There is the old view of meditation that one empties their mind and then they are in nirvana. The assumptions if we could just quiet our mind, then nirvana would arise. The chattering of our worries, planning, analysis was the enemy.
A brief time doing what is called non-directive meditation reveals that much more enticing than mind chatter are the images that seep into our inner view. These are more than snapshots of some irrelevant street corner or some dreamy unknown possibility. Images become movies, complete with sound, touch, and emotional tone that draws us along. So immersive they are, we lose track of time, the environment around us, our original intent to mediate. We started off with the goal of standing off, untouched by our mind, heart, and the world, and instead, we are wrapped up in its drama.
Scenes from the movie on the Buddha’s life, the Little Buddha, capture our struggle not to be overtaken by inner attractions when meditating. Of course, when we are working to increase imagination, we seek out such attractions and linger within them, but that discussion is for another time. Meditation can show us just as frequent and deep our inner imagery is, called or uncalled.
How to Practice Non-Directive Meditation to See Your Inner Movies
This approach comes from a practice called Conscious Mental Rest, at least how I apply it gives a close view of the mind at work.
- Close your eyes and notice where your eyes naturally go when let go and rest.
- Feel the eye muscles and get to know the feeling.
- Focus your awareness on your relaxing eyes and stop speaking to yourself. Quiet down.
- Anytime chatter comes up, say “No” and make the chatter stop. Realize that you in search of more important things than your chatter at this moment.
- Wait with as empty of mind as you can keep. Before long, when you have the chatter under control and things are quiet, images will seep in. For a few minutes treat them the same way as the chatter by saying “No” and not letting them go any further.
- More and more images will show up. When you wish, let go with your opposition and submerge with some imagery.
- Shake off this imagery and get back to having an empty mind.
This back and forth will show you prevalent imagery is in your mind, whether you are seeking it or not.
The toughest mysteries for the great fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, required three pipe sessions. This didn’t mean that three pipes were employed. No, only one pipe was held by Holmes, but it did have to be filled three times with his favorite brand of tobacco. Puffing away allowed Holmes to drift into his thoughts.
It would be easy to assume that Holmes was using analytical reasoning of the sort we would use for scientific experiments or math or accounting. He has been so often portrayed that way. But if he limited himself to the analytical state of mind only, he never would have invoked brilliant insights. He had to puff his way into his imagination where he could see in his mind’s eye all manner of possibilities.
Pipe #1 – Ease into the dreamy interior and take the first look
Packing the pipe’s bowl carefully, Holmes’ unconscious would know that he would soon be entering the imaginal world. With years of practice, his unconscious would then down regulate his nervous system which in turn would quiet his body. The rest would be up to his conscious mind: letting go of the exterior and investing his attention upon his inner landscape. Holmes would need to slow down his typical busy day-mind to move into a twilight state, that slowly builds towards favoring a dreamy landscape. He could increase his immersion of this landscape by bring up something familiar such as the location of the crime under investigation. Using the power of visualization, he could take what is served up by his memory as fact, as being the actual facts and figures of that location. Exploring each detail, he would find himself switching from awareness of the outer world into the inner world of his crime scene visualization.
Pipe #2 – Poke and Prod Visualizations
Imagination is the perfect blank stage upon which to lay out actions, props, players, and plots. All can be combined, recombined, and combined again. Freeze the action if you want to, eliminate a prop while adding something new to the inner stage. Slow the action down, speed up the action. Zoom in on something or step way back and see the big picture. Add characters, subtract characters. Test how one part of the visualization might be related to another (i.e. the victim’s scuffed shoe and the butler’s knife). Here lies the freedom to do countless “thought experiments” in the laboratory of the imagination.
Pipe #3 – Step Out of the Way and Let the Unconscious Show What It Knows
Fill another bowl and then slowly run through one of the combinations that appeared promising during Pipe #2. This time, “Don’t think”, Holmes would tell himself. No, thinking is not what is needed here. Instead, the focus should be upon the body for the body will speak if only we have the imaginal ears to hear. Some great inner knowing will speak with a tension in the body, or a gut feel, or a change of breathing, or an unexpected movement. Watching and following the body’s lead we ask questions of it and listen for its answers that can come in: more body tension/movement/changes, words, phrases, sounds, intuitive knowing, or images.
……”ah, Watson, I’ve got it. It is so clear now. Come, we must be going. A game is a foot.”
“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.
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).