Using your imagination

You know that place you go to and when you’re there, you can breathe more deeply and loosen those tight shoulders without even trying?  Maybe it’s a place you visit often, maybe it’s a place you’ve been to once and hold strongly in your memory.  I am lucky to have several of those places, and most are outdoors–a spot in my yard where I can see the garden and the woods and the house, a bridge on our dog walking loop that almost always has the sound of water flowing, a secluded cove on a nearby tidal river that has sheltering trees and expansive views.  Those places are more important to me now than ever and I spend as much time in them as I can.  If you’ve got those places, and you can still get to them, what a gift!  Go even more often.  Notice even more deeply the sounds, smells, textures, and sights of your special spot.

What if you don’t have such a place or you can’t get to your favorite spot as often as you’d like/need?  Maybe it’s closed or crowded or too far to get to.  Maybe you never found that special spot.  Good news–these human brains of ours have incredible capacity for imagination.  And the science says that imagining a place of calm and healing has similar effects as actually being there.  (I still prefer being there, but of course that isn’t always possible.  Cultivating our imagination skills is a very close second.)

Step by step, all your senses.

So how do we do that?  First, find a quiet place to do your imagining.  Then pick a spot.  It could be a spot you know well and visit regularly or one you just make up completely.  Dreaming of warm tropical beaches or dramatic mountain peaks or desert expanses?  Whatever you are drawn to is great.  And now it’s just a matter of bringing this place into your mind with ALL of your senses.

  • Wherever your place, real or imagined, start with the sights.  What individual natural beings (trees, animals, rocks, water, plants, etc.) inhabit your place?  Scan for the colors, textures, and shapes.  Notice which way the light falls.  What time of day or night is it here in this place?  Can you see the sky?  If so, what color is it?  Are there clouds?  Stars?  What does the ground look like?  Gently move between seeking for details and looking over the entire scene.
  • Once you’ve got vision clearly held, turn your focus to the sounds in your place.  Is there wind?  Moving water?  Bird song, animal calls, rustling leaves?  Human noises?  If you walk or sit down in this place, what sounds are connected to that movement?
  • Next, consider the smells.  What are the overall smells coming to you in the air?  What individual components of your place might have their own unique smell (dirt, leaves, sand, snow, flowers, etc.)?
  • Once you are fully immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells of your special place, imagine the physical sensations you might experience here.  What the air and/or sun feels like on your skin and how it would feel to touch the land under your feet or move through this landscape with your whole body.  Are there any particular beings calling you to explore them further with touch?  Water, an inviting tree, a supportive rock, etc.?  Imagine what it would be like to explore those beings with your own curious skin.
  • Taste is the final sensation–this may fit, if you’re at a beach full of salty air or happen to have ripe wild blueberries in your spot.  Or it may not fit and feel free to let this one go.

Spend as much time as you like here, held safe in the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of your particular refuge.  Notice how your internal experience shifts–quite possibly, your shoulders relax and you can breathe more deeply, just as if you were there.  Will your mind wander?  For sure, that’s what minds do.  No worries.  Just bring your focus back to one of the details you’ve created in your imagination.  And again, and again, and again.  If you practice this imagining when you are already feeling relatively calm, it will get easier and easier and easier to do, and maybe even be a place to ‘go’ when anxiety is high and overwhelm threatens to take over.

Remember appreciation

Before you ‘leave’ your special place, make sure to take a moment to offer gratitude for its being and calming presence.  And maybe even gratitude for your incredible mind, which even in the middle of such difficult times, can imagine your body and brain into calmer, steadier, more balanced way of being.