Meditation with Aphantasia

Finding out I was aphantasic was a blessing for me. It gave me a kind of – subliminal permission – to free myself of the burden of visualization and explore other ways to meditate.
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meditation with aphantasia
Photo by Kyaw Tun

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Close Your Eyes And Visualize…

It seems super simple, right? A five-word instruction that, for most of the population, is easy to follow. Whether it’s for guided meditation, hypnosis, psychotherapy, yoga, classroom study, team-building exercises, self-help practices, elite sport/career mental coaching, childbirth coaching, etc., being asked to visualize is almost always at the top of the list for getting into the mood, spirit, zone, or state-of-being.

For people with aphantasia like me, the instruction to – close your eyes and visualize – is a non-starter. Oftentimes, being asked to visualize has the exact opposite effect of what is trying to be achieved and can cause:

  • A state of confusion – “Am I supposed to see what you’re asking me to see literally?
  • Utter frustration – “Not again! Can’t we accomplish this without visualization?
  • Feelings of inadequacy/failure – “Something’s wrong with me. Why can’t I do this?
  • Feelings of exclusion/shame – “I’m not going to admit I can’t see it when everybody else can.

My aphantasia wasn’t brought on by physical or emotional trauma, as I’ve recently learned can happen. I was born with it, yet, it wasn’t until very recently (I’m 56 years old) that I started to admit (part of the shame response) to people that when I’m instructed to close my eyes and visualize, I see only varying shades of black and grey.

Meditation With Aphantasia

There are no set rules when it comes to meditating. It helps if you can find a quiet place where there is minimal distraction and where you cover/close your eyes – though even that isn’t a rule. You can meditate while staring at a lake, walking in the woods, or bathing. All meditation is, really, a deeply calm state of mind and body. The goal of meditation is to… you fill in the blank.

Why did you sit/lay down to meditate?

At the very least, meditation can facilitate relaxation. So, if your goal is to relax, then meditate. Other goals for meditation might include:

  • Coping with stress/loss/disease, etc.
  • Improving sleep
  • Communicating with your unconscious mind, or soul-self
  • Connecting with the quantum realm, God, or whatever higher source you believe in
  • Clearing energy centres in the body (chakras)
  • A desire to be still

The list is endless…

With countless positive goals in mind, I have tried – and quickly abandoned – meditation many times over the years. It wasn’t until September 2020 that I committed to meditation, along with so many others looking for tools to achieve mental wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic. In service to this commitment, through trial and error, I could finally discern that it wasn’t all meditation that had me stymied. It was guided meditation specifically that was causing my frustration.

Guided Meditation vs Sound Frequencies

Meditation as a spirituality/healing modality takes practice. That’s why they call it a meditation practice. We may all seem like controlled, mature adults on the outside, but our minds can be like a room full of chatty toddlers running amuck! It takes practice quieting the mind chaos and being still. For those who can visualize, voice-guided meditation can help you focus on doing just that. But, for me, an aphantasic, voice-guided meditation triggered those feelings of confusion, frustration, and so on, as mentioned earlier. Each session I tried invariably started with those five super simple words – close your eyes and visualize… a quiet forest or a beautiful sunset or floating on a cloud, blah blah blah.

Once I stopped trying to follow along with guided meditations, I started making headway.

Remember when I said that meditation takes practice?

Well, meditating without voice guidance can take extra practice. When I discarded guided meditation, there was no longer a voice overlay, and guess what? Those chatty mind-toddlers had a parade! Unwilling to abandon meditation yet again, I tried meditation with music and/or sounds, including chimes, binaural beats, singing bowls, nature sounds, etc. There are literally thousands of offerings on streaming services such as YouTube and Spotify, as well as on smartphone apps like Insight Timer and Waking Up, both of which are available on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store for free.

I succeeded most with music/sounds on the Solfeggio Healing Frequencies.

The Solfeggio frequencies have been associated, since ancient times, with the creation of sacred music (including meditation music) thought to promote healing.

Here are a few of these frequencies and the healing they promote.

  • 174 Hz relieves pain and stress
  • 285 Hz heals tissues and organs
  • 396 Hz liberates you from fear and guilt
  • 417 Hz facilitates change
  • 528 Hz for transformation and DNA repair
  • 639 Hz reconnects you with your relationships
  • 741 Hz helps provide solutions and self-expression
  • 852 Hz brings you back to a spiritual order
  • 963 HZ creates room for oneness and unity

Mantra Meditation

Okay, so I was finally on to something. This approach helped calm the melee, but I could still hear some disruptive chatter. To that end, along with listening to music/sounds, I adopted mantra meditation. There are many definitions for the word mantra, its origin, its intention, and so on. With the deepest respect to the most sacred purpose for using mantras, here is the simplest definition I could find:

mantra
A letter, word, sound, or phrase which may be used in meditation and repeated continually as you breathe in or out.

Assuming you aren’t following a traditional type of meditation (Hindu, Buddhist, etc.), your mantra can be anything you want, including made-up sounds/words/phrases, such as:

  • Traditional sounds or phrases like ohm or ahh
  • Statements of intention like, I now enjoy public speaking and am really good at it
  • Statements of affirmation like, I am beautiful just as I am
  • Mantras for clearing the 7 main chakras like, I am; I feel; I do; I love; I speak; I see; I understand
  • Mantras borrowed from other sources
  • Made-up words/phrases like Aroom dacti coom la ti vay bo mah (which is my mantra)

I made up a mantra so as not to conjure anything specific. Regardless, repeating rote words and phrases can help to keep the mind focused on simply being present, being in the moment, and achieving your meditation goals.

Meditation as a Practice

Finding out I was aphantasic was a blessing for me. Among other things, it gave me a kind of – subliminal permission – to free myself of the burden of visualization and explore other ways to meditate.

Here are links to some of my favourite music/sound sources:


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Total Comments (14)

Liana,

It is so interesting that aphantasia takes so many forms. For me there is, in addition to a black screen, a completely quiet space when I close my eyes, or open my eyes. I have absolutely no inner monologue. It sure makes going to sleep easy!! But in your quote “This approach helped calm the melee but I could still hear some disruptive chatter” I was stopped abruptly as I realized you do have chatter, whereas I have none.

I still like listening to stuff, I just don’t retain it very long unless I do something else with it, like draw it, or make an arrow map, like a cartoon.

Thanks for sharing your strategies!!

Michael Ann

I find it a little concerning that you detail “healing frequencies” as if it is fact.  I do not doubt or question your experiences and I am happy if this works for you, however there is little to no actual scientific evidence that backs up the hypothesis. As an individual coming to terms with aphantasia I am looking for help, and anecdotal accounts can offer some insight.  I appreciate this article and closely relate to the difficulty you experienced with guided mediation.  I also appreciate some of the tactics.  I feel as though I might appreciate this more if it were positioned less as a solution and more as your experiences. To bluntly state “Here are a few of these frequencies and the healing they promote.” puts you and other at risk by promoting unsubstantiated claims as true.  I hope you understand I am not in anyway trying to diminish your experiences, simply expressing concern about how some of this content is delivered.

hello Liana

I just posted to you . I am the meditator and composer who didn’t provide my name.

I am Paul Levy

hello Liana

I am a 72 year old man who has done one or another form of spiritual practice since I was 17 years old. I am now a teacher for 25 years of an energy meditation which stimulates the Kundalini Energy and develops the chakra system.The practice attracts people that are “gifted” energetically as they experience psychic energies easily. The practice provides training to be able to focus those energies in a way that strengthens and supports one’s health, calms the mind, opens the heart and helps one sort oneself out. And when they come to practice with me, they go off energetically like the Fourth of July. As of me, even though I have been doing this practice for 30 years with a teacher, I don’t feel energy much and don’t get visuals ever (unlike my students). But since, I understand the principles of meditation I am able to guide them effectively. When I was 17 I started meditating. I taught myself. It consisted of getting at what is “real” in an experiential way. To do that I brought my mind to a quiet self-aware state beyond thought. All these years later, I continue to do that mostly, although (perhaps, paradoxically) I have added  visualization. It no longer concerns me that I can’t “see” what is being visualized, because nonetheless,  I am certain, it is a powerful activity.

Also, I am a composer and I think a very good one. My website is Paulevy.com. Check out my new piece Dream Waltz, which most people get vivid visuals from. I don’t, but I do think it is beautiful  For many years I have played piano for people and they would tell me the images that the music would stimulate. Some would have elaborate images with a story line. When I hear beautiful music I am affected emotionally and there is produced a delicious feeling in my body, but never visuals or stories.

It is a great relief to know that I have Aphantasia and have had it since birth. I no longer try to do what is not there for me in this life, and instead can get on with what is there for me.

@Philip Rutter – Hi Philip. Doing a piece on tinnitus would be interesting. You’re hyperphantasic with tinnitus. I’m aphantasic with tinnitus. Perhaps tinnitus would pair better with studies on auditory imagination – which I can do. It is the only one of my 5 senses that can “imagine”, as it were. Do you have auditory imagination? Having said that, I too have adapted to my tinnitus – having been told by doctors and auditory specialists that that was my only real option.

Thanks for the comment! Your Peanuts references made me 🤣. I totally knew what you were referring to as I’m from that gen. 

 

Re: tinnitus and mind function- I think it is very much worth while at this point to include information of “do you have tinnitus” in any aphantasic/hyperphantasic data gathering process.  If there’s any correlation, it could someday be useful in cracking actual causations, or just helping understand mental/neural processes.

I am hyperphantasic, from birth as far as I can tell, and I’ve had tinnitus for decades.  It was not always present, but probably started up around the time I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, “CFS”.  My version of CFS seems to have been/be a merry-go-round of symptoms, including anything you can think of at one time or another.  My tinnitus when I first noticed it was bad enough to discuss with my doctor – who of course really has nothing he can do about it.  “You’ll adapt” – they say.

I’ve lived with tinnitus now for 30 years, at least- and in fact I have adapted.  I don’t notice it; unless I try to hear it; then it’s immediately up on the top of my consciousness.  It does not interfere with listening to Chopin, etc, anymore.

My recollection is that it took multiple years before adaptation reached this point, where it is of zero concern; maybe as much as 5 or 6.  For a number of years it was a constant burden to deal with, and took energy to ignore; my impression at the moment is it no longer costs me anything to “blank it out”. 

It has become more complex over the years; right now there are 2 different whines active.  Sometimes there is just one; then #2 can kick in quite suddenly- and demand to be noticed.  I notice; then ignore.  Tones and volumes can vary from day to day; but nothing can make it bother me anymore.  So far.

I have one bit of advice- I think – think, mind you- that focusing on the sound makes it harder to ignore.  Changing your mental focus is always difficult; but it’s not impossible, and is easier with repetition.  Famously, “Don’t think of an elephant!” us supposed to be an impossible command to fulfill. But I suspect if that command were repeated every 5 minutes, for a week – it would become possible to not think of an elephant.  Out of sheer human perversity, if nothing else.

It’s a little like the trick from the Peanuts cartoon strip years ago- where Linus is making weird faces, and his rude older sister Lucy asks him why; and Linus replies “I’m aware… of my tongue!”  Evidently a problem he experiences from time to time.   He explains it to Lucy – how suddenly he can’t stop thinking about this big wet muscle inside his teeth- that kind of moves around by itself – and it becomes contagious; Lucy becomes… aware… of her tongue.  Just like YOU probably are, right now.  🙂  

I’m pretty sure we all get over this disturbing awareness fairly fast, though, since I’ve never heard of any Peanuts readers being institutionalized for it.  I think; for most of us, tinnitus can eventually become like our tongue- we know its there; but we’re not aware of it.  My experience is it takes longer than the tongue to move to background, but- it happens.

Maybe- hm; next time you’re being aggravated by your tinnitus- try shifting your awareness to – your tongue.  🙂  Hey, the distraction might help!    

Good luck.  And hang in there.

@Scott Elofson – Thanks for the tip about Vipassana (a new word for me). I’ll definitely check it out.

@Lê Định – LOL. I just responded to your post in my discussion thread on this. It definitely took trial and error (and perseverance) for me to discover what you’ve called conductive techniques matching his/her dominant sensory mode & primary learning/thinking style. 

I knew that I could not visualize when I was teenager and I am 69 now. I was interested in meditation when I was 18. Tried guided meditation and it was useless. Tried mantra with the same effect. Then I tried watching breaths and I found that this worked. Then transitioned to Vipassana just watching/observing my mind-body. I found this practice to be the best and I still do it today. I have no visual, no audio imagery. I get how my body is feeling and what I’m sensing from the environment and thinking.

I am curious what others have experienced.

 

 

 

 

 

There are various conductive techniques for various types of people. The key point is that a technique is suitable for a person only if it matches his/her dominate sensory mode & primary learning/thinking style. Guided meditation or hypnosis induction with visual suggestions are popular because the most common dominate sensory modes are visual and verbal. But for hypophantasic & non-verbal thinkers like me, they are total useless. Some examples:

– My dominate is kinesthetic, so instead, I start with letting my body move freely, focus on it, then sit down and let it move freely in the mind… then I can “fly” wherever I want 🙂 Other options are dancing, flow yoga, tai chi (taijiquan), etc.
– People with audio dominated can listen to meditation music, or binaural beats, singing bowls, nature sounds, etc.
– People with both audio and verbal dominated can do chanting, vocal yoga, etc.

However, whenever possible, eg. after getting used to meditation, you should go the direct path: Focus on the here-now, the present moment. You can find everything’s there, from the normal things like your body, your breath, your heartbeats, your thoughts,… to the miraculous things like unconditional love, everything’s connectedness, etc. 😉

Hi Michelle, 

When I first learned I had aphantasia, I immediately sought ways to overcome it. Then, like you, I considered what it might be like to have all that busyness in my mind’s eye. Yikes! Nope. It could prove extremely disconcerting. The ability to turn it on/off? Maybe. 

You have tinnitus too? That’s very interesting! I wonder if there are known/studied correlations. 🤔 Will have to look into that.

Thanks for commenting.

Guided visualisation is too distracting for me. I found insight meditation (which is paying attention to whatever sensations are arising in the present moment) works well for me. I have been on 9 day meditation retreats though where I’ve experienced random visual imagery on two occasions. It was a bit disconcerting the first time but my meditation practice had taught me to simply pay attention and it didn’t last more than a few minutes. It also gave me some insight into what it would be like not to be aphantasic – not sure I’d want to have all that busyness in my mind’s eye to be honest!

Interestingly I too have tinnitus! I have found that I have to be careful when working with sound as the object of my attention. I will explore working the sounds you’ve suggested.

Hi MattD. Thanks for the comment.

I have tinnitus too! Certainly adding the music/sounds in place of “guidance” helped overlay the tinnitus too. Don’t give up! There are so many beautiful Solfeggio frequencies tracks on a variety of streaming services that help with meditation.

Like you, when I gave up guided meditation my levels of frustration went down and levels of calmness increased. I will try the Solfeggio as now I stopped the guides, my tinnitus now takes me away from being able to focus for very long. Thank you for the article!