Guided imagery focuses and directs the imagination in proactive, positive ways. It can be just as simple as an athlete’s 10-second reverie, just before leaping off the diving board, imagining how a perfect dive feels when slicing through the water. Or it can be as complex as imagining the busy, focused buzz of thousands of loyal immune cells, scooting out of the thymus gland on a search and destroy mission to wipe out unsuspecting cancer cells. –Belleruth Naparstek
Some may simply call it “visualization,” but it goes beyond pictures in our head. Most of us have probably experimented on some level with its effectiveness on our own creativity, performance or anxiety.
More recently, research findings have demonstrated its positive impact on blood pressure, short-term immune cell activity, headaches, anxiety, nausea and fatigue- some of the all too common struggles faced during cancer treatment. Most find benefit by as little as 10 minutes of guided practice.
Guided imagery is considered a form of meditation, but requires minimal time and skill. This gentle yet effective technique can be tailored to the “genius of each person’s unique imagination” (Naparstek 1994).
Abram used his own personalized guided imagery on me last night. He was finishing his bath, and I was rushing around getting his towel and clothes ready.
For some reason, I was bent on finding “the” towel I had washed earlier that day. I’m not sure if I was tired, or if the towel actually has magically superior fibers, but when I found it crumpled and damp near the dirty-clothes basket, my shoulders tensed and I let out an exaggerated exhale through my nose. As I walked back to the linen closet, I felt I had to “settle” for a smaller, less plush towel. How ridiculous is that?
With bubbles on his semi-bald head, Abraham busted me out for acting rammy and flustered. He stopped me and ended my ridiculous huff by saying,
“Close your eyes.”
So, of course, I did.
From the tub, he instructs me, “Think about a super-soft kitten that doesn’t scratch curled by your neck, purring. It is all gray with one white paw and a bright pink nose. And there’s puppies in your lap.”
“What color should the puppies be, Mom?”
“All different shades of black and brown,” I replied. And then I added, “with floppy ears and that sweet puppy-paw scent.”
I didn’t peek, but I could tell he was pleased with my reply.
He continued to create my happy picture with images of Woodstock and Tweety Bird perched on my head.
“Do that for ten seconds or so.”
And, I did.
My young wiseman concluded our session with, “Use those thoughts when you’re stressed out, Mom, like with taxes.”
And just like that, I shifted my mood and my energy from frenetic and forward to calm and current. I had helped Abram use this meditative practice in the hospital before, but this was the first time he’d guided me to peace through a soothing “imaginary pet massage” (as he likes to call it).
I try to live in the now, but at certain times, I lose myself and spiral into a frenzy. When my mind calms and I realize that the moment I am in is the only one I am guaranteed, I regain my perspective. And luckily, when I forget to check myself, I have a Zen child who reels me back in.
Any of us can overreact or feel disappointed, but with a shot of awareness and a measure of practice, it’s possible to find peace at the same time.
Our bodies cannot escape the busy necessities of the world, but the quiet of our mind is ours to protect. No one, nor act, nor task should guide our thoughts without our permission. And when the noise creeps back in, there is always guided puppy (or kitty or birdy) imagery to quiet our thoughts and soothe our soul.