I once shared a short film of mine with my parents, and the morning after watching it, my mother remarked that she could see the whole film replaying in her mind, over and over.
“Really?!” I said, “I can only picture a handful of still images from it and it’s my film!”
My father, well, he’s always claimed not to think with images, only verbal concepts, so he retained no visual memory of the film at all.
The three of us cover the spectrum of mental visualization ability, and since how one’s mind navigates is neither right nor wrong, it just is, I have always thought that that was that. I’ve never before tried to change how my mind processes the world (lots of concepts and flashes of images).
It is true that as we are all different in other inherent abilities, we differ in our innate ability to see images in our minds. Luckily, it is also true that one’s capacity for it is not fixed at birth. You can exercise and improve your ability to visualize. Woohoo!
“Wait,” you might be thinking, “another part of me to exercise?! Why would I want to strengthen my visualization skills?” Well, it just so happens flexing those internal seeing muscles will help you to think more like Einstein. Yuppers, it’s true.
The ability to visualize internally, to use one’s imagination, is connected to one’s ability to see things not as they are but as they could be. Einstein was able to envision the physical world from an entirely new vantage point (and thankfully had the smarts and follow through to figure out the formula to share his vision). Ghandi was able to envision peace without violence (and inspire others to do the same). MLK, Jr. was able to envision people living in harmony with difference, not in spite of it (and rally divided Americans to see themselves in a new light). Visionaries are named such expressly because in their minds they can see past the present and imagine a different reality.
You can be a visionary, even if just in the realm of your own personal world. Can’t yet envision a change in yourself or your environment that you’ve long wanted? Maybe you simply need a little more practice visualizing.
In yoga, we exercise the imagination through visualization techniques used in mediation and yoga nidra (if you’ve never experienced yoga nidra, the “sleepless sleep,” let me tell you it is awesome. Check it out in any of my classes, I promise you’ll love it!). A good memory is necessary for imagination as well, so a simple exercise you can do every day at home is to close your eyes and retrace your day, visually remembering everything you did. And then let me know how it’s going!
Today (Memorial Day 2012), use your memory to remember those who have given generously to their fellow human beings, animals, or environment. Remember that it is in our nature to help each other and envision peace for all creatures.
Om shanti, om tat sat.