Imagery is a flow of thoughts you can see, hear, feel, smell, or taste. An image is an inner representation of your experience or your fantasies--a way your mind codes, stores, and expresses information. Imagery is the currency of dreams and daydreams; memories and reminiscence; plans, projections, and possibilities. It is the language of the arts, the emotions, and most important, of the deeper self.
Imagery is a window on your inner world; a way of viewing your own ideas, feelings, and interpretations. But it is more than a mere window--it is a means of transformation and liberation from distortions in this realm that may unconsciously direct your life and shape your health.
Imagination, in this sense, is not sufficiently valued in our culture. The imaginary is equated with the fanciful, the unreal, and the impractical. In school we are taught the three R's while creativity, uniqueness, and interpersonal skills are either barely tolerated or frankly discouraged. As adults, we are usually paid to perform tasks, not to think creatively. The premium is on the practical, the useful, the real, as it should be--but imagination nurtures human reality as a river brings life to a desert.
Without imagination, humanity would be long extinct. It took imagination--the ability to conceive of new possibilities--to make fire, create weapons, and cultivate crops; to construct buildings, invent cars, airplanes, space shuttles, television, and computers.
Paradoxically, our collective imagination, which has allowed us to overcome so many natural threats, has been instrumental in creating the major survival problems we face on earth today--pollution, exhaustion of natural resources, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Yet imagination, teamed with will, remains our best hope for overcoming these same problems.
Imagery and Physiologic Change
Imagery in healing is probably best known for its direct effects on physiology. Through imagery, you can stimulate changes in many body functions usually considered inaccessible to conscious influence.
A simple example: Touch your finger to your nose. How did you do that? You may be surprised to learn that nobody knows.
A neuroanatomist can tell us the area of the brain where the first nerve impulses fire to begin that movement. We can also trace the chain of nerves that conduct impulses from the brain to the appropriate muscles. But no one knows how you go from thinking about touching your nose to firing the first cell in that chain. You just decide to do it and you do it, without having to worry about the details.
Now make yourself salivate.
You probably didn't find that as easy, and may not have been able to do it at all. That's because salivation is not usually under our conscious control. It is controlled by a different part of the nervous system than the one that governs movement. While the central nervous system governs voluntary movement, the autonomic nervous system regulates salivation and other physiologic functions that normally operate without conscious control. The autonomic nervous system doesn't readily respond to ordinary thoughts like "salivate." But it does respond to imagery.