Or just create your own virtual reality
In 1988 a professor at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota started an experiment with students of average IQs. The students, exercising their minds with a specific protocol, demonstrated IQ gains ranging from 2.3 to 0.9 per hour. They measured a 20 point increase in IQs over the 40 hour duration of the experiments —additional gains after this period appeared to be open-ended. Perhaps not so incidentally, the exercise was found to increase creativity, vivid mental imagery, cross-hemispheric communications and verbal fluency in addition to facilitating access to subconscious processes.
What the students did is called image-streaming; the best background for which can be found in Win Winger’s excellent book, The Einstein Factor. The procedure itself is invitingly simple:
- You will need a digital or analog recorder or someone to listen as you describe your images. This is a very important step and is the major difference between image-streaming and day dreaming. More on this shortly. If you decide this is unnecessary, you may miss out on much of the benefit of the technique.
- Find a comfortable position, preferably sitting up so you won’t be tempted to doze off. Close your eyes and look into the blackness.
- Start describing, aloud, anything that arises here; at first just talk about the blackness… maybe you’ll notice variation in texture or little swatches of color, lines, or specks of light. Hearing yourself talk aloud creates a “reification” effect that will start making the images more vivid and real.
- Don’t worry about being absolutely accurate, feel free to exaggerate, enhance and embellish what you are perceiving, and try to do it using as many senses as you can (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste.) Your descriptions help you not only follow, but also create, the image stream.
- Use present tense… “I see…” even if it has already vanished.
Do this for 10 minutes to start. Seventy percent of you will be off and running. For the other thirty percent, and those that want to really enhance the process, more detail follows.
Besides being an overall brain energizer and creativity tonic, image-streaming has several practical uses, e.g.:
- Improve visualization skill, especially enhancing the clarity of images
- Draw on extra content and information you weren’t aware you knew for exams or research
- Generate creative ideas and options; answer specific questions by tapping the unconscious
- Provide an exciting alternative entertainment to TV or web surfing and it requires no batteries or broadband connections XD
- Help in dream and divination interpretation
- Open an entirely new spectrum of intuitive thinking; like having another brain to consult
If you dove into this protocol but discovered your mind didn’t want to play and instead of elaborate structures and vivid scenes, your mental screensaver flipped to power-save mode and went completely black; not to worry. The problem is not that you can’t visualize. Cognitive psychologists have proven empirically that everyone visualizes, just like everyone dreams; it’s a problem of accessing these capabilities, not creating them from scratch.
The problem is not that you can’t visualize, it’s a problem of accessing these capabilities
Unlocking Your Perceptual Anchors
Some of our perceptual conditioning habituates us to perceive images from external sensory input; one of the most notorious of these is foveal vision which funnels input to the dense cone cells of our retina, designed to pick up minute distinctions in our external environment. Internally we are working with other types of representation than those initially coded by our sense receptors, so it is helpful for visualization to decouple image making from this funnel.
One way to do this is through softening the eyes, a technique common in martial arts. Practice this first with your eyes open. Spread out your awareness to encompass as far out to the periphery as you can; be aware, while gazing forward, simultaneously of what is both at the right and left edges of your field of vision; what is above and below. Experiment with keeping two objects out in your environment in your awareness equally that are separated by a few feet, larger than the radius of your foveal sight. Add more. See if you can work up to around 7 objects so that your awareness is evenly distributed between them. When you are practicing image-streaming, notice if you haven’t been looking at fixed points in the blackness and relax this into a field. Make the field 360 degrees. Sometimes people are shocked to discover rich images that were unfolding in some other area of their perceptual field all along and all it took was this simple recalibration. This method also permits you to begin receiving information, even in your external environment, that your subconscious is communicating.
Sometimes people are shocked to discover rich images that were unfolding in some other area of their perceptual field all along
Closely related is another technique: moving your assemblage point. Besides the particular way that you are looking, which is anchored to external perception, there is also a particular vantage that you are looking from. In most people this is a point immediately behind the eyes; so we have one fixed internal point as a pivot that observes a rapidly shifting set of fixed external points in sequence, based on whatever attracts attention in the environment. The second stage of decoupling perceptual anchors is shifting this pivot point. In the writings of Carlos Castaneda, Don Juan shifted this by whacking Carlos on the back and knocked him into a different reality; we’ll use a less painful variation. He also taught Carlos the soft eye technique as a way of escaping his lock on a single vision of reality.
Start first by becoming aware of where it is you are aware from when your eyes are open. Like the soft eyes split your awareness externally, notice this internal/external split. Now you have two options. One is too expand this spot and the second is to move it. If you have trouble with either of these, a helpful exercise is to start with your eyes closed; become aware of your entire body, then the room, then the building, then the block and reverse the process; shrinking back down in stages until you are at a single point, mostly likely in your head; note where this spot is. Consult Anna Wise’s Awakening the Mind for more detail on this technique. Another excellent practice for learning to diffuse this internal assemblage point is through the practice of a standing meditation known as wu ji, a type of qigong that is easily learned. A great reference for this is: The Way of Energy.
Once you’re comfortable shifting this internal locus of the perceiver, try it while image-streaming. Rather than looking for images from the point you look at the external world, shift it up, or down, or diffuse it to decouple the habituation with external stimuli.
The last suggestion in unlocking perception, before moving on to other techniques, requires you to give something up to get something better.
You may have experienced, either spontaneously, or through beginning the techniques above, that you have a flash of a crystal clear, breathtakingly vivid imagery for a split second; then it’s gone. Don’t be discouraged, this is excellent progress, but there is something you may not have been aware of that caused it to disappear. That is, most likely you locked your foveal vision on the image and the conditioned association with foveal sight and external stimuli kicked back in and you found yourself staring at black, once again. Here’s a trick for getting past this stage. When images start to arise, don’t fix your attention on them; look through them and around them as if you are waiting for something else. Soon you’ll have so many vivid images it will difficult to do this and you can gradually start paying attention to them in longer and longer intervals without them winking out and reactivating physical anchors.
Our beliefs exert powerful control over our perceptions. Sometimes the critical factor for unleashing an ability to visualize is countering the implicit belief that we only perceive vividly what is in our external environment. John Mumford, in Magical Tattwas, has an excellent system for dismantling this belief. Using a progressive set of exercises with after images, optical illusions and simple geometrical forms, the mind is introduced to repeated experiences where it is seeing a vivid image that is not, in fact, physically present. We can’t really reason our way out of a belief effectively, and the same mechanism is used to our advantage in these exercises; the belief system doesn’t understand the reason it is seeing this evidence is due to illusion, it only knows that it is experiencing visceral proof that images can be seen without external referents.
Classic hypnosis typically reduces sensory input, relaxing the body and mind before implanting suggestions; a variation called Hyperemperia may be more suited to enhancing imagery. Hyperemperia is a term coined by Don Gibbon to describe a type of hypnosis that that emphasizes heightening internal senses and immersing in inner worlds more vividly. Several of his works are out of print, but his Experience As an Art Form is available on Amazon and contains several hyperemperia scripts that you can record for your own sessions.
Hyperempric inductions often start building a scene that you can step into, and this technique can be a useful trigger for image-streaming. Start your session off imagining walking on a beach, in a meadow, or down foreign city streets and let the detail fill in, as if you had been lost in thought and were only now becoming aware of your environment. Simple, repetitive kinesthetic activities can be powerful â€¦ imaging jumping on a trampoline, riding your bike in the country, or kicking a can in the desert. When you’re using these kinesthetic leads, don’t try to see imagery right away, just let yourself get caught up in the movements for a while before looking around.
Or Play a video game in your mind. Especially those that involve flight. Find imagery and scenes you enjoy in the physical world to discover keys that kick-start your imagery
The brain in certain states will naturally produce vivid imagery. During normal waking consciousness, the mind exhibits a variety of brain waves, the most pronounced of which are beta frequencies which are active whenever we are thinking. When we drift off to sleep at night, the dominant frequencies change from beta to the reverie of alpha and then down to lower frequencies: theta and delta. At the border between alpha and theta, images are crystal clear, this border is called the hypnogogic state, between sleeping and waking, and we usually only experience it briefly before losing consciousness to sleep.
However, it is possible to stimulate and experience these frequencies in the waking state through entrainment. Entrainment is the tendency of brainwaves to resonate with similar frequencies presented externally. With an external stimulus of a sound or light frequency at 7Hz, the range of the alpha/theta threshold, the brain’s rhythms will begin frequency matching and the conscious mind will shift into this state. It’s the principle employed by various mind machines and entrainment tracks. Experimenting with these tracks and devices can facilitate access to your own internal imagery and after you find your way there you will no longer need the appliances. We offer this type of track which has other benefits as well, helping to maximize your time spent with this exercise
Finally, Win Wenger’s Project Renaissance is another good resource for more information on application of image-streaming. In future articles we’ll go further depth on technologies and practices for expanding the capabilities of the mind, come back and visit, or subscribe to our RSS news feed for the latest explorations.