Meditation without meditating. What a great idea. Meditation practice, is, after all, practice for having a chill mind all the time, so anything that calls you back into that space, or any time you take a moment to breathe consciously. there it is, meditation without meditating. And that’s what I love about this video. It inspires me into a meditative state.
I combined a track of my husband Kris Newland’s inspirational chill music and my animated AI-generated art to create what I hope is an inspiring and soothing meditative experience. Take 6 minutes to relax and enjoy it.
Do you like it? Does it give you a calm spacious feeling? Or is it only me?
The ‘Meditations’ page on Psychemaginationhas this video in vertical format if you want to watch it on your phone. It also has many very short videos with evocative music and imagery to help you take a mental break anytime.
While you’re there I hope you’ll read my webbook Psychemagination. It’s an animated AI art gallery in a webbook, the story is of an imaginative, contemplative and archetypal journey into mind and spirit.
In this post I draw parallels between the Tibetan Buddhist use of visual symbolism, its use in Jungian psychology and finally my animated AI art. I reveal a way to use the power of symbolism and metaphor – that you may have enjoyed in Tibetan Buddhism – but in a personally and culturally appropriate way.
What drew me to Tibetan Buddhism was two things: The philosophy as described in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and the use of visual symbolism and metaphor. I really liked the idea of visualising something as my focus for meditation because I’d tried meditation before, but I found meditating on the breath so boring that I fell asleep. The Tibetan Buddhist practices, however, woke me up – in more ways than one!
I personally respond deeply to symbolism and metaphor, particularly of the visual kind. I worked with it initially as a painter, then as a visual theatre performer and later as an author. Now I’m coming full circle back to working with it in a visual art form – but more on that later.
Visual symbolism and metaphor in Tibetan Buddhism
What I found in Tibetan Buddhism was a richly visual tradition, filled with intricate imagery and powerful symbols that held deep spiritual significance. Each detail within Tibetan Buddhist artwork is purposefully chosen to convey profound teachings and evoke contemplation. Visual symbolism and metaphor play a crucial role, inviting practitioners to explore deeper levels of understanding. And I found this way of working with my mind profoundly transformative.
Then I left it all behind, but part of me yearned for that connection to spirit through symbolism and metaphor. It simmered away in my psyche seeking expression and finally popped out in my art, but with a surprising twist. One I hadn’t seen coming and didn’t conscously invite.
Symbolism in Tibetan Buddhist art
In Tibetan Buddhist art, symbolism is not merely decorative; it serves as a gateway to the depths of spiritual wisdom. Every element within a piece of art carries symbolic meaning, creating a visual language that communicates complex philosophical concepts. These symbols are not meant to be taken literally, but rather as metaphors that guide practitioners on their spiritual journey.
For example, the lotus flower is a common symbol in Tibetan Buddhist art, representing purity and enlightenment. The lotus grows in muddy waters, yet remains untouched by impurities. This symbolizes the potential for spiritual growth and transformation, even in the midst of challenging circumstances. Similarly, the wheel, or “dharmachakra,” represents the teachings of the Buddha and the path to liberation. Its eight spokes symbolize the Noble Eightfold Path, which leads practitioners towards liberation from suffering.
The use of symbolism in Tibetan Buddhist art serves as a reminder of the deeper truths that lie beyond the surface of our everyday experience. It encourages practitioners to look beyond the mundane and to contemplate the ultimate nature of reality.
The process/therapy of creating sacred art
Mandalas – intricate geometric patterns that represent the universe in Tibetan Buddhist art – are not only used as aids for meditation and visualization, but also the process of creating a mandala is a spiritual practice in itself. It requires focus, patience, and a deep understanding of the symbolism within the mandala. As practitioners engage with the mandala, they embark on a journey of self-discovery and transformation.
The strange thing I found when I started using an AI art generator to express aspects of my spiritual journey was that the creative process itself – which requires focus, patience, and clarity about what result you’re looking for – put me in a state of meditation. Apparently, according to research into autistism, spending time creating something one is passionate about is a way to regulate ones emotions when you’re a neurodivergent person. ‘Emotional regulation’ is what a Buddhist would call ‘equanimity’.
Not only that, but I also found that the art I created – once I’d animated it and set it to music by my husband Kris Newland – also inspired a meditative state when I just sat back and watched it.
I wouldn’t call it ‘sacred’ as such, but it does have meaning, and it does use symbolism, mosly European-culture based, and not consciously. Rather it is just there in my intention when I give my prompts and refine the images until I get what I want.
Jung’s active imagination technique
I discovered that the relationship I was having with this art was very like Jung’s active imagination process in Jungian psychology. Jung was, of course, very into symbolism and metaphor, and he studied it a great deal in the context of dreams. According to Jung, symbols and metaphors act as gateways to the unconscious, allowing us to unravel hidden meanings and understand our deeper selves.
Active imagination refers to entering a meditative or relaxed state and allowing the symbols and metaphors to guide your imagination. You visualize yourself in the symbolic landscape and interact with the imagery to gain deeper insights – also surprisingly like Tantric practices. I discovered I was doing this automatically, and wow, interesting things came up, things I’d completly missed in Buddhist practice. But things that in Buddhist terms remain as emotional obscurations unless I examine and heal them.
And yet some Tibetan Buddhist Gurus are scathing in their attitudes towards psychology! Clearly they missed this similarity in using symbolism and metaphor as a tool for transformation.
A modern approach to using metaphor and symbolism in self-reflection and meditation practice.
The active imagination process also works when the artworks are not one’s own creation, so any art rich in symbolism can be used. Pay attention to any images that particularly draw you and reflect on their possible meanings and how they relate to you and your current life circumstances.
Fantasy art is good in this respect. We can relate to the hero in us, the dragon, the wise woman and so on. Jungian archtypes appear liberally in fantasy themed art works, and they all are aspects of ourselves – just as the different Tibetan deities are representations of the various aspects of enlightened mind.
When we throw music into the mix, the power of the imagery increases hugely. Just as the chanting added another layer of transformative power to the Tibetan Practices. Hence my response to watching my animated AI art.
Feeling weak? Watch this one?
She’s a little reminiscent of a wrathful deity, yes?
Using animated AI art as the focus of your meditation could revamp your meditation practice or just allow you some enjoyable spacious moments.
Meditating without meditating
I talk about using the images for meditation a bit more in this video. At the end of this video is a fantasy landscape that I found so captivating that watching it led me into a deep meditative state. I felt a sense of tranquility wash over me, and I wasn’t even trying to meditate. That’s the way I want to meditate these days – without trying.
My take on meditation beyond the temple of religion, cults, and capitalism.
One of the challenges for those who left a meditation / yoga / religious group disillusioned after revelations of abuse by our teachers was knowing what to discard and what to retain from the teachings and practice. Now 6 years after I walked away, my meditation practice (what little there is of it at present) has settled into something non-religious, based on vajrayana but pared right back to essentials, and that is a powerful tool for well-being.
What ‘works’ for me may work for others, so I decided to share what I know in an easily-digestable format, particularly in a place where I might help young people seeking meditation instruction in a world in which misconceptions and predators abound. So I’ve have a TikTok channel now https://www.tiktok.com/@simplybeingcreative. I also share my discovering-I’m-autistic journey and other aspects of my unique life in the rainforest. And I’ll be posting just the videos on meditation on the Beyond the Temple You Tube channel as well. You’ll find them on a playlist there titled ‘Meditation Beyond the Temple’.
This is the approach to meditation I take after 20 years of meditation practice & Buddhist studies followed by intense disallusionment with anything religious, cultish or dogmatic.
My emphasis will be on active and imaginative meditation, particularly with nuerodivergent people in mind – I have discovered that I am one!
I don’t think one can avoid the relationship between meditation and spirituality, given that the process of meditating uncovers that generally hidden aspect of ourselves, but it can be divorced from the worst excesses of religion and commodified dogmatic ‘spiritualiy’.
So watch the videos if you’re curious to see where I’ve landed in relationship to meditation, if you’re struggling with your meditation practice or it needs some extra inspiration, or if you’ve never meditated and are looking for some form of meditation that isn’t boring.
Different words have different effects on different people. What inspires some may make others want to puke. The same words have subtley different meanings and associations for different people, and the language we habitually use effects the way we see the world.
While in a cult or religion, we use the language of their teachings to describe our spiritual experiences, and cult recovery experts say it’s helpful when recovering from a cult experience to re-evaluate and reframe our spiritual experiences using our own language. This helps us to claim those experiences for ourself, to see them as our own experience, not something dependent on the cult teachings.
Though we may find some of the cult terminology still useful, we will likely need to discard a lot – or all – of it because it lilely triggers a renewed sense of betrayal and cause flashbacks to traumatic memories for those who were directly abused. If we continue to use cult-speak without re-evaluating the language we were programed to use, are we still, to some degree, under the sway of the cult teachings?
In this video I also mention the problem that we also might have unknowingly – to some degree – manufactured an ‘experience’ to meet the expectations set up by the cult’s language. Or we may have assigned certain terms to experiences that may not have been the actual meaning of the terms, simply because we expected to have an experience we could label that way. I wonder how many of those now teaching in Rigpa who declare that abuse was a teaching for them dissociated in response to the trauma of being abused or watching abuse (which is an automatic self-preservation response to that kind of situation) and mistook that state for the ‘nature of mind’. If so, they’re now busy teaching others to make the same mistake! Sigh.
Are there any terms that you just can’t abide now because of their close association with your abusive lama?
For me, for instance, I refuse to use the word ‘karma’ now, especially given how it was used to enable the abuse, and I can’t use the term ‘rigpa’, for obvious reasons. I try not to use the ‘nature of mind’, preferring to use something like ‘essential awareness’ – not that it’s something I need or want to talk about much these days! I heard Jeff Brown use the term ‘unity consciousness’ recently and I thought that was quite good. Does that work for you?
If any of these questions of what I say in the video inspires a response, please share in the comments below.
I was inspired to write my take on how to follow a spiritual teacher in a healthy way when someone directed me to a long post on Facebook by Dzongsar Kyentse (DJK) in which he offered the tantric (vajrayana) Drubthab Kuntu cycle of teachings and initiations. He said, among other things, “For those in limbo, wondering whether or not they should do this, I suggest following the tantric prescription to do a thorough background check on me. There are plenty of websites you can consult, and you might particularly want to read posts by Tahlia Newland, Matthew Remski, Joanne Clark and others.”
What do I think about that?
He’s being quite open about what he expects from the students who take up his offer, and that’s refreshing. And yet – as a cynical ex-Tibetan Buddhist – I can’t help wondering if it is genuine openess or a subtle manipulation to make the teachings and relationship with the teacher more ‘special’ and so more appealing to those who relish being the ‘chosen few’. It’s a common dynamic in spiritual groups that lures people into the cult’s ‘inner circle’. Such manipulation may be quite unconcious, and someone – be they the teacher or the student – is only free of it if they are aware of the lure of it from both sides. This is why both teacher and student need to be educated in cult dynamics to ensure a healthy relationship.
Based on the evidence available to me, I am satisfied that, on the balance of probabilities: a. some students of Sogyal Lakar (who were part of the ‘inner circle’, as described later in this report) have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him; and b. there were senior individuals within Rigpa who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk.
KAREN BAXTER, PARTNER, LEWIS SILKIN LLP, 22 August 2018
Why are some people so blind that they cannot see that the beatings, sexual coercion, and emotional and psychological abuse mentioned in the report are abuse, and that Sogyal’s actions did harm the people who were the focus of his lust and tantrums?
Though many have revised their opinon, the lack of the word ‘abuse’ in Rigpa’s renewed apology indicates that some still in power in Rigpa still cannot admit that Sogyal did abuse people. Why is this? And why does it mean that the last apology they gave (see my post on it here) is likely the best they can do?
These are the questions I attempt to answer in this video.
For more detail on the beliefs I mention, see section 2 of my book, Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism.
“In our practice, we may view the guru’s behavior as that of a mahasiddha, but in the conventional world we follow the general Buddhist approach, and if a certain behavior is harmful, we should say so.”
HH Dalai Lama, The Foundation of Buddhist Practice
Leaving the Boat Too Early
In Dzongsar’s recent publication, Poison is Medicine, which is based on teachings that he gave in Rigpa Centres following the revelations of abuses by Sogyal Lakhar, his intention is to clarify “the misunderstandings and misapprehensions about the Vajrayana that were exposed by the Vajrayana guru-related scandals of the 2010s.” (Poison is Medicine; vii) By “scandals”, I presume he means “abuses.” However, with statements such as the following, I question what clarity can result:
Rigpa’s renewed apology, published in the middle of October 2021, for ‘mistakes that have been made and harm that has been caused’ is a step in the right direction, but in the video I explain why it still falls short of what is required even in terms of their own teachings. I refer to the four powers of confession that according to Vajrasattva practice – a key practice of the Rigpa sangha – are necessary for healing to occur.
After Tibetan Buddhism, after you’ve left the religion, what happens to your spiritual life?
I was a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for 20 years and left the religion 5 years ago when I discovered that my teacher Sogyal Rinpoche was abusing his close students and those running the organisation not only enabled it but also saw his abuse as a beneficial teaching, not something harmful. In the video below, I reflect on what of value has remained with me and how I view the religion now in light of my knowledge of abusive gurus/lamas, the cult dynamics they often employ, and the teachings that enable abuse.
It’s a long video (40 minutes) because I cover a lot of ground, so I hope you can take time to watch or listen to it.
The answer to the question of what remains from the tradition after Tibetan Buddhism and your perceptions of Tibetan Buddhism and its lamas after you’ve left will be different for different people, so please note that this is only my personal opinion and evaluation of my own experience. I know that some have been left with nothing but trauma after Tibetan Buddhism, and some are still struggling to sift through their experience and find anything worth keeping.
Though I share my understanding of dzogchen practice, please don’t take anything I say as any kind of teaching. My purpose in sharing my perspective is to provide the stimulation for you to reflect on these matters for yourself.
Please like the video and share it as it helps get it to more people.
If you were a Tibetan Buddhist and have left the religion, what has remained for you?
Today we have a post by Joanne Clark inspired by the release of Dzongsar Khyentse’s latest book. Thank you, Joanne. It’s high time we challenged Dzongsar Khyentse for his support of abusive behaviour by vajrayana masters. Dzongsar Khyentse’s followers show all the signs of people caught in a destructive cult, which might tell us why Dzongsar Khyentse is so intent on supporting abuse as a legitimate part of his religion – at least for the varjayana student-teacher relationship. Read on for Joanne’s article.
It is possible that Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse has reached a point of realization whereby he can sit down to a meal of faeces and a drink of urine and consume it as if enjoying a delicious feast. It is possible then that he could rape a princess in the same manner that Tilopa killed fish, such that no harm would result.
In the same way, it is possible that his Vajrayana students, those who have taken vows of pure perception, are advanced enough in their own realizations that they are no longer at risk of confusing the madyamaka views on emptiness with nihilism—no longer at risk of failing to maintain a coherent view of conventional truth and karmic laws of cause and effect and failing to recognize harm as harm.