River Meditation is a type of Vizualization Meditation. Vizualization is a form of creative concentration which helps you practice focused awareness, .i.e., concentation, which is the first stage of meditation. In order to understand more deeply what is actually happening in Vizualization Meditation, we need to first take a short trip through the 'path' of meditation and see what kind of experiences it contains.
The initial stages of meditation require little more than quieting the mind and allowing ‘reality’ to flow into your awareness. Quieting the mind comes about through focus. Think of focus as the tool you use to distribute your attention, thus your energy. For you are an energy being and the act of attention focuses your energy like a laser, and energizes, on one level or another, whatever you focus on.
When you focus on a thought you give energy to that thought or thought sequence, giving it more power within your brain/mind system. Understand that most of your thoughts are repetitious, cyclical in nature. As each thought comes around and catches your attention, the awareness you place upon it re-energizes it, and that’s where it gets the energy to keep coming back around.
Think of the physical brain as having battery-like capabilities, able to store the energy you give each thought. Each thought has a set of neural pathways that get energized by the attention you put on that thought. The more attention you put upon a thought and the more powerful the attention (emotional power) the more energized the ‘thoughtways’ (neural pathways) become. Conversely, if you let the thoughts come and go without putting your attention on them, they soon use up the reservoir of energy stored in their neural pathways and cease coming back around. Instead of a constant, repetitious stream of thoughts, the mind becomes quiet, and in time, ‘reality’ flows in.
You might think of the brain/mind complex as having both transmitting and receiving capabilities like a radio transceiver. As such, the brain/mind can either transmit or receive. Any time your mind is filled with a thought or emotion (emoting) it is transmitting that neural energy outward upon its energy environment. When consciousness is filled with thought and emotion resulting from the human condition, its experience is conditioned by the content and quality (negative-positive scale) of that thought and emotion. When the mind is quiet, it is not transmitting and can therefore act as a receiver of the energy around it. It is then that pure consciousness itself floods into the mind. Pure consciousness is characterized by bliss and instantaneous insight, and this meditative state becomes the state of consciousness, the reality of the individual.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? All one must do to enter a blissful meditative state is focus. The problem is training your focus ‘away’ from your thought patterns is difficult in the beginning. You are trying to break a life-long habit of being constantly ‘entertained’ by the mental monologue/dialogue constantly going on in your mind, a mental ‘conversation’ that is about you. And because it’s about you or something in relation to you, you find them compellingly interesting, particularly when there are emotions attached to those thoughts,.
However, there are many meditational techniques designed to take your attention away from the mind and allow it to slowly dissipate its energy and quiet itself. Some of the more common techniques are concentrating on your ‘third eye’, counting your breaths or focusing on some object such as a mandala. While these techniques can be highly potent and lead to deep states of meditation, they require sustained concentration for long periods of time which is difficult for someone just beginning the practice of concentration and meditation. Being able to successfully engage in prolonged concentration takes time and practice.
The answer to this dilemma might come in the form of Visualization. Visualization is easy, fun and a very potent method of re-focusing your attention and your energy. Visualization doesn’t focus on taking your attention away from the cyclical thought patterns in your mind; it simply replaces that monologue with your focused visualization, a creative process both rewarding and empowering, for it empowers or strenghens your ability to focus, essential for the practice of meditation. Visualization is a technique that occupies your mind and your attention, rather than attempting to separate the two. For this reason it is much easier for those just beginning meditation.
There are various forms of visualization meditation. When using visualization to quiet the mind it is important to choose something of a calm and quiet nature to visualize. The Candle Flame Meditation uses limited amounts of both concentration and visualization, so is a good technique for the beginner. One of my favorite visualizations, one that is ‘entertaining’ as well as powerful is the ‘River Meditation’, a technique I often use and recommend to my students Following is a short description of the ‘River Meditation’.
Close your eyes and picture yourself sitting on the banks of a beautiful, tree-lined river, watching the river flowing by a few feet below. The surface of this river is slightly agitated from the wind that’s blowing sometimes gently, sometimes roughly against the water as it pushes downstream. As you sit there, you watch numerous ripples form, and then disappear, yet you do not become attached to any one ripple; each comes into existence and goes out of existence in a natural process of little concern to you. You are simply aware of them as they pass by.
Now picture this river as a stream of pure, conscious energy forever buffeted by the winds of thought and emotion constantly arising out of the human condition. Each of these thoughts and emotions is like a wind creating a ripple in that stream of consciousness, a ripple that comes into being and then passes on, out of your mind just like the ripples in the tree-lined river. Just as you do not become attached to any one ripple in your tree-lined river as it passes by, let each of the thought-ripples and emotion-ripples in your mental stream pass by undisturbed. Stay observant but unattached. Simply, quietly sit there on the riverbank of your mind in perfect equilibrium allowing the river passing through you perfect freedom to come and go without hindrance from your attention.
If you do find yourself attracted to any one thought or outside sound or event as it passes through your mind, gently disengage yourself, and let it go. If attraction to some particular thought starts a chain of other thoughts and brings up related emotions, calm yourself and gently refocus back to a state of detachment. It will take a little time to train your focus, but if you practice every day, if only for a few minutes, success will come quickly.
In time, without the energizing stimulus of your attention, the river in your mind will become quiet; and you will see with greater clarity into the depths of the river, into the depths of your own being. This state of quiet clarity is a state of meditation. And meditation is the doorway to infinity. Open it with a sense of adventure, for it holds wonders and adventures beyond your wildest imaginings.
For further insights into the 'self', self-actualization and meditation, see: