How Can You Learn to Visualize?

Humans have known how to visualize for thousands of years. It’s natural to us. Paleolithic cave paintings in Lascaux provide evidence of all three of the basic elements for using our minds in this way:

     Having a desired outcome (a successful hunt)

Finding a way to focus attention (inside quiet and dark, hard-to-reach caves)

Evoking specific images (detailed, beautiful paintings of animals – and humans)

In recent decades there’s been a great supply of books, talks, and courses for instructing us in creative visualization. Now, whether you’re a novice or a pro, there’s a compelling story I’d encourage you to read – INTO THE MAGIC SHOP: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and The Secrets of the Heart, by James R. Doty, MD. It’s a wonderfully personal account of his life that includes a set of clear lessons on visualization along with his hard won wisdom about the need to live with an open heart.

The kind of visualization we are discussing is the cognitive process of purposefully creating mental images for a beneficial physiological, psychological, or practical effect. (Just a side note – everyone does not “see” the images, but we can use the other senses to call up what we need to evoke.) Visualization can help us to win at sports, achieve career goals, or become healthy. There are many, many possible uses and some of the modern teachers say that “it helps you to get anything you want.” Doty found that getting all that he wanted wasn’t a simple gain.

When he was 12 years old, Doty happened to meet Ruth, the mother of the owner of a magic shop. She taught him about the magic of the mind. He was growing up very poor in a very troubled family where just surviving deprivation and misfortune was hard. Then Ruth taught him four “tricks”:

     1) How to relax and be aware of his body

2) How to quiet his mind and to focus his attention

3) How to open his heart

4) How to clarify his intention

The first two tricks are basic to meditative practices, and the third – as loving kindness mediation – teaches us compassion for ourselves and others.

Doty wrote that during the summer when she was teaching him,

“Ruth was improving my ability to regulate my emotions, increasing my empathy, my social connectedness, and making me more optimistic. She changed how I perceived myself and how I perceived the world. And that changed absolutely everything.”

Using what she had taught him in the years that followed, Doty found that getting all he wanted meant that he became a very accomplished and wealthy neurosurgeon. But he’d been too young to understand the wisdom of Ruth’s teaching that you have to do more than just get everything you want. After he lost everything – his Rolex and luxury cars and huge home – he discovered what she meant.

He’d long been curious about love:

“The first brain I ever saw was suspended in a glass jar full of formaldehyde. It was gray and furrowed – more like a giant walnut or a three-pound lump of old hamburger than a supercomputer responsible for all human functioning. … I would learn the places in the brain responsible for speech and taste and all motor functions, but there was no instructor who could ever show me – not in a textbook or during surgery – what part of the brain I could slice into and watch love spill out.”

That summer before the eighth grade, Ruth instructed Doty to send loving thoughts to himself, to his friends, and to people he did not like. When he looked confused with including people he did not like, “She looked at me with deep kindness and said ‘Jim, oftentimes those who hurt people are those who hurt the most.'”

Doty writes about what he realized:

“It was hard to think of the bully who had beat me up and…I still hated him and all the other people who had been mean to me and hurt me. But I kept trying. Over and over. And after a while I found that if I thought of them being hurt or being beat up and crying in pain and then felt like when it happened to me, it was easier. Easier when I began to realize that when I was angry with someone, it was usually because I was hurting on the inside.”

If only most of us could share the same realization.

Doty learned that it’s important to know what our full goal is and to be very clear about it: “It is with clarity of intent that vision becomes a reality.” This sounds like Edgar Cayce’s statement (see the December 30 winnpost) that “Mind is the builder, physical is the result.” Although he does not use spiritual language, Doty does describe some experiences of the “higher” level of reality – he had both an after-death visitation from his father and his own Near Death Experience (NDE) following a car accident. He might even be comfortable with the first part of Cayce’s statement – “Spirit is the life”.

Doty seems to be someone who has always reached for more in life, someone who remains open to possibility. He is a fine teacher of far more than visualization.

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