Are Guided Meditation for you?
Are you interested in expanded awareness; a few moments of deep relaxation, or accessing the unity field that is always with us? Some like to use guided meditations with imagery a resource to meet these desires. Research in neuroscience and mindfulness indicates that in times of stress — as little as 10 minutes a day of guided meditation or mindfulness meditation has positive impacts on health and wellbeing. These types of practices support significant improvement in measures of anxiety, depression and pain scores in a review of research on mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) by C. Behan from the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. Other studies reported in this article demonstrate how long-term meditation practice shows positive structural and functional brain changes on brain scans. These are changes that support emotional resilience, cognitive focus, equanimity, and psychological stability. Behan’s 2020 conclusion states that: learning and applying the skills of meditation and mindfulness “can help us to sit with our fears and our circumstances and to observe that like our thoughts, this period in our lives too shall pass.”
Anyone experiencing or know someone experiencing stress, currently? In stressful times whether personal or global, I believe it’s imperative to find ways to maintain balance, peace and joy in our lives. It is important to unlock a resilience that can create an antidote to stress because this dimension of awareness remains unaffected by what is happening around you. When you become more familiar with this mindful awareness in daily life, the stress in the environment will have less and less impact on your well-being, joy and peace. You don’t have to go to a cave or monastery to escape the world – you can bring in this awareness wherever you are. It’s a practice that you can learn.
Maybe your are asking yourself if mindfulness or guided meditation is for you? I’ve had my own concerns about how well I do with guided journeys. Not too long ago my friend Monika and I were chatting and she asked me how I visualized. I said “I don’t “ and thought well at least not on command. She had asked me about it because she couldn’t imagine not being able to create images in her mind. This conversation spurred me to look into it deeper. I’d noticed over the years that I don’t see images when guided to do so. Ask me to imagine a lemon with my eyes closed — and nothing, but I do salivate. Did you just now thinking about a lemon? That’s the power of imagery – real virtual or imaginary your brain (and body) responds.
It was only when I started participating in meditations in groups that this “not seeing” became apparent for me. My comparison mind jumped in and started going Hey! I don’t see anything… while other people are describing images in detail like these epic movies — what’s that about? I’d try harder and harder even with simple things like visualizing a white ping-pong ball that I was using for a yoga practice called shambavi mudra or eyebrow gazing that we learned from our yoga instructors at the Natha Yoga Center in Denmark. I practiced for 49 plus days in a row as part of yoga discipline called a tapas. The only way I could even begin to see a small round sphere was using a bright pink Florescent ping pong ball that gave me a bright after image (then of course it was the opposite color – green with my eyes closed)… but I saw something! I do dream sometimes or see images when I am in a relaxed, eyes-closed state it’s that I have not been able to create images on command or even remember things as pictures. Ask me to create an image my mother’s face in my minds eye – I can’t not as an image. I recognize it – I can describe it and have feelings associated with the idea of mother — I don’t see it.
During my search, I found a term I’d never seen before. Aphantasia. Sounds like the next Disney Movie doesn’t it? It’s a known condition that was first brought to light by Francis Galton who first described the lack of mental imagery in 1880 during a study on imaging. This phenomenon does not gain any prominent attention until about 2005 when a case is reported by Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter. In 2015, Zeman’s team termed this phenomenon as Aphantasia. It is estimated that about 2 to 5 percent of people have some degree of Aphantasia – so imagine of 1000 people now in a stadium — there would be from about 20 to as many as 50 that may have some experience with this phenomena.
There are varying degrees of this condition (science calls it a disorder) from not being able to command images like me to also having some significant memory impairment or learning difficulties. One example for me I can watch a movie and then see it again months later and not realize I’ve seen it til close to the end. There is also an association with learning and language disorders, other psychiatric issues, and/or a condition called “face blindness” or prosopagnosia.
I learned a few years ago that face blindness is a condition that my father had. Which brings up another point – aphantasia tends to run in families. Some of you reading this who know another interest of mine — biological decoding — might ask can you reverse this condition through decoding? Yes, I believe it is possible and as it is inherited so that is where you would begin looking – epigenetic parental or ancestral emotions and traumas related to visual imagination. However, I would say this has been life long for me and changing it now could have big implications for how I perceive, remember, etc. It could be disorienting if reversed overnight. It may not be something one would wish to decode as an adult – just as it’s not recommended for down’s syndrome, gender/sexual preference issues after early childhood. There’s a way of being the comes with these epigenetic factors that may be better left as they are if they aren’t addressed before four years. It would be up to the person to decide and how much this issue bothers them in their daily life. For me, it’s not something that bothers me. For those that find it early or perhaps due to surgery or injury occurred later in life – in other words something lost – it would be a more viable option to pursue.
So why would someone who can’t conjure images on command spend time doing guided meditation? It turns out we can use our other senses to create an imaginary journey – much like people with blindness or deafness use their other senses which are often described as heightened or enhanced.
Before I knew that I was “supposed” to be creating visual images during a guided meditation I would follow the guided story and imagine – my imagination doesn’t involve seeing pictures – I describe things to myself (which is auditory), or feel them (which is kinesthetic) and have a sense of knowing (or Claircognizance) of the descriptions that are being spoken. The slower breathing, inner focus and the relaxation provide other known benefits.
All this being said, some with aphantasia describe frustration with not being able to bring up images visually, in which case guided meditation (particularly where visualizing is involved) may not be for them. What I might suggest for anyone who gets frustrated during a visually guided meditation yet want the benefits of meditation; you might enjoy progressive relaxation techniques, breathing techniques, open-eyed focusing such as with a yantra or candle, or another awareness expanding process known as Yoga Nidra.
If you want to know more about these, I will share more in my online webinars. You can check out the current offerings here. Until then, if you aren’t already, maybe you’ll consider scheduling 10 minutes a day for some awareness practices?