Meeting Your Inner Advisor

A Navy veteran talks with an imaginary old man called “The Helper” and learns how to rid himself of chronic asthma.

A female advertising executive follows the advice of a willowy young woman named Laura, whom she meets in her mind’s eye. She puts full-spectrum lighting in her home and office and is greatly relieved of severe allergies.

An imaginary figure named Ricardo counsels a young psychiatrist, “You are a healer, but before you can heal others you must learn to heal yourself.” Ricardo shows him a way to conduct therapy without the recurrent neck pain that has plagued him for months.

Spooky? Not really. Having a talk with an imaginary wise figure–an inner advisor–may sound strange, yet this is one of the most powerful techniques I know for helping you understand the relationships between your thoughts, your feelings, your actions, and your health.

We have much more information inside us than we commonly use. An inner advisor is a symbolic representation of that inner wisdom and experience. Your inner advisor should be thought of as a friendly guide to these valuable unconscious stores–an inner ally who can help you understand yourself more deeply.

Have you ever struggled with a problem and ultimately come to terms with it by listening to that “still, small voice within”? Do you pay attention to your gut feelings when you make important decisions? Or perhaps you have dreams that enlighten or guide you. Flashes of insight? Good hunches?

All of the above are ways you may be guided by something deep inside–a part of you usually hidden from conscious awareness. Imagining this guidance as a figure you can communicate with helps to make it more accessible.

Your inner advisor may offer advice in areas as diverse as nutrition, posture, exercise, environment, attitudes, emotions, and faith. Your advisor can serve as a liaison figure to that part of your mind that thinks in images and symbols; as an ambassador between the silent and verbal brains, the unconscious and conscious minds.

Let’s look closely at the three people. Frank, a twenty-eight-year-old ex-naval officer in Vietnam suffered with recurrent chronic asthma. This grew worse when he started a job as a rural delivery man and had to pass hay fields and horses every day. Standard asthma medications only partially relieved his distress, and he didn’t want to take steroid medications if there was any alternative. Testing confirmed strong allergies to both hay and horse dander. He didn’t want to give up his job, which he both liked and needed, and was referred to me for help. With some skepticism, he agreed to explore his illness through imagery. As he relaxed and looked inside for an inner advisor, he saw an image of a stern older man working on a machine, who called himself “The Helper.” The man reminded Frank of his grandfather, who had raised him on his farm.

In imagery, Frank saw himself as a small boy being punished by having to sweep out the horse barn, a job he hated. He saw himself beginning to wheeze while doing it and his grandfather telling him he didn’t have to finish the job. Later, in his imagination, The Helper told him that now he was a grown man, and he could choose which jobs he was willing to do. He could refuse a job he didn’t want without needing to get sick to get out of it. Hearing this, Frank felt relieved and his breathing improved. He was able to continue his route without asthma and has not had a recurrence in ten years.

The young woman executive, Justine, had allergies to many foods and chemicals. She, too, was reluctant to work with imagery, but finally became desperate enough to try. Laura, her advisor, when asked about her allergies, held out her hand and revealed a prism in her open palm. A single beam of white light entered the top of the prism and was refracted into a rainbow spectrum of light that radiated toward Justine. She asked Laura to explain what this meant and she answered, “You have light compression.” She would say no more. Puzzled, I encouraged Justine to keep the image in mind throughout the week and meet with Laura again to see if she would clarify the message.

Some three days later, while looking through some old books, Justine came across a book a friend had given her months before: Health and Light by John Ott. Ott, the inventor of time-lapse photography, was also a pioneer in the field of photo-biology, the effects of light on living organisms. In his book, he marshals evidence to support the view that full-spectrum sunlight is a nutrient needed for healthy human function. He believes that spending long days and nights in artificial lighting is a significant cause of illness in some people.

In a flash, Justine understood what Laura had been telling her. She went into her relaxed state and summoned Laura, who confirmed her discovery. With Laura’s guidance, she devised a plan to correct the situation. She replaced all the light bulbs at home and in her office with full-spectrum bulbs, agreed to go outside in the sun for at least thirty minutes a day, and asked her boss for a desk near a window. Within two weeks, she reported herself almost completely free of allergies, and remained that way for eighteen months without further treatment.

The psychiatrist, Art, had recently completed his training and was working intensely in private practice. He began to experience severe pains in his neck, chest, and shoulders, especially when he was with his patients. As Art talked with his advisor, Ricardo, an image of himself in a suit of heavy armor appeared. The armor rested on his shoulders and chest. Ricardo told him the armor was there to protect him from his feelings, but it stood in the way of his being an effective therapist. He said the armor was made of “thinking and planning,” and Art would need to discard it if he was to be of real help to his patients.

Inner Guidance: A Common Belief

Talking with an inner advisor is not a new idea. Most of the major philosophical, religious, and psycho logical traditions of mankind speak of inner guidance in one form or another. Many primitive cultures used rituals which included music, chanting, fasting, dancing, sacrifice, and psychoactive plants in order to invoke a vision that could inform and guide them at important times. Native American braves would go into the wilderness unarmed, without food and water, build a sweat lodge, and pray for contact with a guiding spirit. From such a visionary experience they would draw their names, their power, and their direction in life. The medicine man of the tribe might make a similar quest in search of healing for an ailing tribe member.

Catholic children are taught in catechism that they have a holy guardian angel who protects them and who can be called on in time of need. Many other religions teach a similar idea.

Children, whatever their religious or cultural background, often have imaginary playmates who talk with them, play with them, protect and support them in their imaginary play.

A surprising number of people tell me they “talk” to spouses or other loved ones who have died. In their talks they receive advice and comfort, as people do when they “talk” with their inner advisors.

All these experiences point to a common human notion–there is guidance available to us when we appeal to it, and when we are receptive to it. Meeting with an inner advisor is a way of making this intuitive guidance more available to you. Intuition is defined as the “power of knowing without recourse to reason” and is perceived by inner seeing, inner listening, and inner feeling. It may well be a specialized function of the right hemisphere. Through the right brain’s ability to perceive subtle cues regarding feelings and connections, we are guided by what we call instincts, gut feelings, and hunches. By becoming quiet and attentive to our inner thoughts, we can use the talents of this neglected part of our minds most effectively.

It’s not necessary to have any particular belief about the inner advisor in order to use it, but it’s helpful for the technique to make sense to you one way or another. Whatever you believe that the advisor isle spirit, a guardian angel, a messenger from God, a hallucination, a communication from your right brain to your left, or a symbolic representation of inner wisdom–is all right. The fact is, no one knows what it is with any certainty. We can each decide for ourselves. It can be reasonably explained psychologically, neurologically, theologically, metaphysically, or cybernetically, and none of these explanations is necessarily exclusive of any other. I’m satisfied that, for many people, the inner advisor is an effective way for them to learn more about their illnesses or issues, and the inner resources that can best help them move those situations toward healthy resolutions.

How Can an Inner Advisor Help Me?

First and foremost, an inner advisor can help you understand more about the nature of your illness, the part you play in it, and the part you might play in your own recovery.

Second, an inner advisor acts as a source of support and comfort; there is often a sense of peacefulness, of inner calm and compassion that stems from meetings with an advisor. In itself, this is often a real step toward healing, especially if you have been feeling depressed or panicky about your situation.

Claire, a therapist going through a very stressful divorce, supporting two children, and maintaining a busy professional life, had begun bleeding heavily between her periods. Medications had not controlled the bleeding, and she was set against having a hysterectomy. She broke down in tears as she met her inner advisor, overcome with the compassion she felt from this inner figure. The compassionate feeling allowed her to acknowledge how difficult her situation was and how well she was doing with it. Rather than engendering self-pity, this acknowledgment helped her struggle with and eventually come through her crisis with success, integrity, and an intact uterus, which stopped bleeding abnormally.

Third, working with an advisor can result in the direct relief of symptoms and recovery from illness. This usually comes as a result of realizing the function of a symptom and making changes so your body/mind no longer needs to create the symptom.

You may find it reassuring to know that while you do want to know what your advisor has to say, you don’t have to do whatever it recommends. Whatever comes from your talk with your advisor, you will consider it carefully in the “clear light of day,” and take a good look at what it might mean to act on that advice. You will evaluate the risks and benefits of following its advice and make your own decision about whether or not to follow it. The choices, and the responsibility, remain yours. Don’t abandon your responsibility to your inner advisor, but consider what it has to tell you.

Testing the advisor is something you might want to do if it suggests a course of action that involves some risk for you. Let’s say that your advisor tells you that you have to change your occupation in order to feel better. While this might be something you’d do if you knew it was really going to improve your health, you might be reluctant to make such a big change without some reassurance. Tell your advisor that you’re considering the advice it’s given you, and that it’s difficult for you to imagine following it. Discuss your fears or concerns thoroughly, and let your advisor help you understand them more deeply and perhaps help you think of a way to change that takes your concerns into account. If, after you’ve explored the advice in depth, you still see significant risk, ask your advisor to give you a demonstration of its ability to help you get better.

I mentioned earlier that Dr. Irving Oyle first introduced me to the inner advisor technique. The first patient I remember him working with was a thirty-five-year-old jet-set entertainer named Eric who came to see Dr. OLE with an unusual ankle problem. Once a month over the previous nine months, his left ankle had become swollen and very painful for four days. He had consulted three orthopedic surgeons, all of whom confirmed the swelling and inflammation in his ankle, but none of whom could make a diagnosis. X-rays of the ankle and laboratory tests on the ankle joint fluid showed no abnormality. Anti-inflammatory medications and injections provided no relief.

Eric was a very successful but driven entertainer who worked constantly, commonly flying halfway around the world on tours and frequently jetting back and forth from coast to coast. He more than loved his work, he was addicted to it–he had little else in his life. He was always working or planning new work, never took vacations, and had no outside interests or relationships. His tension level was palpable at a distance. He was enormously angry with his ankle because it rendered him unable to work four days a month.

Eric’s inner advisor came in the form of a cartoon-like devil prodding him in the ankle with a pitch-fork. It said there was more to life than work, and Eric had to begin experiencing his emotional side. To do that, he would have to start making room in his life for reflection, and his ankle was helping him do that. Eric was surprised at this message but felt it was “bullshit” and didn’t see how it could be connected to his physical problem.

With Dr. Oyle’s guidance, Eric struck a deal with his little devil, and agreed to take four days a month off to devote to rest, relaxation, and enjoyment. His inner advisor told him he would not have ankle pain again as long as he kept his bargain. For three months, Eric stuck to his agreement and had no pain or swelling. Feeling he was recovered, he skipped his days off the next month and the problem recurred with all its previous severity.

If you make a bargain with your advisor, make sure you keep it. Remember, you are dealing with a part of yourself here; you can’t disrespect it without cost. Consider this a real relationship, and treat it with respect. Would you make an important business agreement and casually break it, or stand up a good friend for dinner? Why treat yourself with any less respect?

Robert, a fifty-two-year-old Jewish man with chronic abdominal pain and indigestion, had been diagnosed as having pancreatitis. His doctors had little to over him but had urged him to follow a low-fat diet, which he had trouble doing. He found an inner advisor who called himself “Moishe.” Robert said he looked like a cross between his brother, Morris, and the biblical figure Moses. Moishe, like the doctors, told Robert that he would feel better and give his pancreas a chance to recover if he followed a strict low-fat diet. Robert followed Moishe’s advice for several weeks and felt better than he had in years. He then went on a trip, visiting his family, and forgot about his diet. Soon after a meal at a Chinese restaurant he had a severe episode of abdominal pain and vomiting. He tried to get back in touch with his advisor but had no success.

When he next came to visit me, I guided him through a relaxation process and politely asked Moishe to come and talk with Robert again. Moishe appeared in his imagery, but stood with his head turned away and wouldn’t say anything. Robert asked him why he was silent, and he replied, “I don’t have time to waste if you’re not going to be sincere about this, I am not going to talk to you.” Robert apologized and committed himself again to working toward better health more conscientiously.

Today, two years later, Robert feels working with his inner advisor has been one of the most helpful things he has ever learned. Not only has Moishe helped Robert with his digestive problems, but he was also of great comfort during a very difficult six-month period in which Robert lost the two people closest to him. During that time, Moishe told Robert that he was only an intermediary figure who represented his connection with God. Robert said to me, “Why deal with a middle man?” and now, in his meditations, he feels a sense of inner connection to God. Sometimes he asks questions and receives answers; other times he just enjoys a deep sense of peacefulness.

If you make and keep your inner agreements, it’s quite reasonable to ask for and receive some tangible evidence that what you are doing will pay off. If your advisor does have the ability to guide you toward healing, it should have the ability to let you know you are on the right path.

There may be times when your advisor may not be willing or able to give you immediate relief as a sign. If that’s the case, ask it what needs to happen first before you can get some relief. This will often start you on the road that eventually leads to the relief you seek. Remember, testing is not the same as doubting. It’s a request for evidence of fair value, and you must give fair value in return.

Should My Inner Advisor Appear in Any Particular Form?

Inner advisors often come as the classic “wise old man” or “wise old woman,” but they come in many other forms as well. Sometimes they come in the form of a person you know, a friend or relative who has fulfilled this function for you in real life. These people may be living or dead, and it may be an emotional experience for you to encounter them in your inner world. Some people feel strange communicating with the figure of a deceased relative and wonder if this is really the spirit of the person they’re talking with. If that’s your belief, and you’re comfortable with it, it can be a wonderful reconnection. Otherwise, it is enough to welcome it as a figure in your own mind that is wise and kind, and that has appeared in response to your request for help.

Advisors may also be animals or birds, plants, trees, even natural forces like the wind or the ocean. Sometimes people will encounter religious figures like Jesus, Moses, or Buddha, while others will find an angel, fairy, or leprechaun. Yoda from Star Wars often appeared as an advisor during the time the movie was playing, as did Obi Wan Kenobi. People sometimes encounter the advisor as a light or a translucent, ethereal spirit, and it’s not uncommon to simply experience a sense of something calming, strong, and wise, without any visual image. Others communicate with an inner voice without any visual or feeling image.

Dr. David Bresler, head of the Bresler Medical Center in Santa Monica, California, frequently uses the inner advisor technique with people in chronic pain. His approach is somewhat different than mine, though the results seem quite similar. He guides people to relax in an imaginary quiet place, then asks them to get an image for a friendly creature that can act as their advisor. Many of his patients will get animal advisors such as Bambi the deer, or Chuckle the chipmunk. Dr. Bresler and I have compared notes at length and agree that people seem to be able to receive the same kind of information from the animal figures as from any other inner Images of wisdom.

I explained this alternative once to a psychologist who had consulted me but was reluctant to get an inner advisor. As I described the cute little animal advisors many people created, he laughed and said he could see an image of a lion, looking at him and licking his chops. “Screw all those chipmunks,” said the lion. “I’m here and I’m important.” From this he understood that this inner part of himself was powerful and needed to be approached with respect.

Don’t have expectations of any kind; they can stand in the way of your benefiting from the experience. If you are expecting a transcendent experience and a frog jumps into view, you might not recognize it as a potential inner advisor. The opposite may be equally true. Once, when Dr. Bresler and I were teaching a workshop for health professionals, we led the group through the guided imagery experience of meeting with an inner advisor. Afterward, one woman looked enormously frustrated. She was upset because all she ever experienced when she looked for an advisor was a “beautiful bright light that fills my whole body.” We asked her how it felt to imagine herself filled with this light, and she said it was wonderful–it felt healing and energizing. But she was disappointed. She had been expecting a chipmunk!

The best way to work with this and any other imagery experience is just to let the figures be whatever they are. Welcome the advisor that comes and get to know it as it is. One advisor is no better than another, and there is no best way for them to communicate. People have learned profound lessons from gremlins named “Jack” and rabbits named “Thumper,” as well as from more classical wisdom figures. Some advisors talk, others communicate their messages through their expressions or actions or by changing their forms completely. Sometimes people just “get the message” with-out really knowing how. A psychologist at one of our workshops wrote, “I don’t see an advisor, and I don’t hear anything, but I do know what is being communicated. ” This is the essence of the inner dialogue, whether with an advisor or with other techniques you’ll learn later.

It may take time to get to know your inner friend, to understand how it communicates, where it comes from, what it represents, and how best to make use of it. It’s like a real relationship; treat it with respect, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how useful it can be.

How Do I Meet My Inner Advisor?

Meeting your inner advisor is simple. The first step is to let yourself relax and go to your special inner place. When you’re comfortable, quiet, and relaxed there, allow an image to appear for your inner advisor. Accept whatever image comes–whether it is familiar or not. Take some time to observe it carefully, and invite it to become comfortable with you, just as if it were real. After all, it is a real imaginary figure! Ask your advisor its name, and let it have a voice to answer you. You may hear the name in your mind or you may just understand its name let yourself “play along” and accept whatever name comes to mind. It’s important not to edit or second-guess the imagery at this stage. Take some time to become comfortable in the presence of your inner advisor, and as you grow more familiar with it, notice if it seems to be wise and kind. Notice how you feel in its presence. If it feels comfortable to you, ask your advisor if it would be willing to help you, and let it respond. If it is willing, tell it about your problem or illness and ask if it can tell you what you need to know or do to get better. Let it answer you and stay open and receptive to the answers that come.

Use the following script the same way you have used the previous ones. This exploration will take twenty-five to thirty minutes of uninterrupted time.

Script: Meeting Your Inner Advisor

Begin to relax by taking a comfortable position, loosening any restricting clothing, and making arrangements for thirty minutes of unrestricted time . . . take a few deep breaths and begin to let go of tension as you release each breath . . . allow yourself a few minutes to relax more deeply, allowing your body to let go and your mind to become quiet and still….

Imagine yourself descending the ten stairs that take you deeper to your quiet inner place . . . 10 . . . 9 . . . deeper and more relaxed . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . easily and naturally . . . 6 . . . 5 . . . deeper and more comfortably relaxed . . . 4 . . . your mind quiet and still, but alert . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . deeper and more comfortably at ease … and 1….

As you relax more deeply, imagine yourself in that special place of beauty and serenity you found as you did the previous imagery exercises . . . take a few minutes to experience the peacefulness and tranquillity you find in this place….

When you are ready, invite your inner advisor to join you in this special place . . . just allow an image to form that represents your inner advisor, a wise, kind figure who knows you well . . . let it appear in any way that comes and accept it as it is for now . . . it may come in many forms–a wise old man or woman, a friendly animal or bird, a ball of light, a friend or relative, a religious figure. You may not have a visual image at all, but a sense of peacefulness and kindness instead….

Accept your advisor as it appears, as long as it seems wise, kind, and compassionate . . . you will be able to sense its caring for you and its wisdom . . . invite it to be comfortable there with you, and ask it its name . . . accept what comes . . . when you are ready, tell it about your problem . . . ask any questions you have concerning this situation . . . take all the time you need to do this….

Now listen carefully to your advisor’s response . . . as you would to a wise and respected teacher . . . you may imagine your advisor talking with you or you may simply have a direct sense of its message in some other way . . . allow it to communicate with you in whatever way seems natural…. If you are uncertain about the meaning of its advice or if there are other questions you want to ask, continue the conversation until you feel you have learned all you can at this time . . . ask questions, be open to the responses that come back, and consider them carefully….

As you consider what your advisor has told you, imagine what your life would be like if you took the advice you have received and put it into action . . . do you see any problems or obstacles standing in the way of doing this? . . . If so, what are they, and how might you deal with them in a healthy, constructive way? . . . If you need some help here, ask your advisor, who is still there with you…. When it seems right, thank your advisor for meeting with you, and ask it to tell you the easiest, surest method for getting back in touch with it . . . realize that you can call another meeting with your advisor whenever you feel the need….

Say goodbye for now in whatever way seems appropriate, and allow yourself to come back to waking consciousness by walking up the stairs and counting upwards from one to ten, as you have before. When you reach ten, come wide-awake, refreshed and alert, and remembering what was significant or important to you about this meeting….

Evaluating Your Experience

When you open your eyes, take some time to write down or record whatever happened in your experience. If you met an inner advisor, describe it in detail. Did you have a visual image or a sense of its presence, or did answers come to your questions without any particular image forming?

What did you ask your advisor, and what was your advisor’s response? Do you understand its response? Are there other questions you would like to ask next time you have this dialogue that would help clarify its advice for you?

Did you learn anything useful from this experience? Is there any action you will take as a result of this inner conversation, or is there something else that needs to happen first?

Did you become aware of any obstacles to following your advisor’s advice? If so, were you able to imagine constructive ways to deal with them?

Are there specific people who would be affected if you followed your advisor’s recommendations? If so, how could you best address their concerns?

If you didn’t meet an inner advisor, if your advisor was critical or hostile, or if you met more than one advisor, read the section of the next chapter that addresses your experience before taking the next step.

Discrimination and Inner Guidance

Evaluating the advice you receive is a critical aspect of working with an inner advisor. The advisor is one of many aspects of your unconscious mind, and it is possible for you to receive information from other inner sources. Weighing the potential benefits and risks of what’s been suggested allows you to analyze what you’ve learned and discriminate between potentially useful and potentially risky actions.

Sometimes, however, the choices that offer the most benefits also involve the most risk. In medicine we use the concept of a risk/benefit ratio to help us decide among different treatments for an illness. The ideal treatment is, of course, completely safe and always effective, but unfortunately it has yet to be discovered. So we look for the ones that have the best ratio of safety to effectiveness, whether they be medicines, surgery, acupuncture, or psychotherapy. If a treatment is very safe and very effective, we use it more easily than one that is more dangerous and less effective. Or even more easily than one which is more dangerous yet more effective. This balance is a critical factor in evaluating treatment choices, one that you can apply in making your own choices.

Did your advisor suggest something that seems safe and offers potential benefit? Although you can’t always tell in advance whether what’s being suggested will be effective, you can usually evaluate its safety, and if it’s safe, you can easily try it out to see if it works. For instance, your advisor might suggest that you relax more, or perhaps visualize something healing while you’re relaxing. Here you are only risking fifteen to forty-five minutes a day for a few weeks to judge whether or not there is some positive effect.

There may be times, however, when the advisor suggests you do something more risky–like confronting someone or making a significant life change. You then need to weigh the potential benefit carefully before taking action. Assess your true beliefs about what is important to you, and make your choice from the most honest assessment you can make. You might also explore additional options through imagery and have further discussions with your inner advisor about the best and safest way to do what needs doing.

One of the most common fears people have is expressing themselves honestly to other people. We fear loss of love or respect, and we can easily ignore our own needs because of this fear. If the needs are important enough, they may find a means of expression in illness or symptoms.

Mary, twenty-four years old, had developed a sinus infection and was afraid that it would spread and get worse. She had had several similar infections earlier and always became extremely ill with them. Her treatment was complicated by her allergic reactions to every antibiotic usually prescribed for sinus infections. When encouraged to use imagery to explore the illness, she went to her quiet place and called on her inner advisor–a strong, loving older woman named Rose, who reminded her of the grandmother who raised her.

Mary asked about her illness and quickly became aware of the tension she’d been feeling between her and her husband during the previous two weeks. They were living under considerable financial pressure, and he had been working hard to organize a new business. He was tense, uncharacteristically edgy, and critical of her. He’d recently begun to have a couple of drinks after work, and this seemed to change his personality from an easygoing, loving one to a critical and angry one. Mary was frightened to talk to him about it for fear of making him even angrier. She valued her marriage highly and was afraid to do anything that might strain it. She realized all this in a flash. She had bottled up her own anger and fear, and Rose told her that was why she was sick. Mary asked Rose what to do, and Rose advised her to talk with her husband, quietly and lovingly, letting him know about her concerns when he wasn’t tense and irritable.

After the imagery session, Mary was greatly relieved, both emotionally and physically. Subsequently, she had a good talk with her husband during a quiet evening and found him supportive and responsive. They were able to share their concerns and hopes again, and her recovery was complete within two days.

Mary’s inner advisor helped her become aware of the feelings she was holding inside, the fear that kept them locked up, and a practical, loving way to express them and get the response she desired. By paying attention to her symptoms in this unusual way, she was able not only to recover from an illness, but to solve an even more serious problem in her life.

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Written by Martin L. Rossman MD

Explore Wellness in 2021