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Meditation/visual thinking


Dear Expert,

I am not that much familiar with meditation. I read that it is a way of relaxing the mind to quieten down sub-vocalization plus abstract thought. So, meditation seems to lack verbalization. Am I right? Then, is it some form of visual thinking? Is imagination at work? Please kindly elaborate. THANKS.



Dear Zahra,

My personal experience of meditation is that there is much going on inside us - body and mind - that is covered over, hidden, and confused, by our usual mental and physical activities. To allow these inside things to get some attention, some "sunlight", it is helpful to let the body be quiet (by sitting still in a comfortable position, for example) and to let the mind become quiet, which means not purposely adding more activity to the mind.

By allowing the body and mind to be more still, then all of the things that are going on inside us have a chance to come out. It often feels to me that there are things that have happened during the day that need to finish themselves. I mean, for example, suppose that someone says something to you that bothers you and all day long as you do your usual activities, it is bothering you in the back of your mind. It keeps going over and over. But then if you can sit down quietly for a while, you have a chance to pay attention to what bothered you and then you are done with it.

There is much that goes on inside us that we never really notice very clearly. For example, there are habitual ways in which we react to people. Some of us get angry easily. Some of us get depressed. But usually we don't have much of a sense of what is really behind these painful reactions. We may feel that someone is hurting "me" but we don't really look carefully at what is behind that. What is really getting hurt? So because of this, we don't know ourselves and our lives are controlled by these patterns of reaction.

Many people, including teachers of meditation, use meditation as a tool. They tell us to focus on something or to visualize something. But for me it is clear that what is needed is to forget about trying to control or achieve something and simply become sensitively in touch with what is actually happening. In-touchness is not a technique. It is being alive and awake. It is extremely simple. It takes care of everything if we give it enough chance.

In being in touch, anything may come up. You may find that verbalization is happening or that visualization is happening or that imagination is happening. You will also notice that what is happening changes on its own. If you think "I shouldn't be verbalizing right now" then you will try to stop it. But maybe verbalization is what needs to happen right now. How can we know what needs to happen unless we listen very carefully and patiently. This is why no authority can tell you how to meditate. I'm not even suggesting that you meditate. I'm only sharing that it is very helpful to take time to be in touch.

If you sit down to meditate with a goal - for example, to have a quieter mind - then you have already assumed that it is better to have a quieter mind right now. Maybe right now the mind needs to be noisy. So all we can do is forget about our goals and listen to what is really going on. What is happening now is what NEEDS to happen now. We usually think that we are in control of our lives but when we sit down quietly and discover what is going on by itself, we can see clearly that we have not been very much in touch with what our life actually is. When we are in touch with what is happening, life itself is happier because it is being listened to!

Have you read Rumi? Rumi writes about this in a very beautiful way.

I hope this helps give you an idea of how I see it. Please feel free to write back with any further questions.  


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Jay Cutts


From nearly 30 years of personal meditative work, I am interested in exploring together the deeper concerns of our lives. How can we shed light on these concerns for ourselves - directly, clearly, moment by moment? At the same time, how can we come in touch with the simple beauty and affection of live that reveals itself from time to time even though our lives often feel anything but simple, beautiful or loving. If you have a question, I will try to work with you to clarify and explore it. Note that I change private questions to public so they are available to others. If you have something that is truly private, let me know.


Close to 35 yrs experience in spiritual, meditative inquiry, first in the Zen tradition and later through direct inquiry rather than traditional practice. I have attended retreats and worked with Toni Packer, of the Springwater (NY) Center for Meditative Inquiry and am interested in the work of J. Krishnamurti, who also worked with people in direct, personal meditative inquiry.

BA Linguistics University of Michigan MA Special Education University of New Mexico

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