A woman in one of my workshops asked me if when she meditated she could concentrate on an image that brought her peace.
"What image?" I asked her.
"I like to imagine flowers by a pool of water," she said. "I like to picture myself sitting there, hearing the lapping of the water on the shore, seeing the flowers in the sunshine."
I hated to rain on her sunny glade, but I had to. "If you like to do that, you can," I said, "but that is not mindfulness meditation. When you are in a flower garden by a pool, be there. But when you are sitting in meditation, be exactly where you are, doing exactly what you are doing. Be in this room, sitting in meditation. Close your eyes, feel your body, observe your thoughts, experience your breathing. If your body aches, be with it. If you are tired and cranky, be with that. Don't layer flowers on top of a bad mood. Don't use a peaceful pool as a Band-Aid over your anxiety. Be right where you are and who you are. Why? Because if you can do that, then when you are really by a pool, gazing at a beautiful flower, you will be fully present. You won't be worrying about what is going on at home or wondering if there is a nicer pool somewhere else. And when you are with a person you love, you will really be with him—you will be less distracted, less judgmental. When you are at work, you will show up for those around you; you will bring the gifts of attention and equanimity. And when you are confused or unhappy or sick, you will stop fighting your feelings and just rest with them for a while. You will then know what you feel when you are feeling it, what you think when you are thinking it. You will know the peace of being present to whatever is happening.
"Don't visualize yourself anywhere but where you are," I told the woman. "Be exactly who you are, wherever you are. That is the practice of meditation."
You can see why meditation would be so useful during a Phoenix Process. It helps us sit in the flames long enough for transformation to occur. It encourages us not to bail out before the lessons have been learned. It helps us ride out the common experiences of fear, anxiety, and depression. Can meditation cure us? No, but it can give us a platform to climb up to whenever we want to survey the scene. From that perspective, we get to see how we are not our depression—or our fear or anger or sadness—but that these are merely states of mind, conditions of the heart. Meditation shows us that we are something much stronger and vaster than our passing thoughts and feelings.