Why Your Visualisations Don’t Work

We all know that old saying: Be careful what you wish for because you may get it…. Never a truer word was said when it comes to visualization.

The traditional idea of visualization is that you say what you want, you picture yourself having it, and you do that so consistently and powerfully that it starts to come true. This is because by the Law of Attraction, the energy vibration sent out brings you back the equivalent energy from the world. The more positive you are, the more positive will be the things that happen to you.

Wave your magic wand

This is one of the tenets of The Secret, the wildly popular film and book. And why wouldn’t it be popular? Wave a magic wand, want what you want, stay away from the negative, be positive, and you’ll have all you ever wanted.

I went to a seminar of one of the gurus of the Law of Attraction, the channeled entity Abraham, and his spokesperson Esther Hicks. The audience was enthusiastic, indeed, cult-like in their admiration for Abraham. He had all the answers. Whatever you wanted you could have, and this was how to do it. And not only that, it was considered a deeply spiritual thing, a connection with your highest energies.

There was a lot of audience participation and an opportunity to ask questions. I found that some people got called upon to ask questions more than once, and others, like myself, waved their arms about but never got invited to ask a question. It was explained that Abraham looked at the vibrations and chose the people.

Could he have sensed that I was about to ask how you could have spirituality without any emphasis on the importance of service?

Spiritual Materialism

This getting without giving is spiritual materialism, a phenomenon that is rife in a lot of the modern self-help world. It is a perversion of spirituality, the use of spiritual powers in the service of the personal ego.

One question he did answer was by a young man who raised the question of the awful news in the paper. I expected Abraham to tell him to consider what positive part he could play to do something about it.

Rather, he was told not to look at newspapers so as not to have a dollop of negativity. I felt sick at that point.

As I write this, I realize I sound a bit bitter and twisted. And yet, I myself am known for my work on imagery and visualization and am very much part of the self-help world.

Maybe that’s why I feel so angry about it.

It as if they speak in my name and I feel tarnished by association.

Black Magic and White Magic

The problem of all this is not that it doesn’t ‘work’ in the traditional sense of the word. Visualising what you want is a kind of work, because you have to focus deeply, get the picture really clear, clothe the picture with energy, and send it off. It can be effective in itself, as when serendipity works in your favour, and it is also is a multiplier of the other work you do. If you visualize and also take the necessary steps, you will enjoy the getting there, because you will feel more confident, and get more results.

What doesn’t work about it in the long run is that the ‘I’ who says what you want is speaking as if it were all of you, when it is just a very superficial and sometimes distorting spokesperson. To get the real story, the one that will truly benefit you and others, you need to tap into that ‘I’ that is bigger than your personal self. I like to call this the larger self, the wisdom self or the soul. Your ‘integrity’ is another word that will do the trick if you don’t like spiritual naming.

There is a tradition that says that black magic and white magic are exactly the same; the only difference is the motivation. Black magic is in the service of the personality, the smaller self, the personal ego, which wants what it wants no matter what happens to anyone else. White magic is in the service of the soul, the larger self, the transpersonal ego, the ethical part of you, the bit of you that wants the highest good for all, including yourself.

In other words, it is socially responsible magic.

Wall Street and the City

One could argue that the temporary success of the traders on Wall Street and the City was probably partly due to visualization. They were all single-mindedly focused, determined to reach their goal, knowing that they could reach it, and seeing themselves swanning around with the benefits of it. They were practicing the law of attraction.

The trouble was that so many, particularly the ones with some ethics, ended up unhappy, addicted, burnt out, or just plain ashamed. It didn’t work for them in the long run. More important, the world around them went to pot and innocent people suffered and continue to suffer.

Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods is a beautiful story that illustrates this point. In Act One, all the fairy tale characters went about getting what they wanted. At the end of this act, everyone seemed to be living happily ever after, and I thought I must have been mistaken that there were two acts.

Then the curtain rose again. Act Two was about all the repercussions of people going about getting what they wanted. The Prince had left the bored Cinderella at home to seek out Rapunzel who he heard was beautiful. A great female giant, the wife of the giant that Jack the Giant Killer murdered was stomping around demanding revenge for the killing of her husband. There was a lot of killing and destruction, and a lot of seeking what was just out of reach. Cinderella ended the show with the lyrics “I wish”.

What does work?

So what does work? What works is finding a way to re-imagine your future life that opens you up to the wishes and intuition of your whole being, self and soul alike, rather than just the grasping, competitive part of you.

That is an imagination that will help all of us, those that are re-imagining, and those that benefit from the ripple effect of these re-imaginings. This is the benign circle that occurs when you discover that what is in your highest best interest is in the highest best interest of everyone around.

Very different from the vicious circle in Sondheim’s story.

And then you need to turn around and see how you got there and sketch out the steps. And then you need to clothe this imagined story in light and energy and send it off into the world of potential waiting to be actualized.

And then of course you need to take the necessary steps towards that future.

Yes, even magic requires lots of good effective work.

ImageWork and Visualisation

I call this kind of holistic visualisation work by another name: ImageWork. This is partly to distinguish it from the more simplistic kind of visualization, and partly because you don’t have to be visual to do it. More about this elsewhere—all my books and courses and website are full of details of the whys and wherefores.

This was just a rant, or a Buyers Beware warning.

The warning goes something like this: Getting what you want is okay if the you that wants it is in harmony with the rest of you and the rest of us. But when it isn’t, beware. You may end up in Act Two of Into the Woods. And you won’t be living happily ever after.