There is the old view of meditation that one empties their mind, and then they are in nirvana. The assumption if we could quiet our mind, then nirvana would arise. The chattering of our worries, planning, the analysis was the enemy.
A brief time doing 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 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 you 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 of 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.
I could not believe my eyes when, the other day, I noticed that this long out-of-print and much sought-after book is back in print. The few copies that were around were selling for $100 plus. If you have any interest in knowing far more about the experience of inner imagery get this book before it disappears again.
In 1987, Andreas Mavromatis published Hypnagogia: The Unique States of Consciousness Between Wakefulness and Sleep. In 360 pages, he summarized major and minor writings and added his observations on this powerful experience and easiest path to high-quality inner imagery. Although we are a few decades out from that publishing date, the information is still highly relevant since so little discussion of hypnagogia has occurred in the intervening years. Dreams and dreaming have soaked up most of the research and creative studies around inner states.
He splits his research into three helpful categories:
the phenomenology of hypnagogia (sensory, cognitive, and emotional characteristics)
hypnagogia compared to other special inner states
brain function as related to hypnagogia
He spends a bit of time on methods but this is cast in a more general rather than specific way. You will find the how-to-do-it steps here at Fireball Imagery rather than in Mavromatis’s book.
Bottom-Line: Get this book while you can. A must read for those who want to know much more about this inner state.
Where to get it: Note – The following link goes straight to the bookseller and I in no way receive any payment for recommending this book. Amazon link
Experience Hypnagogia for Yourself
Tonight, linger with relaxed wakefulness rather than following straight asleep.
Bring up a memory or some idea you want to explore.
Relax more until you start to feeling additional ideas, feelings, and imagery is strongly present.
Hang out in that place and take in the experience.
Hold a few things you want to remember later by making a clear mental intention that you will remember the such-and-such item.
Fall asleep anytime you want.
In the morning, recall that which you wanted to remember and contemplate that item.
The Place of Imagination is where the imagination is quickly stirred and released. It is domain and center of power of a worker of the imagination. The alchemists had their labs; the ancient philosophers had their caves; Europeans, the forests; lamas, mountainside retreats; and genius makers (i.e. Edison and Tesla), their workshops.
Rembrandt really captured the essence of a Place of Imagination in his painting called The Philosopher in Meditation (shown above). We see a combination of sunlight and fireplace light, perhaps representing the analytical or conscious mind, and darkness that intensifies up the spiral staircase, a swirling force that pulls us into the unknown and unseen unconscious. The imagination awaits the philosopher who sits looking downward, turned away from his book.
Here is a video of the painting with zooming, turning, and varied contrasting:
A clearer wood carving shows some of the hidden detail submerged in Rembrandt’s original:
Finding Your Place of Imagination
You probably already have one but the work-a-day world keeps you from remembering the location. Slow down and spend some time and think if you have been in a place of magic (for you). This place can be in the real world or a place of your imagination.
When you find it, and sometimes it has to be constructed from two or more locations combined imaginatively into one place, explore it. Find its qualities. If need be, furnish that place with special objects that fascinate you.
Lock it in by making this the place where you start your imagination work. In time, this will be your Place of Imagination.
These terms are used interchangeably but they are very different in one very important way: the amount of conscious control we have over the experience. Visualization – is the ability to bring a specific image or goal to our “mind’s eye” for exploration and creativity. An example would be: I need to develop a movie script and need to visualize the camera shots including which angles I will use, the anticipated lighting found on location, and other factors important to producing a good production. A second example: I’m having trouble following through on projects. I know the story of the tortoise and the hare is an important allegory for me about persistence. I will visualize the story each day before getting down to work.
Imagination – is broader than visualization because it allows more unguided elements from our unconscious to mingle with what we bring into an imagination session. For instance: Turning to the videomaking project, I know a lot about what I want to film but there are some aspects that I don’t know how to convey. In an imagination session, I visualize what I know but then I let things “go” and watch what my mind brings up. I let my imagination run free and I observe and learn.
Dreaming – is that state where we are very far from our usual way of being in the world. This is rapid-eye-movement dreaming as we sleep. Dreams can be recalled with practice and dream symbols and stories and can be explored for a deeper understanding of what is happening in our unconscious.
I alert people to what they will experience once they start applying stress reduction techniques to their most stressful situations. Frequently, things feel worse! How could this be? I thought stress reduction techniques work by cooling things down such as stress hormones or our emotional brain systems. Cooling should make us feel less anxious, confused, angry, defensive, etc., right?
As beginners, our anxiety can increase and our bodies can feel pretty bad. I think this happens for a couple of reasons:
We put some of our focus on how our bodies are feeling in that moment. Frequently when we are reacting to a high-stressor, we go to our well learned responses which can be quite separated from body awareness. We are thinking a mile a minute and our emotions are following familiar paths and forms of expression. Our body does not get its due even though they are very involved in the situation. When our focus returns to our body we can feel our breathing is off, or our bodies are pumped up with stress hormones, or our hands are shaking and more. That doesn’t feel good at all.
We split our focus from just what’s happening to working our technique. That’s a heck of lot to juggle.
We probably discover that we have not practiced the technique enough to know it well so we find ourselves trying to remember all of the steps.
We probably discover that the experience produced by the technique feels too unfamiliar to make us feel comfortable doing it in a high stress situation.
Diminishing the Tornado and Passing Through the Doorway The increased discomfort caused by the forces above is the tornado. The doorway is where we can pass from high discomfort of a body and mind in stress, to feeling better and having more control over ourselves. There are three things we can work on to make getting through the doorway easier or even possible.
We can diminish the power of the tornado by getting very familiar and practiced with our stress tools. Daily practice, in the face of lessor stresses, can really sharpen our mastery.
We can learn to expect the tornado and therefore have a better chance of persisting with our technique. When discomfort rises (hello, tornado) we stick with our stress tool and not back off. Most of the time, eventually it will produce some results (perceivable stress reduction and/or clarity of thought/feeling).
We can expose ourselves to the stressor or similar stressors and bring the discomfort down. As the level of stress decreases the power of the tornado to rattle us diminishes. When a situation is less stressful, the tornado may not even appear. The balance between the stress and the effectiveness of our stress reduction technique will be such that the technique matches or exceeds the capacity of the situation to produce stress. Piece of cake.
Credits: Funnel cloud photo – Public Domain. Credit: OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL).