Meditate With Aphantasia

Many easy ways to meditate without a mind’s eye. Next time you find yourself frustrated by the inability to visualize in meditation, give some of these alternatives a try.
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Meditate with Aphantasia
Photo by Manuel Meurisse on Unsplash

Table of Contents

So, you have no mind’s eye. When you’ve tried meditating, it has frustrated you and turned you off. When you’ve been told to visualize or picture an image in meditation, you’ve struggled, then just given up. Or you’ve been disappointed looking for meditation alternatives you’re comfortable with. Here’s the good news. You can meditate with aphantasia

If you have no mind’s eye, you can easily practice many kinds of meditation in which your aphantasia won’t hinder you. I know what I’m saying. Not because I’m aphantasic. I’m not.

I know what I’m telling you is true because four of my six children are aphantasic. My aphantasic children have been meditating successfully for over 30 years.

In addition, I’ve been meditating for almost 80 years. I’ve spent years researching and teaching meditation. I’m the author of the book “Simply How to Meditate: Meditation Made Easy for Beginners and Busy People.” I’m also the author of “The Guide to Teaching LivingMoments Meditation: For Meditation Instructors, Wellness Coaches, Teachers, and Parents.” I believe the book and the guide are the first how-to-meditate publications to give suggestions for how to meditate with aphantasia.

So, even with no mind’s eye, meditation can be easy and helpful for you.

The frustrations aphantasics have with trying to meditate with aphantasia begin with the types of meditation people are introduced to.

Most people (not just aphantasics) who begin meditation practices quickly become frustrated. That’s because it seems that most people in North America and Europe are familiar with only three types of meditation – religious-focused meditation, Buddhist-based “observe without judgment” mindfulness meditation, and guided meditation. 

  1. Religious-focused meditation works for many people, but fewer and fewer people in the 21st century are drawn to it.
  2. Secularized (toned-down Buddhist) mindfulness meditation offers health-boosting benefits but can be boring and frustrating for beginners.
  3. Guided meditation, with a narrator guiding the listener through visual tours, is a turn-off for people with no mind’s eye.

Meditate With Aphantasia

Here’s the good news. There are hundreds of ways you can meditate with aphantasia, for the purposes of lessening stress and improving your health. Just about any meditation can give health-boosting benefits when you do two simple things while meditating:

  • Focus your mind on the present moment.
  • While focusing your mind, breathe slowly and deeply.

There is a fourth kind of meditation that isn’t particularly religious (unless you want it to be), that is, neither “mindfulness” nor “guided” meditation dating back nearly 2,000 years.

I call this fourth kind of meditation St. Paul’s Meditation. Here’s why.

The pioneer of written guidance for non-religious, secular meditation is said to have been the Christian Apostle Paul, who, in the early 60s of the first century of the common era (CE), encouraged the Philippian Christians to focus their minds on an assortment of positive thoughts.

As translated in the King James Bible, Paul wrote:

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.

The New King James Bible translation’s last four words are “meditate on these things.” You’ll notice that there is no mention of a religious belief in Paul’s 31 words.

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Two Simple Steps to Mastering St. Paul’s Meditation

Here’s how you can do a 2- to 5-minute St. Paul’s meditation:

  1. Pause and mentally make a list of several good and excellent things in your life.
  2. For several minutes, while breathing slowly with either your eyes open or closed, focus your mind on what makes those things good and excellent for you.

There! You’ve just meditated without needing a mind’s eye. Learning how to meditate with aphantasia is about trying new approaches and finding the right alternative that works for you. Here’s a few more. 

Four Easy Ways to Meditate Without a Mind’s Eye

1. LivingMoments Meditation

In my book “Simply How to Meditate”, most of the exercises are LivingMoments practices.

LivingMoments meditation emphasizes your own creative role in personalizing the wording and messages your mind focuses on. Instead of mentally repeating uninteresting words, phrases, and prayers, for example, you repeat words, phrases, prayers, and affirmations that are personal and meaningful to you. 

LivingMoments meditation emphasizes that it’s entirely your choice as to how religious or how secular and non-religious your words and messages are.

For example, I’ve created six “Core Belief” affirmation mantras that I often repeat in meditation. (The “Core Belief” meditation is one of the exercises in my book.) None of my personal Core Belief mantras requires having a mind’s eye. 

2. 21st-Century Gazing Meditation

Gazing in Buddhist meditation is, for example, staring at a candle flame. Gazing meditation by Christians, going back centuries, involves looking at religious statues and paintings and thinking about what these images mean. For something more interesting than staring at a candle flame or less religious than staring at religious objects, give this 21st Century Gazing meditation a try.

This is an example of what I do from time to time when I do 21st Century Gazing meditation.

On YouTube, I’ve compiled a list of my meditation music favorites, the type of music that is soft and fairly slow. Many are symphonic like this. After starting the meditation music video, I simply gaze at the beautiful images while also relaxing to the music. And, of course, I breathe slowly and deeply. Sometimes I close my eyes and focus just on the music.

Learning to meditate with aphantasia can be as simple as gazing at pictures of some of your favorite places. The best part? No mind’s eye required!

3. Extend Love to Others Meditation

Similar to the St. Paul’s meditation but go beyond thinking about people you love, and actually extend thoughts of love to those people.

I think of family members and friends, and one at a time, in meditation, I extend thoughts of love to them. This, again, is about as easy and simple as meditation gets. And you don’t need a mind’s eye.

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4. Nature Meditation

Go into nature. Be aware of the beauty around you. Focus on how your experience in nature relaxes you and calms you.

For example, I was hiking in the snow along the top ridge of Mt. Juneau in Alaska on a warm July afternoon. I came upon a fairly large pool of water surrounded by snow on the ground. I lay down on my back in the snow and spread my arms and legs out as I did as a child. Laying prone in the “snow angel” position, I spent a few minutes in meditation, expressing gratitude for such a beautiful moment.

There are many other ways to meditate with aphantasia. In fact, you’re probably meditating already without knowing it. Remember, meditating for relaxation, stress reduction, and other health benefits requires only that you focus your mind on the present moment, and breathe slowly. 

Three Ways You May Already Be Meditating

1. Meditation Through Knitting, Crocheting, Quilting, and Other Kinds of Crafts

How? You’ll find all kinds of guidance when you do a web search for knitting meditation, crocheting meditation, quilting meditation, embroidery meditation, needlepoint meditation, etc.

For example, a waitperson in a small café in Forest City, Iowa, on learning I had just spoken about meditation at Waldorf University, said:

“I meditate. I’m Wiccan. When I’m done working in the late afternoon, I go home, take a shower, and sit down with my knitting and meditate. . . As I’m knitting, I breathe out the stress of my day at work, and I breathe in spirits to bring me the good I want in my life.”

2. Collecting as a Hobby Can Be a Way to Meditate

Concentrating on organizing any kind of collection, especially small item collecting, such as sports cards, is a form of meditation.

Sports card enthusiasts can spend hours sorting through and organizing collections of cards. Committed postage stamp collectors can also spend hours gazing at their stamps while sorting and organizing.

When collectors are engaged this way, their minds are usually narrowly focused on the moment, and they are relaxed and breathing slowly. 

3. Weeding in Your Garden

I’m a serious flower garden weeder. Weeding, searching for and pulling out every last weed I can see, is an activity I do on my hands and knees. My eyes are close to the ground and focused on spotting weeds to pull. In these weeding sessions, I can also be meditating.

Do a web search for “weeding meditation” and see how some people choose weeding as a form of meditation.

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Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

Meditation Is That Simple

Once, I was relaxing while seated on a bench off the hiking trail along the Winnebago River. A man, a short distance in front of me along the river’s edge, had a pole and line out and was fishing.

Which one of us do you think was meditating?

Both.

Whether you have a mind’s eye or not, meditation is that simple. The next time you find yourself frustrated by the inability to visualize in meditation, give some of these alternatives a try!

You CAN learn to meditate with aphantasia.

References

Simply How to Meditate: Meditation Made Easy for Beginners and Busy People, Jim Collison

Guide to Teaching LivingMoments Meditation: For Meditation Instructors, Wellness Coaches, Teachers, and Parents, Jim Collison

The Relaxation Response, Herbert Benson, M.D.

Beyond the Relaxation Response: How to Harness the Healing Power of Your Personal Beliefs, Herbert Benson, M.D.

Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief, Herbert Benson, M.D.

“Positive Daily Affirmations: Is There Science Behind It?” Catherine Moore, Psychologist, at positivepsychology.com.

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, James Nestor.

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Total Comments (6)

Very interesting. In the practice of Tibetan Tantrism, we meditate through visualizations of Yidams. As aphantasia, we simply have to do things differently!

Fascinating! I enjoy practicing tai chi, which is described as a moving meditation. It allows me to meditate without needing to visualize or sit still (the former I am unable to do, and the latter I am unable to do well or for long lol).

There is yet another possibility.  For 35 years I have practiced Kum Nye which is a physical form of meditation taught by the Tibetan Buddhist Tarthang Tulku who is based at Odiyan on the northern Sonoma county coast of CA. I tried visualization meditation which didn’t work for me because I have apahntasia.  Kum Ney does work for me though because it combines physical movements and a specific breathing technique .  The instruction is to pay attention to the feelings of the energy that the movements provoke.  The practice is based on feeling not on imagery or visualization.  I love this practice and recommend it wholeheartedly.   Books are published by Dharma Publishing 

I have meditated for many years using the simple technique of focussing on my breaths . I have never been able to make sense of inventing a minds eye picture and only recently realised that I am aphantasic.  The only mental images I can conjour up are vague and from my memory. If I close my eyes and try to ‘picture a desert island’ I have nothing just blackness. 
I have also discovered that my lack of earlier life memories is the result of dissociation. I am interested in the intersection of  aphantasia and memory.  Other members of my family who are still alive are not aphantasic, neither are my children or grandchildren.  No doubt these kinds of questions will be the subject of study and I will follow the research projects with interest.