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Frequently Asked Questions
- What is mental or guided imagery?
- What types of situations can/should imagery be used for?
- What is the origin of "mental imagery?"
- Is there a difference between "mental imagery," "guided imagery," or "visualization"?
- Why do I only practice it for a minute or so each day?
- How can imagery bring about change in our daily lives?
- How does imagery work in healing physical ailments?
- What happens if I can't image?
- How often do I do imagery, and for how long?
- How do you sit and breathe for mental imagery?
Imagery is the mind thinking visually in pictures. There are many ways we can think. For example, we think logically with words and non–logically through image, intuition, etc. We think in images all the time, but may not be aware of it. For instance, when we choose a shirt we are already envisioning ourselves in it before we put it on. A basketball player envisions the shoot before s/he shoots the ball. In fact, images form the structure of our inner life. For example, night dreams come in the form of images.
The power of mental imagery is unparalleled in our world. Imagery is a mental process that shows us new ways to approach life and life's problems: reestablish meaningful relationships, change destructive habits, open up avenues of creative power, access inner reservoirs of power that are the life force for our collective good.
It is a unique process in that it is independent of any external influence or intervention, and at the same instant is naturally integrated with our physical functioning as a biological-mental unity, a wholeness that is naturally healing for us. Imagery brings together the five most significant facets of our life: physical, emotional, mental, social, moral. All of this happens by going inward to ourselves through the inherently available power of imagery.
- Any physical, emotional, mental or social difficulty
- To manage the creative process
- To bring couples closer together
- To create harmony in the family
The only known area where it may not serve at first is in the case of schizophrenia. Otherwise, everything is possible.
The use of mental imagery goes back to our most ancient sources. Thousands of years ago we find a clear depiction of this process in the experience of the prophet Ezekiel, who travels in an inward imaginal journey to the throne of God. In fact, in biblical times there were schools called Sons of the Prophets in which these imaging techniques were taught. As time went on a tradition emerged called Chariot or Throne mysticism that became an important branch of western spiritual practice called Kabbalah, the word itself meaning "to receive." Eventually the Catholic Church took up these practices in the person of some well–known saints including: Hildegarde of Bingen, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, as main luminaries. At the time of the Renaissance, mental imagery was the major technique of medical practice for treating people with physical illness. The name of the technique associates with this direction was called "complexio."
In sum: mental imagery has a long, unabated, and distinguished history of which the above represents only a brief pinkie–nail sketch. In the twentieth century, mental imagery had begun to flourish more extensively in Europe and America, especially in the latter half. Such names as Robert Desoille (Directed Waking Dream), Hanscarl Leuner (Guided Affective Imagery), Carl Jung (Active Imagination), and most importantly, Mme. Colette Aboulker–Muscat (Waking Dream Therapy), stand out as seminal contributors. To this list I add my own as the American link of this great tradition.
No, none at all. All are but different names for the same process. I prefer the name "mental imagery" to "guided imagery" because you do not need another human being to guide you through the process. Although I initially provide imagery exercises, as you become proficient in this simple and powerful technique, spontaneous imagery will arise from within you.
Imagery is like a firework display. You need only a single match to ignite a cascade of fireworks: So for a micro input you get a macro response.
Like any medicine, you need to repeat it generally three times a day for 21 days. Twenty–one days is a natural cycle of the human body. Research has shown that it takes up to 21 days to break a habit.
Our inner images reflect our beliefs about the world. These beliefs spark the birth of our outer reality. The images that we conceive and perceive internally manifest, or are birthed, externally in the world. As you practice imagery you can experiment and see if this is true for you.
As noted above imagery is the mind thinking in pictures. The mind and physical body are mirror images of each other; they are two sides of the same coin. What happens in one happens in the other. If you see yourself healing in your mind’s eye, the healing takes place in your physical body as well.
Most people have a natural capacity to image. For some of us, we may need more practice before imaging comes.
Here are a few tips to stimulate your capacity for imagery:
- Look at a picture or photograph of a natural setting for 20-30 seconds then close your eyes and see the same picture in your mind.
- Remember a pleasant scene from your past with your eyes open, and then close your eyes and remember these images.
- Use your non-visual senses to evoke images. For example, hear a fish frying in the skillet or the applause of an audience, or glasses clinking. Smell perfumes or essences and experience what happens.
Generally, you do imagery 3 times a day: upon awakening, at sunset (or at the end of your workday), and before bed.
In imagery, less is more, so the shorter the time you stay in an image, the more powerful the result can be. Most imagery exercises are short and take 5-15 seconds to complete, occasionally up to a minute.
Here's a short video for how to sit and breathe before and during mental imagery exercises.
- Sit up in a chair. Keep your back straight and rest your arms comfortably either on armrests or your lap. Place your feet flat on the floor, and don't cross your hands or your feet.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe out a long, slow exhalation through the mouth, and follow it with a regular inhalation through the nose (i.e. don't exaggerate the in-breath). Repeat this breathing sequence for a total of 3 times (often you'll see in my book "breathe out 3 times" or "BO3X").
- Do the imagery, breathing in your normal pattern/rhythm.
- Breathe out once and open your eyes.