Visualization is creating pictures in the mind. It is the conscious production of mental imagery. Psychology and religion have long recognized this process as an effective means for shaping skills and talents, alleviating pain and illness, and activating one’s spirituality.
Images – the building blocks of visualization – spring from deep within us. Possessing a dynamic drive with an enormous emotional power, they impact our bodies and minds in a positive or negative manner, depending on their vividness, repetition, and reception by the subconscious, whose task it is to externalize those images which impress it. Since mental imagery triggers much of human behavior, it is advantageous to make every effort to influence the deeper levels of our minds with those constructive images we wish the subconscious to actualize.
Visualization is most effective when practiced in a relaxed state of mind called passive concentration. Effort inhibits success, often resulting in anxiety and stress. This undesirable response is called “the principle of paradoxical intentions.” We can avoid this unproductive situation by relaxing our bodies and refraining from strenuous effort whenever we practice visualization.
Although our goal is to supply the mind with positive images, negative images will usurp the imagination from time to time. To cope with such situations, we can practice what Dr. Serge King, a visualization specialist, calls the dream change technique. Through this process we recall frightening or upsetting dreams and then consciously change them, transforming negative emotions or situations into positive or satisfying ones through the power of imagination. If, for instance, we dream of falling from a cliff, we later recall the dream and reconstruct it. Instead of falling, we picture our arms opening like wings and gliding us like eagles safely to the earth. If we dream of pursuing monsters, we can later recall the terrible creatures with their ugly, ferocious faces breaking into smiles as they extend their talons out in friendship.
We can also apply this technique to negative images that spontaneously appear during the day. For example, if we see ourselves as slouched, tense, strained or anxious, we change the image into a positive one by visualizing ourselves standing tall, relaxed and confident. When we change adverse dreams or negative everyday images into constructive images, we loosen the blocked energy in them and free ourselves from experiencing their detrimental effects.
Powerful negative images do not release their clutch on us easily; their roots reach deep into the subconscious. Carl Jung suggests a technique called active imagination to deal with such recalcitrant images. First, we visualize a meaningful image and hold it firmly and vividly in mind – a person, a scene, an object. Observing the image, we watch it develop a life and freedom of its own, its activity directed by the subconscious. The images evoked through active imagination energize mental imagery while the sequence of events or the specific narratives they unfold can be quite instructive about our little understood needs, abilities and frustrations.
Active imagination establishes a channel for conflicts confined in the dark subconscious to gain access to the light of consciousness through the medium of mental pictures. It releases inhibitions and frees the immobile energy trapped in them, allowing the individual access to a greater reserve of mental power. If the trauma associated with any particular image is excessive, caution is advised, since the emotions associated with past events brought to consciousness through powerful images can be severe. This precaution must be taken with any visualization of personal difficulties, but especially with involuntary images which repeatedly appear without the consent of the will.
Another useful therapeutic technique is creative visualization developed by Dr. Roberto Assagioli, an Italian psychiatrist. Dr. Assagioli pioneered the use of the imagination in fostering self-actualization through the visualization of such images as the Legend of the Grail, the Blossoming Rose, and Dante’s Pilgrimage through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. This process involves reflecting on the symbolism of the images, interjecting or identifying with them, and finally keeping them present in one’s thoughts during the day. Psychosynthesis, Assagioli’s scientific approach to helping us live healthier and more integrated lives, outlines a step-by-step procedure for practicing these and other useful imaging exercises.
Dr. Carl Happich, a former Darmstadt internist, developed a unique visualization technique based on Eastern literature and meditation which activates “symbolic consciousness,” a state of mind existing between the conscious and subconscious, a stimulation offering much therapeutic benefit to the individual.
Happich’s program begins by first relaxing the body and mind through breathing exercises. With this accomplished, various scenes are created, beginning with the meadow meditation. In this exercise, we visualize a tall meadow, noting the particular surroundings – the grass, the flowers, the trees. Following this scene, we picture ourselves climbing a mountain, passing through a forest, and eventually reaching a scenic spot from which we view a valley and a vast stretch of countryside. The third visualization is called the chapel meditation. In this scene, we pass through a grove and note a small, picturesque chapel. We enter the silent chapel to pray or simply to reflect. After leaving the chapel, we sit alone on a nearby wooden bench and listen to the soothing rippling sound of running water in an old fountain.
Happich’s visualization exercises activate the deep levels of the mind through the evocation of “archetypal” images. For instance, climbing the mountain symbolizes our striving to develop our human potential, the forest signifies the dark and fearful aspects of our nature, and the chapel represents the innermost self where we confront the spiritual issues of our lives.
The “dream change” technique, “active imagination,” and the visualization exercises of Assagioli and Happich help to prevent oppressing images from inhibiting the free expression of God’s power. These exercises allow us to deal with those images associated with feelings, attitudes, and experiences which not only hamper our ability to do good but also result in unhappiness for ourselves and others. Positive change results from practicing these exercises, enabling God’s healing power to rise within us like a phoenix from the ashes of our darker selves.
Ralph Ferraro is the founder and director of The Italian American Press, a website promoting books of fiction and non-fiction, including those dealing with religion/spirituality. This article is an excerpt from the book. To download a free e-copy or to purchase a paperback edition of The Quest: Maximizing Health and Wellness Through Spiritual Healing, please visit www.italianamericanpress.com.