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Mind Games: Visualization and Equilibrium

By Ben B.

March 4, 2014

It is the folly of the young to think their own generation was the first to come up with something, but I'd like to argue that 80s kids were the first Americans to receive "meditation training" in grade school.

My first exposure to "public school meditation" was at the end of Gym class. It was probably more to get us back into a post-hyperactive learning mode, but we played this game called Graveyard. We all had to lay on our backs, eyes closed, and try not to move. At all. For children, this involves more focus/mindfulness than it would for adults.

Basically, if you moved, you're tagged out by the "Cryptkeeper," the sole classmate allowed to walk around. The last one remaining became the "Cryptkeeper" for the end of next Gym class. This... was never me.

I've always had issues with meditation. I've tried everything I can think of to calm the mind: focus on the breath, treat errant thoughts as "clouds" and "allow" them to just float on by. I've even tried every last Vulcan meditation trick Star Trek has ever created (didn't go so far as to buy/make a "Vulcan Meditation Lamp," though). This has never worked.

Haters Gonna Hate

So: I'm a strong advocate for visualization instead of meditation. Basically, if you have a hyperactive mind: don't try to make it do something it can't normally do; instead, try to channel it.

I've found more luck, using this "cloud" analogy, to visualize myself as a mountain. The cloud cover only permeates the peak (my over-active brain), and as with the meditation analogy, they represent busy thoughts. I literally picture myself "descending" this mountain, going beneath the clouds, to a location closer to the base. I take this to represent my "gut" thinking (which can get ignored if you have a hyperactive brain).

I wanted to write about this, mostly because I found visualization to be a recurring theme in HIV forums I perused just after diagnosis.


Inevitably, you come across a post by someone who's not at all digging their meds; it happens and it's relatively common.

What's great about this? Well, someone on this topic usually replies (paraphrasing): "I don't dread my meds. I make a ritual out of taking them every night. I look down at them, and imagine they're my 'soldiers.' I ask them to take care of me, to look out for me, and to shield me from harm."

I really, really liked that story. And I've heard it multiple times, and not just for HIV— cancer patients have a long history of a similar ritual re: chemo/radiation.

In addition to visualizing these "soldiers," I also tend to visualize all that Rooibos tea I'm drinking as a "magic potion." The stuff I've learned about it suggests red tea ups interleukin communication in your immune system, making it easy to visualize "giving your internal police force Wi-fi" to go after the "bad guys" trying to perform a "hit" given to them by the gut's "mafia Don" (HIV).

In high school, I took "Brain Studies," which was more or less a Science elective. There, I learned that if you show a brain an apple, or ask a brain to think of an apple, the same parts of it light up. Meaning:

the brain can't tell the difference between what it sees and what it remembers.

This could explain why people get addicted to certain emotions, or why people may live and relive their own heartbreaks in their head, as if not one single actual day had passed, however it's years later.

This can also work to your benefit. I'm focusing on becoming addicted to emotional equilibrium.

One mental quirk I'm noting, almost 2 months into meds, is I have no energy for extreme emotion. Good, bad, involving myself or others -- it will wipe me out. Dates, work crud, family drama, etc. I cannot allow myself to give into emotional swings in either direction. An internal sense of equilibrium is the most-needed thing for daily functionality.

So. Now when I feel myself getting emotional (a great first date, news of engagement, gossip, argument with a parent, etc), I basically visualize a "Newton's Cradle" (aka: "Executive Ball Clicker"), staying focused on the motionless balls in the center.

I'm also noting some success in grounding myself in my gut and not in my head or heart. This actually makes some physiological sense, as the gut has so many neurons that it's known as the "Second Brain." Since my research into immunity, HIV and mental health all intersect in the gut, this is a super-productive exercise for me.

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