It’s not often that I get to prioritise writing a post immediately after deciding that it might be worth drafting. But when I mentioned this particular visualisation exercise on Instagram last night, I had quite a response of interest. As those of you who have been following my blog for a while will already be aware, I am a HUGE believer in the power of visualisation and meditation. Some of my most visited blog posts are on the very subject. All my experiences with meditation have been positive in some way. Most recently I have participated in Josefine’s Yoga’s meditation challenge (involving practicing a different meditation technique everyday for 21 days) and I am currently doing the latest Chopra Center 21-Day Meditation Experience™, Getting Unstuck: Creating a Limitless life.
But the particular meditation experience I am writing about today is based upon a visualisation exercise that I did only one time, but it dramatically changed/informed the course of my life.
Around autumn 2000 in Australia, I attended a small event at a local community center in a suburb of Adelaide. The main focus of the event was meditation. I’d had some experience with meditation before, specifically guided audio relaxation techniques and open-eye meditation à la Sri Chinmoy.
To give you a little background to this story, I was extremely lost at the time, having just emerged from a period of self-destruction/living in dysfunctional relationships (but that’s for another post). In short, I was very young and had, through acting upon self-loathing, become very broken. But I was recovering and had begun walking on a healing path. I still experienced anxiety daily and unfounded fear was my constant unwanted companion. In hindsight I would also say that I was mildly depressed on top of everything, however having been thoroughly depressed (and diagnosed as such) not so much longer before, I didn’t quite recognise it at the time.
I had been on a cocktail of medications in 1999 prescribed to address the symptoms of depression and anxiety I suffered from. There are least 5 medications that I can recall off the top of my head, but there were possibly more. However, after 2 years of being diagnosed, reassessed and re-diagnosed, I had been taken off of all forms of medication upon the suggestion of my primary treating doctor under supervision in the hospital for which he was the director*.
It was now up to me to, with support, develop some skills and emotional tools to cope with “life stuff”. Meditation was one of the things that helped. And so, when my boyfriend at the time was invited by a family friend to attend a meditation event, I gladly went along. It may be coincidence, fate or something else, but regardless, certain things were revealed to me that day about paths I didn’t even know I wanted to take. I ended up taking them… and there is not a single thing in my life today (from my husband, to my children, to the fact that I live in Sweden) that hasn’t been shaped by these things.
So, are you curious to know how it works? To be honest, I still don’t know. But I can outline the basic exercise and you can try it for yourself. Then, if you are interested to know what I saw and what came to pass in reality, read on.
MEET YOUR FUTURE SELF
Completely from memory, the visualisation exercise we did was basically as follows (there may be details that I am missing as it was 16 years ago!):
Imagine yourself sitting in a comfortable quiet room, in a large comfortable white chair.
A screen appears in front of you and on it are projected numbers. Imagine those that you may have seen at the start of an old documentary. They count down, from 10 to 1.
10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…
Slowly your chair starts to rise off the floor, large glass doors on one side of the room open to reveal a peaceful natural landscape and your chair, with you comfortably seated upon it, slowly drifts outside.
Your chair starts to descend, then land, and you find yourself quietly observing your future self, exactly a year from now. You are happy, healthy and doing something that you love. What is it that you are doing? How do you look? How do you feel? When you feel as though you have taken in this scene, sit back in your chair and relax.
Slowly your chair starts to rise again and drift up and away to another place, 2 years into the future. Again you have the opportunity to observe your future self. Where are you now? What is it that you are doing? How do you look? How do you feel? Do you want to talk to your future self? If so approach and ask a question of your choosing. Once you have the response and when you feel as though you have taken in this scene, sit back in your chair and relax.
Slowly your chair starts to rise again and drift up and away to another place, 3 years into the future. Again you have the opportunity to observe your future self. Where are you now? What is it that you are doing? How do you look? How do you feel? When you feel as though you have taken in this scene, sit back in your chair and relax.
Slowly your chair starts to rise again and drift up and away to another place, 4 years into the future. Again you have the opportunity to observe your future self. Where are you now? What is it that you are doing? How do you look? How do you feel? When you feel as though you have taken in this scene, sit back in your chair and relax.
Slowly your chair starts to rise again and drift up and away to another place, 5 years into the future. This place is by a beautiful lake. Watch as the sun begins to set over the stunning landscape. As the moon appears in the sky, you see your future self. You approach each other, smiling and feeling at ease. How do you look? How do you feel?
As you stand together by the lake, the moon reflected in its water, you ask your future self one question. Now listen carefully. After receiving your answer, you say thank you, turn and walk back to your chair. You sit back down in your chair and relax.
Slowly your chair starts to rise and drift up and away. Your chair approaches a house and large glass doors open to allow your chair to drift into the same room you started your journey in.
Your chair starts to descend, then lands gently, and once again you find yourself sitting in a comfortable quiet room.
A screen appears in front of you and on it are projected numbers. They count up, from 1 to 10.
1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8… 9… 10…
Now slowly open your eyes and find yourself sitting comfortably where you are.
To end this experience and to solidify what you have envisioned, create a collage of images that help tell the story of what you saw or evoke the same positive emotions.
For those of you who are interested in what I saw when I did this visualisation exercise myself, here are a few of the things that really stand out in my mind.
I saw myself one year in the future, wearing a smock (such as an artist would wear). I was standing in the courtyard of a place that was my own. At the time I had only ever lived in arguably chaotic share housing situations post moving away from my family home as a teenager, with up to 6 others in the same household. As a result of poor lifestyle choices on my part (and, arguably, many with whom I resided), there was always the possibility of losing a lease, and security in all forms hung precariously in the balance. In my visualisation, however, it was my name on the “important papers”, I didn’t have 6 housemates to be concerned with and everything was peaceful. It was a sunny day, warm and mild. There was a canvas on an easel and I was painting. I was smiling, I was focused on what I was doing and I was calm.
Not long after doing this meditation, upon deciding that tertiary education was something I might like to pursue, I was using the SATAC tertiary course guide as a flip book, unsure of what I was meant to study. I stubbornly (perhaps foolishly) determined that whatever page I landed on would be the course I should look into. I let my thumb stop flicking on a random page, opened the guide and read the words “Bachelor of Visual Communication”. As I read the course description, every fibre of my being knew I was meant to do that course. My guidance counselor thought otherwise and advised me against full-time study on account of my history (she thought I’d be too fragile to take the course or indeed any form of further study). In any case, I battled through the anxiety I still had and sat the university entrance examination. My result secured me a place in my chosen course in art school.
In high school my results had been rather mediocre for most subjects (with a couple of exceptions for classes I loved) and I was generally not a particularly motivated student. My university years, however, were some of the best I have had, both in terms of how I felt and how I performed academically. I discovered passions I didn’t know were there (such as an interest in corporate design), I won the award for best first year student, made the Dean’s Merit List every year, and graduated with the highest GPA in my course and a traveling scholarship to Japan. I also met my husband, a Swedish exchange student, during my second year of study. And I was finally living in a place that was my own.
During another stage of the visualisation I saw myself on a tropical beach, wearing a bikini and eating tropical fruit. Being raised in Australia, I was no stranger to beaches… except I didn’t frequent them, didn’t consider myself a “summer person” and would have balked at the thought of wearing a bikini. This beach was not in Australia. It was somewhere I had never been and somewhere that I would not have been interested in visiting at the time I did the meditation (I was an urban dweller, not a “nature girl”). The thing that actually shocked me was that my future self felt so incredibly comfortable in her own skin. She was literally glowing (tanned, even!), she was not self-conscious in the slightest and looked so happy, healthy, calm… and unlike me.
Fast forward a couple of years and my boyfriend (now my husband) and I travelled to New Zealand to renew his Australian visa. A friend from Auckland met us in the backpacker hostel where we were staying and, we happened to see a pamphlet in the reception area for a backpacker boat (60 Fijian dollars per night, including food, drinks and activities). On a whim, our friend suggested that we meet in Fiji to celebrate New Year’s Eve 2003/04. And so, just months later, we did. Prior to leaving, I realised I was in need of a bathing suit and picked up a bikini (my first) on a last-minute shopping trip. We extended our New Year’s trip to include an island visit and, one morning, sitting on the beach on the island of Kuata, eating fruit in my bikini, I thought “I have been here before”.
Image © tripadvisor.com**
There is a final stand-out memory I have of the visualisation. I saw myself in a land of green fields, abundant nature, space and lakes. I knew it was somewhere in Europe, though not anywhere I had been before. It was a cold land, but I saw my future self on a cool summer’s evening. I watched the sun setting and the day turn to night before my future self appeared on a hill and almost glided over to meet me. She was even more calm and serene than my other future selves had been. We walked down the hill and came to stand side by side by a still black lake, stars twinkling overhead, lush green hills all around us. She looked at me with a knowing kindness. She knew what I was going through and I knew she felt compassion, but not pity.
After a short time I asked her one question.
“How did you get here?”
“I lived every moment to the fullest.”, my future self responded, smiling kindly.
Image © wallpaperup.com
*This account of my experiences is purely anecdotal and shared only to provide a background to the meditation experience itself. If you have a diagnosed illness, mental health-related or other, I implore you to seek professional support if you’re even considering abandoning a prescribed medication protocol. The reason I was able to stop taking the medications I was prescribed was that 1) I was misusing medications and therefore they were doing more damage than good 2) It was determined that I didn’t have any kind of neurological imbalance, but rather needed to accept greater personal accountability and find strategies to cope with life and the issues I had. Medication was not going to help me be more responsible for my own life. But there are absolutely times when medication is crucial. This is not an “anti-medication” post. And everyone is different.
**This was the actual beach I saw myself sitting on during the visualisation. And where I ended up almost 3 years later.