Have you ever tried visualization? Did you know that you visualize all the time and probably don’t realize it. In this episode, we explore the power of visualization and how it affects the brain, the mind and spiritual life. Let’s dig in to how visualization can help you change. We discuss:
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How Visualization Can Help You Change Transcript
Welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. Join us each week for inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian philosophy, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let's begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:28
Hello again, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions with CreativeMind. I'm Debra Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado. We are the founders of CreativeMind University. We're so excited about continuing our series on spiritual psychology. Before we begin today on our topic, which is how to use visualization in your spiritual practice, in your spiritual work, we want to remind you that we have a subscription here on the YouTube channel. If you click on that button in the corner, you’ll be able to get alerted for every new episode. If you're listening to us on Spotify, iTunes, or any podcast hosting services, be sure to click Subscribe, so that you don't miss another episode of this fabulous podcast. Visualization is my base, my wheelhouse, I could talk about visualization all day. How visualization can be used for your spiritual growth and why so many systems use visualization: coaches, therapists, healers, it's everywhere, even in sports use it. We're going to talk about that today.
Robert Maldonado 01:47
We could break it down into three spheres or areas of knowledge around visualization. One is what is the brain doing when we visualize? Number two is what is the mind doing? The mind is a bit different than the brain, we can think of the brain as the hardware and the mind as the software. What is the software doing when we are visualizing? Then we look at the spiritual practices and where these ideas come from about the mind in visualization.
Debra Maldonado 02:25
If you stick with the show, I’ll do a visualization, you can experience it directly. Let's start with the brain.
Robert Maldonado 02:37
What makes us humans different from most of the great apes is the frontal lobes, or the prefrontal cortex. That's this area in the back of your forehead, it comprises your forehead, this little piece about the size of a small baseball that makes all the difference. It's what allows us to use our imagination, to think in terms of what we’re doing, that self-reflective property we have as human beings, we're able to think about our own thoughts.
Debra Maldonado 03:24
If you think about humans, what we've created in the world versus an animal, we created technology, we went to space. Where does all that knowledge come from? It's from this additional tool we have in our mind, our brain.
Robert Maldonado 03:38
The prefrontal cortex has executive functioning, that's where it's resides, it is the traffic cop, it is the organizer, it is the CEO of the company. It says “Let's focus on this. Let's plan this and do this.” The intention to do things, planning, this is where it happens, organizing, initiating, self-monitoring.
Debra Maldonado 04:07
Is this where the chatter is too in our mind? We're assessing and analyzing?
Robert Maldonado 04:12
Nobody can really pinpoint those areas because it seems to be a function of the whole brain working together. If you think about chatter, it needs access to memory, to past experiences. It pulls from every part of the brain.
Debra Maldonado 04:30
Would you say that the executive functioning is more what we're conscious of, it's like a window into our unconscious through a doorway because it's pulling from the unconscious parts of the brain, the memory, then we're hearing thoughts, we're hearing part of that.
Robert Maldonado 04:49
It's what we call intelligence, essentially, because it's the ability to use what we've experienced and learn from our past and put it all together.
Debra Maldonado 05:00
Self-monitoring would be I really want to have that piece of cake but I know I'm on health plan, I should not eat sugar. It's that ability to stop ourselves from taking action, or choosing to go left or right, or making decisions of what I am going to do today, what I might not do. Also, we’re not always in full control of those decisions, but it's there. We want to cultivate it, cultivating that part of our mind.
Robert Maldonado 05:33
One of the theories of ADHD, which is so common these days, a lot of creative people were diagnosed with ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. One of the theories is that frontal lobes are not doing their job properly. That's the clinical theory. If the prefrontal cortex isn’t doing its executive functioning properly or up to speed, things get disorganized. Lack of focus, lack of planning, lack of self-monitoring, which means the person appears impulsive, hyperactive.
Debra Maldonado 06:24
Chaotic sometimes, or just jumping from one thing to the next — I wouldn't know what that is. Have you ever had a friend who’s talking about something and then they go off on tangents, it's that lack of focus. We all have it to some degree, but some people have it where it's debilitating, where it really impacts their life. By stimulating the frontal lobe through visualization, you can actually improve the focus, wherever you focus, blood flows in your body. When you're visualizing in a certain area, your blood will flow. That's why when we have a pain and focus on it, it actually gets worse, because we're putting more attention and energy into that pain. When we have a headache, we're not thinking of our feet. We tell people to focus on their feet, put their feet in a warm bath to move the energy. The same thing with ADHD. If you focus on this area, use that visualization to practice, it will help stimulate that part of your brain and the focus capability you already have. Some people have to practice it more, where it's easier for others to compartmentalize. A lot of times creative people don't want to compartmentalize, they don't want to be so rigid as in “I'm gonna do step A and B”. The creative mind, that loose mind really serves them in writing and stimulation and painting.
Robert Maldonado 07:52
There's pretty good evidence that we can shunt blood flow to particular areas of the brain. If we focus and visualize, more blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, it will function better.
Debra Maldonado 08:09
Creative people are in the back of the brain, flowing, there’s not enough focus on the frontal lobe. That's very interesting. Goal setting too, the executive functioning is to set goals, see into the future versus survival, where the lower parts of the brain are more about breathing, regulating the body. You think “What am I going to do with my life? Who am I? What goals do I want for myself?”
Robert Maldonado 08:39
The second phase is the mind. The brain is the hardware, the mind is the software, the programs we run as social beings. What we think about ourselves, our capabilities, what we think about society, what is going on, the opportunities in our life. Here visualization takes on a really important role because if you look at sports, athletes that are doing incredible things, the Olympians, people in basketball, football, high jumps, on and on, people in science, people that are trying to solve very difficult problems and come up with the creative solutions, entrepreneurs, people in business, disruptors that create new ways of doing business, new ideas that transform society, as well as personal development people and personal development coaches who are helping others transform their lives. What all these people have in common is they know how to use this function of visualization.
Debra Maldonado 09:54
When Tiger Woods was a little boy, his father had a hypnotherapist work with him. Michael Jordan would visualize every single game, every basket he made before every game. Einstein famously rode the light beam to come up with the theory of relativity. Edison, when he came up with the incandescent bulb, he’d do his experiment, it wouldn't work, then he’d lay down and go into a trance, visualize the mechanisms, go back again, fiddle with it, then if it didn't work, again, he’d use visualization. It’s like “What do I need to do?”, tapping into some wisdom, beyond just what you've done in the past. Very powerful. They did a study in high school, where they told half the class to practice jump shots, I think that’s what they're called, that penalty shot. They would practice all day. The other half of the school would visualize practicing every day. What they realized was that the mind doesn't distinguish between actual activity and visualization. There was no difference between those who physically practiced and those who visualized. That's so important. When you are visualizing, you're creating the foundation for your future in your mind, your mind already thinks you've done it. It's also for executives, visualizing your talk before you talk. I've worked with a lot of public speaking. It desensitizes because the mind already feels like “I did this thousand times. I visualized it, I'm fine.” Very powerful. Whatever career you're in, whatever you want to create, visualization is really wonderful.
Robert Maldonado 11:53
It goes back to the idea that our thoughts create our life. This is well understood now in psychology, in neural science. But it's also been a part of many spiritual practices and traditions for thousands of years. In Buddhism, in Vedanta, in the Upanishads, this idea that our thoughts are translating to what we call our reality. It's the pattern of thoughts, but also the intensity. What visualization does is it creates a stage in our mind that we're able to infuse these images we imagine with that meaningful power of emotion, passion that enlivens them.
Debra Maldonado 12:49
Connect it to an emotion to really fill it with power. If you think about it, probably, people when we were first in caves, visualization was how we decided whether we should go to the left jungle or the right jungle, we visualized what kind of creatures would be there, planning ahead. We've used it naturally for millions of years. It's something we didn’t know until the human potential movement came out, where we consciously used it to change our life. It is just really incredible, and it's so well researched too. Visualization and healing your body, visualizing yourself being whole, healed, feeling better, very powerful. The research is there to show that it's highly effective.
Robert Maldonado 13:47
Think of the power, we're able to create these images, but it's more like a moving image, like a movie that we're able to play forward, backward, then change it, think of possible futures, consider all the possibilities from one scene. That power is underused in most people because most of the time, if you observe your mind, what it's doing, it's worrying about things. It's focusing on trying to solve particular problems. Often we let it imagine the worst possible case scenario instead of the best possible case scenario.
Debra Maldonado 14:37
We all do that. What about the best case scenario when you're worried about something?
Robert Maldonado 14:47
It's a default mode. Problem solving is the default mode of the mind because it's survival.
Debra Maldonado 14:54
I love the idea that problem solving is a default, but creative is something we have to work on and cultivate.
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Debra Maldonado 16:04
What about the spiritual aspect of visualization? Are we going to go to other dimensions and travel to amazing places?
Robert Maldonado 16:13
The best example comes from the tantric tradition and the chakra system. The third eye or the prefrontal cortex in the chakra system is called the Ajna Chakra. Ajna is the sixth chakra. This is subtle energy. In the West we're always looking for organs that correspond to the chakra system. There's something to that but in the original texts we're talking about subtle mental, psychic, psychological, emotional energy that is imagined, it's visualized. The visual association corresponds to the way the ancients saw the mind body — as consciousness, not as a physical structure made out of material.
Debra Maldonado 17:23
Would you say it's energy or not really?
Robert Maldonado 17:26
It depends on how you define an energy. But it does have subtle energy, of course.
Debra Maldonado 17:34
But it's not hard energy like force, like a storm. Emotion is more of a tangible energy.
Robert Maldonado 17:44
It's a difficult construct for Westerners because we're used to thinking of matter and energy as separate things. But even Einstein pointed out that it's the same thing essentially, matter is made up of energy. If you break it apart, if you release the energy, you see that it's powerful energy.
Debra Maldonado 18:10
There’s levels of energy, more subtle energies, and more tangible energy, or is it all the same?
Robert Maldonado 18:22
These are the questions that come up. Let's focus on what the spiritual practices say about the sixth chakra. The sixth chakra of Ajna is associated with higher knowledge. Higher knowledge was distinguished from lower knowledge, in that higher knowledge informed you and taught you about the true self, the true nature of your mind body, who you really were. The self in simple terms is pure consciousness. It is what allows you to be aware, what allows your body to exist: pure being, pure consciousness, pure bliss. It is also associated with what we call intuition. But intuition for the ancients was a little bit different. It was the ability to create your reality in a conscious way.
Debra Maldonado 19:30
Versus just fortelling the future. Looking at the fixed default past and basically default future. This is about intuiting a new future, a new conscious direction of your life.
Robert Maldonado 19:50
In the consciousness paradigm, a time is circular, nonlinear, which means that If you could see the future because in a sense, it's already happened if it's circular, everything is already there, of course you can see the future through this chakra, through the activation of higher knowledge. It's also associated with cosmic vision. This is higher consciousness, or Samadhi, Nirvana, self-realization, self-actualization, full potential. We were talking about the human potential movement this morning. That's what they were aiming at. How do we realize the full potential of our mind body? Through this chakra is one of the techniques. Imagination, of course, and creative visualization, the ability to give form to reality through the imagination, through visualization.
Debra Maldonado 21:02
I always knew when I visualized it was coming from that place. But it really makes things so clear that this part of our brain is actually helping us visualize. The vision with our eyes and with the brain is back here. But the vision we're talking about is not through our eyes. We're having a different experience of not seeing out of our eyes, through the material senses. We're seeing from another place of our mind.
Robert Maldonado 21:43
It’s the inner light. In the tantric tradition, which comes from the Upanishads — ultimately, it is part of it, it's one of those schools that evolved from the Upanishads — the way transmission was accomplished, direct transmission from the guru or teacher to the pupil, was through your sixth chakra, your third eye was essentially a receiver. The transmission the guru was putting out to receive that higher knowledge.
Debra Maldonado 22:26
So but we're not in a material universe. So how does that work?
Robert Maldonado 22:32
The concept of consciousness universe does not mean that nothing exists. It means that what you are seeing as matter, as material is consciousness itself taking the shape, the form.
Debra Maldonado 22:52
Is the guru representing a part of our consciousness that's reminding us of what we already know in a way? It's awakening individual consciousness with the higher knowledge that is already in there. The Guru is playing the role. It's like a relationship where you fall in love, you think the love is coming from that person, but you already have the love inside. It appears as if the Guru is transmitting it, but their presence is awakening that within you. Would that be a good way to describe it?
Robert Maldonado 23:23
In the Jungian spiritual psychology it is spoken of as participation mystique. We’re participating in our own creation through the enactment of ritual, through the enactment of meditation and visualization.
Debra Maldonado 23:39
Should we practice a little visualization so they can get a feel before we go? One of the things about visualization is that you don't really need to go deep or relax yourself to do it. Although you can do a progressive relaxation, if you want to go deeper. But when you visualize you're automatically in a trance or an altered state. Have you ever noticed that when you’re driving long distance or on the same road for work, you automatically turn off but your mind is visualizing. Your whole body is relaxed, unless you are visualizing something stressful. You're imagining maybe your vacation, you're in a drifty place. You are still awake and conscious, but it lowers your blood pressure, it does so many things physiologically. It helps your mind body get into that relaxed state. When you close your eyes and visualize, it's an even deeper state, your mind automatically shuts out the external distractions and turns inward. If you are driving, keep your eyes open. If you're not driving, close your eyes for a moment. I want you to imagine a door in front of you. Picture what the door looks like. Is it a modern door? Is it an ancient door? How big is it? That what color is it? What does the knob on the door look like or handle? I want you to think about this: the words “One year from today” appear on that door. When you open that door, I want you to step into one year from today. What is your life as you’d want it to look like? Open the door. You are going to step into a void at first, it's going to be empty of any information. It's going to be like a white space. Then I want you to slowly start thinking about what you’d like to experience in your life one year from today. Is there a relationship that you want? Is there a career change that you want? Health shift that you want? Give yourself a couple seconds to quickly visualize your future self in one year. You do not have to make it perfect, whatever shows up is fine. Then come back into today's state, you can close the door and know that you can come back after you listen to this. You can go back and practice again, make it longer. That's a really simple way if you want to start planning for the future. So many people don't know what they should have for goals. Sometimes when you do this type of visualization, it opens up ideas you didn't even know. Do you want to share that one time you had that vision of you speaking in that auditorium and how it showed up for you?
Robert Maldonado 27:03
I have a better story. This was when I started as a psych student way back when the world was still covered in ice. The department had brought a speaker to the department as part of the program, they’d bring speakers from the community. The night before I had a dream of an eagle that had landed on a branch I was sitting on, I was up on a tree apparently. The eagle was so particular that I was fascinated by it. It had all these spots on it. I kept thinking what a rare eagle this was, it had all these spots on his feathers. It was one of those big dreams with numinous quality, one of those vivid dreams you know are saying something important. That day, I went to school, and in the department, they announced there was a speaker, but his name sounded like an Irish name, O’Gorman or something like that. I walked in, there was this Native American guy with braids. Hhe was talking about his culture and how they’d do vision quests and rituals that were traditional in his culture. Fascinating talk. At the end, some of us walked up to him, he was telling us a little bit more intimate stuff. He said “That's not my name, that's my Christian name. But my real name is Spotted Eagle.” Then I understood this is why it's so hard for psychology to study these things. The dream didn't tell me “You're going to meet somebody with an Irish name but really called Spotted Eagle.” This symbol represents a big clue as to what's important that's coming up in your life. In psychology, it would be very difficult to do an experimental study on this. But we know it's a function of the human psyche.
Debra Maldonado 29:36
Where does that come from? It didn't come from your conditioned mind. It came from this creative, spiritual, numinous, mystical part of yourself, a wisdom.
Robert Maldonado 29:47
There's a very strong connection between parent and child. Often mothers know when something's up with kids. Strong connection between lovers, husband and wife. Strong connection between friends. Gurus and students often share this connection.
Debra Maldonado 30:12
They have similar dreams. Someone was asking us in our group, them and their husband are having similar dreams or having same things. What is that about?
Robert Maldonado 30:23
It is through this chakra, through the inner eye, mind's eye that we connect with each other in this way. Of course, people that are on this spiritual path are connected. Often, when I’d travel in my youth, I'd be in cities, I’d run into people that I felt that connection with, we felt we were on the same path. We'd help each other, they would help me and I would help them.
Debra Maldonado 30:59
There's students we've been connected with for years. There's something about them, we have this community, a tribe with these people, we can't describe it.
Robert Maldonado 31:16
We often tell our students they are closer to us than our blood family because of this connection of doing the same process.
Debra Maldonado 31:27
It's expanding what's possible for our human life. Visualization is just one of them, we’re going to talk about some other practices. To sum up the three parts of the visualization: the brain, the mind, and the spiritual element, the chakra. All of these pieces to visualization are powerful. I invite you to visualize that door a little more. We spent a little time there, we couldn't have a lot of dead air on the show. But do go back and visualize what your future will be, write it down. I promise you a year from now you'll look back at that day and be like “All these things came true.” 80% of your goals that you visualize actually come true if you write them down. Very powerful. We're so powerful to create our own destiny, and visualization is a critical tool to allow that to happen. Have a wonderful creative day.
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