Question: We hear so much these days about creative visualization and  manifesting with the mind. Isn’t this the opposite of being present and in the moment?

Swami Satchidananda: I don’t think they oppose each other. If you like, you can be in the present moment without creating any thoughts in the mind or any visions in the mind. But, you can also have visualization. It depends on what you want to achieve. Visualization is mainly given to bring an image into the mind, mostly in a curative way. We recommend that to patients.

For example, heart patients can imagine that the heart is getting better. The doctors can even take a picture of the heart, with all the blockages and put it in front of a patient. That becomes the object of meditation and they can imagine that the blockages are slowly getting cleared. A patient, who was a plumber, once imagined that a roto router was clearing the arteries!

Visualization has its own purpose. If you don’t need that you can just leave the mind in a sort of quiet state, but there is even difficulty with that. You can never make the mind completely quiet because the thought will still be there, “I am making my mind quiet.” If you say “I’m not going to think of anything,” then what are you thinking? You’re thinking of not thinking of anything. Unfortunately, that is the way the mind functions. The mind cannot survive without a thought. A thoughtless mind is no mind at all.

Mind means bundle of thoughts. It’s very difficult to create a void. We have to start with something, some image or thought. When you start with a single thought, you are slowly freeing the mind from all other thoughts. One thought becomes more important to you. It’s something like a catalytic agent. It has a purpose. Then it frees you of all other thoughts. Slowly this single thought will disappear and then you go into a  state called nirvikalpa samadhi or seedless equanimity. Both methods are equally good. You can use either one according to your need and capacity.

Many people say they don’t believe in forms; they worship the formless. It’s really impossible for you to worship the formless. The mind cannot conceive of anything without a form. It has no capacity for that. For example, the moment you hear the word “sweet,” you understand sweetness with the help of some substance—as sweet as honey, or as sweet as chocolate. The same is true of beauty. How can you conceive of that with the mind? And how can you communicate that with others. You have to bring in a form: as beautiful as a rose. I wasn’t talking about a rose, I was just talking about beauty.

That’s why in the Upanishads, when they talk about the Cosmic Consciousness that you call God, they say it is formless and nameless. It means you cannot think it, communicate it, or grasp it because it has no form, no name. The mind finds this difficult so it has to conceive of the idea with the help of a form. You have to pick a form to understand the formless.