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.
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The last few days I have felt myself sliding into feelings of doubt and fear.
I kept trying to fight it, to bring myself back to hope and optimism. But this morning I couldn't do it. And so I didn't. I didn't get up and get to work like I usually do. I didn't read the news or listen to a podcast. Instead, I sat quietly in my chair, looking out the window.
I sat with my heavy feelings. I sat with my fear. I sat with my worries over the future. I sat with the feelings of discord and breaking apart that keep rising up around me. I fought nothing and surrendered to it all.
After awhile, I started to remember simple things that are still beautiful and perfect about this world.
Snow slowly falling over pine trees. Morning fog that makes everything feel soft and calm. Rain drops on the window. Hugs from friends. Fiction books, travel books and pretty much all books because books are the best. And so are libraries. And so are people who work in libraries. People can be pretty great.
As my feelings softened I didn't leap right from the heavy feelings to the light. I wasn't ready to jump out of my chair and shout my happiness to the world. But I had come back to my center, and from that centered place, I asked myself if sitting around all day, paralyzed by heavy feelings, is what I want to remember myself doing when I'd felt stuck while facing a challenge.
I made some coffee and thought about it more.
If my future self was looking back on me, twenty years from now, what would she want to see me doing? What will she be glad I did? What will she want to change?
As I sipped my coffee, I could feel that thinking of things I still love about this world was a positive step. It was getting me back to my inner light. I could feel that I want to focus more on what I want, rather than what I'm afraid of.
I also wanted to honor my need for rest. Fear and doubt generally come from a place of not feeling secure in myself. If I try to fight the fear, it's going to fight me right back.
It was time to pause, breathe, and remember that I am deeply loved and cared for. It was time to know that my future self would thank me for resting, because that rest recharged me enough to get back in there, dream bigger, and reach higher.
If you're feeling lost, afraid, or just overwhelmed, try this simple yet powerful exercise. Close your eyes, and imagine you future self walks into the room. What does it want to tell you? How did it get where it is? What would it want to change about the path you're on? What would it say to comfort you and to remind you of your potential?
If you're looking for something that will tune you into your Highest Self, calm your mind, and help you to feel centered and relaxed, this 33 page journal is here for you. It has ten different journal entries that cover everything from the blueprint of your soul to fun games to play with your intuition. Learn more about the journal and the two guided meditations it comes with here.
This weekend, my friend and I went to Morro Bay and Paso Robles. We went to The Morro Bay Rock, which is a place I believe is full of healing energy. That's part of it on the left side of the picture below. And then we went to a hot spring in Paso Robles. It was a wonderful weekend full of laughter, beach waves, and wine. I'm so grateful I was able to get away with a beloved friend.
I hope the rest of this week, and this coming weekend, bring you good vibes as well. And if you're struggling to break out of depression and anxiety (as I have been), try one of my guided meditations. They are offered on a donation basis - pay what you can when you can.
People are like stained - glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.