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Incorporating imagery into meditation

Three useful imagery techniques are discussed in the last of a short series on meditation for beginners

06 October 2018, at 1:59pm

By now, hopefully you are spending half an hour or more each morning being mindful. Then, observing emotions one at a time, giving them a name and thus defusing them to a degree. Defusing troublesome thoughts enables us to realise that they do not hold as much power over us as we thought they did. Formulating a plan to def-use the troublesome thoughts is a very personal thing and the best plans are those that you come up with yourself.

Counsellors rarely advise a patient on what to do. Rather, we facilitate patients in formulating their own plans and making their own decisions. Only then will the plan truly resonate with the patient, giving them strength and teaching them to tackle the many hurdles in life without us, thus gaining more inner strength and improved self-esteem.

The methods you choose to help you gain clarity during meditation, to defuse those disturbing emotions and to become more compassionate are also very personal. Here, I would like to share a few imagery methods which my pat-ients have developed to help themselves with their practice.

The fortress

Sometimes, people hurt us so much that we decide not to engage with them again on an emotional level. One pat-ient of mine came to this decision regarding her siblings, who had spent as long as she could remember attacking her verbally and behind her back. Another member of her extended family had sexually abused her and her sister as children. She wanted to disempower them as regards their ability to hurt her any more. She wanted to be free of the hatred she felt towards them and to be liberated from them being in her thoughts constantly.

She built a fortress in her mind during meditation. The walls were so thick that no snide comment could get through. She could sense that her extended family were bad-mouthing her, but she couldn’t hear anything when within this fortress. The fortress had no roof; sunshine could come in and the skies above were blue and bright. This was a short-term solution, of course. We cannot live life as an island, and when we gain strength, we can face our problems and unkind people without fear of them hurting us. This gave her space away from her spiteful siblings.

She gained strength through mindfulness. Soon she could rise up to the top of the walls and look down on those who had hurt her so much. By this stage, she was so powerful emotionally that she could even wish them to be well, happy and peaceful. But they would never enter her mind during her meditations again, which meant that they rarely entered her head during the weeks that followed.

The heavy bucket

Take that troublesome nagging thought, that disastrous day you had at work, that wound complication, that failed exam, that parking fine, and put each one into a bucket of its own.

Raise your left arm out to your side to shoulder level, holding the bucket with the disastrous day in it. Feel it getting heavy, painful, festering. When you have decided that that entire day is in the bucket and you can feel the discomfort of the weight, drop it into the abyss, put your hand on your lap and concentrate on the relief of letting go of that weight. It is the past. It doesn’t need to be revisited any more. Stay with the feeling of extra space you have in your mind. Repeat with whatever imagery you wish.

Climbing up the branches of a tree

Imagine you are feeling so many overwhelming emotions, you don’t know where to start. As we learnt earlier, clearing your mind to the point of being a blank canvas can be done. Observe one emotion at a time. Triage them.

We can imagine ourselves slowly ascending a tree to the top, which is our nirvana, if you like. Each task on the way can be visualised as a branch on which you can rest and have a beer once you have tackled that challenge.

For example, I’m really angry with person X; the first branch is the place I can rest once I have let go of the anger. We discussed methods of defusing anger last month.

I am enjoying being free of the anger which was sapping my strength. The next branch is even nicer, with more sunshine and a comfier sunbed. But I must conquer my fear and anxiety associated with person X to reach that branch. We also discussed how to tackle anxiety in the last issue.

It may take a week of meditation to get onto the next branch. But each time you revisit your mindful meditation, you start on the branch where you left off. Other branches can be named “unbreakable”, “unshakeable”, “kind and compassionate to all” and finally “true liberation and happiness”. Make it your own and it will have more meaning for you.

Laura Woodward has been the surgeon at Village Vet Hampstead for over 10 years. Laura is also a qualified therapeutic counsellor and is affiliated with the ACPNL and the ISPC. She runs Laurawoodward.co.uk – a counselling service for vets and nurses.

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