Excerpt from Book Two of the Meditation Series by
Rav Dovber Pinson
Visualization and Imagery: Harnessing the Power of Our Mind’s Eye
THE CRISIS OF IMAGINATION
There is so much beauty in the world, but there is also so much brokenness. For some people brokenness is manifest in the realm of relationships, for others it is present within their unrealized goals, their “dreams deferred”. For certain people brokenness is experienced physically in the form of various health issues, while for others it is more psychological, exhibited for instance in a lack of self-confidence or perpetual confusion. Additionally, brokenness is manifest on a societal level in the forms of rampant poverty, bigotry, and war.
There are many people, even successful people (whatever that word means), who have the tendency to think of themselves as failures. Despite peak-moments wherein they experience real joy, most people are just going about their lives with a constant low-level sense of melancholy or depression.
Clarity seems hard to come by. Most people are walking around in a sort of existential daze with the overwhelming feeling that all decisions are daunting. For many there appears to be a sense of confusion and ambiguity in terms of career, relationships, life path, and certainly regarding the question: What is my true purpose and mission in this world?
Much of the mayhem and malaise that is rampant in the world can be traced back to a crisis of imagination. This is a result of most people’s inability to exert conscious control over their subconscious mind, which speaks primarily in the language of images and impressions, rather than words or ideas.
Suffice it to say that much of the way we think, speak, act and live is but a reflection of deep-seated “imagery” implanted within our subconscious. We all have an inner, often unconscious narrative that informs our conscious self. But because of the apparent disconnect between these two parts of our psyche many people are internally conflicted. Perhaps they have tried to change, attempted to start something fresh or different, like entering into a new relationship or shifting their perspective, but nothing has seemed to work. They may experience an initial boost of energy or momentum, but very quickly they fall back into old, negative patterns of unconscious thinking and being. They slowly lose all hope that it is even possible to live with more joy, clarity, openness or confidence. As a result they cannot even imagine an alternative.
This crisis extends into a person’s spiritual life as well. So many people walk around with a sense of emptiness, fragmented and disconnected but burning with a desire to feel connected — connected with themselves, with others around them, with the world at large, and ultimately, the deepest desire of all is to sense some type of Kirvas Hashem/Connection to G-d. This is the sensation of being in touch with or touched by Transcendence.
Whether we know it or not, we are all affected by imagery. Sometimes these images are positive and sometimes they are negative.
Let’s say a person is worried about his or her job or financial stability. Now, because of this worry they start imagining what it would be like if they lost their job. In a rapid unfolding their imagination runs wild and all types of morbid images come to mind. First it begins with the thought of losing their job, but then it quantum leaps into being homeless, completely alone and helpless, and so on. This type of negative, almost unconscious process of visualization can cripple a person. And then based on this defeatist imagery the person inevitably begins to expect negativity to follow. A certain negative image sinks in and then all future decisions are founded on this image, thereby unconsciously attracting that very type of projected negativity. In effect, this relatively unconscious imagery and narrative based on fear, worry and doubt ultimately becomes the foundation of our lives.
The beginning of healing this crisis of imagination and the apparent separation within the self is to secure a belief that it is possible to be healed and rectified. Yet, to begin this healing we need to somehow penetrate our subconscious mind and rewrite our inner narrative. We need to reclaim control of the subterranean regions of our mind, the deepest parts of the self that hold such sway over our lives, in order to consciously reprogram the system. We must learn in a conscious way to create positive imagery in the mind and thus to attract positivity.
There is incredible power contained within our subconscious mind but, for the most part, instead of being in control of our subconscious we are often enslaved to the reality it offers us unsolicited. Learning the language and methodology of the subconscious mind is the only way out of this choke-hold.
Mental imagery and other forms of non-verbal communication are the primary mediums to get to the subconscious. Our subconscious does not trade in the currency of words or language. It only understands the images that are consciously or unconsciously formed and fixated upon within our psyche.
Subliminal sights, sounds and other stimuli sneak into the deeper recesses of our mind and end up lodging themselves there. This could be in the form of something you saw, heard or experienced as a young child, or even today as an adult, but did not register in your conscious mind. Overtime such a bundle of unconscious ‘images’ forms a personality or identity, as it were. Often, without proper psycho-spiritual maintenance this haphazard collection of random imprints and experiences can result in an unhappy, insecure, negative or disconnected person. Ultimately, these images inform the way we think, speak and act in ways that we most often aren’t even aware of.
The Future is based
on our Image of the Present:
Our future is, to a large extent, a direct reflection of the images we hold and generate in the present. Whatever recurrent images are being displayed upon the inner screen of our mind in the present moment will be, for the most part, what we manifest in the future. If the screen shows you as a failure, or as unhealthy, perpetually trapped in bad relationships, impoverished, or unholy and spiritually immature, unfortunately your future will, most likely, be a materialization of this image.
The subconscious mind constructs a certain image of who you are and what you can expect of life, and automatically you are drawn to this image. You subconsciously imagine yourself as a failure and then you live up to that image, thereby self-sabotaging any possibility for success, be it physical, financial, emotional or spiritual.
For example, let’s say that before you sit down to learn a difficult topic in Torah, or before you enter a business meeting, you think to yourself, “This is never going to work. Who am I fooling? I cannot do this.” Then indeed you will almost certainly not be successful.
Every person has an inner image in their deeper subconscious that informs their life. If you believe deeply that you are a failure and think, “I can’t do this. This is way beyond me. I don’t have the ability,” these thoughts will perpetually parade themselves across your inner screen and you will continuously fail. Conversely, if you believe deeply that you deserve goodness and blessings, you will open yourself up to goodness and blessings. “Think good and it will be good.” Choose to imagine and create the image of empowerment: “I can do this. I may not be able to accomplish/afford/understand this now, but I will in the future.” Goodness and positivity will follow suit.
The more times you mentally imagine something, the greater its chances of manifestation.
Just to be a little more clear. This is not simply a matter of entertaining a particular image and then having the image magically materialize. Of course one needs (as will be explored further on) the inner image to be attached to a deep Cheshek/Yearning, desire, and passion. And certainly one needs continuous Tefilah/Prayer. But also, one needs to add a good dose of hard work and healthy realism into the equation. Create positive imagery, whether in the realm of physical, financial, emotional, mental or spiritual success, and then imagine all the obstacles and challenges that may arise and stand in your way, then visualize overcoming them one by one.
Being the Cause or Effect:
As mentioned earlier, for the most part the collective subconscious image of one’s self and one’s reality is not created by choice, but rather the world around you chooses it for you. It is, in effect, an externally generated and unconsciously projected image of who you are as a person. What adds insult to this injury is that not only do you not retain hegemony over your own life or identity, but furthermore because the stimuli by-passes your conscious mind you always end up feeling like a divided and fragmented person with two voices — the conscious ideals and the subconscious images.
Living this way means that we are constantly caught up in the ‘effect’ of choices/causes that are not our own. Therefore any conscious choice we do make today is nearly irrelevant in the face of such deep-seated impressions and, at best, can only exert an actual influence on our actions for a few moments until we inadvertently swing back to acting out the previously established unconscious self-image.
On a more spiritual level, due to this crisis of imagination and the lack of control over our own subconscious minds, many of us have absorbed a host of toxic ideas and images from our surroundings, which then become the imaginal seeds for many of our defeatist, materialist, overly competitive, carnally obsessed, money hungry, war mongering world-views. As a result, many people have become dulled to their more subtle spiritual imaginations and sources of intuitive wisdom. We have been tricked into thinking that if we can just take control of our conscious, logical, rational mind (which is itself a great accomplishment), we are all set. We have therefore been trained to ignore the other, deeper, murkier parts of our self and psyche.
Until we learn to train or retrain ourselves to consciously choose and form the inner images that make up the self we will be forever enslaved to the externally imposed images of our surroundings. When we learn to consciously craft the previously unconscious image of self that we desire — an empowered, connected, secure, confident and spiritually attuned person — we will then become that person.
This will help us liberate ourselves from all the confusion, distortion, melancholy and alienation that we so regularly experience. The goal of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual freedom is achieved through the cultivation of our capacity to consciously communicate and collaborate with our subconscious mind and imagination.
vs. Pictorial Language:
In thinking about the mechanics of visualization and internal imagery, the Torah’s story of the Jewish people’s collective Exodus from the constraints of slavery experienced in Egypt comes to mind. Through this lens let us examine the relationship between cartographic and phonetic language systems as they are symbolically represented within this most well-known narrative from the Torah for the purpose of more fully understanding the inner mechanisms of the imaginal and ideational mind.
Language is generally understood to be a function of the left hemisphere of the brain, the rational part of the brain that thinks in linear sequence and logic. And yet, this is not necessarily the way language began. All known human languages began with depictions through images, a classically ‘right-brain’ function. Before communicating with written words, people communicated ideas with images.
The ancient Egyptians in fact had two separate languages. The first was used by the priests in their temples for idol worship and ‘sacred’ purposes only; this is known as Hieroglyphics — an abstract form of symbolic language, which is written using pictures and images. The second was the common, colloquial language used for ordinary conversation, which was written with an Alphabet. Being that the ‘higher’ sacred language was in Hieroglyphics, we can surmise that there was understood to be a deep relationship between icons and ‘sacred’ images
A profound paradigm shift of history began with the giving of the Torah. One foundation of the Torah is that the Creator of Heaven and Earth is image-less, Infinite, ineffable and not able to be depicted. Icons or any images meant to represent the Creator are thereby rendered as pure idol worship and utterly forbidden. Our connection with the Infinite One is not through perception, but rather through conception. This is a radical movement away from the world of depicted icons to the abstract world of ideas.
As a result we do not create sacred imagery, rather, our language is holy. The Torah and the Luchos/Tablets were given to us in Lashon Ha’Kodesh/The Holy Tongue (Biblical Hebrew). This catalyzed the shift in cognitive emphasis from image to idea, from symbol to word. But an even more drastic shift is that there were no longer “two” separate languages — a language for the sacred and a language for the mundane. The Torah, through the medium of the Holy Tongue, bridged the worlds of sacred and mundane, spiritual and physical. Indeed, before the giving of the Torah, prior to the exodus from Egypt, there does appear to have been two distinct languages used by the Hebrews — one being the local language that was used by our Patriarchs and their families for mundane interactions (Sanhedrin, 38b), and the other being Lashon Ha’Kodesh (Hebrew) that was used for sacred actions or interactions (Kuzri, Maamor 8; 68).
But following the giving of the Torah there was, and is, only one Alphabetical language — Hebrew. Lashon Ha’Kodesh is an all-inclusive language used to both transmit prophecy and to order dinner. Even historically when Jews spoke other indigenous languages the Hebrew letters were always used to write in a regional dialect (i.e., Aramaic, Ladino, or Yiddish). The letters of Lashon Kodesh were always employed in whatever written language Jews were using at the time.
The shift from pictorial language to a phonetic Alphabet, from language that can only depict immediate reality to language that can intimate abstract ideas, brought about a revolution and paradigm shift in human thought and understanding. Some historians have called this the “Alphabetic Revolution.” When letters and not images are employed to convey information this leads to abstraction, invention and innovation. Logical reasoning, scientific research and philosophical pondering are only possible in the world of alphabetical language. Only concrete reality or crude and highly anthropomorphic theology can be pondered or conveyed in a language of images. For example: There are two juxtaposed images, one image is a sheep and the other is a hand with a cow. This would roughly ‘translate’ as: You give me your cow and I will give you my sheep.
Modern Western civilization can be traced from Greece to Rome to continental Europe, but the roots of all this is founded on the Alphabetical revolution of the Ancient Near East. The same is true of the two largest groups of people who practice religion in the world. They too are most clearly rooted in and founded on the path of the “word”, as evidenced by their self-identification with the Torah, the archetypal Holy Book. In fact, one could say that the giving of the Torah initiated this dramatic shift away from icons and imagery, leading humans and history into the world of the Aleph-Beis. As a result there emerged the possibility for deeper, abstract, meta-physical, philosophical and scientific exploration.
And yet upon closer scrutiny it becomes apparent that even within phonetic languages themselves there are two ways (at least) to read and write: Either from “Left to Right”, such as Greek and English for example, or from “Right to Left”, such as Lashon Ha’Kodesh and other Semitic languages.
As mentioned, the left-hemisphere of the brain is connected with analytical and sequential thinking as well as the function of speech. Alternatively, the right-hemisphere is connected with grasping whole patterns and visual concepts, apprehending shapes, images and pictures. Reading the Alphabet is therefore a predominately left-brain activity. And yet, when a person is reading Hebrew from right to left he begins by slightly tilting his head towards the right, thus stimulating, ever so gently, the right hemisphere of the brain. Conversely, when one reads from left to right, as is the case with Greek or English, the head is slightly shifted towards the left. Reading is then a completely left-brain activity.
Through this subtle somatic shifting of the head the Torah is intimating that we need to activate and incorporate the more associative and affective modes of cognition within the more textually based consciousness of alphabetic culture in order to approach any kind of integral understanding of the Infinite One. Yes, we do need to lift ourselves beyond the image, beyond icons and representation in order to truly assimilate the deeper message of the Torah. And yet, we ought not cut ourselves off from any and all connection with the right hemisphere of the brain, which supports the creative, imaginative and intuitive perceptive faculties, as these modes of perception add the elements of color, texture and emotion necessary to achieve a more mature and robust spiritual sensibility. And so when we read Hebrew we begin with a slight shift towards and stimulation of the right hemisphere of the brain in order to activate both sides of the brain, as it were.
If we delve deeper something even more interesting emerges. Most Hebrew letters are written from left–to–right. This is the case even though the words themselves are read from right-to–left. If a person were to write the word Av/Father, which is spelled with an Aleph and a Beis, they would begin to write the letter Aleph from the furthest top-left corner of the slanted line t and move towards the right. The same is true for the Beis- C. One would begin with the left side of the upper horizontal line and move towards the right. And yet when one reads the word Av, one reads from right–to–left.
In short: While writing the Hebrew letters one moves from left to right, thus activating the left hemisphere of the brain; whereas, while reading the words one moves from right to left, thus stimulating the right side of the brain.
According to the deeper Kabbalistic teachings of the Torah, letters are rooted in the “left column” attribute of Gevurah/Strength, restriction and concealment, whereas words are rooted in the “right column” attribute of Chesed/Loving-Kindness, openness and revelation. As mentioned, letters are written from left to right (i.e., Gevurah to Chesed), and therefore they predominantly represent the quality of Gevurah. Words, on the other hand, are read from right to left (i.e., Chesed to Gevurah), and therefore predominantly represent the quality of Chesed. (Note- The structure and function of the Sefiros will be explored in greater detail in the following pages. If one is completely unfamiliar with the above concepts and wants to skip ahead for clarity, please do so.)
A letter on its own is meaningless, it does not convey any meaningful information, unless of course the letter itself symbolizes something or has independent meaning as a word on its own. Once a person attaches one letter to the next, thereby forming a word, the letters become animated and loaded with meaning; they are now conveying information and ideas. The letter Aleph on its own means nothing. Once the letter Aleph is joined with the letter Beis it becomes a word, Av/Father. The letters are then animated and the word is filled with an influx of Chesed.
In summary, alphabetical language in general, as opposed to cartographic communication, is more of a left-brain activity. Regarding Hebrew specifically, the letters are written from left-to-right, stimulating the left-brain, but read from right-to-left, activating the right-brain. This is a Divine hint encoded into the Holy Tongue itself that alerts us to the appropriate cognitive approach to Torah: As much as we need to be analytical and abstract thinkers while trying to wrestle with the text in order to ‘grasp’ the intangible and ineffable, we still need to stay connected to our affective, creative, imaginative and intuitive faculties as we engage the Torah’s mysteries.
Reason, logic and critical thinking are the roots of philosophy. These processes of thought give prominence to the left-brain over the right. Revelation, prophecy and higher intuitive wisdom are more in the realm of the right-brain reality. Seen from this perspective, there appears to be a division between “Athens” and “Jerusalem” as it were, between the Greek philosophers and the Hebrew prophets. For the most part, Western secular civilization has followed the path of the left-brain. Over time, we have all become a little too “Greek”, as it were. We need to reclaim our connection with the active and prophetic imagination. In order to do this we must reconnect with the faculties of the right-brain, what is called the Koach Ha’M’damah/Power of the Imagination, in order to visualize an alternate reality than what is currently seen as possible.
The Prophet &
the Power of Imagination:
Maimonides, the great 11th century Jewish philosopher also known as the Rambam, explains in the second part of his philosophical magnum opus, “The Guide for the Perplexed”, that a prophet, which is the most advanced level a human being can reach, is somebody with both an exceptionally strong intellect and a highly developed imagination (Morah Nevuchim, 2; 36).
The prophet is thus one who is in possession of a complex and complementary capacity to both think and imagine — to be critical as well as creative. Having achieved this pinnacle of human consciousness, it is possible, upon entering a prophetic state, for a deeper and higher aspect of Divine wisdom to be revealed to the prophet.
The normative/logical mode of thinking is to take images or impressions and attempt to discern and elucidate inherent patterns or principles by analyzing, comparing and contrasting these images or impressions. This is the essential scientific method of discovery — analyzing, comparing and contrasting the “imagery” of data until a breakthrough occurs, thereby revealing a new principle or underlying pattern. This is referred to as inductive reasoning. A more subtle or theoretical method of thought is to think in total abstractions, such as in numbers or pure ideas. This gives rise to what is known as deductive reasoning — the ability to recognize particular situations based on the assumptions of broader principles.
Intellectual rigor, logic, inductive and deductive reasoning, and the imaginative faculty are all very strong and symbiotic in the mind of the prophet.
Later on there will be an in-depth exploration of the nature of imagination and the contrasting qualities of “positive” and “negative” imagination. For now, let it suffice to state a few general principles and ideas.
Negative imagination is considered only “skin deep”, as there is no substance beneath it. This form of imagination is mere fantasy. People with overactive “skin deep” imaginations create all types of “demons” and “monsters” that end up crippling them, not allowing them to function as healthy human beings. Or, alternatively, they create “messianic” grandiose illusions that put them totally out of touch with their own personal reality as well as reality as a whole.
The prophet, however, possesses an imagination that is able to develop from the inside-out. It emerges from the depths of his or her understanding and reaches all the way to the extremities of the mind, moving from the intellect to the imaginative faculty. This type of imagination is positive. Here the imagination is referred to as the “skin of the flesh”, referring to its nature as being an external reflection of the inner mind; as opposed to the negative “skin deep” form of imagination, which has no substance or foundation beneath its outer appearance and luster.
Regarding the “skin of the flesh” form of imagination the movement is from the inside-out. First the intellect is stimulated and the prophet gains a deeper understating and higher awareness in the form of an abstraction. Only afterwards is the concept translated and expressed through his imaginative faculties. When the prophet experiences the concept as a kind of dream sequence, an image, he immediately recognizes the message or idea that it is meant to convey.
A sound intellect combined with the power of positive imagination is a requisite to receive prophetic influx. In very simple words, perhaps even a little oversimplified, a prophet is one who possesses two, often contradictory capacities: 1) A sane, rational intellect that can properly comprehend the world “as it is”. 2) And a healthy power of imagination with which to envision the world or humanity “as it could be”. In short, they are able to see life simultaneously as it is as well as how it could be.
Without a healthy and positive imagination the vision of the prophet would be acutely penetrating providing them with an excellent diagnostic understanding of how things are in their unredeemed state. But they would be stuck, as it were, in the world of “what is”, and would therefore not be able to perceive and ultimately inspire the people to mend their ways and liberate themselves from blind causality in order to receive a “new light” and to “sing the new song” of a rectified future.
Today, in our own collective condition of exile our Koach Ha’M’damah/Power of Imagination is what is really in exile. Much like the time when we were stuck in bondage in Egypt and our imagination was so askew — as will be shortly explained — our power of positive imagination is similarly in exile. We are ruled for the most part by hollow fantasy and skin deep, shallow, empty imagery.
Our sense perceptions dictate our reality to us, and as a result, the images that guide our inner life are only skin deep. No wonder we are so lost in our personal and collective exile. We need to redeem and rectify our imagination by becoming more attuned to our powers of “prophetic” and positive imagination.
The Visual Revolution:
When we are able to reclaim our Koach Ha’M’damah/Power of Positive Imagination we can open ourselves up to the possibility of experiencing some form of deeper, prophetic, intuitive insight. As we are moving closer to the ultimate redemption we need to once again focus on cultivating this imaginative faculty. We must do this in order to counter the tremendous Kelipos/Concealments and shallow temptations of fantasy and negative imagination that we are inundated with daily via the internet and all forms of media advertising, as well as to hone our imaginative abilities to enter more fully into a renewed prophetic era. This “medicine” is both a perfect remedy for our modern illness (i.e., fantasy and false imagination as a result of rampant negative imagery), and a perfect supplement to propel us onward towards higher levels of visionary consciousness through positive imagination.
We are nearing the Final Redemption, a time when we will all be seers with a perfected Koach Ha’M’damah as prophesied by the great Biblical prophets of old: “And it shall come to pass that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Yoel, 3; 1). Precisely during this time period, and more specifically over the last hundred years, there has been a proliferation of visual stimulation and information available through the optical sense.
Some five hundred years ago there was what was called the “printing press revolution.” Due to the developments of technology that made popular printing possible and affordable there was a proliferation of printed material, which eventually ushered in the modern scientific age. A new type of revolution is now occurring as a result of radical advances in digital technology, what can be called a “visual revolution.” Today we live in a world where most people, certainly the youth, get a majority of their information and ideas about the world through “visually” transmitted data, whether it be film, live news, or the internet. Our sense of the visual is stimulated, perhaps over stimulated, and yet, when channeled correctly we can evolve beyond mere fantasy into a higher form of positive, ‘prophet-like’ imagination.
Indeed, many great scholars and mystics, including the Rambam, have written that during the era shortly before the arrival of Moshiach, prophecy will return to Israel. The Rambam writes that he received a wonderful tradition from his father, and his father from his grandfather, going all the way back to the beginning of the current exile, that prophecy will eventually return and, “there is no doubt that the return of prophecy is an introduction to Moshiach” (Iggeres Teiman, Chap 3). The closer we come to that time, which according to all opinions we are quite close, the more we move into a prophetic time, a time where, as quoted, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your children shall see visions.”
& Prophetic Insight:
Every waking moment our senses are taking in literally billions of sights, sounds and smells. This is on the level of sense perception. If a person has a powerful imaginative capacity he can continue to see an image or hear a sound or smell a scent even after the actual sight, sound or smell is no longer physically present. During our waking moments this imaginative faculty is relatively quiet as we are continuously being bombarded with new and fresh stimulus. In sleep, however, when we are taking in less stimuli and our sense of sight is shut down, our imaginative faculty is heightened.
A dream is considered one-sixtieth of prophecy (Berachos, 57b). Therefore, we can see that dreams, the creative imagination and prophecy are all interlinked and deeply related. In fact, besides Moshe, all prophets received prophecy in a dream-like state (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 7; 2). Yet, it must be noted that whereas dreams may contain traces of prophetic insight, premonition, or precognition, most of the time they are mere nonsense burping up from the subconscious reflecting an overload of junk information that needs to get expunged and cleared from the brain and nervous system.
How does a person discern whether they are having a “prophetic” dream or a fantastical release of the subconscious? The illustrious son of the Rambam, Rabbi Avraham, writes that only a person who has total control over his mind, both the revealed intellectual mind and the more unconscious imaginative faculty, will experience prophetic dreams. For such a person, whose imaginative faculty is the most external aspect of mind, the movement is from the inside-out (i.e., the “skin of the flesh”). Their imaginative mind therefore has no independent voice apart from their intellectual consciousness and is primarily used as a channel through which to express and reflect upon deeper truths. Otherwise, the fantasies of those who are crippled and controlled by their negative imagination cloud their intellect. In such a case, even if a “prophetic” image is revealed to him in his dream, the image will be entangled within the web of their un-redeemed unconscious and the nonsensical fantasies will surface and skew the transmission, so to speak.
We have our work cut out for us. We need to learn to harness and cultivate the power of positive imagination. The power for image-making is essential for our soul development and to experience any form of “soul elevation”. To do this we need to create the conditions wherein we are able to access and choose our subconscious imagery. We will thereby develop the capacity to direct our “waking dreams”, as well as being able to experience lucid, controlled dreaming while asleep by becoming more aligned with the prophetic-like, right-brain modalities of imagination and intuition. This again serves a double purpose — both as an antidote to the modern proliferated illness of fantasy and false imagination and as a catalyst that elevates us to a higher/deeper level of consciousness, where we can sense that which is normally beyond our basic sensory input.
Breathing & Quieting the Mind:
This current book is the second volume to be released in The Jewish Meditation Series.
The previous volume focused on basic breathing techniques and methods of quieting the mind, titled simply, Breathing & Quieting the Mind. While each book is completely independent from the next, the books do proceed along a developmental trajectory. One cannot begin any type of meditative practice without first learning to quiet their mind and focus on their breath. This volume goes a step further, both inward and upward.
The previous volume dealt with a more passive form of meditation wherein the intent is to clear the mind of thoughts and content that crowd one’s consciousness in order to create space within which to experience the Unitive Reality beneath all the apparent multiplicity; or at the very least to quiet the deluge of thoughts and the chaotic nature of the mind in order to allow one to more fully relax and restore equilibrium. This volume deals more with active meditation practices where one uses an actual image, whether it is literal or formed in the mind, to access deeper levels of consciousness wherein all imagery eventually dissolves and one is left with a sensation of “touching” the ineffable and utterly Transcendent aspect of Reality. In short, the first volume is more focused on emptying the mind, while this volume is focused on creative ways to fill and focus the mind.
In either case, the objective of the entire “Jewish Meditation Series” is to make information available that can be utilized as tools of transformation. What is of primary interest is not merely what the great sages and Tzadikim/Righteous Ones said or wrote, but rather, what they did. What were the techniques they used to become the people they were? What was the formula that transformed ordinary people into extraordinary teachers? Of course, it goes without saying that a general approach of disciplined inner-work, deep commitment to Torah, patience, perseverance and choosing to live large is essential — but was there something else? What were the actual practices used by the sages to expand their awareness and open their hearts?
One such practice, as evidenced in many traditional sources, is the practice of visualizations. This is the practice of actively engaging the power of Tziyur/Imagination to animate, expand and flesh out ideas of the mind. This type of practice is recommended by many great rabbis, mystics and teachers throughout the ages (See e.g.; Kabbalah teachers; Pri Eitz Chayim, Shar HaShabbos, Chap 3. Mahara M’panu, Maamor Tikkunei Teshuvah, Chap 3. Shaloh, Asarah Maamaros, Maamor 10. Chassidic teachers; Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, 11. Noam Elimelech, Tzetil Katan. Beir Mayim Chayim, Parshas Titzavah. Moar Vashemesh, Parshas Miketz. Mussar teachers; Ohr Yisrael, p. 22. Sha’arei Ohr, p.17. Michtav M’Eliyahu, 4; 252).
In the realm of visualizations there are both externally based visuals where one uses an actual external object as a focal point, as well as inner creative visualizations where one creates an image within the mind’s eye. In addition, there are also awareness practices with which one learns to become aware of what already exists within the inner screen of the mind’s eye. Each of these methods will be explored in greater detail throughout the rest of this book, along with explanatory ideas and anecdotal events meant to contextualize the practices within the broader framework of Torah thought and spiritual practice.
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