A famous Tan trie bhavana asks you to imagine being in the presence of someone you love, then focusing on the feeling that the image brings up in you. You take that further by imagining the feeling of love filling your body, dwelling strongly in the felt sense of love. Then, you might anchor yourself in the feeling and act from it. The power of that combination of visualization and emotion will shift your inner experience, at least while you are practicing it. This is why a practice like remembering a happy moment or cultivating a sense ofgratitude has such power to create well-being.
But the yogic sages take the idea of bhavana much deeper. My teacher used to say that when you hold the bhavana that you are a limited person with limited options, you will continue to experience yourself as limited by your body and personal history When you replace your ordinary self-imagining with the highest and most sublime one you can find, you'll begin to experience yourself as filled with divine qualities. This is why, in the Tan trie tradition, you always start your practice with a radical reimaginingof the Self. You imagine your body as made of light, or infused with mantra, or filled with infinite compassion, and then from that place, you begin your practice.
The ultimate Tantric bhavana is to imagine yourself as the incarnation of grandeur, the very form of God. The affirmations"! am the Absolute," "I am That," "I am Divine love itself" are imaginative constructions, but they work because they encourage you to identify yourself with a higher truth, and then to feel how that affects your inner experience, your body, and your sense of self.
A truly profound imaginative bhavana lets you rehearse what it would be like to live and act as the Self you know in your heart you really are —a divine Self, a Self whose power comes naturally from within, and who acts for the sake of the good. Tfyou're spending time during your day imagining yourselfas filled with compassion, it doesn't take you long to notice that you speak to people differentlv and even treat yourself with much more subtlety and kindness.
A student of mine who became overwhelmed by a heavy schedule of work and child rearing began imagining herself as Hanuman, the son of the wind, whose strength could literally move mountains. When she's practicing that bhavana, she finds it no big deal to juggle the demands of her life. She feels that she taps into a universal source of strength, a power that goes beyond the personal. In the months since she began working with that bhavana, she's been getting up early to practice, reconnecting with friends she hadn't spent time with in years, and doing volunteer work with a local mentorship program. "I'm so much bigger than I thought
By training the imagination, harnessing its power, we can use it for creating beauty and truth in the world.
I was," she told me. "It's not just that I can do more. ! can hold more people in my life. My mind has expanded. There are days when my heart feels huge, bigenough to hold the world."
Yoga at its heart is a practice for evolutionary spiritual growth — growth into our own highest possibilities. Imagination lets us find our way into those possibilities, By training the imagination, harnessing its power, we can use it for creating beauty and truth in the world. Then our acts of transformative imagination become genuine acts of power. They can change our inner state, for sure. But they can also change the world. ❖
Salty Kempton is an internationally recognized teacher of meditation and yogic philosophy and the author of The Heart of Meditation, Visit her at sallykempton.com.
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