I am standing on top of a high desert rim and notice a dragon’s tail snaking through the landscape. Silvery strands of drying bunchgrass move in waves across the hill as the dragon prepares to take flight. All at once, the plants become still and the dragon lifts into the sky, merging with the clouds overhead. Some might say this was only a whirlwind, but that is only because they have lost their true vision. The rest of us smile in recognition of the magical display—aware of things unseen but always present.

When we are children, we can easily envision things that are not there. We may have an imaginary friend or look at clouds and see dragons. As we get older we begin to think it is more important to see things as solid and actual. Our lives become dedicated to controlling and directing the things we can see and touch, although this does not ultimately make us happy. We ‘actually’ make everything complicated.

I think this is why many of us have difficulty accomplishing visualization practice in Vajrayana Buddhism. Deity (archetypal) images seem complex and actual, when in reality they are an expression of emptiness. Of course, everything is an expression of emptiness, but we need to refine our perception. If we are able to generate the deity and stabilize the visualization, something miraculous occurs. We begin to remember what we lost from our childhood—the capacity to see everything as simple and magical. 

Although our adult eyes naturally let go of childish imagination, it is important to retain childlike wonder. With practice, we recognize wonder as an aspect of our original mind. This sense of the magical calls us home. We reconnect to natural wonder by stabilizing our mind through linking it with the deity. The Tibetan word for the deity is yidam which means “mental bond” or “mind link.” The yidam becomes a link to our natural spacious awareness. Sometimes I suggest the yidam is the enlightened face of our hidden wisdom. It helps us unmask our shadow and realize the wisdom mind.

Visualizing the yidam is not something we do so much as it is something we let happen. We allow the deity to reclaim us. It is not a matter of belief or imagination. It is remembering where we have always been. When we accomplish a visualization practice, we carry the unimagined friend with us at all times and feel a sense of enduring presence. We realize the true inner guru, the highest teacher, is inseparable from the yidam. Everywhere we look the teacher is smiling and reflecting our wisdom mind. With this awareness, we are more capable of moving into life with ease and kindness. A La La! How wonderful!