animal collage

 

Tibetan meditation practices often involve the detailed imagining of a teacher (Guru, mentor, role model) or deity (religious icon) seated in front of and sending light, energy or power to the meditator. These types of meditation are often part of more advanced practices used by those with some mastery in concentration, focus and stability.  

My therapeutic use of meditation involves re-working practices from the Buddhist tradition to make them more effective for those struggling with mental health issues. Joe Loizzo asserted in “Sustainable Happiness” his Western psychologically focused re-imagining of Tibetan Meditation, that a meditator may picture in place of a deity or teacher, a human mentor with whom they do not have a complicated relationship. In my psychotherapy practice I notice that people find it difficult to relate to human beings in uncomplicated ways if they have suffered abuse.  Sometimes clients couldn’t name anyone that they admired or would choose people who represented complications in their lives. If I look for alternatives to using a human role model within Tibetan Buddhism, I’d find the use of a Buddha or deity figure in its place. However, Westerners may not relate to this imagery. Instead of a deity or human role model, I’ve opted to work with shapes, colors of light, and healing animals. In other contexts, one may refer to these animals as spirit animals, power animals or totems. Those who struggle to cope with people and who have suffered abuse often can relate to an animal or pet as something for which they feel uncomplicated love and admiration.

I’ve taken deity meditation, used animal imagery and applied it to loving-kindness (metta) meditation. I’ve included written instructions for this meditation below. Having clients imagine an animal enables them to access a compassionate response. Rather than having the deity or in this case animal impart the healing light, I use the meditator as the source of light or energy revealing themselves as powerful and capable of healing and compassion. The meditator sends light to the animal and not the other way around. It starts with picturing a small light at the heart which expands into the body and moves outside of the body. I use the mental picture of a sphere of light around the body of both animal and meditator to help them relate to space around themselves. The inner light works with the child-like self (inner child) and difficult thoughts and emotions generated from within. The meditator recites the loving-kindness phrases (May they be peaceful. May they be happy. May they be free from suffering) to the animal first and then themselves. This order of events helps them to build confidence and accept self-compassion. By having the meditator visualize a healing animal, the energy of the compassion for another being becomes a jumping off point to self-compassion. I often find clients struggle to have compassion for themselves but are able to give compassion to another being. This helps the client get the hang of the warm compassionate feeling and generate if for themselves later in the meditation. I sometimes discuss this practice with the client as filling the coffers of compassion. I explain that it is taxing to only give compassion to others when you do not give it to yourself. With kids I present it as a gas tank in a car that needs refueling. I discuss this use of light more in-depth in a blog article entitled “The Book of Living.”

Through the use of light and animal imagery combined with loving-kindness meditation phrases, clients were able to generate self-compassion. I have found that clients walk away from a session with the confidence to use any part of the visualization when noticing anxiety in their daily lives. Post-meditation client’s reported feelings of calm and an ability to tackle their problems. Try the steps of the meditation below.

Meditation practice experiment:

Note: Relative calm is helpful for this meditation, therefore postural yoga and deep breathing exercises will help prior to meditation.

    1. Picture a small orb or sphere of colored light emerging from space floating in front of you and from that light emerges the healing animal. Take a moment to imagine the animal in great detail. Make eye contact with the image.

 

    1. Recite (to self) the phrases of compassion to the animal: “May they (you or animal name) be peaceful. May they be happy. May they be free from suffering.”

 

    1. During the recitation, picture a small circle of light forming at the heart and direct a beam of light to the heart of the healing animal.

 

    1. As you continue to recite and send light, imagine the animal’s body filling with the bright light.

 

    1. Picture the light expanding outside of the animal’s body forming a sphere of bright light around the animal. Imagine the animal acknowledges you by making meaningful eye contact. Pause with this image for a period.

 

    1. Stop or let the reciting of the phrase dissolve into the heart of the animal.

 

    1. Imagine the animal dissolving into the sphere of light and it compressing into a smaller orb.

 

    1. Visualize the orb rising above the crown of the head and entering the body moving inside through the face, neck and resting at the heart. Pause.

 

    1. Recite (to self) the self-compassion phrase: “May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I be free from suffering.”

 

    1. While reciting the phrases imagine the circle of light at the heart grow, spreading from the heart into the neck and head, down through the torso, legs and feet and into the arms hands and fingers.

 

    1. Allow the light to spread outside of the body forming a sphere of light around it and with each phrase repetitions allow the sphere of light to continue to grow. Pause while reciting and visualizing.

 

    1. Let the phrase repetition cease and pause in the light.
      Note: The light of the sphere protects one from external triggers, difficult people and situations. The inner light protects one from difficult thoughts and emotions coming from within.

 

    1. Allow the light of the sphere move closer to the body until it is just in the body. Let the light drain from the top of the head down to the heart and the bottom of the feet up to the heart into a small circle of light.

 

  1. Imagine the small circle of light absorbs into the heart. Rest and meditate as long as you’d like.

 

Resources of interest and References:
Relevant blog articles from this site: Role Modeling Imagery Practice, The Human Shaped Bubble, Healing Mentor / Role Modeling Meditation,
Sustainable Happiness: The Mind Science of Well-Being, Altruism, and Inspiration – Joe Loizzo
Video: Joe Loizzo on the Neuropsychology of Sustainable Happiness

I am a licensed Counselor and Psychotherapist in Tucson, Arizona. I am a long time (22+ years) practitioner of meditation and postural yoga. I know first-hand the exploration potential of mind-body practices. I received my Bachelor's degree in Humanities and Philosophy from Shimer College and my Master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Adam's State University. I also completed a 2 year certificate program in contemplative psychotherapy at the  Nalanda Institute.  My interests include developing and optimizing mind-body practices for my clients and helping other therapists gain a better understanding of how to use these practices in a mental health setting.  I've studied with some thoughtful and generous teachers in the fields of psychotherapy, philosophy, and contemplative practice (primarily Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Yogis). 

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