Friday, December 22, 2006

Focus and Visualization Meditation

Focus and visualization meditations are about two different ways of seeing. Focus uses your eyes to concentrate on objects usually for the purpose of relaxation. Visualization uses the power of your mind for relaxation, or to see and even manifest your desires.


Focus meditation is an excellent tool for calming the mind. Here you are, it's half-an-hour before bedtime and you know you're going to be tossing and turning for hours because the events of the day just keep running through your mind like a horror movie; the guy who rear-ended you at the traffic light, your boss yelled at you about a project that isn't even yours, a coworker is backbiting you, your dog ate the newspaper and your slippers, your spouse had to work late, and so on……whew, no wonder you can't relax!

For the purpose of relaxation, focus meditation is a way to release the emotions that create your mental anxiety and physical tension. For example, you probably wouldn't be so upset if the guy who rear-ended you at the traffic light had insurance, the boss had given you a chance to get a word in edgewise, and the dog ate yesterday's newspaper instead of today's. Focus meditation requires such diligent concentration that your problems are crowded out, allowing you to physically relax.

Your mind can focus only on one thing at a time, and the more dedicated you are to the focal point, the more everything else is shut out. For example, just about everyone has done this at one time or another: while reading a book (the focal point), you completely lose track of time (time has been shut out). It wasn't your intention to lose track of time, but that is the outcome of deeply focused attention.

To use this meditation technique to relax, choose an item that is pleasing to the eye. It can be anything you like, from a simple geometric shape on paper to an item you hold in your hand, to the flame of a candle you set in a convenient but safe location. This item should be one to which you have no emotional attachment; that is, the item will not generate strong feelings of any kind – it should be completely neutral since you are meditating to neutralize the emotions that are creating tension and anxiety.

The item you choose should be one that will hold your attention for a while; the more detailed the object is, the easier it will be to focus on it for an extended length of time, say fifteen to twenty minutes. For example, it will be much easier to focus for fifteen minutes on the intricacies of the mandala you made or colored than to focus on a simple red rubber ball which may hold your attention for about five minutes.

A word about focusing on moving objects…the flame of a candle is fine; it's small and contained. Don't choose things that move quickly, or things that move in and out of your field of vision. You'll spend all your time following the movement and not enough time concentrating.

When you have your object and you're ready to start, get comfortable! If you are performing this technique to ease yourself into a good night's sleep, go ahead and get into bed. Otherwise, be seated comfortably in your favorite chair, or recline on the sofa. Hold your object in such a way that it is easy to see without being tiring to hold. In most cases, it is better to have the object on a table in front of you so you can view it without holding it at all so that all of your muscles (including hands, arms, and shoulders) have the opportunity to relax.

Gaze comfortably at your object, don't stare. It isn't a contest to see how long you can watch an item, it's to put all of your attention in one place and let everything else go. Get to know the object with your eyes, every nook and cranny, every color, every texture. You may even imagine its taste or smell if you like. When other thoughts intrude on your examination of the object, just let them go without emotion. Don't intentionally dismiss them or try to forget them – that actually gives them more attention, not less. Deprive unwanted thoughts and emotions of all attention and energy by gently bringing your focus back to your object.

Pay some attention to your breathing as you examine your object and try to breathe deeply at the relaxing rate of about ten breaths per minute.

A mistake that many people make with this technique is to chastise themselves, and become angry or frustrated when unwanted thoughts and emotions occur because they feel they aren't blocking them successfully. Don't let that happen to you. These thoughts are supposed to occur! By doing this technique, you are psychologically training yourself to let go of intrusive thoughts and emotions when you need to relax and rest. These thoughts and emotions need to come into your thoughts so that you can dismiss them, you can say "not now" to them, you can let them go and relax. There is a difference between blocking unwanted thoughts and emotions (which often causes anxiety and stress) and letting them go; you are working here on letting go part. You can't let go of something if you don't have it; you can't let go an intrusive thought or anxiety-creating emotion until you have it and then let it go.

(Of course, if you have ongoing or severe anxiety problems, you should seek stress counseling, or even work with an excellent psychotherapist.)

Depending on how tense you are when you begin this technique, you may want to take fifteen to thirty minutes to relax. When finished, go ahead and turn off the light and go to sleep or, if this was a break and you now need to continue with the rest of your day, stand up and stretch for a minute. A five or ten minute focused meditation in the middle of the day is a great way to relieve tension and anxiety. It allows you to better focus on the rest of your upcoming tasks because you've given yourself that extra little bit of TLC, and any focus and concentration training practice will carry through and enable better focus and concentration in every area of your day.


Visualization is focus without the item. Instead of gazing at something outside of yourself, you use your mind's eye to imagine a scene that brings you relaxation or release.

This technique is similar to focus in that it requires so much of your attention that intrusive thoughts and emotions are shut out. It is different in that you have the opportunity to have fun and be creative if you like.

There are two methods of using visualization techniques, the guided visualization and the visualization you create yourself.

Guided visualizations usually come on CD or DVD (though there are probably a few on the internet). You settle yourself in a comfortable position and participate as the scene described on the CD or DVD unfolds around you. There are many, many varieties to choose from; nature walks through a forest, lying on the beach, hanging out near a waterfall. There are other visualizations available that help you work on specific problems. These usually guide you through a method of letting go or cutting away unwanted problems and anxieties.

Self-created visualizations can be used for anything from stress and anxiety relief to manifesting the things you want. (This is called the Law of Attraction and states that the things on which you put your attention and energy are the things that will come to you. Be careful with your thoughts, though…if you always think "I don't have enough money" you will always not have enough money! I may write more about visualization and manifestation later, but for now I want to focus on stress and anxiety relief.)

Visualizations often work best if you take a few minutes to go through a progressive relaxation first. For instructions, read Progressive Relaxation Technique from the "Living Stress-Free ~ Naturally!" archives.

If you find a guided meditation or visualization you like and it is in print, you may record it and play it back, or read through it a few times and then let your imagination run with it. It's okay if you change it a little and tailor it to your needs. If you record it for playback, remember to speak slowly and distinctly. Oftentimes, guided visualizations are read too fast, and much of the benefit is lost. You won't relax if you are straining to hear the words or hurrying to follow the guide!

Here is a sample you may use, a visualization for getting rid of problems.

Imagine that you are in a museum. See yourself standing in a crowded room, the walls covered with tastefully arranged beautiful paintings. Imagine that all the other people in the room are all the problems nagging you and keeping you from relaxing. Hear them talking all around you and buzzing like angry mosquitoes, bugging you, demanding your attention. You walk away from them, but they follow. They continue to annoy you. Keep walking away from them and ignoring them. (Never imagine or visualize anything bad or harmful happening to anyone or anything, always just walk away from the problem). One particular painting on the wall captures your interest. Walk toward it through the swarm of people still buzzing like angry mosquitoes. Stand before the painting…it is most incredible! The colors are amazing! The style is sublime! You can almost feel the textures of the paint on the canvas. As you admire and enjoy the painting, the noise around you becomes less and less, the people become fewer and fewer. Without reacting, you notice that they are leaving…one by one they exit through the doors of the room. You return your attention to the painting, continuing to admire its beauty…even the frame is just perfect. Around you, the room becomes quieter and quieter as the people leave, as the problems leave, one by one, out the door, until you are surrounded only by the beauty and the silence of the art. (You may want to repeat the "problems leave, one-by-one, out the door" phrase as many times as it takes to visualize all the problems departing.

That is a very basic visualization meditation. You may include other details or ideas to make it as alive to your five senses as possible, perhaps imagining the scent of something, or a taste….maybe imagine it’s a new exhibit and you had a sample from the complimentary wine and cheese buffet!

To be most effective, guided visualizations should seem as alive as possible, so feel free to include whatever details help you make the scene as real as you can. You may suspend "real" reality and visualize yourself on different planets, in mythical places, or with imaginary creatures if it helps you to relax. The only rule is "do whatever works for you as long as it is positive and beneficial."

Here are a few guided meditation resources:




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