I asked Jeffrey to imagine opening the bag, but as he began he became afraid and said there was too much pain there to let out all at once. I asked him to let just one thing out of the bag and let an image form for it. He imagined his father's face and recalled a number of painful childhood interactions with his father, who was quite emotionally abusive. Over a series of sessions, he began to come to terms with the feelings he had locked away about this and started to feel much better emotionally and physically. In this way, he not only obtained relief from his ulcer pain, he learned a method to better express and respond to his own emotional needs.
Using imagery in this way can allow illness to become a teacher of wellness. Symptoms and illnesses indicate that something is out of balance, something needs to be adjusted, adapted to, or changed. Imagery can allow you to understand more about your illness and respond to its message in the healthiest imaginable way.
How Does Imagery Work?
The ultimate mechanisms of imagery are still a mystery. in the last twenty years, however, we have learned that imagery is a natural language of a major part of our nervous system. Critical to this understanding is the Nobel-prize-winning work of Dr. Roger Sperry and his collaborators at the University of Chicago and later at the California Institute of Technology. They have shown that the two sides of the human brain think in very different ways and are simultaneously capable of independent thought. In a real sense, we each have two brains. One thinks as we are accustomed to thinking, with words and logic. The other, however, thinks in terms of images and feelings.
In most people, the left brain is primarily responsible for speaking, writing, and understanding language; it thinks logically and analytically, and identifies itself by the name of the person to whom it belongs. The right brain, in contrast, thinks in pictures, sounds, spatial relationships, and feelings. It is relatively silent, though highly intelligent. The left brain analyzes, taking things apart, while the right brain synthesizes, putting pieces together. The left is a better logical thinker, the right is more attuned to emotions. The left is most concerned with the outer world of culture, agreements, business, and time, while the right is more concerned with the inner world of perception, physiology, form, and emotion.
The essential difference between the two brains is in the way each processes information. The left brain processes information sequentially, while the right brain processes it simultaneously. Imagine a train coming around a curve in the track. An observer is positioned on the ground, on the outside of the curve, and he observes the train to be a succession of separate though connected cars passing him one at a time. He can see just a little bit of the cars ahead of and behind the one he is watching. This observer has a "left-brain" view of the train.
The "right-brain" observer would be in a balloon several hundred feet above the tracks. From here he could not only see the whole train, but also the track on which it was traveling, the countryside through which it was passing, the town it had just left, and the town to which it was headed.
This ability of the right hemisphere to grasp the larger context of events is one of the specialized functions that make it invaluable to us in healing. The imagery it produces often lets you see the "big picture" and experience the way an illness is related to events and feelings you might not have considered important. You can see not only the single piece, but the way it's connected to the whole. This change of perspective may allow you to put ideas together in new ways to produce new solutions to old problems. A right-brain point of view may reveal the opportunity hidden in what seems to be a problem.