Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, modern life on a heathen path, community interaction, and general heathenry.

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When Guided Meditation Goes Wrong

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

I visualize so strongly that a guided meditation can get out of hand if I don’t discuss and plan what’s going to happen in advance. Artists, writers, and theoretical physicists are all types of people who visualize and dream in a fashion that feels real. It’s a sign of high intelligence, and it can be great when one is controlling one’s own visions, while trying to write a novel for example, but even a simple guided meditation intended for relaxation can go wrong if I’m picturing things from my own experience that are different to me than to the person leading the meditation. The following quote from my memoir was one such incident.

The woman leading the meditation had me picture a beach. To her, a beach probably meant some tropical vacation spot, but to me, having grown up in Sonoma on the north coast of California, a beach was a place where waves crashed three stories high against jagged black rocks.

The image at the top of this post is Stillwater Cove on the Sonoma coast. It doesn't look very still, does it? That is as still as it gets on the Sonoma coast.


Quote from Greater Than the Sum of My Parts:
 

     “You’re going to a peaceful, beautiful place, perhaps in the woods,” she said.

     I was transported to Elfland, the redwood forest of my initiation.  Light slanted between the boles of the great trees, illuminating the swimming dust motes.  The light dappled the tiny leaves of a hazel nut bush, swept across spiders’ webs and spotlighted the tunneled brush at the entrance to the rabbit run.  I smelled the redwood dust, and the tang of the sea on the wind.

     But Sandi had not finished her sentence.  “Or the beach.”

     I was wrenched away from the grove, catapulted through the air and deposited on a deserted section of beach.  The strong wind off the sea blew my hair into my face despite my braid, and the light cloth of my pants buzzed in the gale like the reed of a flute.  The crash of the surf, the sea wrack lying on the wet sand, the smell of salt and fish and seaweed, the white glare off the hot sand under my feet, the infinite blue of the unbroken horizon, the crying of the circling gulls, the V-patterns in the wet sand from the suck of the undertow.  So, the beach.  I liked the forest better, but the beach was alright, if cold.  I had never liked the way the wind off the ocean made the warmest day feel cold.

     “You wade out into the water,” said Sandi.

     In my vision, my feet moved of their own accord, taking me into the freezing water of the Pacific, gritty with churning sand.  The waves surged around my knees, and I dug my toes into the sand to keep my footing.

     “You will be cleansed in the pure water,” said Sandi.  “It’s up to your knees now.  Now your hands.  Now your hips.”

     Fear came over me.  One did not go out into the ocean without a wetsuit, not at any time of year.  Nobody but the surfers ever went in above the knees, and I was no surfer.  At pagan gatherings I had seen men… swim out into a bay stark naked to push the offering ship past the breakers, but I was no SEAL either.  I wanted out.  I wanted to get back on the dry sand and get out of these wet pants and warm myself in the sun as best I could.

     “Now your waist,” continued Sandi.  “Now it’s up to your chest.”

     I thought desperately at her, Sandi get me out of here.  Sandi get me out of here.  But I could not speak.  Fear silence was on me.

     “Now the pure, cleansing water is up to your neck.  We’ll go on when you’re ready.”

     I projected desperately at her, Sandi get me out of here, Sandi get me out of here, but I was never a particularly good projecting telepath, and my powers had deserted me when I became depressed, and anyway Sandi would have had to be a receiving telepath to hear me.  Clearly she was not.  I did not really expect her to hear me, actually; it was simply the only means of communication left to me as I sat rigid in the grip of the silence, a long shot though it was.

     “Are you ready to continue?” Sandi asked.

     I shook my head wildly.  It was all I could do.  I could not speak.

     But Sandi did not understand that I wanted to stop the whole thing.  She said, “We’ll wait until you’re ready.  The water will cleanse away your fear, wash it away from you, and you will be at peace.”

     I realized I was going to stand there neck deep in the surf until I agreed to go on.  There was no way out of this but forwards.  I was going to drown.  No, I could hold my breath.

     Sandi asked, “Are you ready to continue?”

     This time, defeated in my attempts to communicate, I nodded.

     “The water passes over your head.  It washes away your fear.  You are one with the peaceful water.”

     It was not washing away my fear.  I hoped Sandi would get me back out before I ran out of breath....

     Finally Sandi said, “Now the water is receding.  Past your neck, past your shoulders, past your waist, past your knees, past your ankles.  Now it is gone, taking your fears with it.  Open your eyes and wake up.”

     I opened my eyes.  I was surprised they were dry.  Did the silence even extend to preventing me from using tears as a signal?  I had been sure I was crying.”
 

During the guided meditation, I could not break away from it or say I wanted to stop because I was only given the opportunity to choose to pause or go forwards, not stop the scenario. The difference between guided meditation is hypnosis is a word and a license. Although Sandi called this guided meditation, she was actually a licensed therapist, so the word hypnosis could have applied also. (She has since retired and moved to another country.) People who are "high hypnotizers," that is, who drop into trance states easily, can be unable to get out of a situation like that without a safeword. I have yet to ever see a meditation leader, ritual leader, or hypnotist offer participants the opportunity to get out of a meditation or hypnosis session once it starts, so, after that experience, I only meditate alone.

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners and other books. She was sworn to Freya as Priestess in 1989, given to Sigyn, and is a Bride of Odin and his brothers (Honir, Lodhur, Loki.). She has been a freelance writer for about 30 years, was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is gythia of American Celebration Kindred. In 2010 and 2013, she ran for public office.

Comments

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Friday, 20 February 2015

    You are right, there are many ways that a guided meditation can go wrong. For us who sometimes guide meditations its easy to overlook some detail or forget to give the people an option to cancel and back out. We also have our own vision of "a beach" or wherever we visualize which may not be the same as yours. It has to be generic, but detailed. An option such as "the woods -- or a beach" is too much and may lose half the followers. I'm glad you survived I hope you discussed it with your guide afterward so that she could learn from hearing about your experience. Blessed Be.

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Friday, 20 February 2015

    Thank you! Yes, we did discuss it afterwards.

  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener Sunday, 22 February 2015

    Telepathy didn't work? Go figure.

  • Hrefna Colberg
    Hrefna Colberg Saturday, 23 May 2015

    I have been reading several of your articles after discovering the Witches' Tower in San Diego on Women of Power's Facebook, a Polish feminist project... Anyway, I've just created an account to respond to this. I've had to open my eyes during guided meditations to ground myself and always let a Cow bring me to a small farm in South America. She led me to the stream to get water. It's a problem when they make loose suggestions and give alternatives. I can't focus and it takes a lot of work to ignore the tape or the guide and go off on my own somewhere! I can't meditate alone unless it's in the forest, so I go there physically first, or maybe the beach... :p

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Saturday, 23 May 2015

    Wow, that's cool that the Witches' Tower post is being shared all over!

    Thanks for sharing about your meditation experiences. I see that I'm not alone in finding that type of guided meditation to be problematic.

  • Heathir D
    Heathir D Wednesday, 02 March 2016

    Thank you for writing this. I can relate. This is me. There are very few guided meditations that I can 'do' because of exactly the situation that you describe here. This reaction that you describe has happened to me. I can only halfway go in or not at all.
    It is also the reason why I'm a solitary practitioner who meditates alone.

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Wednesday, 02 March 2016

    Thank you. Guided meditation is basically hypnosis,, and there is a bell curve of responses. People known as "high hypnotizers" go into trance easily and have strong reactions to it. It correlates with high levels of artistic creativity and intelligence.

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