It was a bad night. Dreams that were more akin to nightmare had wakened me over and over, reaching for a comfort I failed to find as I slid in and out of the other side of sleep and the insistent clamouring of stories waiting to be told. I woke to the sun streaming in on the aching tension of clamped jaws and muscles, ten minutes before I was due at my son’s. Not a morning to be rushing but needs must; Ani needed feeding and letting out while I grabbed a quick coffee, threw on clothes and reassembled the sofa after her night-time burrowing. All the while the back of my mind was attempting to deal with the dreams that are supposed to be a processing of the day and of memory.
It is a strange thing, this ability of images to affect us. Whether it is the eternal cuteness of the kittens that pepper the internet that make us go Awww …almost in spite of ourselves sometimes, the faded snapshot of a loved one, or an image called up in the mind, they have a very similar effect on our emotions to what we feel if confronted with the reality itself. Dreams linger with softness, nightmares cast shadows on the day and imagination paints a graphic novel of our lives that we revisit in memory.
A pleasant daydream or memory will leave you smiling, the face softened and relaxed, the heart lighter. The mechanisms of anxiety and fear paint similar mental pictures. Not of the reality we know, but a cocktail of scenarios that might be and our bodies and emotions react accordingly. It can even change our physical perception so that the shadow on the wall or the face in the trees looks human… the adrenalin and the heart pumps harder.
Meditative practices create similar change; there are many types of meditation, some where the images are gently erased, some where they are built, explored and pondered. It is this latter type of guided journey we use in the Silent Eye. Recent studies have shown there can be an enduring physical effect from the practice of meditation on the brain, particularly the amygdala that regulates our response to emotion, leading to a greater emotional stability.
In a very real sense these are examples of mind over matter. The mind itself can be the originator of a physical change, triggered by an emotional response that is directly linked to a mental image. We see it in action in our own lives every day in a thousand silent ways. We can see its effects illustrated in the lives of others too, where absolute confidence manifests as success, for example; the sportsman with the will to win who visualises himself crossing the line, the businessman whose dream drives him forward, the artist whose vision materialises under his fingers in paint, marble or words.
It isn’t always that simple though when you are in the grip of depression, fear or anxiety. The mental images that hold our attention do not let us go that easily; ‘positive thinking’ may be impossible, or just anathema when the day seems so bad that all you want to do is kick the metaphorical cat or curl up in a corner and hide and all the mental images seem pathways into shadow.
Yet the techniques of creating these mental images have been marketed under many names, selling systems that go in search of happiness or material success, systems that purport to teach us something we already know how to do. Creating images… visualisation… daydreams… the key difference is the knack of the direction we give the images and the belief we place in the possibility of what we ‘imagine’. They obviously work, says my cynical mind, some have made millions from them…
These systems are akin to the creation of the magical persona, a technique taught for centuries, a constructed personality that is deliberately built with belief and intent, to enable one to act from the higher aspects of being. You could compare it, in some ways, to those gifted actors who become the role they play and make it believable, living the drama themselves rather than playing to an audience. And it works… it is no secret. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t-you’re right.”
With this in mind, I shall busily continue constructing my daydream… a campervan to live in and explore the hidden places of these isles. There is too much living still to do to waste time sitting at a desk thinking, ‘if only’… when ‘what if?’ seems a far better place to begin. If nothing else changes, I will certainly smile.