Visualizing a Peaceful Scene
Another way to relax is by mentally constructing a peaceful scene that you can enter whenever you feel stressed. Your peaceful scene should be a setting that you find interesting and appealing. It will be a place that will make you feel safe and secure when you imagine it—where you will be able to let your guard down and completely relax.
FINDING YOUR PEACEFUL SCENE
Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down, and take a few minutes to practice cue-controlled relaxation. Visualization is most effective when you are completely relaxed, so be sure to take enough time to relax thoroughly.
Now simply ask your unconscious to show you your peaceful scene. A picture may start to form in your imagination. Or, instead of an image, you may mentally hear a word, phrase, or sound that will start to stir an image to life. However it happens, if an image starts to show itself, don’t question it. Accept this as a setting that has a restful resonance for you.
If a scene doesn’t start to appear to you, choose a place or an activity that appeals to you. Where would you like to be right now? In the country, the woods, or a meadow? On a boat? In a cabin? At the house where you grew up? In a penthouse overlooking Central Park?
Once your imagination has settled on a scene, notice what objects you have around you in the scene. See their colors and shapes. What sounds do you hear? What scents are in the air? What are you doing? What physical sensations are you feeling? Try to notice everything about the scene. You may find that parts of your scene remain unclear or hazy, no matter how hard you try to bring them into focus. This is perfectly normal. Don’t be disappointed. With practice, you’ll be able to draw out the details and make your scene more vivid.
Visualization is a skill. Like many skills, such as drawing, cabinet making, or sewing, some people are initially more adept at it than others. You may be a person who can sit down and re-create a scene so clearly that you feel like you’re actually there. Or you might find it difficult to see anything at all.
Even if you aren’t a natural at visualization, you can develop this skill with practice. The following guidelines will help you bring your visualizations to life:
Once an image appears, if there are any gaps in the scene—if one part seems hazy or void of any image at all—put all of your concentration on that area and ask, “What is it?” Hold your attention on that area and see if it starts to clear. Even if the image is fuzzy or blank, watch whatever appears in your imagination as intently as you can.
It’s important to make your imagined scene as real as possible. One way to accomplish this is by adding as much detail as you can gather from at least three of your five senses. Visually, you can bring out the shapes in your scene by running your attention over the outlines of the images as though you were tracing them with a pencil. Notice the colors in your scene. Are they vivid or faded? Locate the light source. How does the light falling on an object affect its color? What areas are in shadow? Try to notice everything you could actually see if you were there.
Pay attention to the information you would gather through your other senses. What sounds would you hear if you were actually there? What would the environment smell like? What can you feel through your sense of touch? Are there areas that are hot or cold? Is a breeze blowing? Imagine running your hand over various objects and notice their texture and the sensations this action creates in your body.
Pay attention to the perspective from which you’re viewing the scene. Are you viewing it as though you’re an outsider looking in? The clue to the “outside looking in” perspective is when you actually see an imagined “you” in your scene. If you do, you need to shift perspective so that your view is what you’d see if you were actually in the scene. For example, if your peaceful scene involves lying underneath some trees, instead of seeing yourself reclining on the ground, shift your perspective so you see the branches of the trees against a clear blue sky. By seeing things from a perspective inside the scene, you’ll draw yourself completely into the image and are more likely to feel that you’re living the scene rather than just viewing it.
When unrelated thoughts intrude, notice their content and then return your attention to the scene you’re creating.
EXAMPLES OF PEACEFUL SCENES
Here are a few examples that may give you an idea of how to put your scenes together. Adopt the details that appeal to you and add others of your own that you find particularly relaxing.
The beach. You have just descended a long flight of wooden stairs and now find yourself standing on a stretch of the most pristine beach you have ever seen. It is wide and stretches as far as you can see in either direction. You sit down on the sand and find that it’s white, smooth, warm, and heavy. You let the sand sift through your fingers, and it seems almost liquid. You lie on your stomach and find that the warm sand instantly conforms to the shape of your body. A breeze touches your face. The soft sand holds you. The surf rumbles as it rises into long white crests that gently break toward you and then dissolve into the sand a few yards away from you. The air smells of salt and sea life, and you breathe it in deeply. You feel calm and safe.
The forest. You are in a forest, lying down in a circle of very tall trees. Underneath you is a cushion of soft, dry moss. The air is strongly scented with laurel and pine, and the atmosphere feels deep, still, and serene. You drink in the warmth of the sun as it streams through the branches, dappling the carpet of moss. A warm breeze rises. The tall trees around you sway, and the leaves rustle rhythmically with each waft of wind. Each time the breeze swells, every muscle in your body becomes more relaxed. Two songbirds warble in the distance. A chipmunk chatters above. A sense of ease, peace, and joy spreads from head to toe.
The train. You are riding in a private car at the very end of a long train. The entire ceiling of the car is a dome of tinted glass and the walls of the car are glass, creating the illusion that you are out in the open, flying through the vast countryside. A plush couch sits at the far end, with two overstuffed chairs opposite and a coffee table in the middle, complete with your favorite magazines. You sink deeply into one of the chairs, push off your shoes, and put your feet on the table. Outside there’s an ever-receding panorama: mountains, trees, snowcapped peaks, a lake shimmering in the distance. The sun has almost set and the sky is awash in purples and reds, with towering red-orange clouds. As you gaze at these scenes, you ease into the rhythm of the clacking wheels and feel the lull of the rocking motion of the train.
McKay, M., Davis, M., & Fanning, P. (2011). Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.