My first time doing meditation I had a vision. I did not see any colors but I did see shapes. I saw an elephant walking towards me with designs on the elephants face. At this time I had been drinking Tea and was surrounded by candles if that has any significance.
—anonymous, United States
How wonderful that you have begun to meditate! Your question is not unusual.
Meditation in the purest sense (as you know) is ‘not thinking’ of anything but a state of consciousness – trying not to let stray thoughts and imagination intrude.
Symbols and visions are a means of bringing abstract ideas to a focus. For you, it would depend on what an elephant represents to you. Most symbols or visions only have meaning to the extent we give them meaning. Paraphrased from the book The Hindu Way of Awakening by Swami Kriyananda: They (symbols) are thought of as objective projections of subjective ideas. This book is a great resource to read for guidance on aspects of the spiritual path.
It is difficult to distinguish whether they are real or of the imagination. If you are changed inwardly, accompanied with love and calmness, by the experience, the vision could be ‘real’ and helpful to you. Although, a more useful goal in meditation is to develop love and devotion for God and to manifest that love everyday to everyone you meet.
Also, don’t take visions or phenomenon too seriously. Bring your concentration back to the spiritual eye, as you have learned. Refocus your breathing. Always, invite God into your meditation and life. Speak to Him in the language of your heart and ask for His guidance, love and presence in you life.
Many Blessings on your efforts!