Visualisation, Meditation and Journeying
One of the first things that caught my attention when I started reading about paganism long ago was the use of visualisation. I recognised something I had been doing all along. In daydreams I escaped reality by imagining beautiful landscapes, stuff I wanted, people I liked. I tried to ‘see’ every little detail in my mind’s eye. books, tapes and later workshops helped me to develop this skill even better. I loved to learn how to use all my senses. I didn’t only see the forest… I noticed the distinct smell of it after a rain shower, touched a tree, heard birds singing… That sounds as if it is very easy, but it really isn’t. Well, it is and it isn’t! I still have difficulty with taste, never really seem to manage that, but I keep trying! It’s an ongoing learning process and needs a lot of time just doing it. Over time you can train yourself and get better at it. Unfortunately it fades away when I haven’t practised it for a while, so it definitely needs maintenance.
Meditation has nothing and everything to do with visualisation. It can be of great help, but you can also have a great meditation without visualising anything. To me meditation is all about relaxing and letting go. I don’t believe in clearing your mind completely. Perhaps monks in a monastery in Tibet can do that after a lifetime of training, but I can’t! The harder I try to ignore thoughts or sounds around me, the bigger they get. Instead I try to simply observe and then let go of what comes to my mind.
There are many ways to meditate. It’s important to find a way (or more) that works best for you. Guided meditations are a great way to get acquainted with meditation, but are still very suitable if you are more experienced. You can use pre-recorded ones, record your own voice or ask someone to read it live. I use guided meditation if I want to meditate with a specific goal. For relaxation and stress-reduction I often use music, varying from special meditation music to soft-jazz or easy-listening depending on my mood. Sometimes I just meditate in silence.
There are more active ways of meditation too: dance meditation, walking meditations, etc. Most of those are too tiring for me, but I know several people that love to do it. When I walk in nature it can become a walking meditation though, that happens sometimes and I love it.
There are several resources to help you with your meditations. If you struggle to find the best position to sit still for a while, there are several mediation seats available: a cushion, bench, stool… I use a chair called Little Buddha, that helps me sit straight but relaxed. And of course in our time of mobile communication there are several apps. If you take a look in Google Play or App Store, there are many apps to choose from. The ones I use most are: Insight Timer, Headspace, and Calm. The last one is by Calm.com, a website where you can take a break while working on your computer.
Last year I did a 3 month course in MBCT, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. In some ways mindfulness converges with what I learned about meditation, but at quite some area’s it gave me new insights and techniques. Mindfulness has great exercises to live in the here and now, to focus on one particular subject or object. It helps reduce stress and worrying in general. MBCT was designed specifically to help people who suffer from depression. I first read about it in ‘Sane New World’, a fabulous book by comedian and health-campaigner Ruby Wax. She has her own periods of depression and describes the struggle with her trademark wit but without ridiculing the serious matter. She also has a Masters degree from Oxford in MBCT. The book ánd MBCT are interesting to all of us, not only when you suffer from depression. Mindfulness works and I can recommend it to everyone.
When I was part of a little group in apprenticeship with Phyllis Curott, she taught us shamanic journeying. She had learned it directly from Michael Harner, an anthropologist and founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. He lived and worked with indigenous peoples that taught him the technique. The website Shaman’s Path explains shamanic journeying like this: “An element of the sacred traditions of peoples from every inhabited land, journeying is a powerful meditative state. It takes us into a very special level of consciousness that helps us work more deeply with intuitive and spiritual guidance. Prolonged hypnotic drumming is used to promote relaxation and the experience of a trance-like visionary awareness.” It is different from meditation, but it also has common ground. I often use journeying when I want to visit my ancestors to learn or ask for guidance, but there are many more possible applications. A very helpful book is ‘Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner’s Guide’ by Sandra Ingerman. In the group we had one person that did the drumming. At home I have cd’s with drumming or the app Shamanic Drumming, but I’m also learning to drum for myself and journey at the same time. That can be quite a challenge but very rewarding if it succeeds.
Sources and other interesting stuff:
- Little Buddha or Lotus meditation chair: http://www.meditatiestoel.nl/ (Dutch)
- App Insight Timer: https://insighttimer.com/
- App Headspace: https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app
- App Calm: http://www.calm.com/
- Mindfulness website: http://www.mindful.org/
- Book ‘Sane New World’ by Ruby Wax: http://www.rubywax.net/sane-new-world.html
- Michael Harner bio: http://www.shamanism.org/fssinfo/harnerbio.html
- Journeying cd’s by Michael Harner: http://www.shamanism.org/products/audio.html
- Shaman’s Path: http://www.shamanspath.org/index_ShamanicJourneyIntro.htm
- Sandra Ingerman website: http://www.sandraingerman.com/