If I said that I saw visions, would you be alarmed?
Frankly, I’d have some concerns if I heard a statement like that. I might worry about the person’s mental health. I might question their sanity and stability. At the very least, I might wonder if they were on some sort of psychedelic drugs. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Standard disclaimers apply.)
In the worldview which I inherited, visions are reserved for special people. Ordinary, average, everyday, normal people don’t see visions. In ages past, visions may have been experienced by extreme religious types, by prophets and saints, but these days they’re for crazy people. Perhaps those prophets and saints were just crazy people who lived before the advent of modern psychiatric science. Perhaps if they were alive today, with proper medication and treatment, they wouldn’t suffer such visions. If they did, we’d lock ’em up.
Yet, at the risk of being locked up myself, I have to confess that I do see visions. Let me describe something I saw a few weeks ago. I saw a maiden goddess shoot a flaming arrow into a disembodied eye that floated atop an ancient pyramid. It was the briefest snippet, a fleeting vision, but I took notice, and it has stayed with me.
This wasn’t some overwhelming, soul-shattering experience. To the contrary, it was just a random thought that came as I was riding my bike. I didn’t even wobble.
Did you notice what I did there? In explaining my experience, I described it as “just a random thought.” I could go further and explain it away by tracing the sources. The pyramid with the eye came from a graffito I’d just passed. The goddess imagery came from a text I’d recently read. That is exactly how we categorize and dismiss and explain away such fleeting visions, to ensure that they do not intrude into our conventional mentality.
I’ve come to believe that we all see visions, all the time. It’s just that we’ve learned to ignore them. We’ve been very well-trained in this regard.
The mind is constantly throwing up images. One notices this especially in meditation. Images rise up in the mind unbidden. Some are clearly fragments from memory, while others are may seem bizarre and mysterious.
For the most part, in daily life, we disregard these images as mere mental detritus. We filter much of our mental activity to focus on thoughts that are deemed acceptable. Those of us who fancy ourselves as rational and scientific may exercise this filter with greater intensity.
There are benefits to this filtering, of course. If my attention was diverted by every image that welled up from the unconscious mind, I might find it difficult to function in society. Furthermore, many such images are simply not worthy of consideration. They are banal, even ugly. I don’t want to entertain them or dwell on them.
And yet, by training ourselves to ignore the unconscious so thoroughly, we rob ourselves of a rich source of inspiration and creativity. If we can instead learn to pick out such images as we find valuable, beautiful, and evocative, then may also learn to use these visions to fuel the work we do.
For example, I used the vision described above as an impetus for this column. Instead of dismissing it as I normally would, as “just a random thought,” I made a special effort to allow that it might be more than that. By giving this fleeting vision a bit of attention and consideration, it has indeed become something more than that.
Perhaps those seers and oracles of ancient days weren’t so crazy after all. Perhaps they were simply skilled in the art of selective interpretation.
As for what it all means, I’ll leave that to you.
About the Author: Bart Everson
What can we learn, and how can we teach, from the cycles of the Earth — both the cycles within us, and the cycles in which we find ourselves?
In addition to writing the A Pedagogy of Gaia column here at HumanisticPaganism,Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband and a father. An award-winning videographer, he is co-creator of ROX, the first TV show on the internet. As a media artist and an advocate for faculty development in higher education, he is interested in current and emerging trends in social media, blogging, podcasting, et cetera, as well as contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, sometime contributor to Rising Tide, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle.
This is really great. It’s especially important that you provided a phenomenological description of what it is actually like to experience the kind of vision you’re talking about. That’s rare, and it’s exactly what we need more of.
The one thing I’d ask for more of is examples of how such a vision could be useful. You give the example of how the one you had was the creative impetus for writing this article, but for those who aren’t interested in writing, how could these be useful?
For instance, I often use them as inspiration for creative problem-solving by asking a question and then waiting for a vision. Then, the image that arises I have to interpret as an answer to the question. Even though the image might be random, I find the act of interpretation spurs the creativity needed to solve the original problem. It’s very similar to using tarot cards or other oracular systems.
Creating appropriate boundaries and context for these kinds of visions and opening ourselves to experiencing them is what many witches do when we practice trance. Visions can indeed be rich sources of beauty, insight, and creativity. I tend to record them in the same journal where I record dreams and my gratitude practice.
Thank you for this vulnerable and authentic post. I especially appreciate that you’ve shared something you do, a liminal experience that you actually have, instead of what you don’t do or don’t believe.