Imagery Techniques

How to Stare Your Imagination Awake – [Post: Imagine]

There is a long history of staring to activate the imagination.

From the new book, Caves and the Ancient Mind, we learn of the importance to Greek philosophers, proto-scientists, poetics, and mystics of the supreme darkness of caves and underground chambers. Prolonged looking into the darkness lit minds that shaped Western thought for centuries.

Leonardo da Vinci advised in his notebook, Treatise on Painting, to look closely at a random stain until it becomes alive:

“This is the case if you cast your glance on any walls dirty with such stains or walls made up of rock formations of different types.  If you have to invent some scenes, you will be able to discover them there in diverse forms,  in diverse landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, extensive plains, valleys, and hills. You can even see different battle scenes and movements made up of unusual figures,  faces with strange expressions,  and myriad things which you can  transform into a complete and proper form constituting part of similar walls and rocks.

Don’t underestimate this idea of mine, which calls to mind that it would not be too much of an effort to pause sometimes to look into these stains on walls,  the ashes from the fire,  the clouds,  the mud, or other similar places.  If these are well contemplated, you will find fantastic inventions that awaken the genius of the painter to new inventions, such as compositions of battles, and men, as well as diverse composition of landscapes, and monstrous things, as devils and the like. These will do you well because they will awaken genius with this jumble of things.”

John Dee, an English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator,  and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century, would stare into an obsidian stone from Mexico. Dee was following the long tradition of mirror scyring  (also known as mirror gazing) to obtain visions of the future and of universal ideas.

Raymond Moody, the famous collector of near-death experiences and author, uses a similar process today for people to see and converse with departed loved ones. He places the person in a darken room that he calls The Psychomantuem, seated in a recliner and they stare at a mirror that is tilted towards dark curtains, providing a blank canvas for their imagination to roam (see book).

Hermann Hesse revealed another form of staring, fire watching, in his book Demian. When his naive major character meets with a mysterious new friend, he is shown how to stare into a fireplace: “With rigid eyes I stared at the fire as I sank into dreams and stillness, recognized figures in the smoke and pictures in the ashes. Once I was startled. My companion threw a piece of resin into the embers: a slim flame shoot up and I recognized the bird with the yellow sparrow hawk’s head. In the dying embers, red and gold threads ran together into nets, letters of the alphabet appeared, memories of faces, animals, plants, worms, and snakes.” (Demian, Harper & Row, 1965, p. 106).

More recently, in the 1960s and 1970s, sensory deprivation was studied for its ability to open access to the imagination. John Lilly, plumbed the depths of flotation chambers that were closed off to light, sound, and changes in air. Water in the chamber was heated to match normal body temperature which caused awareness of the body to drop away (the body seemed to merge with the water).  What was left was a mind free to fly off into detailed imagery.

A more modest approach to sensory deprivation is the Ganzfeld effect (article). Special eye pieces can be made from one ping pong ball by cutting it in half. These are placed over the eyes as a person reclines. Staring into this blank field along with wearing sound blocking headphones, will cause the mind to zone out and eventually images of all sorts will start to pour forth for the person who has properly practiced this technique.

Why it works
The mind hates a vacumn. Staring into darkness, an unchanging dark mirror, the white fog of ping pong ball eyelids, or the play of color/light/shadow, the mind gets impatient and seeks to pick up the pace. To do so, it pours out imagistic commentary on what it thinks it is seeing as well. It strives to find patterns. Along with these images come unique imagery from the mind. This imagery is probably the content of the day that churns below the surface reacting to what is going on in our lives at the moment and working on problems we are having or will have around the corner.

How to Do It
Pick an approach that appeals to you from the examples above (there are gazing mirrors available and the ping pong ball Ganzfeld setup just takes minutes to make).  Expect this to be a slow process so don’t rush it. Also, it is likely you will have to make this a dedicated practice to release its full potential. Try 10 to 15 minutes every day for awhile. As you stare, relax your body, and keep checking in to find any tension that may have popped up. Relax again. Wait. Let your focus become fuzzy and give that approach a try. Switch back to a sharper focus if you find that more productive. Go with any hints of imagery that comes up before your eyes, in your thoughts, feelings in your heart, or sensations in your body.

Stare, let go, wait, and imagine…dreaming with eyes-wide-open.

Imagery Techniques, Imagination Masters, Visualization Techniques

The Naps of Thomas Edison – [Post: Visualize]

Inventor Edison

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Edison worked his tail off every day searching for market-worthy inventions. One of the areas of his research included how to maximize his productivity and his thinking. One way to accomplish both was to nap: “I enjoy working about 18 hours a day. Besides the short catnaps I take each day, I average about four to five hours of sleep per night,” stated Edison.

During some of his nap sessions he did more than recharge his internal batteries, he used his imagination to work on creative problems. Working naps required sitting upright in a chair.  Sitting up made it harder for him to fully sleep and made it possible to stay lightly conscious during these sessions. To further assure that he would not lapse into sleep, he would hold a steel ball bearing in each hand. On the floor, placed directly below his closed hand would be a metal saucer. If he should fall completely asleep, his hands would relax and each ball bearing would fall to the floor, striking the metal saucer, making a noise loud enough to wake Edison.

What was he doing?
Edison was utilizing what was named hypnagogia. Hypnagogia is the state (actually a variety of states) that can be experienced as we hang onto consciousness while moving towards sleep. It involves bodily relaxation and the easing of the grip of cognitive/emotive focus. In hypnagogia we get the benefit of a sort of emotional and cognitive wandering. This wandering can be gently guided, as Edison did, or left open to go where it wants to go. Guided wandering has the benefit of keeping a topic of our interest in mind so we can observe it from new angles to learn new things. Edison meant business by setting up conditions so he could stay in this state for long periods.

Instead of steel balls
Edison’s approach works perfectly fine but here are two more ways which don’t require steel balls.

Approach 1 – Lie down on a bed, on your back and rest your upper arm (from shoulder to elbow) elbow flat on the bed. Bend your elbow and keep your lower arm (from your elbow to your finger tips) pointed straight up to the ceiling.  When you fall asleep, your arm will flop down on the bed and catch your attention. Wake up a bit and then cost back to hypnagogic wandering.

Approach 2 – Use a slightly modified wake-up alarm – Get a car doze-alerting alarm for a few dollars (see www.napzapper.com). Cover over the little speaker that screams an alarm when it detects the downward flop of the head of  dozing off. This will make the sound tolerable since you don’t need it screaming, just making enough noise to wake you up. Put the device over your ear and sit up in a chair like Edison. Keep your head level. Relax physically and mentally and let your mind wander.

What you will discover
In hypnagogia everything can swirl together—visions, thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and who knows what else. There will be so much going on that you can’t possibly remember it all so you will need some way to remember what is most important to you. Try making some notes during the process or shortly after you end the session. Use notes on paper or on a recorder.

All of this takes practice, but you will be shocked how quickly you can master entry into hypnagogia. Pleasant and fruitful wandering await you.

Imagination Equipment

Buyer’s Guide: How to Pick a Guided Imagery Recording – [Post: Imagine]

Guided imagery is a great pleasure, especially when it is done right. But things can turn sour if we don’t pick the right recording for our needs and our tastes. A very tricky business unless we know how to decrease the misses and increase the odds of getting the right recording.  Here is a list of things to look for you when you go shopping.

What Do You Want To Do?
Every recording has an objective. It can be basic relaxation or something as complex as mind/body medicine, past life regression or other deeper challenges. The basic element across all recordings is verbal guidance used to get your unconscious and regular consciousness to follow instructions.

It is best to start off with a basic relaxation recording rather than jumping into deep waters first time out. You will need to know how to calm down and go inside before you can do the other more complex work.  Starting off with a good relaxation recording will ease you into the whole guided imagery process.

Once you have relaxation within your grasp, track down specialized recordings if you have a special goal in mind. Look at the big bookstore and music websites but also cast your net wider by plugging your wants into a search engine.  There are many great recordings out there that don’t appear at the major sites because some guided imagery artists only sell from  their own websites.

Script Style – Highly Guided or Open-Ended
Each guided imagery artist has many choices to make in terms of scripting a recording. Some scripts focus on providing very precise suggestions as to what images the artist wants you to bring to mind and carefully lays out what you are to do with them once they appear. Other scripting will be more loose, such as: “See yourself in a meadow. Look around and note what you see.” This is very open-ended. Open-ended scripting assumes that the listener has had some experience with guided imagery and holds a skill/comfort level that lets them fill in the details of the inner work as they wish. Newcomers, on the other hand, are generally more comfortable with detailed imagery targets and suggestions. Determine which type of script is best for you and your goals and try your best to find a match out there in the CD and mp3 world by sampling recordings where you can (i.e. iTunes or Amazon).

Script Symbols
Scripting can differ in terms of what images a guided imagery artist uses. Some recordings keep things simple, such as “relax near a stream” or “open your heart and let go.” Other scripts will adopt imagery and terminology from some tradition such as the Tarot, yoga, Buddhism, or Kabbalah.  This can be a very powerful experience if you are well versed in what each symbol means and have personally connected with the tradition from which it is taken. But if you don’t know what the artist is talking about or is trying to get to, you probably will have a frustrating experience. For instance, if you don’t know what chakras of yoga are or have never picked up the Tarot, scripting using these symbols will be lost on you. Read each recording description well to determine what symbolic language the artist might be working with. Consider if their symbols will work with your interests and goals.

Voice, Use of Voice, and Music
The wrong voice is a killer. Everything else can be just right but without the proper guiding vocals the recording is junk. The only way to avoid making a bad purchase is work hard to find samples of the recording by taping into the samples at iTunes, Amazon, and CDBaby. How does the voice sound?  Is it such that you can let go and ignore it? Trust it? Prefer a man’s voice? A woman’s voice?

How the speaker uses their voice is also important. Some artists speak almost in a plain, simple, conversational way. Others use their voice almost like a musical instrument, adapting their voice to convey the sort of actions they want you to do. Examples: pitching their voice up when they want you to ascend a staircase or dropping the volume of their voice when they want your body to feel heavy. What do you prefer, plain and simple or with a little or lot of drama?

Lastly, consider a recording’s background music. Most recordings come with some sort of musical background (some also use sound effects) so listen to see if the music choice works for you by finding and listening to samples.

Too Fast or Just Right?
Closely related to voice, is timing. An extremely common mistake made by new guided imagery artists is moving too darn fast. Instructions come flying at the listener one after another with no time to get what the artist is asking or time to settle into an experience. Guided imagery takes time. The best guided imagery artists are those who have been led by many other artists and have developed a real feel of “inner world speed” versus our day-to-day outer world speed. The two speeds are very different. Again, track down some samples and get a sense if the imagery artist takes time to let you, the listener, work with what comes up.

Length
You may prefer a compilation of short experiences or a longer break. Consider how you want to use the recording: quick 10 minute dips into imagination or do you really want to unplug and go for a guided journey? Consider getting both types, one for quick but regular imagination work and one for when you have plenty of time to go in deep. Read recording descriptions for this information on length.

Evidence-Based or Adopted by Institutions
Unfortunately no one has put guided imagery recordings side-by-side and tested their effectiveness. Studies have been done over the years to see if guided imagery works in medicine and if guided imagery is superior to listening to music alone or with just resting. Yes, guided imagery has performed well in the studies and there are many indications that guided imagery works better than resting or music without guidance.

A handful of recordings have been used at least once or maybe a few times in multiple medical research studies. In a later post, I will offer a listing of where to find these particular recordings and reference the studies in which they were used with the findings noted.

Some institutions such as major hospitals and clinics have produced audio and video recordings that they pass onto their patients. The Mayo Clinic produced two CDs a few years back that were excellent but they are out-of-print now. Several universities have recordings available online covering a wide range of relaxation and imagery topics for students, staff, and patients. Those recordings are waiting online for anyone to download free. If you prefer to pick recordings based upon this criteria, use a search engine. Include the search terms: hospital, clinic, and university along with terms that describe the sort of recording you are hunting for. In a later post, I will provide a list of recordings available from the hospitals/clinics and educational institutions with links on how to obtain them.

Special Background Beats, Whisperings, and Subliminal Suggestions
In addition to the spoken word and music, some recordings include special background beats, whispers, or subliminal suggestions. The thinking is that these methods will take a person deeper, faster, and more productively than a recording without these enhancements.  There is some evidence that enhanced backgrounds can be helpful but further research is required to determine if they are always helpful and by how much. It doesn’t hurt to try these sort of recordings but plain recordings with the right words, right music, and right goals will do just fine. Again, I promise to write a post later on these sorts of recordings.

Good luck shopping.

Imagination Masters

How to be Carl Jung – Steps 1 and 2 – [Post: Imagine]


Step 1: Make the time to observe the pictures of your mind

Jung really got going with his interest in imaginative ability when he studied his younger cousin.  Helen Preiswerk had the ability to go into self-imposed trance and to say remarkable things way beyond her personal experience and education. Later, Freud deepened Jung’s interest in the stories and pictures we see in our dreams and dreamy experiences during the day.

Jung set aside time when he could be alone and when he would allow himself to drop into the underground of his imagination (as he stated it). He didn’t say much about how he got into a receptive state of mind but his description of falling into the unconscious implies of letting go of daily concerns to the point of getting to where he felt he was between waking and sleeping and then he took off the brakes and went more deeply inward.

So, to be Carl Jung, set aside some time when you will be: alone, not rushed or distracted, and in a situation to progressively relax (for mastering relaxation, see our sister blog, www.WildStress.com).

Step 2: Open the door and accept who and what is there

Jung went deeper into his exploration of imagination when he had a big blow-up with his mentor, Freud. Out of Freud’s expanding world-wide circle of associates, lecturing, and writing, Jung had a lot of time on his hands. To keep busy, Jung tells of extended periods of imagination work where he told of being open to whatever came up. In fact, he was excited about doing open-ended exploration just to see if he could discover the full range of experience. Jung=great explorer.

Jung and later followers of Jung embraced the notion of frequently (not always, but often) leaving the imagination undirected. This means not going into the imagination with some specific goal (i.e. figure  out a dream) but to let the unconscious speak in its own way, in its own time, and about what it considered important.

To be Carl Jung, drop preconceived notions of what is in your imagination. Just setup the conditions for your unconscious to feel free to step forward and communicate. Be open and accepting.

More steps to come in the next post(s).

Relaxing to Visualize & Imagine

Slow Paced Breathing

Breathing steps forward again and gives us the way out of stress and access to our the power of relaxation. Most days our rate of breathing, measured by breaths per minute, is somewhere between 12 to 18 bpm. A nice pace that keeps our breathing shallow and our mind zipping along.

If we want to get to a more relaxed place, we need to get bpm down to a maximum of 10. According to studies, keeping our breathing at no more than 10 bpm for about 15 minutes twice a day kicks in changes to bring many people’s blood pressure into the desired healthy range and can retrain the body to keep pressure down. Bringing the breath rate down reduces the stress response that gets our body to release smooth muscle tension that can clamp down on our blood vessels, raising blood pressure.

That’s one benefit. If we can learn to lower our bpm at will, we will have superior control over our stress. We can bring our breathing rate way down, lowering our stress level with it. By decreasing our breathing in steps, we can get to 6, 5, and maybe four breaths per minute. That’s right, 4 or 5 breaths per minute. So, what does that feel like. Alert, calm, in-control relaxation.

Getting Paced
The trick is taking a fast breathing pace and slowly, over some minutes, bring it down by increasing the exhalation time and the time between exhalation and inhalation. Trying to keep this in your head, by counting seconds of breathing, is tough, so that is where equipment, audio recordings, software, and apps come in.

Equipment
Resperate came on the market about five years ago when eight studies showed good results for lowering high blood pressure in some patients. It is about $300 or so and comes with CD player sized main unit, headphones, and a chest strap. The chest strap contains a sensitive device that keeps track of your breathing. The main unit shows your starting breathing rate and then plays music and voice instructions to slowly bring your breath down to at least ten bpm. A digital readout gives a precise count of your breath rate per minute. Great for both blood pressure work and general relaxation training. Recommended. Link

The Nightwave is a simple device that sits on your nightstand and projects a soft light on your bedroom ceiling. By breathing along with this beam of light (it slowly fades on and fades off), you can lower your breath and thereby ease yourself to sleep. Link

Audio Recordings
Several relaxation artists have put together mp3 and CD recordings of music with special signals marking when to breathe in and when to breathe out. This is a low-cost way to do this work, and the music adds another dimension to paced breathing.

Breathe Away High Blood Pressure – Highly Recommended (good music with a Tibetan bowl as signal) – Link

Breathe Easy – Highly Recommended – 6 CDs ambient and classical music choices – Link

Slow Down! – Recommended – Link

Apps
If you have a smart phone or iTouch, there are some apps available to lead your breathing (this is great app developers have jumped into this). These apps include verbal instructions, intros to paced breathing, tones, and graphics to get you to the right speed. Here are a few:

Breathing Zone (iTunes app store or www.breathing-zone.com)

Universal Breathing (iTunes app store)

Software
The makers of the Nightwave have produced a download/CD (the Daywave) that puts a small icon on your PC that helps users pace their breathing. The icon is a bubble that expands when it is time to breath in and shrinks in size when it is time to breath out. A nice work-day relaxation companion. Link

Here’s a similar software program called, Breathe Away TensionLink

Imagination Examined

Imagination is big, very big – [Post: Imagine]

Most people far underestimate the scope of  imagination. What comes to mind is the sort of images we see in dreams and when we sit down and fantasize. That’s just part of the picture. Moods are imagination. Some aches and pains are imagination expressing itself. Words that come spinning into our head is imagination. The answer to the question: “How was your day?” is imagination. A song that holds our ear all day long is imagination. Worry and fear is imagination as is regret and sadness. Imagination is there as we communicate using analogies and as we turn to stories projected from our television sets, computers, and smart phones. Imagination is there when we reject certain styles, say of clothing or cars. If we have to reach down to find the last ounce of self-confidence, persistence, or courage, frequently we fire up our imaginations to remember those fictional characters or friends that embodied these attributes.

Imagination is bigger than you think. Fireball Imagery seeks to navigate the wide scope of Imagination and offer helpful information on its nature, art and science.