Saturday, September 10, 2011

Meditation V: Visual Imagery

'Where one's thoughts are, there he is with the totality of his being'
Chassidic adage 

The rehearsal of dangerous manoeuvres before their real life execution is a given. Before astronauts are sent into space on a mission they rehearse every move underwater, in an environment that simulates the weightlessness of space. Similarly, soldiers are briefed about battle tactics in order that they carry out an operation in the most efficient and coordinated fashion possible. Often, they'll practice an operation numerous times in a simulated environment until they can perform it successfully in a given time frame.

What's less known is that a significant level of rehearsal and training can be carried out within the mind. For the mind is not detached from the body, and one's thoughts - especially those pertaining to action - have a real tangible effect on the body. For instance, mental self-talk triggers subtle muscular movements of the vocal folds and other organs of speech normally used to pronounce those sounds audibly. Similarly, in using visual imagery to revisit a traumatic experience for the sake of reinterpreting it with one's present level of wisdom and maturity, people often experience intense emotional and even physiological arousal. Likewise, scientific studies have shown that mental rehearsal of sport related movements actually helps train and prepare muscles for competition.

One of my cherished aspects of skateboarding is watching a 'trick tip' clip of a professional skater performing a trick and then sitting down at the skate park and imagining myself performing the trick exactly as I'd observed it. I often find my muscles tense, twitch, and even move as I go through the sequence of movements in my mind. I've also palpably felt fear when imagining myself attempting a dangerous trick and the thrill of executing it successfully.

It is important to note, however, that there are levels of 'observer - participant' types of visual imagery. In skateboarding, observer imagery involves visualizing how the professional carried out the manoeuvre; a mental replay, if you like. This sort of imagery can help one develop clarity as to how a trick is to be performed but fails to effectively include one's psycho-physiological self. In a participant form, however, one actually imagines oneself performing a trick as though doing so in real life. It is then that one's emotions and physical limbs are activated by the imagery.                  

There are thus four stages to this overall process:
1. Observe a skilled skater perform a trick;
2. Replay the trick in your mind in observer mode several times;
3. Imagine oneself performing the trick - as a participant - exactly as observed;
4. Attempt to execute the trick in practice.

Perhaps the four stages can be summarized as follows:
1. real observation;
2. mental observation;
3. mental participation;
4. real participation...



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