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 or inspiration animals.  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

giant soap bubble


The Human Shaped Bubble: Exploring Your Potential

If you’ve read some of my past articles discussing meditations based on Tibetan Buddhist Tantric practices (role modeling / healing mentor guided meditation), I use Loizzo’s notion of the meditator emerging as a human shaped bubble after dissolving the ordinary body (self).  Loizzo’s latest work “Sustainable Happiness” is a tome that addresses Tibetan Buddhist Tantra in light of Western Psychology and Psychotherapy.  In this work he describes the dissolution process in meditation as “psychological death” or “making death a path to openness”.  In some traditional Tibetan practices the dissolution follows a pattern of solids to liquids to fire to gases. This dissolution of the body and reemergence as embodied openness (human shaped bubble), allows for the meditator to completely change their orientation to challenges and obstacles.  At times, I give these instructions to meditators as seeing the newly emerged self as a powerful, flexible and expansive being.  I like to think of it as losing the limited sense of self or the small self and trading it in for the power of openness.  When I guide people through this practice and would like to have them not to lose all sense of self, I ask them to allow their small, limited self to dissolve or step into the background for a moment. This isn’t a complete obliteration of the self, but enough of a suspension of the ordinary self to change one’s relationship to personal challenges.  Some practitioners may find it useful to completely dissolve the self if they possess adequately balanced ego strength, but this isn’t absolutely necessary.  In either case, if one is not identifying with the ordinary ego centered self, the possibilities for healing are more creative and much greater.

I often do directed and personally tailored versions of guided meditations with clients, detecting a theme during a therapy session that seems to come forward as an underlying challenge for some of the things discussed in a session.  I may notice worry, trust or self-compassion issues occurring in the session and suggest them as themes for reflection.  I often discuss these themes and see where the client is at with them as a topic of relevance.  If they confirm that this theme resonates with them, I will move on to guiding them through a personally tailored meditation practice.  In some cases, I introduce the obstacle or challenge directly using a meditation that helps them to befriend the challenge.  I may direct them to try to make contact with worry, trust or self-compassion.  In the role modeling meditation I direct them to show the mentor the specific challenge we discussed, which is often more readily visualized after the preceding therapeutic discussion of the matter.

When the meditator make’s contact with the specified challenge in the guise of a human shaped bubble or open embodiment, I am guiding them to consider it in light of a powerfully opened and somewhat elusive form of self.  It is orienting the transformed body, in a way that allows for ideal openness and flexibility when dealing with challenges.  When doing the role modeling version of a guided meditation the meditator is facing the role model with the power of their own openness which primes them to easily borrow the role model’s capable nervous system.

Try the brief reflection below: You may do this with eyes opened or closed.

Take a few deep breaths imagining the in breath going all the way down to the lower belly and the out breath coming up and out of the lower belly and out through the nostrils.

Return to noticing your normal breathing.

Count your normal breath backwards from 10 to 1.

Allow the counting to dissolve.

Imagine the Universe (as you see it) and allow it to dissolve around you.

Allow the galaxy to dissolve.

Allow the solar system to dissolve.

Allow the planet, continent and your current location to dissolve around you.

Now allow your limited or small sense of self to dissolve or move into the background and re-emerge as a human shaped breathing bubble or more expansive, powerful, flexible and capable self.

Place yourself at the top of a mountain overlooking a still clear blue lake.

Sit briefly in silence.

Return to your waking sense of self and allow the room around you to materialize.

Allow your notion of the planet, solar system, galaxy and universe to return to the way it normally appears.

Return to the awareness of your breath and as you breathe in feel expansion and as you breathe out release.

Slowly open and close the eyes with the in and out breath until you are fully alert with eyes open.

What was this experience like?


I see potential in this for the queer community (inclusive of LGBTQIA) in that meditation practices that cultivate embodied openness, bring new tools with which to experience humanness outside of the gender binary.  Emerging as a human shaped bubble (openness) orients one to a potentially non-gendered perspective.  Furthermore, the Tibetan Buddhist Tantric practice of visualizing oneself as a female bodied deity, male bodied deity or integration of both (not dependent on the practitioners identified gender) as a mean’s to liberate oneself, may play a role in coping with and transcending the binary.  Additionally, gender in these practices reaches beyond itself and represents the notion of opposites.  These opposites which are also inextricably merged, are at times represented as sun and moon, heat and cold, method and wisdom or wisdom and compassion. I would posit that these practices are a call to transcend social and cultural conditioning.  Perhaps incorporating the binary and ultimately dissolving it reorients one in light of past biases.  Male and Female archetypes are fraught with bias, but the nature of a Tibetan deity is ultimately elusive and may take on other gendered forms.  This also has the potential to be utilized creatively mixing gender and identity in new ways or not identifying with any gender at all.  It is a chance for not only queer communities, but all human beings to see beyond gender and sexuality labels.  These Tibetan practices may be interpreted as ultimately dissolving the gender binary system of the practitioner, even if not consciously designed to that end. I would like to revisit these thoughts in future posts.

Resources and texts of interest:

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

Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others – Sara Ahmed



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.”


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.


Mount Kailash Yellow Tint


If you have not already, please read Part 1  and Part 2

How does the practice help?

By accessing a role model or healing mentor visually, you are able to personify the qualities you desire to possess. You may wish to ask yourself if you are currently satisfied with the way you see yourself. If you are unsatisfied with your current sense of self, you have motivation to proceed with the practice. Kohut, the developer of self psychology, points to a mistaken sense of self due to developmental issues during childhood where we are completely dependent upon an external figure to help us provide for our emotional and physical needs. He points out that our caretakers and role models are important to our expanded sense of self in that they teach us healthy interdependence, model emotional regulation, and meet our basic needs. According to Kohut an interdependent identity helps us maintain a stable sense of “self-esteem, forming and maintaining a stable system of goal-setting ideals and the ability to communicate feelings to significant others.” This should all take place in an environment where we are not isolated or rejected. This early structure helps one to be calm in times of stress and rebuild when faced with disappointment.

A calcified and isolative sense of self develops after one “focuses on deficiencies” and is “extremely vulnerable to criticism and failures” (Kohut 1971). A healthily role-modeled childhood gives one a sense of interdependence, rather than a small self hardened around narcissistic views. This healthy developmental environment, creates a more expansive self that includes dependence on others. As Kohut explains “significant others are experienced as non-autonomous components of the self”. This sense of self serves as an anchor in times of strife. Many of us face challenges presented by missed role-modeling opportunities in childhood. These practices may be pivotal to the re-parenting process.

It could be argued that the Buddhist doctrine of no self undermines the notion of a self at all. I interpret the Buddhist notion of no self as an expanded and interdependent self rather than a small and isolated one. This notion of “expanded self” dispenses with an attachment to Buddhist doctrine. This practice helps to build the ego strength necessary to interconnect and deal effectively with outer and inner strife.

James Hillman, the founder of archetypal psychology, talks about entering into another “psychological dimension” by personifying or placing our experiences and notions into other beings and objects. This is the imagination at work and is important to the process of role-modeling visualization. When visualizing you are making the object real in terms of embodiment. This reality subsumes interdependence and an expanded self versus a small isolated ego-self. In role-modeling visualization practice this self embodies a tree of interdependence and support that we draw on, take into our body mind and use for healthy interactions with others. This is an integration of the idealized healing role model that shields us in order to do battle with rejection, disappointment and inner and outer strife.

Hillman sees that personification has fallen under the knife of science and scientific monotheism, been chopped to ribbons and thrown out entirely. This notion of science appears to be slowly reversing itself as neuro scientific research is beginning to understand the language of the nervous system. However, when we look for concrete facts and things we can be sure of, we are hearing the voice of a science that sees its notions as the only verifiable reality. It may have been valuable to head in this scientific direction as a reaction and balance to “whacko mysticism” or vague language that is narrow in its own way, but in so doing we’ve completely lost the reality of imagination. Not only that, we’ve lost the transformative and expansive power of the imagination.

From a neuroscience perspective, the brain “lights up” when imagining an activity in similar ways to when we are performing the activity. These role-modeling simulations have the potential to develop regions of the brain. These brain regions may be stimulated and brain development may occur as a result in the areas of bodily self-regulation and mapping our own and other’s inner states. The portions of the brain that deal with insight and narrative may develop in ways that allow us to transform and reinterpret our identity. Our attention regulation centers may see profound changes as a result of these types of practices. These are only some of the healing possibilities for role modeling visualization. I will be posting an audio guided practice next week. Please give it a try and let me know your thoughts.


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

Re-Visioning Psychology – James Hillman

Self-object Needs in Kohut’s Self-Psychology. Psychoanalytic Psychology – Banai, E., Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. (2006)

Additional resources:

C.G. Jung

Lee, D. (2005). “The Perfect Nurturer” in Gilbert, P. (Ed.) Compassion Conceptualizations, Research and Use in Psychotherapy, New York: Routledge.

Coates, S. W. (1998). Having a mind of one’s own and holding the other in mind: Discussion of “Mentalization and the changing aims of child psychoanalysis” by Peter Fonagy and Mary Target.


Mount Kailash Red


If you have not already, please read Part 1


How do you choose a role model?

There is a potential challenge for non-Buddhists when choosing a mentor.  In Tibetan Buddhism, a practitioner imagines a deity or teacher (guru) they are attracted to in some way. The deity may be chosen for their qualities of wrathfulness, semi-wrathfulness or peacefulness.  The Buddhist practitioner may be attracted to the color of the deity or sound of the mantra used in the practice. In some instances the Buddhist teacher chooses a practice or practices based on the individual student’s challenges and capacities.  It is helpful in the secular world for the practitioner to initially identify the qualities they desire to possess.  As the practitioner of the visualization one must ask,  “How do I wish to be in the world?”  This helps prioritizing qualities that will help you face whatever issues and struggles you are facing.  For example, if you wish to deal with stressors and triggering situations in a calm manner you would need to visualize a role model that embodies this quality.

It is advisable not to use someone with whom you have a complicated relationship, such as an immediate family member.  It is appropriate to enlist the image of a treasured mentor, teacher, philosopher, super hero, writer or religious icon. For example, if when you were in the first grade you had a teacher who really believed in you and said words of encouragement that stuck with you, this teacher may be an appropriate role model for you.  The risk of identifying someone that you have too close a personal relationship with is that they may let you down or you may have periods where you lose faith in their efficacy.  In some cases it may be best to use a fictionalized character, or if creativity allows, an entirely imagined super hero being. The point is to imagine an idealized parent figure to lend support during the reparenting process.  The reparenting process involves you seeing the deficits of your own upbringing and temporarily using the role model as your parental support figure. I imagine artists and poets from different communities taking on the task of creating super heroes, poetic recitations and practices for role modeling practice.  

Next >> read how the practice helps.


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

Re-Visioning Psychology – James Hillman

Self-object Needs in Kohut’s Self-Psychology. Psychoanalytic Psychology – Banai, E., Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. (2006)

Additional resources:

C.G. Jung

Lee, D. (2005). “The Perfect Nurturer” in Gilbert, P. (Ed.) Compassion Conceptualizations, Research and Use in Psychotherapy, New York: Routledge.

Coates, S. W. (1998). Having a mind of one’s own and holding the other in mind: Discussion of “Mentalization and the changing aims of child psychoanalysis” by Peter Fonagy and Mary Target.



Mount Kailash


Initial Observations on Role Modeling Imagery Practice

Not long ago I finished up a semester on role modeling imagery and practice as part of the contemplative psychotherapy program at the Nalanda Institute. These next few posts will explain this type of imagery practice and its therapeutic use in non-Buddhist communities. I am using the Tantric Buddhist visualization practices of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism as a model. I have practiced this meditation over the years and am familiar with its form. I will provide some audio guided instructions for this type of meditation in future posts.

What is Role Modeling Imagery Practice?

Role modeling (known as deity practice) in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition involves borrowing and ultimately integrating the desirable qualities of a realized being (real or imagined), in order to act more as they would in response to their internal stimuli and engagement with the world. A realized being may be simply defined as someone or some being who possesses openness and inner strength to a high degree. The role model also provides support that ultimately translates to your own inner support. In essence, you are borrowing the fortified and developed nervous system of a hero-like figure to fortify your own nervous system. As Loizzo would say, this practice is a multifaceted approach involving breath, body, imagery and sound or the content of the nervous system, in order to heal the nervous system.

The practice involves sitting in meditation and calling on the role model to support you with your struggles or unsatisfying ways of being in the world. Initially, you dissolve your concept of the universe, world and ordinary self and re-emerge in a permeable or less defined body.  You may do this by dissolving these ordinary conceptions into a point at the forhead, heart or allow them to melt away.  You may then see yourself re-emerging as a transluscent human-like bubble a bit like a large soap bubble. Then, you imagine the role model into being by requesting their presence (“please hear my request”) and visualize them sitting before you. The more you engage in the visual details and feeling the presence of the role model the better your attention is held. If available, a picture of the role model may help stimulate a more detailed visual image. Next, you present the mentor with an imagined gift or offering of something important. This gift represents your motivation and sincerity to change. You may imagine giving a family heirloom, important book, beloved pet or favorite food. This is followed by showing the mentor the struggles, fears and issues (inner content) for which you need support and assistance. Showing the mentor your struggles may involve the sensations and visualizations of opening up your mind / heart stream to them in whatever way you are able. For example, you may show the role model a scene from your life when you acted in a way you are not proud of, or visualize showing them a moment or representation of feeling fearful and alone. Next, you imagine that the mentor unconditionally accepts these struggles and sees through them to your true capabilities and strengths. This serves to create a bond and trust between the imagined role model and the practitioner. This visualization practice may be elaborate or simple as required. In practices I do with at-promise youth, I sometimes guide them to see the role model at their side and have the role model place a hand on their shoulder. This is an egalitarian approach that is not part of traditional Tibetan Tantric visualization, where the deity or guru is often imagined above the practitioner. Otherwise, I have them visualize the mentor directly facing them. I believe that when working with certain people bringing the mentor alongside may create a better power balance and greater confidence in the practitioner’s own abilities. When guiding them, I also bring the mentor in as they visualize something with which they are struggling. This demonstrates the role model as providing direct and practical support. At other times, the mentor sits directly in front of them so they may gain familiarity with the visualization. The role model then transmits their power in the form of warmth and light to the body of the practitioner, filling them with support, confidence and desired qualities. At the end, you dissolve the image of the role model and reappear in the ordinary world (waking life).

Continue to part 2 on how to choose a role model >>


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

Re-Visioning Psychology – James Hillman

Self-object Needs in Kohut’s Self-Psychology. Psychoanalytic Psychology – Banai, E., Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. (2006)

Additional resources:

C.G. Jung

Lee, D. (2005). “The Perfect Nurturer” in Gilbert, P. (Ed.) Compassion Conceptualizations, Research and Use in Psychotherapy, New York: Routledge.

Coates, S. W. (1998). Having a mind of one’s own and holding the other in mind: Discussion of “Mentalization and the changing aims of child psychoanalysis” by Peter Fonagy and Mary Target.