Visualizing what I want


Some nondual folks speak out against visualizing what you want. I get why.

If there is identification with the visualization, it just means reinforcing those identifications. It means (perhaps) reinforcing ideas of the future, that I need whatever I am visualizing, that what’s here is lacking and not good enough, that what I am trying to compensate for (deficient selves, lack) is real, and so on.

For me, it’s not either/or. The two can co-exist, or even support each other.

When I make a list of what I wish for in my life and also visualize it (which happens as soon as I think about it), several things happen. If there are identifications there, I may have fears come up around not having it, or having it. A sense of lack, or of missing something, or a deficient self, may be stirred up.

Whatever is left for me to see or meet or love or question is stirred up.

So I get to see it. Meet it. Rest with it. Find love for it. Question my beliefs around it. I can also see if any of it is findable. Can I find an actual threat? What I am seeking? What I feel I am lacking? The compulsion for it to be different, or to get something specific? (Living Inquiries.)

This can all lead to a deeper sense of freedom. And here, my preferences are held more lightly. Some of them may have initially seemed like a need, or even a matter of life and death. And now they are more a wouldn’t it be nice if.

It can still be helpful to make lists of what I would like in my life. It helps me clarify my preferences. It helps me mentally try out different options, and see how it resonates with me. It helps me reorient. It guides me to work towards what I would like in my life. It helps me recognize and take opportunities that bring me in that direction I wish for my life, when they come up. In short, it may help me become a better steward of my life.

It also helps me see what’s left for me. What’s left to look at. Welcome. Rest with. Inquire into.

It’s all about how it’s done. I see how these types of lists and visualizations can reinforce wishful thinking, a sense of lack, deficient selves, and more.

I also see how it can be done in a more wise way, and be very supportive.

Also, research – for instance outlined in The How of Happiness – shows that certain forms of this practice can be very helpful.

So I agree with the nondual folks. I also agree with the “ideal life” list making and visualization proponents. And I see the two approaches as mutually supportive, if done with that intention.

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A visualization from Anthony de Mello


Suppose I return to a scene that causes me much distress. An event that brought me humiliation, like a public rebuke, or one that brought me great pain, like the death of a friend. I relive the whole event, in all its painful detail. I feel once more the pain, the loss, the humiliation, the bitterness. This time, however, Jesus is there. What role is he playing? Is he a comforter and strengthener? Is he the one who is causing me this pain and loss? I interact with him, just as I did with the other persons in that event. I seek strength from him, an explanation of what I don’t understand; I seek a meaning to the whole event.

What is the purpose of this exercise? It is what some people call the healing of memories. There are memories that keep rankling within us — situations in our past life that have remained unresolved and continue to stir within us. This constitutes a perpetual wound that in some ways hampers us from plunging more fully into life, that sometimes seriously handicaps us in our ability to cope with life. [….]

It is important for our personal growth, both spiritual and emotional, that we resolve these unresolved situations that keep rankling within us. When we relive them in the company of Christ, again and again, if need be, we will notice that a new meaning comes into them, that the sting goes out of them, that we can now return to them without any emotional upset; in fact, that we can even return to them now with a sense of gratitude to God, who planned these events for some purpose that will rebound to our benefit and to his glory. This form of prayer is good therapy and good spirituality.

An excerpt from Contact with God by Anthony de Mello.

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Finding resolution here as well


A part of our life is the experience of some things not being fully resolved.

And one way of working with it is to resolve it here, for instance through visualizations, acting out, or dialogue.

It is quite simple, maybe even so simple it sounds silly.

Take the unresolved situation. Stage it and include the important characters. Allow it to play itself out and find a full resolution.

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I am reminded of how useful visualizations as a tool can be.

I use it to invite my human self to reorganize and realign with a specific intention, and most often it is something quite simple, such as waking up at a specific time. When I go to bed the night before, I visualize waking and getting up at a specific time, refreshed and clear, allowing myself to feel it and make it come alive for me as I visualize, and it works well most days.

Other times, it could be to invite my human self to realign with particular practices, such as doing sitting practice more regularly, physical exercise, or an adjustment of diet. Or it could be to invite in a more open heart, deepening of the human self, or even awakening.

In each case, the visualization – when felt and alive – seems to help my human self reorganize with an intention, and it seems to lower the threshold for it actually happening.

Of course, everything else stays the same. I still set the alarm clock, I put whatever I want to do on my list for the day, I create a situation that makes it more likely for me to do it, I may ask for help and support in doing it (maybe just having my partner remind me), or anything else that seems helpful.



In my daily life, I am often reminded of the practical effects of visualization. In short, they help organize my mind and actions at many levels and align them with a certain outcome, making that outcome more likely.

I have written about the specifics of this in other posts, although I can repeat some of them: At the mind, emotional and behavioral levels, there is a reorganization and realignment with the content of the visualization, making it more likely to happen. Obstacles at the mind and emotional levels tend to be reduced or go away. I look for small steps in daily life to bring me in the direction of what is visualized. I find more easily in my self and my life the qualities I visualize. I look for opportunities, and are more likely to recognize and grasp them when they arise. I actively engage in behaviors which brings me closer to the outcome. And of course, the more vivid the visualization, the more it seem real here and now, the more all of this tends to happen.

It is interesting to note that this is a process that happens anyway, all the time for most or all of us. We visualize something in the future, and it tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy for us. Often, we don’t realize that this is what is going on. And if we do, may take the specifics of the visualization as inevitable, or something outside of our control. When I consciously visualize, I am just using a process that is there all along, whether I notice it or not, and whether I consciously interact with it or not.

The process of visualization is a tool, and as any tool it can be used for many different purposes and in many different ways. Mainly, it can be used as part of a spiritual practice, as an aid for awakening, it can be used to change the conditions of my inner life, and it can be used to make something happen in my life in the world. Either of those are fine.

Tibetan Buddhism is probably most sophisticated, and at least most complex, in how they use it as an aid for changes in the inner life, and ultimately awakening. But even theistic traditions use visualizations, for instance through prayer. I visualize Christ in my prayers and contemplations, and it inevitably has an effect on me. I bring some of the qualities I see in Christ into my own life. The visualization becomes a reminder of what is possible here now.

And then there is of course those using it to either feel better, for instance visualizing themselves as happy, or to get something in their outer life, for instance a new job, a partner, or more money.

In either case, it is good to keep it all in perspective. Visualizations are about getting something that appears to not already be here, so it is easy to get into the trap of a sense of split here, to identify closely with seeking mind and not finding ourselves so often as non-seeking mind. So it can be good to ask ourselves a few questions. What happens when I believe I need this in my life? What will change if I have it in my life? Is it true that what I am seeking is not already here?

These questions may help us see and feel that nothing is really missing here and now. It is complete as it is. And yet, within that context, it is still fully possible to use visualizations for practical reasons. It remains one of many practical tools, although now not used to fill a hole in me or to get something I believe I really need.

Visualization is just one of many tools we use in daily life, and we tend to use it as we use all of the other tools.

If we believe we really need something that is not here, then any or all of the tools are used within that context. If we look for solutions that only benefit us or our small group, then the tools are used in that way. If we look for solutions that benefits ourselves and the larger whole, the big inclusive we, then they are requited for that purpose. If we notice that what we seem to need is already here, then they are used within that context.