Tag Archives: visualisation

Touch and Health

Physical contact has a large impact on people. Mammals are tactile. There are all kinds of benefits to touch, if you can do it comfortably. Not being touched can add a lot of stressors. How we are touched by other people affects our sense of self, and our self esteem. My own experience is that being touched by people I feel close to helps to ease pain and tension in my body.

One of my first responses to social distancing was the realisation that there are people who matter to me a lot who I will not be able to hug for some time. There’s the heartbreaking possibility that there may be people I never get to hug again. I cannot use my body to comfort people who are fearful or otherwise distressed. There are people I would very much like to be able to hug close right now, and reassure in the way that only a hug can. But, they are safer if I don’t see them.

I have a lot of issues around touch. I don’t do it lightly or casually. For me, any kind of physical contact represents a fair amount of considered trust.

I am dealing with this by doing small visualisations. In the visualisation, it is a gentle, sunny day and I am meeting a friend. It is safe to meet them, and safe to hug them. Both of us are well. I hug them. I’m finding that running these little visualisations is helping me deal with my own fear, and with the pre-emptive grief I’m feeling because of that fear.


Panic, breath and meditation

I’d been aware of the theory that panic and breath-orientated meditation doesn’t always go well, but until recently, I’d never encountered it. The experience of what was probably bronchitis coupled with several days of intense panic from stressful things, did things to my body. I found that so long as I wasn’t thinking about my breath, I was fine, but if I became aware of it, I couldn’t do it. Cue gasping frantically.

This was especially bad on the edge of sleep, because there aren’t many things a person can do with their brain. At that point, not being aware of my body proved very hard indeed, and the panicked bouts of fighting to breathe, and fighting to convince my body that it could breathe, were many. It made me realise how much my meditation practice is underpinned by breathwork. I had no real tools to deal with a situation where I needed to focus my mind on something other than my breath. However, necessity is a great teacher.

What I discovered is that I can go from cold, straight into a visualisation or pathworking. I have to plan it carefully in advance, and to make the leap straight into a deep meditative state, the subject matter has to be emotionally engaging. And then, it’s like making an enormous, perilous jump, but I managed it repeatedly. An arrowshot of intent and concentration, taking the mind away from the body so that the body could keep on with the breathing, untroubled.

I also learned that this kind of trick can be pulled when sharp and clever, but that an exhausted, sleep deprived mind can’t do it, and at that point, valerian is the better answer, or anything else you might use to knock yourself out of a night.

I’ve never felt so at odds with myself as I did during the week of not being able to think about breathing. Body and mind were functioning as two distinct systems, very much at odds with each other. It was an unnerving experience in all kinds of ways, and I hope never to have it again. It’s another example of how you can’t use meditation as a quick fix – this only worked for me because I have a long history of working with visualisation and had a skill set to draw on. Quite possibly this also went wrong for me because I have a long history of breathwork.


Visualisation for non-visual people

Visualisation takes a number of forms in Pagan practice – it comes up in certain forms of magic, it can be key to developing the tools for shamanic journeying, and the more creative forms of meditation depend on it. Visualising a sacred inner grove is a key piece of Druidic meditation. What happens if that isn’t available to you? Not everyone is born sighted, and sight impairments can’t always be an easy match with instructions to visualise the beautiful, intricate details. I have no firsthand experience of this and cannot therefore comment with any great confidence, although I think there’s a good chance what I’m poised to suggest could be helpful.

I have a very poor visual memory and a weak visual imagination. I cannot hold the shape, and look of a clearing surrounded by trees, in my head coherently for more than a few seconds at a time. I can’t see it. I’ve been trying on and off for over a decade on this particular exercise, and I still can’t see it. My visual thinking skills have improved very slightly over that time frame, but it’s taken a lot of effort and I still can’t do what many seem to do easily.

I have a good memory for words and sounds. I can remember smells, and I really remember touch. I have a recall capacity for physical sensation which I didn’t really explore for years, while I was struggling away with what I could not see inside my own head. I also have good emotional recall, which works well alongside the touch memories. I can recall cats I knew thirty years ago, and remember the shape of their bodies and the texture of their fur. I can do the same with people I have touched.  I can remember a number of actual clearings in the woods as bodily experiences of being in a space.

I think the only reason we have ‘visualisation’ and not some wider ‘sensing’ is because most people are primarily visual. Some of us aren’t, especially not when it comes to memory and the mind. What happens if we take the idea of visualisation, and stop being so visual about it? In my case the short answer is, success!

If visualising doesn’t work for you, let it go, in whole or in part, to explore other forms of sensing. Work with the senses that most involve you in the world and that your mind can most readily conjure up. I work increasingly with my felt responses. I don’t know what a grove of trees looks like beyond a most general sense. If I imagine what it’s like to sit with my eyes closed, in a place surrounded by trees, then the smells, sounds and bodily feelings of that are quite available to me, and I can blend memory and imagination to productive effect.


Why Druids ponder

Pondering, reflection, meditation and contemplation are frequent features of the Druid path. There are many ways of doing it. We might sit in silence and see what floats up. We might focus our minds on a certain topic, explore a visualisation or undertake a pathworking. We might meditate through movement, or take a meditative approach to our ritual work.

Thinking is a big part of Druidry. For some, Druidry is better described as philosophy than as religion, but this is not in the sense of adopting wholesale a way of thinking about the world. Druid philosophy is not something you study, take onboard and then manifest in your life. It is something that you do. Philosophy for Druids is always a work in progress. There is always more to learn and understand. Deeper insights are always available, more connections can be contemplated. Some of this can be developed through study and debate, and by life-experiments and experience.

To go from those raw moments of experience to developing philosophy you have to process what has happened. Therefore, it is in thinking about our feelings and beliefs, reflecting on our experiences, contemplating our lives and meditating on our aspirations that we create, from one day to the next, a process of personal philosophy that has no end point.

I find it helps to put some time aside each day for thinking. How I do this has varied a lot through my life. When I started, I used the time before sleeping as my main pondering space. My dysfunctional first marriage coupled with the challenges of a young child made it harder to have a regular practice, and I took to snatching what quiet time I could for a few years. Mediation groups have given me productive spaces to work in, and the structure of the OBOD course helped me reclaim some life, time and space for my path.

Currently I have two periods, reliably, in each day that I can use for my indoors Druidry. I use the time before sleep for prayer, and reflection. I’ve arranged my life so that I spend a lot of time in bed (by modern standards) and am not so overtired that I fall asleep at once. There’s a lovely, warm, relaxed space available to me as a consequence. I wake long before I need to get up, and generally I wake when my body wants to, and am able to spend the first half an hour or so of the day reflecting on what I need to be doing, working through ideas, contemplating life, self, and matters arising. It means I step out to face the day clear headed, knowing what I’m doing and ready to start. This blog post was sketched out in such a way, alongside the two others I need to write before lunch. Last night I was reflecting on images from Gordon MacLellan’s inspiring poetry.

Modern life encourages us to keep running, and to exist in over-stimulated environments. It is easy to be bombarded by an excess of information and never have time to reflect on it, derive meaning or consider implications. This reduces both the benefit and the joy to be derived from any experience. Taking time to ponder, also means getting to savour what has happened to us. In having time to reflect, we integrate experiences into the stories of our lives, and we re-create sense of self. In stepping away from hectic-lifestyle culture, and adopting a slower, more thoughtful pace, we become active participants in our lives, rather than passive recipients, pushed round by whatever forces hit us.

There are many ways of meditating, many reasons to meditate and many effects of making it part of your life. If all you can find are ten minutes to spare in a day, find them, because those ten minutes will help you transform everything else.

(Druidry and Meditation, on sale over at amazon kindle at time of posting…)


Imagination and Meditation

I’ve recently read a Glennie Kindred book in which she talks about using the imagination to take you into the otherworlds and to have spiritual experiences. This is certainly isn’t the only instance of this kind of thinking. I assume that if you don’t use your imagination much in the normal scheme of things, then imagining talking to a spirit or travelling to the otherworlds will seem incredible, powerful, exciting. Of course it will seem like magic.

My trouble with this is that to a large extent, I live by my imagination and have done for years. I’ve been making up not just stories, but complex settings for them since childhood. Give me a bit of thinking time, and I can imagine my way into all sorts of places, consider how to empathise with whoever’s there, work out how they got there and where they might be going, and how it all works. Give me a throwaway line and I’ll wrap a story around it. I can imagine anything. I assume so could anyone else if they were using their imaginations regularly. As far as I can tell, the imagination is a bit like a muscle in that if you never use it, it gets weak and flabby.

Does my imagination take me to otherworlds that are meaningful? I can imagine my way into the faerie court, and I can go there as Tam Lin, or Thomas the Rhymer, or I can go there as a faerie, or create a person. At a pinch I could go as me, but that’s not as interesting. I can imagine a Stone Age tribe in the Severn Vale and walk between the hills and the river with them. I can see why it might be tempting to cast these imaginings as religious experiences. However, I’m also perfectly capable of imagining walking into Gotham City as Batman. Do we want to call that a religious experience, too? It might be, for the serious fanboy, but it isn’t for me.

I suppose if you’d spent all of your life sat in a chair because you had no idea it was possible to move (or it wasn’t possible for you), and then you found out about walking, and that you could do it, , those first stumbling steps would seem like (or be) a miracle. If you walk all the time, walking is something you take for granted. If you only walk between the house and the car, then a walk into the woods is a walk into an unknown, magical otherworld. If you walk over hills and through woods most weeks, you will love and value the hills and woods, but they will not seem strange in the same way. They won’t strike you as belonging to a semi-supernatural realm.

The same is true of imaginations. If you are used to meditating, visualising, daydreaming, and pathworking, then you will have some idea of what your mind is capable of. Your ability to picture walking into Mordor will not leave you feeling like you have, in some literal sense, walked into Mordor.

There are other levels. There are times, rare and precious occasions, when working deeply with the imagination does seem to open a door into something numinous. If you are used to using your imagination and aren’t being seduced by the frankly quite unhealthy idea that your thinking something makes it real, there is more room for the more wondrous. If you know what your everyday, regular imagination looks like, how glorious and wide are its wings, how truly soaring its potential, then you can appreciate that for what it is. You won’t mistake your imaginary chats with imaginary Druids for anything other than your mind talking to itself. And if for a second, you really do glimpse a white hart come out of faerie, or a tree murmurs a few words to you, then there’s a better chance you will know how to make sense of this.


Steampunk Meditation

A few days ago, my Druid friend Shaun asked me if I could design a meditation based on Steampunk. My default reaction was ‘yes’, and then I sat down and thought about it. A meditation needs to do something. It needs to take you deeper in, or expand your mind in some way. There are meditations that are just about relaxing yourself, but that didn’t seem right for an application of Steampunk ideas. Steampunk is too dynamic for that.

Steampunk is also essentially a social and aesthetic movement. How to make that into a meaningful meditation without just playing with surfaces? I considered working round the four elements, but that seemed a bit of a cop-out, not least because I’ve put together a few element based meditations already (See Druidry and Meditation on the Books page http://www.druidlife.wordress.com/books). Really speaking, I’d just be wrapping relevant technology around existing ideas, and that felt like a cheat. I don’t just want to play with surfaces. The other thing is, steam technology burned a lot of coal, it wasn’t very green, which isn’t very Druidy, so the more I thought about it, the less this seemed like a good idea.

So where did that leave me? I confess that there was a brief crisis around just how much Steampunk Druidry you could actually do, and whether it was possible to have anything with more depth. I floated out the Secret Order of Steampunk Druids as much for fun as anything else. Can Steampunk Druidry be anything more than a bit of dressing up and having a giggle?

Here’s what I’ve come up with. It plays to one of the core Steampunk images, it deals in social connection, relationship and visualisation. I think it ticks all the necessary boxes.

Take some time to settle and slow your breath as you normally would when meditating. Then, picture yourself as a cog. Shiny or dull, large or small, well used or pristine… what kind of a cog are you? Every tooth around your cog is a point at which you connect with the world. Every time you turn, other things, other people turn their cogs in response. What causes you to turn? What are you turning? Picture yourself as a cog, be it a small one or a large one, and see how you fit in with all the other cogs, and try to visualise the sort of machine you belong to. Is it the sort of machine that goes round fixing broken things, or is yours a wrecking machine? Are you part of a really clever machine that makes amazing discoveries? Is your machine going somewhere, or just round in circles? Do you like how it looks? Is this a machine you are glad to be part of, or do you need to break out and roll off somewhere else? See where it takes you…


Alternative meditation

There are a number of standard meditation techniques popular with druids that I find impossible. They make no emotional sense to me. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the techniques, I’m sure they work well for some people, just not for me. I’ve been trying to find alternatives, and having got one, wanted to share on the off-chance that I am not alone in my difficulties.

There is the meditation in which we go down into the otherworld. We may go through a door in a tree and down a stair, and meet the guardian. I’ve encountered this one in a few places. It stumps me partly because it’s directional. I have ideas about Annwn that would work for going down, but the otherworld as underworld doesn’t sit right. I understand the otherworlds as being alongside this one, overlapping, interwoven in ways too complex for me to understand.

When I want to explore something otherworldly in meditation, I have tried hard and repeatedly to work with the ‘down’ model. I’m not an inherently visual person, and I’ve tried using imagery from all kinds of places to reinforce the work, and I still struggle. Being a frequent meditator and good at working with other thought forms, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe it’s just not the right idea for me.

I then started looking round for some alternative. I need a meditative journey that takes me from the world as I experience it, into somewhere else. I need that journey to be emotionally resonant for me, and the imagery to be simple enough that I can easily picture it. I spent some days deliberately mulling this over, and nothing came.

Then, walking beside the canal in the darkness, I watched the full moon rise, creating a path of light across the water. I knew I’d found my image. I remember a story from childhood – Masquerade – in which a hare had to run the path of the sun, created by the sun setting over the sea. I’m sure I’ve read moonpath stories as well.  It’s an idea I’ve also used in fiction writing. Path of the moon, path of the sun, stretching out over the water, over river or ocean, and taking us… I don’t know. Beyond the map, into the unknown.

I’ve started working with the idea of a moonpath in meditation, and currently just imagining walking or running it is enough for me. I realised once I started that I had created a scenario in which I would have to walk on water, which is laden with interesting connotations. So far the journey is simply over the water, following the light. I know that when I am truly ready, that path will take me somewhere. I’m not pushing, or presupposing what I will find, and I like that too. It makes me realise one of the problems I have with prescriptive visualisations and pathworkings is that they often tell you what to encounter. I’ve got to the stage where I don’t want to write a story about where I’m going, I want to journey and experience in a freeform way, in a way that might possibly be a real spiritual experience rather than the creative working of my conscious mind.

This is part of my re-enchantment quest, and my searching for magic in my life. I realised that I needed to open myself to otherworldliness, and looked around for suitable tools. I think in the moonpath and sunpath meditations, I’ve found something. I also like that I can go out and work with real phenomena – I don’t just have to sit and imagine, I can meditate with the moon or sun on the water sometimes, and I’m very drawn to grounding my meditations in reality where I can.

More notes from the journey when I have anything to report.