Food for thought. The new research on intentional daydreaming, mental health and mindfulness that I summarised in my recent article on my Psychemagination website raises some interesting questions in relation to meditation, so I I’m posting the link here to make sure you had a chance to read it.
Questions for us ex-Tibetan Buddhists are: Was that creative wandering that happened when you meditated really a distraction? Or was it still meditation, done mindfullly as intentional daydreaming? (Which is how I treated stopping sitting on my cushion and writing the scene of my novel that had just appeared in my head.) Was our vajrayana meditation all intentional daydreaming?
Comment there on my Psychemagination website or read it there and come back here to share your thoughts on these questions.
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Nature meditation. I think most people probably find some kind of peace or spiritual inspiration in nature. Being in nature certainly makes meditation easier for me, and it has no religious overtones. Yay! That’s the kind of meditation I want! And there are many different ways to use nature as a spring board to a peaceful mind. Listening is just one of these forms, and it’s a lovely informal way of meditating.
Though when I first left Tibetan Buddhism, I couldn’t sit formally to meditate, I still found myself naturally doing this expansive listening as I walked in the forest. I’m lucky that I do have a peaceful forest close by to be able to do this in, but it can be done anywhere, anytime, even if you’re not in a peaceful situation. All sounds are, after all, just sounds. It’s only our mind that ascribes the concepts of peaceful or not peaceful to the sounds.
Of course, this listening-in-nature meditation is based on what I learned during my two decades of Buddhist study and practice. It’s also a kind of what some call ‘forest bathing’. For me, however, it’s really just what I do when I’m walking in the forest – at least when I’m not talking to myself!
When I look at my life, how I live it and the reasons why I live it that way, I realise that I follow the dharma with every moment (mostly). And by dharma, I don’t mean Buddhadharma, and I certainly don’t mean Tibetan Buddhism.
What does ‘dharma’ mean?
There are many meanings of the word ‘dharma’, but essentially, as I understand it, in it’s deepest meaning, it means the truth of the way things are. If your actions are in alignment with the dharma – with the truth of the way things are – then your life will go more smoothly, and you’ll be happier than if you don’t follow the dharma. And I’m not talking here about a bunch of rules.
Dharma is beyond religion
Dharma isn’t something that belongs only to Buddhism. Buddhadharma is only one kind of dharma – the dharma as the Buddha taught it. Rumi, for instance, is an Islamic scholar and poet, but we can all recognise his pithy sayings as wisdom, and that wisdom is dharma.
Dharma does not belong to any religion. In fact, religion – even ones that claim to teach it – may obscure the dharma with its hierarchies and politics and deeply flawed gurus and ministers.
Dharma is beyond religion. It is simply the true nature of how things work beyond how they may appear.
How and why the dharma remains
Though I have discarded the religion of Buddhism, the dharma remains as part of who I am. And that’s not because I’m holding onto it, rather it’s what remains when I let it all go.
I learned the dharma through my study and practice of Buddhism, but I was only interested to learn about it because it rang true. True dharma teachings tell us what our inner wisdom recognises as truth. That’s why Rumi’s short pithy sayings are shared so widely on the internet – they ring true for people.
Also, I never accepted anything without reflection and analysis. I contemplated my life through the framework of what I learned, applied it to my life and noted the consequences. Once I saw the truth of it. It became part of me, informing how I lived my life without conscious thought. That is what remains after the religion has gone. It’s not following a code of rules, but an inner knowing that guides my choices.
So what kind of things am I talking about specifically?
And example of a dharma
Here’s one: There’s many different ways of saying it, and understanding this point is important for emotional intelligence. In Buddhism it’s called the first noble truth. Put simply you could say that the secret to happiness is acceptance, not resistance, and that’s the topic of this video I filmed for my Tik Tok channel. Yes. Tik Tok!
Why Tik Tok? Because there’s a lot of people out there – particularly young people – who have never heard had the opportunity to study dharma and who could benefit from hearing some of these basic truths. (And if you don’t think it’s true, then I suspect you haven’t really examined it or tried applying it to your life.)
Most of you reading this will be well aware of this point, but you may like to hear how I express it, or maybe you know someone who isn’t aware of it and who could benefit from considering this, in which case, do share it either from the YouTube channel or the Beyond the Temple Facebook page.
If you’ve left a religion, has any wisdom that you recognise as beyond the religion stayed with you?
I published ‘How to Meditate Easily, Effectively & Deeply’ in 2016 before I realised that Sogyal Rinpoche was abusing his close students, and I immediately withdrew the book from sale.
Have the meditation instructions changed?
No, but the context in which I wrote the book has changed dramatically – as this website documents – and that subtly affects aspects of the way things are expressed. You won’t find reference to Sogyal now except in the introduction where I tell the history (briefly) of the reason for my disillusionment with Tibetan Buddhism.
Any major changes?
Yes. Apart from the background on the need for the revision, I’ve added two new sections: one on imaginative meditation – a practice I developed after leaving Tibetan Buddhism – and the other a section on awareness meditation that a senior teacher in Rigpa said I had to take out because it was going too deep! Her opinion doesn’t matter to me now, so I put it back in. And this is just one of the reasons why this book isn’t just for beginners.
Why publish a book on meditation anyway?
Because I still belive that meditation is a vital skill that people need to develop for their mental health and spiritual awareness. And if I can assist anyone to find a method of meditation that works for them, I consider that a worthwhile use of my time.
I’m also a natural teacher and have the ability to inpsire others and distill complex teachings into essential points, so writing a book like this comes easily to me. I’m also passionate about taking the religion out of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings I received because there’s a lot of value in those teachings; you just have to know what you can throw out and what is necessary to retain. This book covers what’s valuable to retain.
Not just for beginners
I cover essential points that even experienced meditators might have missed in their meditation instruction. One reviewer pointed this out, saying, “Its easy-to-read style makes it a must-have for beginners and a good jolt to the brain cells of veterans as well. I have already found several extremely useful nuggets of wisdom to incorporate in my own daily meditation routine.” Charles Ray, author.
Free ebook copies in exchange for a review on Amazon
And if any of you would like to help counteract the 2 star review on Amazon left by a vindictive cult member after I published Fallout by leaving a review (hopefully more than 3 stars) just contact me for a free Epub or PDF. In order to leave a review, however, you will need an active Amazon account (a $50 spend in the last 12 months).
What happens when your love of Vajrayana style meditation makes you yearn for it, but you just can’t do a traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice anymore because it carries too many negative associations? I don’t know what happens for others, but this is what happened for me.
I’ve discovered that I have ADHD, and I’m not the only one of our community who has discovered this about themselves. I stopped meditating formally after the events of 2017 – which are well documented here and in my book Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism – but I’ve recently returned to a form of meditation practice after realising that I need it. And when you look at the research on ADHD and meditation, it’s easy to see why it’s particularly good for my neurodivergent brain.
When I look back at how my mind was before I started meditating – easily distracted, often overwhelmed with thoughts, low self-esteem – it’s easy to see how much it’s helped me. I can even see why the Vajrayana practice worked for me when other forms of practice didn’t. It simply held my attention better. When you take my autism into account (structure, repetition, stimming-style use of mala etc) I can see why it’s the perfect form of meditation for me – once you’ve taken away the feudal and blind devotion bullshit side of it of course.
Why meditation is good for people with ADHD
Research backs up my experience, and I’ve written an article about how meditation works for ADHD on my Psychemagination website. If you’re interested in the details pop over and take a look.
What isn’t helpful for people with ADHD in Tibetan Buddhism
I mentioned that Vajrayana practice was good for me, but I always make the distinction between Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism because they are not the same thing. Tibetan Buddhism is just one version of Vajrayana, and Tibetan Buddhism isn’t all good for people with ADHD. Parts of it are, and parts of it aren’t.
Since I practiced alone at home and avoided group practices, I escaped the aspects of Tibetan Buddhism as displayed in Rigpa that are not ideal for anyone but are particularly a problem for people with ADHD. Aside from abuse, these are the cult control and manipulation tactics of pressure and shame: pressure to conform, to complete a certain number of mantras in a certain time, to be able to parrot the guru’s words back at him and so on; and the shame people are made to feel when they don’t meet the guru’s expectations.
What does work particularly well for people with ADHD are the structured practices with the use of imagery and imagination, mantra, chanting and the physical repetitive nature of flicking mala beads. These things just help to keep ADHD minds focused.
Has anyone else discovered they have ADHD or any other form of neurodivergence, or think they might have? Has it changed how you see your meditation experience?
My story of looking at myself through the neurodivergent framework is documented (illustrated with animated AI art) on Psychemagination: Journey into the Psyche. Do pop over, the site is changing and growing all the time.
After two decades of enjoying vajrayana-style meditation, I dropped it all when I discovered that institutionalised abuse was rampant in the tradition. I no longer wanted to have anything to do with visualising gurus.
However, I couldn’t forget the incredible peace and power that the practices gave me, and I found myself turning to an essentialised form of the practice, one free of the cultural and religous issues documented on this website, but that nevertheless includes all the elements of the original. I use my imagination to connect with my own guru, my own wisdom mind – which, after all, is exactly what the guru/lama represents in the Tibetan tradition anyway. I just cut out the middle man.
I can imagine the kind of response something like this might get from the traditionalists, but it’s actually not watered down. It’s just essential. It has all the core elements of Vajrayana without the optional extras. And actually, one of the things Sogyal Rinpoche was good at was essentialising the practices, so I thank him for leaving me with a clear sense of the core elements. Ian Maxwell also contributed hugely to my understanding of how the practices ‘worked’.
I finally created an actual guided practice using my animated AI generated art to help those unused to visualising, and also because it’s just so easy to put aside 6 minutes and listen to myself tell myself what to do!
You’ll notice that the practice as I’ve laid it out could be used for a refuge, healing or loving kindness practice. It can also easily go into tonglen. So it’s a very flexible practice, one you can be creative with depending on your needs on any one day.
Anyway, here’s links to the guided practice with visuals and music. Give it a go and see how it feels. I figure that it might appeal to the ‘younger’ generations – that makes me sound very old!
Is it far enough from the original to not trigger aversion and close enough not to lose its power? Let me know what you think.
More advanced versions will come later in a book on the practice.
If you download the written guide, you’ll also get the key to the Growing page of my latest passion project, the illustrated webbook at https://psychemagination.net/. Do pop over and see what I’ve been up to. It’s animated art illustrating a psychological and spiritual journey.
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.