Our local station KABC ran an interesting story on the Healthy Living segment of the afternoon news about how meditation and overcoming fears. It had to do with a Burbank father of two diagnosed with lymphoma who was so fearful of the radiation treatment he was almost willing to forgo it. He did refuse to wear the mask that is apparently required. This irrational fear stemmed from his claustrophobia.
Being a very short segment, the piece did not go into a lot of detail about the meditation angle, but did say this:
Sedatives didn’t help, so his doctor recommended visual guided imagery. Raking in a zen garden is one form of relaxation, but visual guided imagery is a specialized form of meditation that teaches a patient to focus on their breath and different muscle groups.
“It can be really helpful for people in terms of increasing immune functioning, helping to deal with daily stress levels,” said Dr. Harden.
After a few weeks the patient overcame his fears to the point that he could do the treatment and he felt that he had learned to excerize more control over his mind.
I’m not sure I would describe focusing on your breath as visual guided imagery, and even less sure what they mean by that, but the bottom line here is further proof that meditation is a powerful tool we can use in dealing with all manner of suffering. If you want to watch the segment here is the link to ABC7’s site.
As far as visual meditation goes, I think it helps to break away from focusing on your breath occasionally, if that is your primary practice. Doing something different prevents “mindfulness” from getting stagnant. Visual meditation to me means using some image or object other than your breath as the object of meditation. This can be loving-kindness meditation, or visualizing the chakras or a mandala, and so on. I’ve had some good experiences with visual meditation – I like the term creative visualization better – especially in group settings where I have been both a participant and the one guiding the meditation. I don’t know if it is any more effective, but it makes you feel better, and there is nothing wrong with that as long as it doesn’t become a sort of drug or escapism.
Actually, I don’t think the method or technique matters as much as our frame of mind – our intention. I think its all about learning how to concentrate deeply and keep it going. This brings to mind something that Lama Govinda wrote in Creative Meditation and Multi-Dimensional Consciousness:
Just as the archer concentrates on his aim and becomes one with it in order to hit the mark with certainty, so the meditator must first indentify himself with the aim and feel one with it. This gives impetus and direction to his striving. Then, whatever his ways and methods – whether creative or discriminating, emotional or intellectual, synthesizing or analyzing, imaginative or discursive – he will always proceed toward his aim. He will neither get lost in the desert of discrimination and dissection, nor cling to the products of his imagination . . .
The demonstration of the mind’s capacity to create a world and dissolve it again, demonstrates better than any intellectual analysis the true nature of all phenomena and the senselessness of all craving and clinging.