Saturday, November 13, 2004

Exploring the inner landscape 

I wasn’t sure whether to post this or not. It’s long, and rather personal – not that I mind sharing it, but although it has meaning for me, it may not have much meaning to anyone else. Nevertheless, it might give some insight into the process of guided visualisation. And if you get bored, you can always just look at the pictures…

I’m sitting in the chair opposite M., my counsellor. It’s early evening, already dark outside, and the room is softly lit by a single lamp on a low table to the side. We’d agreed last week to follow this visualisation, and since it might last some time it’s best to move into it without too much delay. Opening pleasantries exchanged, I sit back in the chair, upright but relaxed, feet squarely on the floor, hands in my lap, eyes gently closed. I take a few slow deep breaths, breathing from the abdomen.

“Picture a landscape”

A jumble of competing images appears in my mind: a scene from Richard Bach’s “Running from Safety”, an imagined landscape where Bach met his child-self, a gently sloping grassy valley-side, smooth, endless, perfectly green grass, unreal; a scene from last night’s TV docu-drama of a hypothetical mission to the planets – a red Martian version of the Grand Canyon on an immense scale; my alpine meadow “safe place”. Too many overlapping images tumbling across my field of view like a handful of photos tossed in the air. [Curious that these were all imaginary landscapes – but then the direction was to imagine…] Then another imaginary landscape comes to mind – the mountain stream source that appeared in an earlier visualisation. That feels better – I’ll go with that one.

I stand in a grassy hollow, high amongst mountains, ringed on three sides by snow-capped peaks. This is where the meltwaters gather and form the start of streams. The ground is very wet and boggy; thick tufts of straggly long straw-coloured grass interspersed with dark peat-bottomed water-filled hollows ready to give a soaking to a carelessly-placed foot. The aptly named Great Moss in upper Eskdale I think formed the inspiration for this place, although the scene in my mind has a more alpine feel to it.

“You see a dwelling, a home.”

I saw a tent – the same one that I saw in reality in Eskdale seven years ago. But it’s temporary - not a dwelling, not a home. It came to mind purely as a visual association with the scene; it feels wrong in this time and place. But something else feels wrong too; this place isn’t where you’d find a dwelling. I’m confused. I try to “create” one in my mind, but it seems artificial to do so here. I alter my landscape a little, picturing a place rather like a spot a little further down Eskdale, near where the old pack-horse bridge crosses the youthful river Esk.

People could live there. The dwelling I see is a hybrid – a log cabin built using the ruins of an old stone cottage as foundations. It was a dwelling once, for sure – but now?

“You go up to it and knock on the door. Who is the person, creature or being who comes?”

Who comes? No-one. This place has been deserted for a long time. The glassless windows open the inside to the weather; it’s dark and empty; no-one has been here for many years.

Even whilst I’m fully immersed in the image, the watcher in me sees where this visualisation is “supposed” to go, [this isn’t hypnosis, but it may have something in common – but in this case, the watcher could intervene, if he so chose] so I smile ruefully at the symbolic implication of this abandoned dwelling. I’m not at home.

M. repeats the question - what person, creature or being answers my knock? – but by this time the picture has taken on a life of its own; the story is moving forward and her voice is some way off. I’ve already moved inside; the door was ajar. It’s surprisingly clean; there’s a smooth wooden floor which appears, rather surprisingly, to be newly swept, but the room – I think there’s only one, but I can’t see it all – is completely empty of any furniture. The only creatures here are the mice and spiders who have made it their home; maybe birds too who have flown in through the unglazed windows and made their nests here. I don’t sense any message from them – these are just ordinary creatures, they’re not the talking animals of fantasy.

“Who might have lived there?”

A picture comes to me of a hermit – a Gandalf-like figure in a long grey robe and with long grey wiry hair, striding amongst the rocks, cloak blown behind him in the wind.

Maybe he spent much time away from this place on his travels.

Maybe he’s still around.

I stand in the room looking out of the window. The view is stupendous: mountains, streams, green wilderness, high mountain paths. I would be at home here.

Turning, I find the hermit in the room with me.

“How do you feel, having him there?”

His presence is almost tangible; I’m drawn into the aura that surrounds him. I feel known, understood, accepted. He is unfathomably wise; he knows me better than I know myself. There is understanding and deep compassion in his eyes, although no words have yet been spoken. I feel secure, serene, at peace.

“How does it feel to be known, to be accepted?”

Tears well up in response – I know only too well how much I seek those feelings; for a few moments I am fully at ease, at rest, safe.

“Who is this person?”

It crosses my mind for a moment that it could be me, but it doesn’t feel like me. This person is too wise, too all-knowing, too compassionate – I feel very much as a young hobbit might, standing before Gandalf! An unwelcome idea enters my mind – suppose this person represents God? I become tense, those feelings of peace evaporating. I’m afraid, afraid in case this God-person has a message for me, a purpose for me to fulfil. Afraid that he will ask me to do something that is beyond me, be someone I don’t feel ready to be. What might that be? I don’t really know. But I’m afraid of being given a task, a role, of losing my autonomy, of having to conform to another’s plan. I’m quiet for some time, struggling with this idea, not knowing how to explain it. The troubled feelings must show in my face. I say something about my fear of this being God, and how I was getting diverted by the trappings and assumptions of conventional Christianity.

“Let them go, those trappings, let them float away… carried away by a pink balloon”.

That does the trick perfectly. I can see it so clearly – the deliberately incongruous pink balloon, and the fears no longer within me but outside now, being carried into the distance. A rustle of movement comes from beside me- “Thank God for that- now we can get on” says the Gandalf-figure, with a half-smile.

My attention returns to the room, and the picture has changed. Some furniture has appeared: a heavy wooden table with a deeply grained oak top, weathered silver-grey with age - something you might expect to find in a medieval castle. It is evening now, almost fully dark, and on the table are two lighted candles in heavy ornate silver candlesticks. They create a warm orange glow in the centre of the room, whilst the corners recede into the shadows; the only space that seems to exist for the moment is that which lies within reach of their slowly flickering light. I can’t see any chairs and am slightly puzzled by that - we seem more relaxed than one would be when standing, yet I don’t sense that we are seated either. [Afterthought: perhaps as spirit beings, not embodied at all, standing and sitting have little meaning here…]

“Do you want to ask him a question?”

Even before M. asked, I know the answer. No, I don’t. I have no burning questions, I’m still more than a little afraid of questions – or of their answers. The figure turns to me, looking straight into my eyes, holding them in an unblinking timeless examination. His eyes show a deep strength, fuelled from a fire within, knowledge that seems boundless, yet show also immense compassion. “You’re tired; we’ve done enough for now – you must rest”. It feels as though there’s a bed somewhere to lay down and sleep. There will be more work to do when I awake again.


That may only take a few minutes to read, but I’m guessing it lasted about 45 minutes. It was a very intense experience. M. looked as moved as I felt. “I feel very privileged to have shared that experience with you” she said. I was still in something of a daze, shaking my head at the power of it all. Even without making explicit interpretations, intuitively it felt right, it hung together, I sensed meaning.

M. sees this Gandalf-figure as me. He’s wise; she says I’m wise, but I’m ambivalent about that. I can guess what she means – that I have wisdom within me (as do all of us if only we can tap into it) – and in some ways I do actually sense that, yet I fail to see that wisdom acted out in my life. If wisdom is an inner resource, it manages to stay very much on the inside (or I manage to keep it there) and doesn’t often escape.

The way the mind works – those hidden parts of mind that aren’t constrained by the limitations of conventional rationality and thought-patterns – is amazing. It can only work with the materials it’s got – those images are all taken from real experience – yet it weaves them together to create new meaning, communicating across that gap between conscious mind and the inner self that exists beyond consciousness and self-awareness.

This wasn’t actually the way the visualisation was “supposed” to go. The structure is intended to give access to different aspects of self – different “people” who inhabit different rooms in this dwelling. But it didn’t matter that my imagination took it on a different path; I heard the message I needed to hear – I think - although now it is already fading and the present threatens to push it into the background. That’s why I’ve written it out in such length – to give me something tangible to hold onto.

I held that image of the darkened room, the table, the candles, him and me. It felt like an image I could, and would, return to again, perhaps many times. An inner resource that could give strength and confidence.

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