Years ago I attended a spiritual retreat on a Thanksgiving weekend, and experienced my first guided meditation. The guide was a woman I knew and trusted, so it made the trip easier for a skeptic like me. And, her voice was as confident as it was soothing. She had more than a hundred listeners captivated. It was the “secret garden” meditation that invites the listener to imagine a peaceful and beautiful place all their own where they can fully relax.
It was a powerful experience for me — I never knew I had a secret garden but sure enough she led me to it, and I have used it for years to escape stress or grief. But I also found other uses from the experience. The techniques apply as well to storytelling. I think the secrets to a successful meditation are these:
1. Reduce the barriers. My existing trust meant a major barrier for me already was down, but my friend’s voice was calming, and she walked us through a relaxation procedure that helped level the walls even further.
2. Take the audience where they already want to go. Who doesn’t want to go to a secret garden? But there might be other things we want, too, like a health for ourselves or others, or release from fear or anger.
3. Promise a reward. At the secret garden we would find peace. At the end of the meditation, my friend said, we would feel lighter, and might open our minds to unexpected visions. If you found yourself going down a negative path, stop and begin again. You are in control.
My friend took the meditation a step further and had us meet ourselves, we as adults meeting the small child that we once were. What did the child look like? What might she say? How would we feel about that child? It was a remarkable experience for those who gave in to it. I remembered the child I saw well enough to paint a watercolor of her later.
I drew on this experience when writing chapter 21, “Army of Souls,” in Sharavogue. This is when the healer leads the slaves through a meditation to heal the fevered protagonist. Together they visit the palace of the feared witch Mabouya who has captured the girl and keeps her sick so that she, Mabouya, will not be alone. In Mabouya’s arms the girl has become an infant. The slaves want to rescue the child from the evil Mabouya. Through the shared vision, the slaves become the army of souls to steal the child away and restore her to the physical world. Success in outsmarting Mabouya is their reward. And Mabouya was real and feared by the slaves of Montserrat in the 1650s, so the story is grounded in truth.
It is a hypnosis of sorts, and a great success if a writer can lull readers enough to forget the physical world if only for a few minutes and go with the flow of a story. For me it’s a reminder of how our personal experiences can enrich the detail of writing, and at the same time allow the author to relive a profound point in time.