The Power of Visualization
Our words create images, and our memories do the same thing. These images and memories are stored in our bodies, and when they are damaging they ultimately take their toll. So it is vitally important to feed our minds with healthy, positive images. It is very much the message of many spiritual teachers that we choose to see ourselves not as sick and disabled but as whole and filled with potential.
Find a comfortable position. Look up and let your eyelids close gently as you focus on your breathing, exhaling waste, inhaling inspiration. Allow a wave of peace to move through your body while you inspire life. When you feel ready, take a slow mental walk through your body. Find any wounds from the past. Love those areas; see them healing and becoming healthy and normal again. Picture your body doing what you want it to do. Continue mentally walking until you have journeyed throughout the whole body. Take time to enjoy the journey.
When you are finished, think about the places in your body where you now have, or have had, discomfort or other symptoms. Ask yourself what words you would use to describe your experience of the dis-ease or symptoms. Now think about relationships in your life that you could use the same words to describe. If a relationship or situation is affecting your health, drop the relationship or remove yourself from the situation. Think about what else in your life could be described the same way. When you pinpoint it, eliminate it from your life, and you will find relief from your symptoms too.
As you heal your life, your internal chemistry changes and your body benefits. Find the harmony and rhythm that are authentic for you, instead of accepting the ones imposed by others. Don’t be afraid to imagine your ideal self; your body has the potential to create whatever you visualize. And when your health is not the issue, see how love can heal your life and cure your disease.
Dreams: The Brain’s Creative Workshop
Letting go of our conscious ego-mind, we enter a relaxed, safe, and creative realm where body and psyche merge. In the world of guided visualization, we are able to form bridges to the loving, peaceful energy that resides within us and that nurtures, heals, and promotes well-being. When we dream, we go through a similar process, but instead of following the voice of another person, we become our own facilitator of imagery. The dream is our connection to our subconscious guide, our soul, our greater self.
The language of dreams is mostly pictorial, often symbolic, utilizing all of our senses and emotions. The stranger the images are, the more likely our subconscious wants us to pay attention. Dream images are all aspects of various parts of the dreamer. Often when you describe what was in your dream, you realize what it represents in your life or body.
For example, if you are under great stress from relentless challenges during the day, you might have a dream in which you are chased by an angry crowd. With feet too heavy to run, you flap your arms as hard as you can until your body miraculously rises above the clawing, outstretched hands of the people in that crowd. Flight seems the most natural thing to do. You soar higher and higher until you are above the clouds, and with a sense of great relief you feel like a child again, playing in the sky.
A dream such as this teaches us that we are capable of rising above our fears and worries. By doing so, it releases us and gives us the freedom to be ourselves and know that we can live in the joy of the moment. This dream experience of feeling like a child at play may also be a therapeutic message from an inner guide telling us to take a day off, walk on the beach, or begin practicing meditation or yoga and quiet the turbulent inner pond until our reflection is visible.
Dreams can also open the door to messages of love, comfort, and approval, messages that cross the physical barriers erected by our consciousness, intellect, or ego. These dreams often acknowledge that the path we are on is the correct path, or they may show us a source of strength, in this way supporting and encouraging us on our journey. When your intuitive side knows the right way at a deep level, it participates with your consciousness, and the direction of your life becomes clear.
Laugh Out Loud
Love and laughter are the elements we need in order to build and hold our lives together. Love makes up the bricks that we build our lives with, but what holds those bricks together? For that we need mortar, and the mortar of life is humor. I mean a childlike humor that isn’t offensive and doesn’t hurt anyone. The effect humor has had on my family and marriage has shown me that it’s a vital force, one that enables us to create healthy relationships with other living things.
You might be asking yourself: what has laughter got to do with the art of healing? Laughter may be one of the purest of the healing arts. What I am telling you is that laughter is one of the best therapeutic activities Mother Nature provides us with, and it doesn’t cost a cent. True laughter is an outburst or expression of breath that involves the vocal cords and comes from deep in the belly. It’s caused by an irresistible urge to express surprise, mirth, joy, and delight. Laughter stimulates the release of endorphins, a group of brain chemicals mentioned in an earlier chapter. These chemicals flood the body with a feel-good sensation that reaches every cell, delivering a message that says: Life is worth living, so do everything you can to survive.
In Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, Norman Cousins wrote a fascinating account of his self-induced healing-by-laughter from a diagnosed condition, ankylosing spondylitis. When his doctor gave him a one-in-five-hundred chance of recovery, Cousins checked himself into a hotel, watched Candid Camera tapes, and laughed, day after day. Choosing to use humor as his medicine, rather than react to his fear and do nothing, is the sign of an optimist — a survivor.
The opposite of optimism (a sign of happiness) is negativity (a lack of hope and the unawareness of potential). Negativity is an attitude that stems from fear: “Oh no, this is going to happen; that’s going to happen.” How can you be happy when you’re afraid, when the first thought in your mind is the worst-case scenario? Fear is meant to help you save your life. If you are walking in the woods and you see a snake that might be poisonous, then fear is an appropriate reaction. You’ll jump back instinctively
Fear is appropriate when a snarling dog lunges at you with teeth bared. Your heart rate increases and, with a rush of adrenaline, you find the strength to climb a tree that previously you couldn’t climb. But if you live in a constant state of fear, it is as if you are walking in the woods where everything around you is a poisonous snake or a rabid dog. Your body is constantly being pumped with stress chemicals that wear you down. It cannot repair itself when it’s putting all that energy into the fight-or-flight response, the automatic reaction of self-preservation. When you live in constant or chronic fear, your immune system becomes weakened as levels of stress hormones go up, causing increased blood sugar and inflammation of the circulatory system.
If you live with thoughts of love and engage in daily laughter, the opposite of what you worried about happens. It is nearly impossible to live in fear when you laugh, and when you laugh every day your outlook changes. How can this be? You come to realize that you control two things: your thoughts and behaviors. Happiness is not a place you arrive at or an award you receive; it is something you practice, and in the practicing you become happy as a result of your attitude, thoughts, and behavior.
Words Can Kill or Cure
Do you remember when you were a child and someone called you names? You probably answered, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I can tell you now: that statement is not true. Words can hurt and do a lot of damage. Words can kill or cure. Words, particularly those spoken by the authority figures in our lives, have power to affect us and alter our lives.
How you perceive something determines how it works for you, and the choice of words used for something plays a part in your perception. Consider four chemotherapy drugs used in a protocol named after the first letter of each drug: EPOH. One oncologist noted that if you turned the letters around, it became HOPE. He changed the name for his patients, and more of them responded to therapy.
A child’s drawing was criticized by her first grade teacher, who said it would not be displayed with the others because of how she used the color purple. In second grade, when asked by another teacher to draw a picture, the child left her paper blank. This teacher came over, placed his hand on her head, and said, “The snowfall — how clean, white, and beautiful!” His words gave her permission to be creative again, and that event later inspired her to write a poem titled “Purple.” You can read Alexis Rotella’s poem in my book Love, Magic & Mudpies.
Animals, too, are subject to our perceptions based on words. One family adopted an older rescued cat who had been so traumatized by his experiences with people that he would never enter a room with people in it. He came out to eat only when the family went to bed. After several unsuccessful months of trying to gain his confidence, they consulted an animal intuitive and told her the cat’s name was Spooky. “Change his name to something macho,” she suggested. “You may be projecting your expectation of his fear by the name you gave him.”
They renamed the cat Rambo. Almost immediately the cat’s behavior began to change. The family reported that Rambo was not only hanging around the house when they were awake, but he also had taken to sleeping on their beds at night instead of staying downstairs. If your doctor or health practitioner doesn’t believe in your recovery, fire him or her. Find someone who believes in miracles — someone who believes in you.
When a person develops a life-threatening illness such as cancer, family members also become afflicted by the experience, which they are rarely prepared for. Not only must they deal with grief from the expectation of loss, but also they will be faced with caring for the dying person while the latter undergoes treatment, a person whose needs can impose demands on many levels. Unless the family has already lived through and learned from a previous loss, this period of transition is not something you can prepare for, in the sense that your feelings and experiences will happen when they happen and not before.
Financial responsibilities, role changes, and physical, mental, and emotional energy demands all have the potential to become overwhelming at this time. People who deal with illness in the family only on an intellectual level may appear to be coping well, but ignoring their own feelings and needs can send them to the sickbed, too. Statistics show that the people who care for chronically or terminally ill patients frequently succumb to illness or death before, or shortly after, the patient dies, because they stop taking care of their own physical and emotional needs.
Self-care has to be a priority, and this can happen in many ways. Accepting help from others, taking breaks, joining support groups, enjoying laughter clubs or funny movies, eating well, maintaining some way of listening to the inner voice, talking to God, and letting God talk back — these are all lifesaving measures that help people through the stages of letting their loved ones go while caring for them as long as they are alive. The song Rock Me to Sleep, written by Tom Hunter says it well in the chorus: “Tonight I’d like you to rock me to sleep; I’d like you to sing me a song; I’m tired of doing things all by myself, and I’m tired of being so strong.” Looking after yourself stems from self-love, because if you do not value yourself the experience will become self-destructive and will not be life enhancing for anyone involved.
The important thing for caregivers to remember is to seek help before a disaster awakens you. You do not have to become strong at the broken places. You can learn how to handle the difficult elements of life just as a tree survives changes in the weather. When a patient is doing creative therapies to deal with their disease, family members can do the same, getting as much benefit as the patient does by working with their own unconscious through the use of imagery, drawings, and other forms of creative expression, such as playing music or journaling. It helps family members to identify what they fear and how they feel, so they can seek help through grief counseling or support groups. The hospice movement also provides support for family members, including counseling for up to a year after the patient dies, and many organized religions and churches offer similar help.
Family members may feel uncomfortable talking with the dying person about the end of life and afterward, but it can be very helpful for both if they do so. Open discussion on these matters by asking the patient questions such as “What are you thinking?” and “How are you feeling?” Bringing up the subject is okay. If the patient doesn’t want to discuss it, he’ll shut you off. Creative imagery can also be used to open discussion. Asking the patient to close his eyes and imagine how he would feel in a totally white room usually gets a positive response from those who need a rest or are ready for a spiritual transition. Those who are not ready to die are bored with the image of white walls and want to leave that room or decorate it.
Speaking up about your own needs and feelings regarding the upcoming transition is also appropriate when the patient is willing to listen. You can speak about your needs and see if he will speak about his, and if he does, you end up coaching and helping each other. When family members get over their fear of discussing the future with the person who is dying, and that person is ready to talk about it, wonderful things can happen. It is in these moments that our immortality is created.