What I Use Instead of Visualization

by Mike Sententia on March 18, 2013

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I often talk about consciously engaging your mental muscles, guiding them through each step of a technique, watching and adjusting as they work. I’ve advised you to do this instead of visualization. And recently, in a post on grounding, I talked about visualizing my energy going into the earth, how ineffective that visualization was, and how consciously guiding my mental muscles through that same process worked better.

But I haven’t explained why it matters if you consciously guide your magick instead of visualizing it.

Simon has been wrestling with this. Specifically, he wants to understand the difference between visualizing an image vs working with a similar image directly:

It seems, as you’ve described it, that ‘establishing a connection’ still involves making a mental representation — which is what I understand as visualization. You say we should ‘engage our mental muscles’ but in terms of how we actually do this it still seems to involve visualization – just a different kind. In my limited practical experience of your methods it certainly feels that way. Just like talk of chakras, meridians, the ‘triple heater’ and the upper/lower Tan Tien – whatever the reality of all this esoteric anatomy the actual method of interacting with it seems to be visualization. They just claim that their visualizations are accessing something ‘real’ (in the sense of a psychic/magical/archetypal/liminal structure) rather than just visualizing an image that is supposed to represent your goal ‘to your unconscious’ in some way.

But..isn’t that really what you are doing?

Its not just more word play about how we categorize visualization – I’m trying to understand what, if anything, makes ‘sensing connections’ and ‘engaging mental muscles’ something fundamentally different from ‘visualization’. Not the explanation of what esoteric anatomy the visualization is supposed to affect – but when you actually ‘engage mental muscles’ what is going on in that moment? Why is it not visualizing – or making a mental representation?

Indeed, everything we do involves a mental representation. To throw a ball, you need a mental representation of how gravity will curve its flight. To comb your hair, you need a mental representation of where your head and hands are, so you don’t accidentally comb your face. Everything needs mental representations.

But do this for me:

  • Close your eyes and imagine what you look like, sitting there. Visualize yourself lifting your arm over your head. Make it as clear as possible, or at least, as clear as you do when you do magick visualizations.
  • Now, close your eyes and actually lift your arm over your head. Notice how your arm feels, and how you innately know where your hand is and how each finger is pointing, even though you can’t see it.

Both of those involved mental representations. When you visualized, you imagined a scene, thinking about how you would expect it to look. When you actually moved your arm, there was a different sort of mental representation, called proprioception. That’s the feedback your arm gives you brain, telling you where the arm is, how you’re holding it, and so on. It’s all part of normal neurology, and almost everyone has it. (It’s also the cause of the tingles in some exercises that claim to show you energy.) Both activities involved a mental representation.

But there’s one critical difference: The visualization is entirely about your expectations. There’s no feedback. If you have an incorrect view of the world — if there was a shelf over your head, but you didn’t realize it — the visualization will match your view of the world (no shelf) rather than the actual world (arm hits shelf).

When you actually move your arm, though, you actively sense where it is. If your arm bumps a shelf, you know it. If you touch a light switch, you’ll feel whether it’s up or down. You’re not just sitting there imagining the world — you’re reaching out and feeling it.

That’s the key difference between visualizing (where you focus on what you want and what you already believe is true) and consciously guiding your magick (where you feel your mental muscles and the external world each step of the way).

Yesterday, I did a healing session for a friend’s back. I made a network of connections throughout her back and felt where the injuries were. It was like a change in the texture of the material my connections were touching. Then, as I did the healing technique, I felt where each connection went (in much the same way you feel where your hand is, even when you can’t see it), felt each change in her signature, and felt how the power was flowing as a whole. The point isn’t to memorize the steps or to imagine them correctly. The point is to feel what’s going on this particular time, with these particular connections in this particular person, so you can adjust your magick to this particular situation.

I want to make that clear: The goal isn’t more accurate visualizations. I can tell you what I felt in my friend’s back, and you can imagine it. You will have an accurate visualization, but without feeling where all your connections are — without the tactile feedback you get by sensing each connection and processing that into a picture of the world as it is right this second — you won’t know if your connections go to the right spots in her back, and you won’t know what happens as you start changing things. You can imagine a bunch of connections sending healing energy to her back, but what actually happens is anyone’s guess.

I’ve made that error, by the way. I’ve taken a healing technique I know how to do, one I’ve done a dozen times, and been lazy with it. Instead of consciously stepping through everything and feeling where each connection went, I just imagined the injury, imagined the connections, and imagined the good result. I knew what each step would look like because I’d already done the healing technique a dozen times, and I expected the healing energy to work this time too. But it failed, because I wasn’t actually feeling where anything was, wasn’t delivering the energy to the right spots, and generally wasn’t guiding my mental muscles through the process.

Consciously feeling and guiding your magick is hard. It takes practice, and I don’t have a single exercise to teach it to you. We won’t get there until Book 2, and we won’t focus on it until Book 3. And until you’re doing conscious magick yourself, the concepts can be hard to grasp.

But feeling each step is what makes the difference between sending out your intent and hoping for the best vs stepping through a technique, knowing how the external world is responding to everything you do, and adjusting and debugging your magick as you go. That’s what we need to grow magick into a mature, respected discipline, and that’s why it’s worth talking about.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Anita Richards March 21, 2013 at 12:04 AM

This sounds similar to visual motor rehearsal the key diffdrence being the the work is actively going into the possibilities and drawing forth the desired result… is a reasonable understanding of what you are saying here?

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Mike Sententia March 21, 2013 at 12:00 PM

I looked up visual motor rehearsal, and it sounds like visualization. The idea is that, by clearly visualizing what you’ll do, that helps your muscles rehearse the motions — it’s pretty cool stuff.

But it’s not what I’m talking about. VMR sounds like it’s about imagining what you’ll do in various situations as clearly as possible — it’s about imagining what you expect to happen, then imagining your response. It’s like imagining raising your arm, just more thorough.

The point of feeling each step is that you’re getting feedback from the external world about its current state, rather than just imagining what you expect to happen then thinking about how you want to respond. It’s hard to get your head around, because normally, everything that happens in your head is about your ideas and expectations, and the only way to get external feedback is to move your body. So it’s odd to think about getting real-world feedback without involving your body. But talking with you and other readers about this is giving me a better idea of how to explain it, so I’ll have another post coming out soon that should help.

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Anita Richards March 23, 2013 at 6:56 AM

The way that I was introduced to VMR was through the dvd of “The Secret”. From what I understood neurons are actively firing when this type of visualisation is utilised. I think that somehow or another I’ve taken it a step further though because I actually kind of morph myself into the visualisation as well in a conscious effort to “feel” what I am working on achieving and often I have physical sensations when I am consciously doing this.
It’s become almost second nature to do this now in just about everything.
I am struggling to articulate this for lack of language so hope that what I’ve just added makes sense ~ the method that you’re describing seems to be similar to what I have been doing?

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Mike Sententia March 23, 2013 at 6:54 PM

It sounds like the feeling of doing VMR might be similar to the feeling of conscious magick, but I still think VMR is a visualization that probably doesn’t have feedback from the external world. That’s my best guess, anyway. It’s hard for me to say exactly what you’re doing without seeing it myself, but I do know that The Secret was mostly about psychology and positive thinking, not actual magick — they just packaged it to sound like it was about magick to appeal to their market. But it sounds like VMR is helping you do what you want to do, so that’s awesome, keep doing it.

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Simon March 21, 2013 at 1:26 PM

No that’s great. Its much clearer.

Though I must add that the example of moving your arm with your eyes closed is the very first exercise Robert Bruce gets you to do in NEW. I know you’re mentioning it as a kind of analogy rather than as a literal explanation.

But I found it interesting that Bruce talks about this and openly states that this kind of thing is proprioception or ‘body awareness’. This sets the tone for how to approach all the other exercises rather than seeing the tingling and sensations there as proof of ‘energy’.

I don’t really follow his system (i’m pretty committed to more classical Qigong methods now) but know that he is often seen as one of the worst offenders of the- ‘hold your hands together, feel the buzzing’ crowd when I found that to be a mis-reading of him. I think one of the faults of his system is that it makes it too easy to slip back into the belief that the buzzing is the energy so maybe that’s why it happens with him.

Anyway -Obviously I think you’re onto something great and i’m not suggesting that Bruce has already done what you’re doing. It just does make me sometimes wonder whether you aren’t in danger of reinventing the wheel in some areas.

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Mike Sententia March 31, 2013 at 12:57 AM

Very cool. I always enjoy finding out about connections like that. Thanks for telling me, and I’m glad this post helped make the ideas clearer.

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George March 11, 2014 at 12:02 PM

Mike, this is a very useful clarifying post, thanks.

I think the word “visualisation” has become pretty useless for this, since it seems to imply consciously controlled creation-only to some people (a “launch”), and a more receptive dynamic experience for others (a “link”).

What you’re really getting at is something a more akin to “tuning in and receiving information through your mind, and adjusting your intention accordingly” (excluding the details there).

Makes more sense now.

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Mike Sententia March 13, 2014 at 5:24 PM

Thanks, George. Yes, I think that’s what I’m getting at.

Aren’t words tricky when describing magick? We’re so often trying to describe internal experiences, rather than external objects you can point to and name.

Thanks for bearing with me as we figure out a common vocabulary.

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George March 13, 2014 at 11:02 PM

What it reminded me of was the idea of “hook-up” that Milton Trager refers to in his bodywork technique. You might find it interesting.

“Dr. Milton Trager devoted his life to exploring the effects of these gentle movements on the nervous system, which he associated with the unconscious mind”, as the society page says.

There’s an article on “hook-up” here. He never went into the background details of making a connection in the same was as you’re attempting, though.

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