To visualise or not to visualise: can visualisation meditation be seen as a mindfulness practise?

One of the reasons I am drawn to mindfulness is that I never really found visualisation that useful. I struggled with seeing clear internal images, wouldn’t be necessarily interested in the scenarios offered by guided visualisations, and had no enthusiasm for creating my own.

I feel much more at home simply connecting to the actual reality of the place I happen to be when meditating and I find developing a relaxed and accepting outlook whilst connecting with the present moment more useful and practical than finding relaxation through an inner escape into a created scenario.

This is of course just a personal preference and visualisation meditation can be a very effective and powerful tool for many; as always, do what works best for you and mix and match whatever techniques you find effective.

I have found myself a little conflicted though with one form of mindfulness meditation that I like to practise, that of spatial awareness, being aware of the space around me. I wonder if this practise strays into visualisation as I extend my awareness beyond the space around me that I can directly see and beyond the space around me within which all the sounds that I can hear occur, out into the unlimited space that is always all around us wherever we are.

I think this is still mindfulness as it is simply an awareness of a fact about the present moment, but when allowing my awareness to expand into the space around me that is beyond the five physical senses I do sometimes find myself adopting a bird’s eye view of my location or visualising the earth floating in space for example.

Of course it doesn’t matter whether it is one or the other or both, as long as it works, but it did get me thinking more about what lies at the heart of both mindfulness and visualisation meditation.

My supposition is that visualisation mediation works for the same reason that mindfulness works and the main difference between the two practises – one is connecting with the senses of the immediate environment, the other is connecting with an imagined environment – is a trivial one.

In a visualisation mediation one is usually asked to see, hear, smell and feel the created and imagined pleasant environment so that we feel fully immersed in it. The fact that we are choosing an environment in a visualisation meditation rather than working with whatever environment we happen to find ourselves in, is less important than the fact that in both cases we are connecting with our senses and being as wholly present as we can be in that environment.

As a thought experiment, to explore the common ground between these two techniques, imagine you are having a dream and in that dream you sit down and start a mindfulness meditation practise; is that a mindfulness meditation or a visualisation meditation?

So why do some people find connecting with the immediate physical environment easier or more effective, whilst others find that creating an inner environment to be the more productive method?

Is it that maybe introverts and predominantly analytical people would be more likely to prefer mindfulness and that maybe extroverts and predominantly creative people would prefer visualisation?

Or maybe those who are more empathetic and are more deeply affected by their surroundings and interactions benefit more from ‘escaping’ into a created positive inner environment using visualisations and those whose state of mind is predominantly influenced by their inner world find ‘escaping’ into the external world through mindfully connecting with their senses more useful?

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