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 Guided Imagery: Listening to Your Symptoms 

There are times, of course, when it's just not possible to proceed with absolute safety. Life is a risky business, and there are no guarantees in any kind of medicine or healing. The most sensible approach is not to take unnecessary risks, minimize those you do take, and look carefully at the relative potential for benefits.

As you begin to work with the imagery process that follows, you may become aware of negative feelings toward your symptom or illness. These are perfectly natural. They hurt you, frighten you, limit you, and interfere with your life. As you encounter an image that represents your symptoms, you may notice similar feelings arising. Expressing your feelings to the image, then letting it respond, may be the beginning of better understanding, as you will see when you practice the exercise in this chapter.

How to Listen to Your Symptoms
I am indebted to Dr. Naomi Remen for developing the larger part of the script included in this chapter. Dr. Remen originally recorded this script as part of our self-care tape series. In her introduction to this tape, she explains, "If you have a chronic illness, you already have a relationship with it. That relationship is often not the best it could be and may be characterized by mistrust, hostility, and fear. Dialoging with the symptom or with an image that represents it opens up lines of communication that may have been closed, and may lead to an improvement in the relationship. This improvement is often experienced as a decrease in pain, anxiety, or depression, and in some cases, as improvement in the illness itself."

Expressing your feelings in imagery can be the beginning of a dialogue, and it is possible to express anger, fear, or sadness, yet allow communication to continue. Take the attitude of a good negotiator or arbitrator. Find out what the "opposing" party wants, what it needs, what it will take, and what it has to offer if its needs are met. This is the essence of the inner dialogue process, and an attitude free of judgment will facilitate this conversation. In diplomatic circles it is said "There is no good and bad, only opposing views of the good." A diplomatic attitude in your imagery exploration may lead to inner peace, where before there was only conflict. Your goal is relief of the symptom or healing of the illness, but your approach will be negotiation rather than warfare.

As you work with the following imagery process, allow yourself to relax and accept what comes to mind. Let the images you encounter speak for themselves, and consider what comes to you carefully. Give yourself room to explore by maintaining a nonjudgmental, curious attitude. Approach this as an investigation, a consideration of your problem in a broader perspective.

When you are through with the process that follows, you will, as always, reflect on, weigh, and analyze whether what you learned is relevant or important to act on.

By now, you know to take a comfortable position, make sure you will not be interrupted for about thirty minutes, and either have a friend read the following script, make a recording of it, or work with our pre-recorded tape.

SCRIPT: Listening to Your Symptoms
Begin as always by taking a comfortable position, loosening any tight clothing, . . . have some writing paper and a pen or pencil close at hand....

Take a couple of deep, slow breaths, and let the out breath be a real "letting go" kind of breath . . . imagine that any unnecessary tension or discomfort begins to flow out of your body with each exhalation . . . then let your breathing take its own natural rate and rhythm, allowing yourself to sink a little deeper and become more comfortable with each gentle breath....

Invite your feet to release and relax any tension that may be there . . . notice them beginning to let go . . . invite your calves and shins to release as well . . . your thighs and hamstrings . . . your pelvis, genitals, and hips . . . feel your whole lower body releasing and relaxing as it has so many times before . . . just allowing your body to head for a deeper, more comfortably relaxed and focused state . . . and as your body relaxes, your mind can become quiet and still as well . . . easily and naturally ... without effort....

Allow your low back and buttocks to join in the releasing and relaxing . . . allowing these large muscles to become loose and soft and take a well deserved break . . . allow your abdomen to relax as well . . . the muscles of your abdomen, flanks, and midback relaxing more deeply . . . the organs in your abdomen as well . . . your chest muscles . . . your shoulder blades and in between your shoulder blades . . . letting go . . . easily . . . naturally . . . the organs in your chest . . . your shoulders letting go . . . your neck muscles . . . your arms . . . forearms . . . wrists . . . hands . . . fingers . . . and thumbs . . . releasing and relaxing . . . comfortably and easily . . . releasing your scalp . . . forehead . . . face . . . and jaws . . . the little muscles around your eyes....

And to relax more deeply . . . to become quiet in mind and body . . . imagine yourself in that special, quiet inner place you've visited before . . . a special inner place of peacefulness . . . serenity . . . and security for you . . . take a few moments to look around and notice what you see there . . . and what you hear in this special place . . . and any odor or aroma . . . and especially the feelings of peacefulness and safety that you feel here . . . and find the spot in which you are most comfortable . . . and become centered and quiet in that spot....

When you are ready, direct your attention to the symptom or problem that has been bothering you . . . your symptom may be a pain, weakness, or dysfunction in some part of your body or a mood or emotions that are uncomfortable for you . . . as you focus on the sensations involved, allow an image to appear that represents this symptom . . . simply allow the image to appear spontaneously, and welcome whatever image comes--it may or may not make immediate sense to you ... just accept whatever comes for now....

Take some time just to observe whatever image appears as carefully as you can . . . if you would like it to be clearer, imagine you have a set of controls like you do for your TV set, and you can dial the image brighter or more vivid . . . notice details about the image . . . what is its shape? . . . color? . . . texture? . . . density? . . . How big is it? . . . How big is it in relation to you? . . . Just observe it carefully without trying to change it in any way . . . How close or far away does it seem? . . . What is it doing? . . .

Just give it your undivided attention . . . as you do this, notice any feelings that come up, and allow them to be there . . . look deeper . . . are there any other feelings present as you observe this image? . . . When you are sure of your feelings, tell the image how you feel about it--speak directly and honestly to it (you may choose to talk out loud or express yourself silently)....

Then, in your imagination, give the image a voice, and allow it to answer you . . . listen carefully to what it says . . .

Ask the image what it wants from you, and listen to its answer . . . ask it why it wants that--what does it really need? . . . And let it respond . . . ask it also what it has to offer you, if you should meet its needs ... again allow the image to respond....

Observe the image carefully again . . . is there anything about it you hadn't noticed before? . . . Does it look the same or is it different in any way? . . .

Now, in your imagination, allow yourself to become the image . . . what is it like to be the image? . . . Notice how you feel . . . notice what thoughts you have as the image . . . what would your life be like if you were this image? . . . Just sense what it's like to be this image....

Through the eyes of the image, look back at yourself. . . what do you see? . . . Take a few minutes to really look at yourself from this new perspective . . . as the image, how do you feel about this person you are looking at . . . what do you think of this person? . . . What do you need from this person? . . . Speaking as the image, ask yourself for what you need....

Now slowly become yourself again . . . the image has just told you what it needs from you . . . what, if anything, keeps you from meeting that need? . . . What issues or concerns seem to get in the way? . . . What might you do to change the situation and take a step toward meeting the image's needs? . . .

Allow an image to appear for your inner advisor, a wise, kind figure who knows you well . . . when you feel ready, ask your advisor about your symptom and its needs, and any thoughts, feelings, or circumstances that may make it hard for you to meet these needs . . . ask your advisor any questions you might have, and listen carefully to your advisor's responses . . . feel free to ask your advisor for help if you need it....

Now, mentally review the conversation you have had with your symptom and your advisor from the beginning . . . if it feels right for you, choose one way that you can begin to meet your symptom's needs-- some small but tangible way you can fill some part of its unmet needs . . . if you can't think of any way at all, ask your advisor for a suggestion....

When you have thought of a way to begin meeting its needs, recall again the image that represents your symptom . . . ask it if it would be willing and able to give you tangible relief of symptoms if you take the steps you have thought of . . . if so, let the exchange begin . . . if not, ask it to tell you what you could do in exchange for perceptible relief. . . continue to dialogue until you have made a bargain or need to take a break from negotiating....

Consider the image once more . . . is there anything you have learned from it or about it? . . . Is there anything that you appreciate about it? . . . If there is, take the time to express your appreciation to it . . . express anything else that seems important . . . and slowly come back to your waking state and take some time to write about your experience....

Evaluating Your Experience
Take some time to write or draw anything significant to you in the experience. Describe your image of the symptom in detail. How does this image seem to relate to your experience of your symptoms or illness?

How did you feel about the image initially? Did your feelings change in any way as you continued to dialogue with this image? How do you feel about it now?

What did the image seem to want from you? What did it say it needed? What did it say it had to offer you in return for meeting its needs?

How was it to become the image? Did you learn anything else about the image from this part of the imagery? As the image, what did you ask yourself for?

As yourself, what was your reaction to the image's request? Are there obstacles or barriers you became aware of to meeting its needs? If you chose to, how might you deal with them constructively? What would be a first step toward meeting your symptom's needs?

Did the image agree to give you tangible relief of symptoms if you took that step? Is there something else it wanted instead? Are you willing to make a bargain with it, or have you reached an impasse in negotiations? If so, you may want to take some time to think about what you could offer in exchange for relief Consult with your advisor before returning to the dialogue with your symptoms.

You may not always be able to come to an agreement with your symptoms immediately. As with any negotiation, a good deal of exchange and consideration may need to take place before a bargain is struck. Make sure any agreement is mutually acceptable--one-sided pacts do not work. If you do make a bargain with your symptoms, keep your agreement and watch carefully for improvement.

The Next Steps
You may notice that as you write about this experience, you become aware of connections and information you didn't notice during the imagery. You may even notice yourself becoming aware of related information over several days following your inner dialogue. You may find information in dreams, in flashes of intuition, in books you are reading, from people you talk with, and TV shows you watch. Once you have asked the unconscious for advice, it responds in many ways. You may also find that repeating this process in a few days will allow you to penetrate even more deeply into the relationship between you and your symptom.

(Excerpted from Guided Imagery for Self-Healing: An Essential Resource for Anyone Seeking Wellness ISBN: 091581188X)
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 About The Author
Martin Rossman MDPhysician, author, speaker, researcher, and consultant, Dr. Rossman founded The Healing Mind in order to raise awareness about the power of high quality mind/body......more
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