People throughout time have used mental imagery for healing in one form or another. Whether through simple prayer, visualization, or elaborate healing rituals, the imagination can play a powerful role in both physical and emotional healing.
One of the most powerful healing effects we know in medicine is called the “placebo effect.” This refers to the common occurrence of the patient receiving benefit in the form of pain relief, better bodily function, or even physical healing and recovery, even though the treatment administered had no active ingredient.
Placebo effect is commonly misunderstood to mean “nothing happened”, but what it actually means is that because the patient thinks they are receiving an effective treatment, their body responds by getting better. When you understand this, you also understand that the placebo effect, mediated through imagination and belief, is the best evidence there is that the mind can play a powerful role in healing.
Placebo is not a negligible or minor effect. It has been shown in thousands of scientific studies that it is responsible for between 35% to 55% of the effectiveness of all treatments, including medicine and surgery. In fact, in the early 1960’s, an operation was developed to improve the blood flow to the heart for people suffering from severe heart disease. It relieved their pain 80% of the time, and even improved the ability of the heart to pump blood through the body by 70%.
A well-designed scientific study was then performed at Johns Hopkins Medical Center where half the patients matched for age, sex, and severity of heart disease, had this operation. The other half, without knowing it, had a sham operation with the identical surgical incision, and no actual surgery to the heart. The results were remarkable! The groups were identical in both relief of pain and improvement of heart function! This, and many studies like it, have demonstrated the remarkable powers of “positive expectant faith,” as the placebo is sometimes known.
Why is this important to you? For one thing, if you can be “tricked” into healing, why can’t you learn to flip on that mental switch that allows healing to take place? If one set of thoughts can trigger healing, why can’t another? The answer is, they often can – almost always on the emotional level, and sometimes on the physical level, as well. For most people, the simplest way to evoke this response is through the purposeful and skillful use of the imagination.
Imagination is a powerful mental function that allows us to review the past, imagine possible futures, and do things that we sometimes can’t do in the outer world. The imagination is the source of creativity, of
problem-solving, of planning, and of setting our course in this world if we use it correctly. Aristotle called it “the window to the soul”, since it always represents our internal reality. Einstein, late in life,said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Few of us are educated in the use of imagination, though it is one of our most powerful mental functions. Our educational system is geared toward teaching us logical, linear thinking which are invaluable in life, but we are generally discouraged from using too much imagination, and are certainly not trained in how to focus it and use it well. Fortunately, we use imagination instinctively, since it is a normal, natural way for our brains and nervous systems to store, process, and retrieve information.
Imagination is important in healing because it seems to have a much more direct link to bodily functions than spoken words. For instance, if I asked you now to make saliva, some of you would be able to do that at will, but most wouldn’t. If, however, I asked you to close your eyes for a minute and image that you are in your kitchen, standing in front of a cutting board, with a nice sharp knife at hand, and a plump, juicy, yellow lemon on the board, you might start to salivate a little more.
And if I asked you to feel the heft of the knife in your hand as you cut the lemon in quarters, and looked at the pale yellow inside of the lemon, noticing where you may have cut through a seed, and noticing a drop or two of fragrant lemon juice oozing from the cut pulp, then lifting it to your mouth and biting into the lemon, sucking out the sour juice and swallowing it, most of you will feel that peculiar sensation of salivation from the glands in the back of your mouth, or at least grimace in response.
Imagery involves thinking in thoughts that have sensory qualities, in other words, with thoughts that you see, hear, smell, or feel inside. Imagery is the language of the arts – of drama, poetry, music, and the visual arts, and images have a close relationship to emotions.
If I asked you to close your eyes and recall a time when you felt very peaceful and quiet inside, and you really imagined being there now again, and imagined seeing what you were seeing, and hearing any sounds that are there, and feeling that feeling of deep peacefulness and quiet inside, and you just enjoyed that for a few minutes, most of you would experience again a feeling of peacefulness. Conversely, if I asked you (which I won’t) to go back and recall a very distressing, upsetting time, and you imagined it in great detail as if it were happening again, you would likely become upset and distressed again.
This body/mind connection, mediated largely through the emotions, is one of the powers of imagination that closely links it to healing. When you shift your state of being from anxious, depressed, or uncomfortable, to one that is quieter, happier, and more comfortable, there are physiologic changes that accompany that shift. The calmer, more relaxed, and yet often more energized state that follows this shift is one that is often associated with healing. It allows the body to focus its attention on healing rather than spending its energy combating imagined worries and woes.
Many studies indicate that focusing the imagination in specific ways can be calming, encouraging, mood modulating, pain relieving, and may even speed up, or allow physical as well as mental healing. It is certainly a better use of your mental energy than imagining all the possible bad things that can happen.
Healing can happen on many levels. As someone with an illness, you may experience emotional healing, or healing in your spirit even though physical healing does not occur. As a caregiver, you may use imagery in many ways to help relieve the stress of caregiving. Already in this book, you have been given ways to use your imagination to escape and gain respite for a few pleasant minutes, to deeply relax your body, to acknowledge and express your feelings, or to connect with your inner child or an inner source of wisdom and healing.
The following imagery scripts can be used by a patient or caregiver to focus on the physical, or emotional symptoms that either may develop while dealing with an illness in the home. You may record them yourself, or have someone else read them to you in a calming, gentle voice. You may also order them as professionally recorded audio tapes by referring to the section on audio tapes in the bibliography.
Let each one be an exploration for you, and use the journaling techniques taught in this section to enhance your experience.
Begin by taking a couple of deep, full breaths . . . and let the out breath be a real ‘letting go’ kind of breath . . . make sure you are comfortable . . . and that you won’t be disturbed for twenty minutes or so . . . .
As you breathe comfortably and easily, invite your body to relax and let go of any unnecessary tension . . . take the time to bring your attention to each part of your body, and invite it to release and relax as you have so many times before . . . .
Release and relax any tension you may have in your left foot . . . your right foot . . . your calves . . . your thighs and hamstrings . . . your hips . . . pelvis . . . genitals . . . low back . . . buttocks . .. .
Take your time and sense the comfortable feelings of deepening relaxation beginning in the lower half of your body . . . easily . . . naturally . . . invite your abdomen to release and relax and join in this more comfortable and pleasant state of relaxation . . . the organs within your abdomen . . . your midback and flanks . . . your chest . . . the muscles across and between your shoulder blades . . ..deeper and more comfortably at ease . . . the organs in your chest . . . and neck . . . relaxing more deeply, more comfortably, more easily . . . .
As each part relaxes, you relax more deeply . . . and as you go deeper, it is easier to relax . . . the relaxation is flowing down your upper arms . . . your elbows . . . forearms . . . wrists . . . and hands . . . sense the relaxation in the small muscles between your fingers . . . and all the way to the tips of the index fingers . . . the middle fingers . . . ring fingers . . . little fingers . . . and thumbs. . .
Scalp and forehead soft and relaxed . . . the muscles of the face soft and at ease . . . the little muscles around the eyes relaxing more deeply . . . more pleasantly . . . more comfortably . . . .
And imagine yourself at the top of your imaginary staircase that leads to an even deeper and more comfortable state of mind and body . . . notice what it looks like today . . . and descend one step at a time . . . going deeper, more comfortably relaxed with each descending stair . . . let it be an enjoyable experience . . . head for that special inner place of peacefulness and healing you have visited before . . . .
Ten . . . nine . . . deeper, more comfortably relaxed as you go down the stairs . . . eight . . .seven . . . not being concerned at all with how deeply you go or how you go more deeply . . . six . . .easy . . . comfortable . . . five . . . just allowing it to happen . . . and four . . . comfortable and pleasant . . . three . . . two . . . body relaxed yet your mind still aware . . . one . . . .
And go in your mind to a special inner place of deep relaxation and healing . . . an inner place of great beauty, peacefulness, and security for you . . . a place you have visited before, or one which simply occurs to you now . . . .
It really doesn’t matter where you go now in your mind as long as the place is peaceful, beautiful, and healing to you . . . take a few moments to look around this special inner place and notice what you see . . . what you hear . . . perhaps there’s a fragrance or aroma here . . . and especially notice any feelings of peacefulness, safety, and connection that you feel here . . . .
As you explore, find the spot where you feel the most relaxed, centered, and connected in this place . . . become comfortable and quiet in this place . . . .
When you are ready, focus your attention on the symptom or problem that has been bothering you . . . simply put your attention on it while staying completely relaxed . . . allow an image to emerge for this symptom or problem . . . accept the image that comes, whether it makes sense or not . . . whether it is
strange or familiar . . . whether you like it or not . . . just notice and accept the image that comes for now . . . let it become clearer and more vivid, and take some time to observe it carefully . . . .
In your imagination, you can explore this image from any angle, and from as close or far away as you like . . . carefully observe it from different perspectives . . . don’t try to change it . . . just notice what draws your attention . . . .
What seems to be the matter in this image? . . . what is it that it represents the problem? . . . .
When you know this, let another image appear that represents the healing or resolution of this symptom or problem . . . again, simply allow it to arise spontaneously . . . allow it to become clearer and more vivid . . . carefully observe this image as well, from different perspectives . . . what is it about this
image that represents healing? . . . .
Recall the first image and consider the two images together . . . how do they seem to relate to each other as you observe them? . . . Which is larger? . . . Which is more powerful? . . . If the image of the problem seems more powerful, notice whether you can change that . . . imagine the image of healing becoming stronger, more powerful, more vivid . . . imagine it to be much bigger and much
more powerful than the other . . . .
Imagine the image of the problem or symptom turning into the image of healing . . . watch the transformation . . . how does it seem to happen? . . . . Is it sudden, like changing channels on television, or is it a gradual process? . . . . If it is a process, notice how it happens . . . notice if what happens seems to relate to anything in your life . . .
End your imagery session by focusing clearly and powerfully on this healing image . . . imagine it is taking place in your body at just the right place . . . notice whether you can feel or imagine any changing sensations as you imagine this healing taking place . . . let the sensations be sensations of healing . . . affirm to yourself that this is happening now, and that this healing continues in you whether you are waking . . . sleeping . . . imaging . . . or going about your daily activities. . . .
When you are ready, prepare to return to your waking consciousness . . . imagine yourself at the bottom of your imaginary staircase . . . and begin to ascend . . . one . . . two . . . allowing this image of healing to continue to work within you . . . three . . . becoming more and more aware of your surroundings . . . four . . . when you reach ten you may come wide-awake and alert, feeling refreshed and better than before . . . five . . . lighter and lighter . . . six . . . aware of the room you are in .. . seven . . . feeling refreshed and relaxed and better than before . . . eight . . . almost wide-awake now . . . nine . . . your eyes may want to open now . . . and ten . . . allow your eyes to open and come fully wide-awake . . . feeling refreshed, relaxed, and better than before . . . and stretch and smile and go about your day . . . .
Script #2 – Renewing Your Source of CaringTake a few minutes to get comfortable and to begin to relax . . . let yourself shift or move to become more comfortable . . . take a few deep, full breaths and let them go, letting the out-breath be a real “letting go” kind of breath . . . just let go on each out-breath and begin to relax, easily and comfortably . . . with no effort . . . just letting yourself begin to focus inside . . . beginning to pay attention to your inner world . . . and just let the outer world take care of itself for now . . . and as you relax a little more deeply, consider how much you have already learned that can help you in caring for others . . . and acknowledge that you can make use of what is most helpful at the time . . . and that you, too, deserve good care even as you care for others . . .
An Imagery Exercise for Caregivers
Notice your feet and legs and invite any tension which doesn’t need to be there to soften and release . . .simply allow the legs to relax more comfortably in their own way . . . and invite them to continue to relax as you invite the rest of the body to release and relax and go deeper . . . notice your pelvis, hips, and low back and invite that area of the body to soften and relax more deeply in its own way . . . and your abdomen . . . and all the organs inside the abdomen . . . releasing and relaxing more deeply and comfortably . . . letting yourself enjoy this process of letting go and becoming more deeply relaxed and comfortable . . . notice your chest and rib cage and invite it to release and relax more deeply . . . and your shoulders . . . and neck muscles . . . the back, front, and sides of the neck . . . feel free to move or shift to become even more comfortable . . . release the back . . . and all the muscles up and down along the spine and out across the back from the neck to the tailbone . . . and the muscles between the shoulder blades . . . imagine a pleasant, deep relaxation flowing down the arms, through the elbows .. . forearms . . . wrists . . . hands . . . to the tips of the fingers . . . and thumbs . . . gently, easily, comfortably . . . invite the scalp and forehead to become soft and at ease . . . and the muscles of the face. . . soft and at ease . . . the jaw muscles relaxing . . . the little muscles around the eyes can soften . . .even the tongue can puddle and relax in the mouth . . . and simply enjoy this peaceful, relaxed state for a few moments . . . .
As you enjoy this relaxation, recall a specific time when you experienced yourself giving loving care to someone . . . when you experienced love and care, even healing in your care . . . let it be a specific time you remember when you felt there was healing and love in your care . . . imagine that you are there again now . . . and notice the details . . . notice where you are . . . and who you are with . . . notice what you are seeing . . . what you are hearing . . . notice any smell or aroma that is there . . . and any feelings you have . . . notice what you are doing . . . and your body posture . . . your face . . . and your voice . . . as you deliver this care in an especially caring, loving, even healing way . . . .
As you imagine this, notice especially the feelings of caring and love that you feel inside . . . notice where you feel these feelings in your body . . . where do they seem centered or most concentrated? . . . as you notice this center of feeling, let the feelings grow and become stronger . . . you may want to imagine you have a dial or control that can turn up the volume on these feelings just like you turn up the volume on the television set or radio . . . turn them up and let the feelings amplify and grow stronger and more noticeable . . . let them expand and fill your body . . . .
Notice what it is like to imagine radiating these feelings toward the one you are caring for . . . simply imagine that you can radiate or send this energy to the one you are caring for . . . notice how they respond as they feel touched by this caring quality . . . in your imagination, you may notice responses that you cannot see in outer life . . . just notice how it seems to effect them . . .
Now notice what it is like for you to radiate this energy or feeling to them . . . what does that feel like in your body? . . . where is the source of energy? . . . is it inside you, or does it come from somewhere else? . . . just notice . . . does it seem to take anything from you as you do it? . . . is there anything you need
more of in order to manifest more of this quality in your life, or your caregiving? . . . and where might you get more of what you need? . . . .
Now allow those images to fade . . . and imagine that YOU are the recipient of this loving, healing energy . . . imagine that it is being radiated toward you from a gentle, yet powerful source . . . an inexhaustible force that radiates love, care, and healing in its very nature . . . simply allow yourself to relax and receive this energy . . . accept it into yourself and bathe in its loving, caring healing glow . . .
allow it to fill the entire space of your body . . . touching every cell in your body from the outermost cells of your skin to the deepest cells of your bone marrow . . . and imagine that it overflows you body and fills the space around you for several feet in every direction . . . and there is nothing to do . . . nowhere to go
right now . . . no effort needed . . . just relaxing and bathing in this nourishing, loving, healing energy .. . enjoy that and let it permeate your body and soul for as long as you like . . . When you are ready to return to the outer world, simply allow all the images to fade, but bring back with you any good feelings you have experienced . . . you may find that when you return to the outer worlds, you will feel more relaxed, refreshed, and renewed . . . and can bring back with you the feelings you have experienced in this brief inner journey . . . remember that you can come to this place and connect with this healing energy any time you like by repeating this process . . . now when you are ready, take your time, and gently let yourself become aware of the room you are in, the things around you, the time and place in your outer world, and gently return to waking consciousness, bringing back with you a feeling of renewal and refreshment that can help sustain you and the ones you care for.