golden retriever resting

 

This guided meditation helps you develop awareness of sensations in the body.  Anxiety and depression often involve losing contact with the body and using this meditation may help you regain a connection.  You will also develop a way of noticing physical phenomena as they arise. This meditation draws its influence from the labeling and body scan approaches developed by Shinzen Young and Richard Miller.

 

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

Thankga and diving suit

 

Part I: Preparing for Death

I am currently participating in an in-depth course on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. According to Robert Thurman, the title is a bit deceiving, as it is a book about living.  There is no finality of death in this system, only various transitions known as the “between.”   In class, we use a translation by Francesca Freemantle with commentary by Chogyam Trungpa.  Trungpa’s commentary is interesting regarding its emphasis on a psychology of death and “between” states.   This article, however, will draw from other translations, texts and notions of death as well. 

The book emphasizes the need for a meditative practice of dissolution of the ordinary body (flesh and bones) while living. We need to suspend our materialistic views to dive below the surface into the unconscious mind, which is ordinarily inaccessible to the conscious mind, yet affects behavior and emotions.  By diving below the surface, we get a glimpse of the post-death process or the state known as the “reality between.”   The book describes the “between” states as being of utmost importance, and they are divided into six types of between states. I will not go into each between in this post, but one can find these defined in any translation of the book.  Trungpa’s commentary notes that a “between” is a place of emotional and psychological uncertainty.  In meditation, we can pause and sometimes experience “hanging out” in a between space.  Navigating the post-death state is a journey fraught with challenging perceptions including danger and beauty. We are reminded in the text that is all a display of the mind and that we no longer have a material body capable of being hurt or killed.  In dissolving ourselves during meditation, we get to hang our body temporarily on the clothesline, which helps us allow ourselves a chance to hang up our conventional view of our emotions and thoughts. In the ordinary material body, conscious ordinary thoughts and emotions pervade. In the subtle body, we get to experience the subtle mind more fully.   In the practice of Vajrayana Buddhism, this subtle body is achieved by various methods, including healing mentor (deity) meditation.   We do not dissolve into complete nothingness. Instead, we become “who we really are,” not identified with particular physical attributes or the materialistic self. 

To journey below consciousness during meditation, we have to put on a special suit to navigate the post-death “between” state.  As a deep sea diver needs a suit, goggles, and oxygen tank, we need something appropriate to plumb the depths of our consciousness.  After the process of dissolving our ordinary materialistic body, we don a subtle and more powerful body.  According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead when dying, we go through this dissolution process naturally, and it is necessary for us to recognize this process via our living meditation practice.  This body allows us to come to terms with the mind and its coded and symbolic phenomena.  Dissolving the ordinary body puts us in touch with a deeper level of the mind that is always present but often unexplored.  We then emerge as a body of light or encapsulated in a special suit or bubble that allows us the ability to transcend the limits of ourselves and connect with our innermost selves.  Tibetan art depicts this as spheres of light or rainbow light encapsulating the body of deities.  This light shines within to help cope with internal distress and encapsulates the body to deal with difficult external situations in life.  We imagine ourselves in our subtle body so that we can explore representations of mental phenomena that are generated and not apparent to our surface consciousness.  These phenomena or events may consist of colors, shapes sounds or embodiments and places that we may or may not recognize.

 

We practice this type of deep diving meditation whenever we are not doing concentration or loving kindness forms of meditation, though we may let go and get a glimpse of the between states in these meditations as well.  Tibetan Buddhists have a formalized way to use the imagination to get below the surface quickly and efficiently. This conception of death is something possible for people of various religious beliefs and those with no religious belief system.  The “between” state presents an encounter with whatever symbolizes problematic and overly attractive emotional states and thoughts for an individual. If one believes in reincarnation to a particular body or an ascension to another realm, this is a fascinating guidebook for the journey.  For those who think that life ends, and we just cease to exist, this may be an imaginative means to cope with emotions and troubling encounters as experienced in this life.

I will present some basic practices for dissolving the ordinary body and moving into the subtle body to facilitate an understanding of the “between” state in a future post.  I will also continue to explore this text regarding what is encountered in the between in part II.

References and Resouces of Interest:

The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation Through Hearing In The Bardo – Francesca Freemantle and Chogyam Trungpa

The Tibetan Book of the Dead – Robert Thurman – Bob also has some great recorded lectures on this text.

Innate Happiness: Realizing Compassion-Emptiness – Khenpo Drimed Dawa – A great book that makes the path of Tibetan Buddhism and it’s practices accessible to Westerners.  Khenpo leads meditation groups and classes at the Awam Institute.

open field

 

A meditation to help you let go and access deep acceptance. The meditation in the player below guides you from breath to body and ultimately leads you to an open field of awareness.  Please read my blog article on mindfulness of mind for an explanation of open field types of meditation.

 

galaxy

  

Please read my earlier post that outlines my initial direction and intention for a group intervention for at-promise youth. Things changed quite a bit from the initial approach, but I believe the spirit was maintained.

My experience creating and facilitating a meditation group with at-promise youth helped me to see that flexibility and really listening to youth were my most important interventions.  This group combined the more western psychological approaches of group therapy with meditation and movement. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do and proceeded to hone the development of the group via my experiences facilitating. As I began to implement the group I realized some changes needed to be made. Initially I wondered what the subject matter for each group would be, but after I began I noticed themes arose. I came up with four or five topics that seemed to be relevant for these youth. The topic for each week of group would be the following: Trust, Unfairness, Struggle, Worry and Change. Initially, I would open up the group by presenting a topic of discussion and allowing youth to talk about a situation in their life that related to the topic at hand. At times, this went well, but at other times one or two youth would monopolize the discussion and continue to talk, go off topic and need to be redirected several times. This isn’t uncommon in our groups in general, but I thought I may avoid this situation by changing the order of group events. Another approach was to begin with breathing exercises. I would do two to three minutes each of deep belly breathing, alternate nostril breathing and slow kapalabhati. Each type of breathing was followed by noticing natural breathing (without effort) for a minute or two after the deliberate breathing exercise. The first time I conducted the group opening with breathing it went well. Subsequent times I did this, I had issues depending on the youth in the group. It is interesting to note that though some youth remained the same in the group for four or five weeks, a good number of them would change. I had to adapt the group when new kids came in to the facility. In addition, I would use images and poetry that related to the topic of the group in order to stimulate more thinking and creativity around the topic. I ultimately came to settle on all of the elements of group and would adapt the order based on the number of kids and the energy of the group. Group events roughly looked like the following:

Group rules (always at beginning of group)

Image and or poetry relating to topic of group and discussion

Discussion and examples of topic from life

Breathing exercises

Movement exercises (yoga, qigong or other energetic work)

Guided Imagery I (w/o role model) and discussion

Guided Imagery II (w/ role model) and discussion (optional) – role modeling and healing mentor meditation based on Tibetan Buddhist Deity meditation practice.

Closing recitation – “May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I be free from suffering.”

I found that being flexible with the order of events and cutting out events when more important and fertile discussion arose was helpful. I would make sure to get in one or two guided imagery practices and some form of movement.

I discovered it was helpful for the group if I selected certain members to be present from week to week. I found that having kids who I identified as “leaders” and who seemed to have an “affinity” for meditation and yoga were good to have in the group. I would make sure that at least one of them was in the group from week to week. I would often exclude youth who had difficulty being open and focusing around specific peers, who they may have had problematic relationships with prior to detention. I would discuss this with them individually, letting them know why I did not want them attending group the next week. If I noticed one youth could not focus on breathing without giggling with a friend during group I would take time to discuss the situation with them and if it did not improve I would not have them partake in group the next week. I would work with staff to identify youth who naturally reached out for support and had an air of seriousness about them. I left it open that if a youth who had been asked to not join group due to problematic behaviors in prior groups, had an opportunity to speak with me one on one about rejoining the group. On more than one occasion I had a youth approach me and ask if they could rejoin the group. This had the effect of making the group something special that they wanted to join.

I had basic rules about confidentiality (what is said in this room, stays in this room), one mic (one speaker at a time) and respect. At the beginning of group I would allow the youth to explain the meaning of each rule. It was helpful to re-iterate the rules when youth needed reminding during group.

The initial guided meditation involved counting the breath backwards, letting go of counting and focusing on natural breathing. I utilized basic mindfulness approaches to settle the mind. As far as sitting posture went, I used the analogy of a garden hose and the difficulty of water flowing through it when it is bent. We often sat in chairs around a table, but some members after being in group for a couple of weeks wanted to sit cross-legged on the floor. After noticing the breath, I would have them imagine themselves in a place where they felt comfortable and relaxed. I would present the option of a special room or place outside as a place where they may feel relaxed and at ease. The youth would report that they would really feel like they went somewhere else and at times we would need to process sadness, when they came back into “ordinary life” to realize they were still in their current situation. Once the safe place in their mind was established, I would have them visualize the topic of the group. For example, if the topic was being treated unfairly, I would have them visualize a situation they identified earlier in group or the feeling of unfairness in general. I would request they observe it with curiosity as if they were a scientist with a subject or watching a movie play before their eyes. I would request they also move in to feel it in the body. Then, after visualizing and feeling unfairness. I would have them put their hands over their hearts and repeat to themselves, “I am fair to myself”. I would ask them to repeat this over and over as a mantra. I would then ask them to dissolve the words, images and the scene around them until they were sitting in the room. Next, I would bring them to notice the breath and get a sense of their body in the room on the ‘in and out’ breath. Finally, I would have them slowly open their eyes and return to the group in the room.

After the meditation we would discuss any experiences that happened during and after the meditation. Some youth would express that it was challenging for them to sit still. Some would describe what it was like for them to be in a place where they felt comfortable and relaxed and were able to describe this in some detail. One youth stated that he didn’t realize he could just do that (imagine) anytime he wanted and would like to do it when he is sitting alone in his room. Another youth stated that when we repeated the phrase “I am fair to myself” he had difficulty “giving myself a break”. This turned into a discussion about the difficulty of having self-compassion.

The second guided imagery meditation intervention involved bringing the role model into a similar scenario of unfairness. At times, I would have them visualize the mentor in front of them as they showed the mentor their current struggle with unfairness or as they visualized the scene of unfairness. At other times the mentor would enter from the side and put their hand on their shoulder. I would describe the mentor transmitting their support and mastery (power) to the youth from their heart to the youth or from their hand into the youth’s body. This support and mastery would fill their body in the form of light. Initially I did not specify criteria for the role model, other than to say “leader, teacher, wise counselor, elder, super hero, author, religious figure….” during the meditation. This gave the youth an opportunity to go with whomever came to mind. After the meditation, I had more than one youth comment that the role model they chose was unable to help them. They reported that the role model they chose may not be the right one for the job. This turned into a discussion on the qualities of a role model. I eventually added a group session that dealt strictly with identifying a role model.

The success of the group seemed often to boil down to how flexible I was in delivering my interventions. When I was least able to adapt to the group dynamic was when I felt things lose energy. However, even these situations became learning situations for all of us, when openly discussed. The youth would often be able to articulate why they were struggling and feeling antsy in group and we were all able to process it together. My distress tolerance played a fairly big role in the collective distress tolerance of the group. My history of meditation and distress tolerance as well as my comfort in delivering guided meditation also played a role. I am interested in conducting assessments at the beginning and end of group at some point in the near future to measure any interesting results. I am posting narrative quotes and summaries that I collected below:

Group Feedback

Youth reported that the meditation was relaxing and that when he dissolved the world and the universe the negative things also dissolved. Youth reported it was nice to feel positive things.

Youth reported that during the reflection he saw himself changing and was able to visualize what he wished to change. Youth reported if felt good to notice change and feel supported.

“I had trouble visualizing a role-model / mentor. I had an idea of who I wanted it to be but I couldn’t see them clearly. What do you think that means?”

“This time I listened, followed along and focused and it worked.”

Youth was able to identify an effective role model in her life. Youth stated she had some difficulty with the visualization due to anxiety but that she is capable of “seeing things”.

Youth reported that when change showed up during the visualization she saw herself and that she had a difficult conversation with herself. Youth reported that she found herself difficult to get along with and this is what she needs to work on.

Youth reported that during the visualization she saw herself in a new light and that she hopes others see she has changed.

Youth stated when she reflected on a place that she feels comfortable in, it made her sad to be where she is now.

“I realized that the role-model I chose could not help me and that I needed to find a better one. I will think of a new one for next time”

“I chose Nelson Mandella as my role model.”

“I was sitting on a mound of dirt, next to a pond and had a conversation with a lizard.”

Youth reported that during the visualization he pictured himself on top of a mountain and entering a house with a family that appeared to be his family. Youth interpreted this as the possibility of having a healthy family in the future, something he did not think possible prior.

Youth reported during the reflection (role modeling meditation) he saw his past deeds play out before his eyes and he came to himself as a role model or a potential role model. Youth reported that this shows him he has to be there for himself in the future and that he has the ability to change.

Youth reported seeing a needle in front of him and how he is struggling with not using drugs.

Youth reported seeing two roads to travel down and that he has to make a decision about which one.

Youth reported that when they repeated “I am fair to myself”, they had trouble giving themselves a break.

“Caused me to see the person who was being unfair to me and think about fairness on both sides.”

“Hey, what were you guys doing in there with your eyes closed?” Youth stated this and asked to join group next time.

“Do you know what astral projection is? I felt like I was really up in a tree. Like I was really there.”

“When I let trust in, it was my mom. We had a long conversation.”

“I had trouble seeing trust. I didn’t see anything.” A peer responded by saying, “maybe that is because you don’t trust anyone”.

“I feel like a huge weight has been lifted”

“When I imagined myself on top of a mountain I looked down at our city and thought of how what I normally think of as big seemed completely different.”

“The lake I imagined was really clear and blue. I couldn’t believe how real it was.”

Resources

Sustainable Happiness: The Mind Science of Well-Being, Altruism, and Inspiration – Joe Loizzo

The Lineage Project

  

Thangka Deity Face

This is a healing mentor / role modeling visualization audio guided practice for clearing inner strife and building outer resiliency. This guided practice helps you to call on an idealized role model to support you when facing fears and challenges or simply to feel at rest and ease in your waking life.  At the beginning are basic breathing exercises to help settle the mind prior to partaking in the meditation. This meditation is roughly based on deity practice in the Tibetan Buddhist Tantric visualization tradition.  Please read about role modeling visualization in a recent 3 part series of posts on the subject.

Soundcloud link to audio, if you do not see the player.

 

crooked tree

 

A meditation to build inner strength and resources  to engage with the human community. A healing reflection to help you deal with difficult people. If you prefer to download this guided meditation, click the down arrow link in the upper right hand corner of the image below.

Terrarium

 

This project will take a multitheoretical approach to developing self-compassion and coping for at-risk youth. These approaches will be conducted in the form of an experiential and psychoeducational group. The use of the concept of “driving all blame into one” in Chekawa’s Sevenfold Mind Training will consist of driving blame into the biopsychosocial model. Gilbert’s use of the biopsychosocial model in Compassion Focused Therapy will be utilized as a reference point. Additionally, Gilbert’s exercises and view of self-compassion and compassion for others will be implemented. Bilateral stimulation and forms of trauma or shaking-off exercises will be part of the group experience. We will also practice deep breathing, stretching and imagery meditation. The order of training events will be roughly based on Van Melik’s Lineage Project approach.

At-promise youth are faced with multiple biosocial and personal issues. One issue that often comes up is the use of blame and shame as a disordered coping skill. This psychoeducational and experiential group will help youths to understand the biopsychosocial model and develop coping and integration skills. Initially there will be a brief discussion of group rules and how the hour will proceed. The group will be presented with a topic or issue of difficulty, which will be chosen from one of Gilbert’s CFT exercises or a common trend in coping difficulty youth experience in detention. An example of such topic may be feeling wronged or unfairly treated by someone. There will be time to reflect on and visualize the topic of discussion. Each youth will discuss their experience of the topic or question asked.

They will then visualize the issue or a similar issue while doing a bilateral stimulation exercise in order to help soften around defenses and fears. A brief set of simple but rigorous Tsigjong (Qigong) exercises will be presented, in order to get energy moving around the body and shake off any remaining stress. This will be followed by some deep breathing and yogic stretching. The deep breathing and stretching is a mimicking of the relaxation process animals use after a stressful event to reintegrate and continue on with their daily lives. The difficulty initially imagined will be visualized again via guided meditation, but this time the youths will take a caring approach to the narrative and imagine themselves responding to their difficulty with self-care and compassion as well as compassion for others involved in the visualization, if appropriate to the topic. The group will wrap up with a brief silent meditation.

If allowed, a brief self-compassion and or coping assessment will be used at the beginning and end of four weeks of group. The object of the group is not to delve deeply into trauma, but to handle everyday concerns with self-compassion and skillful coping. The groups will need to be brief and only build on each other for three or four weeks, due to the unpredictable lengths of time youths spend in group therapy. Each weekly group should be able to stand by itself. I hope to gain from this project a sense of how these youths view difficulties and determine helpful ways for them to cope with these difficulties. I would also like to better understand the roll compassion plays in their daily coping. My thoughts are that using a combination of efficacious and researched treatments in a new way will yield changes in their ability to cope and increase the experience of self-compassion.

The first step in executing this project will involve researching literature on bilateral stimulation and other physical coping mechanisms. It will be important to have a basic understanding of the tools and techniques used as well as research on possible outcomes. CFT literature and techniques will also be reviewed to get an understanding of the model and some of its biopsychosocial influences. This will take about one month. Based on what is gleaned from the research phase the next step is to design group specifics. The purpose is not to limit creativity, but to provide a framework for creativity. This will take another month as successive groups and topics will need to be designed in advance.

Resources

Paul Gilbert – Mindful Compassion: How the Science of Compassion Can Help You Understand Your Emotions, Live in the Present, and Connect Deeply with Others
Chekawa – Path To Awakening: a Commentary on Ja Chekawa Yeshe Dorje’s Seven Points of Mind Training
Link to the Lineage Project Site