How I visualize the future

I notice I use visualizations of the future in a few different ways.

In daily life, I regularly visualize future scenarios to help me orient and function in the world.

I sometimes intentionally visualize a particular future to find what resonates with me, what feels deeply right for me, and what feels alive and juicy for me. This is a kind of communication with myself.

The third is outside of regular psychology. I visualize a particular future to sense if life is moving in that direction, to get a sense of how much traction it has in life. This one is more about sensing and receptivity.

Yet another is a combination of the two previous. I test out something juicy and alive for me to see if life seems to move in that direction. If there is some traction, I may stay with it for a while as a kind of prayer. As a kind of invitation for life (and me) to move in that direction.

A. THE ONE THAT HAPPENS IN DAILY LIFE

I visualize the future as part of functioning in daily life. It helps me orient, plan, and explore options and possibilities. I see myself making lunch. Writing an email. Going for a walk. Taking a trip. If I am drawn to do it, and I don’t see a good reason to not do it, I do it.

If an imagination about the future has a charge and seems stressful, I recognize it as imagination. It’s not the future. It’s created by my mind. If it has a charge, it means it is fueled by my fears and/or hopes and comes from something unresolved in me. Sometimes, I also do a more thorough inquiry into them to find what’s genuinely more true for me.

B. VISUALIZATIONS TO FIND WHAT RESONATES

Since my teens, I have – off and on – also engaged in intentional visualizations about the future.

For instance, I sometimes sit down to visualize an ideal day one or five years into the future, from waking up to going to sleep. This helps me connect with what’s juicy for me and helps me come alive. It opens options for me in my mind. It’s a way for me to explore what’s in me.

C. RECEPTIVITY AND FINDING WHERE LIFE SEEMS TO MOVE

This one goes outside of regular psychology and is more about receptivity and sensing.

I try out different visualizations of the future and sense where life seems to move. It’s a sensing that’s similar to sensing what’s going on with others at a distance, which I regularly use when I do distance healing. Some options don’t seem to have traction and some do.

This is usually quite accurate, although the future is always in movement so things change – as a little green wise guy once said.

D. VISUALIZATIONS AS A KIND OF PRAYER

There is also one that’s a combination of the two previous.

I find what resonates with me and feels juicy and alive for me. I test it out, and if there is a sense of some traction there, I may stay with it for a while. It’s a kind of prayer. An invitation for life – and me – to move in that direction, if it’s in the cards.

AN EXAMPLE

Here is a simple example of using visualizations to sense where life seems to move.

In my mid-twenties, my right-hand thumbnail split. I wasn’t able to fix it through conventional means or healing, and when I visualized it healing the visualization didn’t seem to have traction. Life didn’t seem to move in that direction.

One day in my thirties, I noticed that the visualization suddenly seemed to stick. It had traction for the first time. So I stayed with it for a while to invite it in and give that possibility more intention. (As a kind of prayer.)

A few days later, I went to the cabin and soon experienced strong pain under that thumbnail. I went to a small emergency room nearby, and the doctor dismissed my concern. I went back to the cabin, and the pain grew stronger. It was strong enough so I had trouble sleeping. One or two days later, the thumbnail fell off. Turns out, an infection under the thumbnail had put pressure on it so it eventually detached. When it grew back, it was in one piece as it was before the injury.

The sense of the visualization having traction turned out to be accurate. Life was moving in that direction, although I couldn’t have foreseen how it would happen.

This is a small example, but I like it since it’s clear and concrete and did not do anything to make it happen. I just sensed and stayed with the visualization, and then life unfolded in a certain way.

Image by me and Midjourney

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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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Resolving a difficult matter

Most of us have one or several deep seated hangups. They are all stressful when triggered, and they all come from identification with a viewpoint.

One of mine is getting easily annoyed when people are noisy with their newspapers on the train.

It is easy to ignore these types of hangups because they may seem embarrassing and unimportant.

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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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Visualizations

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.

Visualizations

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.