this free 5 minute meditation. It's a sample from my Empowering Visualizations package, which you can learn more about here.
I recently led a discussion over the book Siddhartha with a small group of people. I was nervous about doing this, as I've always been a participant in events and never a leader. A few days before the event, I woke up feeling the first pangs of nervous energy creeping into my body. I could feel them pulsing through me, ready to build bigger, to turn into anxiety, and then full blown panic.
As I sat with this feeling, I first felt its familiarity. Any sort of public speaking, of any size, has always caused me great amounts of anguish. I have become so accustomed to associating this kind of experience with anxiety that I have never even questioned if I could change it. I just see it as a part of my identity. A core building block in the essence of who I am.
But the longer I sat with it, the more I realized it's not a fixed part of who I am. It's just a familiar part. There's a common thing with us humans where we like to hold onto the familiar, even when we know it's not in our best interest.
It can be even harder to challenge these things when they feel like they're a part of our identity. When we isolate a part of ourselves as unhealthy or in need of change, our gut reaction might be to feel as if we're rejecting a part of ourselves. Rejection always feels painful, and so rather than look at this part and say, "I think you have to go," we hold onto it tighter. This comes from a misguided sense of self-love, from the part of our self that wants to protect us from pain.
It's as if letting this one part go will pull a thread that will unravel our entire sense of self.
And maybe it will. Maybe that's what all the fear is about. It's the fear that if we let these things go that define us that we'll somehow cease to exist.
In a way, this fear is not completely irrational. If we let go of our core, defining attributes then in a way we will cease to exist. We will no longer exist as the person we were. The old self will die and a new self will be reborn in its place.
As the book group gathering grew closer, I felt myself pressed up against this dilemma. If I didn't let go of Nervous Melissa she was going to lead the meeting, and I would experience all the things that make public speaking feel dreadful. If I did let go, I would create a new reality for myself. One that was foreign and unfamiliar, but full of potential and new possibility.
On the morning I woke up full of nerves, I began to feel into my thoughts. I remembered that my thoughts create my reality, and I was thinking thoughts that created these nervous feelings. It surprised me how unconscious I was of my own nervous thinking.
I then reminded myself of what I know of anxiety - it doesn't begin in the body, it begins in the brain. Unless I am thinking things that make me anxious, I will not be anxious.
I have tried changing these nervous thoughts before. I approached them in every way, from gentle and loving to aggressive and hostile. I've told them I love them. I've told them I hate them. I've reassured them. I've breathed into them and visualized white light in them. I did everything I could to get them to stop wreaking havoc on my nervous system.
The only thing I hadn't tried was refusing to acknowledge them. Knowing I could never change them, I went with the only other option: create new thoughts. I had to think new things and let those take over until the old thoughts died off on their own.
I began focusing in on this, breathing into my desire to create a new reality. I began asking myself what it was I wanted to create, and then repeated that over and over. I repeated it until my conviction grew and the thoughts began to flow on their own.
I choose to create feelings of confidence. I choose to see myself as capable and worth listening to. I choose to believe in myself. I choose to see I have good ideas. I choose to see myself as a leader. I choose to be self-assured. I choose to be relaxed and in the flow.
I choose to create a new reality for myself.
Throughout the day, I kept shifting my focus to this new reality. I reminded myself that as I focused on these thoughts, new pathways of neurons were being laid in my brain. I was creating a new automatic flow for my thoughts. I also reminded myself that the less I fed the old thoughts, the sooner the old pathways would dissolve.
By the end of the day, I was feeling like a new person. I felt I'd finally broken myself of the habit of fighting with my own thoughts. I felt the lightness of not spiraling down in old, exhausting patterns.
Over the next few days, I continued to do this. I also used my visualization for empowered speaking, which really helped me to take this in and become one with it. By the time the book meeting arrived, I felt confident and ready. It ended up being a great time, and I'm now looking forward to the next one.
Whatever reality you're living now, you can always create a new one.
Sometimes it's as simple as deciding to do it. I wish you much love as you go forward. And remember, change is hard. Be kind to yourself and give yourself space to change in your own way, and in your own time.