Close your eyes and visualize…
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. Often times, 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 literally see what you’re asking me to see?”
- 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 for people 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 that you cover/close your eyes – though, even that isn’t a rule. You can meditate while staring at a lake or walking in the woods or taking a bath. All meditation is, really, is 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 just 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 when, along with so many others looking for tools with which to achieve mental wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic, that I committed to meditation. It was in service to this commitment, through trial-and-error, that I was finally able to discern that it wasn’t all meditation that had me stymied, it was guided meditation specifically, that was causing my frustration.
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 achieved the most success 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
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:
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 affirmations 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.
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: