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 I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. 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.