I love creative visualization as much as the next guy. I think it saved my life, in fact. Well, not my life, but my livelihood, at least. I had always heard about visualization; being raised in the seventies, the E.S.P. movement was pretty prominent, at least in my memory. Later, in the Evangelical church, I heard about the desert fathers and read Christian books by teachers like Richard Foster who proposed visualizations. So it was something I dabbled in during prayer, without knowing much.
When I was fifteen, I developed nodules on my vocal cords from screaming as Ermengarde in Hello Dolly. Those nodes caused me to struggle with hoarseness for years. Though there are many parts that contributed to my healing, I’m here to tell you that the visualizations given to me by my voice therapist, Joanna Cazden, are what changed me the most. She gave me a little cassette tape that coached me through walking into a room made of my vocal folds, where I was told to lay hands on the walls, apologize to them for so many years of abuse/misuse and express how grateful I was to have them. I was really sick of being hoarse (especially since I was a voice teacher) and this woman was an established professional in the medical field, not some kookie hippie, so I went with it.
I haven’t been hoarse since.
This healing happened while I was in school working on my BA in Creativity studies. Concurrently, I was writing papers on creative process, creative people and creative purpose.
I learned that Creative visualization is not some New Age or Eastern Religious practice. In the western world during the 1800s, philosophers and artists known as the Romantics dedicated their lives to this activity.
Back when poets and philosophers were exploring meditations on art and beauty, “transcendence” meant rising above sadness; escaping sin; releasing pain; discovering beauty amidst suffering. And by God, there was a lot of suffering. People were dying right and left of tuberculosis, disease, war, childbirth, you name it.
These artists were called the Romantics because they argued that beyond earthly existence was a higher truth—one that had been created by the Absolute. Here is a great quote for anyone who follows the history of Creativity: “Romantics believed that … all creation participates in eternal truth and all things are part of the whole and of each other … and since all creation has a common origin, a thorough and careful observation of any part may give insights into the whole.” The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer taught that intentionally connecting—communing—with art and beauty offered redemptive qualities, not only for the inherent beauty and truth that it possessed, but because of the inspiring experience it provided for the audience. It gave a momentary release from the divisive forces of every day existence and an opportunity to connect with Creation, or the whole. To connect with art meant to contemplate a thing of beauty and truth—to interact with one’s own imagination.
From where I sit, we regularly connect with art—mostly music and film. Sometimes the art is full of truth and beauty (the CG movie CoCo comes to mind) and sometimes not (The Ring—ugh!). Of course, a lot of people believe in visualization and meditation now. People use that “happy place” to help with bad moods, traffic, lost keys and a whole lot of other stuff. Even without the help of the masters, so to speak; it has finally become a part of our culture.
I sometimes wonder if we might inadvertently use art as an escape instead of a way to connect. We want to sort of numb ourselves to the stresses in our lives. Instead, we could tap into our imagination. The mission of Creativity is to connect us with the whole. Using our mind to connect with a work of art or with nature serves us individually by lowering our blood pressure and relieving stress. It connects us with the transcendent nature of art too, whether it’s a meaningful song or a poignant movie. We share in these experiences, sometimes with friends and family, which connects us to one another. Next time you find yourself being soothed by a beautiful ballad on Spotify, or lose all track of time during a Netflix binge, take note that you are touching the transcendent properties of Creativity.