You See What I’m Saying?

I while back, I commented on the perceptual bias in the metaphysical and magical community. Much of the techniques discussed, taught, and valued rely upon a skill in visualization, and are heavily biased toward metaphors built around sight. I often refer to Adrian Reynolds’ concise treatment of the issue when considering not just how you may best perceive something, but how others you are communicating do as well, and finding a way to translate between different modes of perception.

Mike Sententia (whose work has been drawing me more and more of late) has a very interesting take on visualization. He avoids visualization not because of an apparent perceptual difficulty, but because it is magically inefficient. And while the technique he describes still involves a mental image, it is not visualization:

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).

And I realized that this is very largely how I already function. When doing work such as the Middle Pillar Exercise and the Circulation of the Body if Light, I can feel the energy I am manipulating and how it interacts with the environment as if I were actually moving through the energy field in the room. If there is an obstacle, I sense it. This sense has some qualities that are (as close as I can manage to) visual, kinisthetic, and prioreceptic. But it is still somewhat different from them all.

The language of the visual is still dominant, but it is becoming easier to translate visual metaphor into something I can work with better. And moving my energy rather than imagining how it looks seems to be working better for me anyway.

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5 responses to “You See What I’m Saying?

  1. This is tremendously validating. Visualization, while not impossible for me, is not my strongest interior sense. I feel and sense a spirit’s presence or energy in much the same way you have described here. It is nice when I also get a visual, but it doesn’t make sense for me to feel discouraged if I don’t when I can “know” that energy is moving, or whatever entity has arrived. The sensations often happen in different parts of my body, and in different qualities and intensities, which help me to discern when a familiar spirit is present, and to confirm the nature of unfamiliar entities. Thank you for this post!

  2. There’s also the issue of personal styles. Some people visualize fervidly “on front screen” with no particular effort; they make the worst teachers, as they may not even know their talent is unusual until a student bitches about it. Obviously, if one can integrate multiple senses in a working, that’s going to be better.

    In things like the Middle Pillar or Hermetic Caduceus, or shielding or projection of energy, I can start the process with visualization and continue it with the sense of touch, or other combinations. I’m glad you brought this up so I can pay more attention to what I am actually doing. Something else might work better,

    There are effective exercises for making visualization better; check out Fr. Thabion’s talk at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/the-hermetic-hour/2010/11/05/creative-visualization .

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