The first time I tried guided imagery, I expected a visit from some gauzy, Glinda the Good Witch figment of my imagination who would benignly advise me on fixing my out-of-whack life. All I knew about guided imagery was that it involved soothing myself into a relaxed state and then invoking an "inner adviser" with whom I'd have an imaginary conversation about a physical or emotional problem. Supposedly, this interior dialogue would give me vital information about healing—information that wasn't available to my chattering, overwrought conscious mind.
But instead of Glinda gliding onto the scene, a large, grinning, cornflower blue bunny hopped into view. Somehow I knew his name was Woody, and my first impulse was to order him out of my sight. Woody exuded a kind of giggly, hail-fellow-well-met vibe that I found distinctly unappealing. I was looking for wisdom and serenity. What did I want with a grinning blue bunny?
Still, the reading I'd done so far about guided imagery stressed the importance of welcoming whatever inner adviser happened upon the scene and simply letting the counseling process unfold. So I silently communicated to Woody that I was so stressed out by work—too many deadlines and not enough time—that I could barely sleep at night. How, I asked him, could I get my work under control so I could get a decent night's rest?
In my mind's eye, Woody considered my dilemma, managing to look thoroughly goofy and deeply attentive at the same time. "You need more fun in your life," he finally offered, flashing me a loopy smile.
I snorted impatiently. "You don't get it," I said, feeling my chest tighten. "I don't have time for fun. I've got deadlines! And wipe that grin off your face!"
Woody was unfazed by my outburst. "Well," he said, looking only a shade more serious, "you know, deep down, that you love to write. So why not go with that, and let the writing be fun?"
Almost imperceptibly, I felt something shift inside me. Oh. Could I possibly make writing an occasion of joy—the way I used to when I was a kid—rather than a cauldron of self-doubt and anxiety? As Woody and I continued to trade ideas and possibilities, I could feel tension begin to drain from my body. It was remarkable how real this encounter felt, as though I were communing with a warmhearted if slightly dorky friend who knew me better than I did.
My experience did not surprise Belleruth Naparstek, author of Staying Well with Guided Imagery and a leading theoretician and practitioner of the approach: "Guided imagery is a directed, deliberate kind of daydream that mobilizes your unconscious to assist with conscious goals," Naparstek told me. "Imagery drops like a depth charge into the most primitive parts of your brain. You're fundamentally enlisting the power of your imagination to heal."
Guide to the Guides
Audio recordings are the simplest and most economical way to sample guided imagery, with tapes and CDs available on scores of health conditions and personal issues, from easing headaches to losing weight to coping with grief to speeding recovery from sports injuries. But if you want to delve more deeply into a medical or emotional issue, you have another choice—to work with your own personal practitioner. A few resources:
Overseen by Belleruth Naparstek, this site offers a huge selection of guided imagery tapes, CDs, videos, DVDs, and books, as well as short takes on the latest research.
Academy for Guided Imagery
This Web site can help you find a trained guided imagery practitioner in your area. You can also buy imagery tapes, CDs, and books here, as well as learn more about the process of Interactive Guided Imagery.
The Healing Mind
This site offers books and CDs by Martin Rossman, MD, cofounder of the Academy for Guided Imagery.