The power to visualize then, is the ability to harness the creative and therapeutic power of the imagination. This we do whenever we employ and further develop such already on-board skills, in order to ‘paint’ or portray a relaxing and tranquil scene or peaceful retreat. In some such cases, places – and even faces – may have already acquired a tendency to calm and moderate the effects of stress and fear. Used this way, such simple strategies can do nothing but good. Indeed, the relatively new science of psychoneuroimmunology, which studies the mind-body connection, is currently busily engaged in the testing of hypotheses linking mental imagery, with beneficial effect upon cells of the immune system.
Early speculation is also currently being tested to determine as to whether or not healing may flow from a tendency in such relaxed states, to redress an unhealthy dominance of the brain’s left hemisphere, over the right. The left hemisphere exercises more of a computer-like control over logical thinking, whereas the right hemisphere regulates and controls our intuitive and creative faculties. It has, for example, also been hypothesized that such healing activities ensuing (if such is the case) from engagement of the intuitive and creative faculties of the right brain hemisphere; might redress an unhealthy dominance normally exercised by the left hemisphere’s computer-like control over logical thinking.
One further historical point to be made here about visualization in so far as it relates to cancer patients is that during the 1970s, Drs. Carl and Stephanie Simonton, a cancer specialist and psychologist respectively, made extensive claims for their methods regarding patient quality of life and survival. This included the visualization of cancer cells being routed by healthy disease-fighting white cells. A variant of this approach sought to teach patients to visualize his/her tumour being attacked and (allegedly) eradicated by ‘host-friendly’ cells. Indeed, a variety of ‘colourful’ (and controversial) scenarios, were proffered and have been employed to that end. However, although such visualization is claimed to have worked and provided a measure of support for some patients, it is, one feels, always wiser and safer to ensure that any such activity be preceded by and thus based upon credible and methodologically sound research, informed opinion and skilled and adequate supervision. The Simonton’s work and claims about it have given rise to dispute in the past and all I would add here is that I, strictly on a personal basis, have never nor would I in the future employ any such similar approach in my own clinical practice.
Conventionally, meditation has been described as a state of freedom from the imposition of everyday thought. Its aim and focus is gradually to draw to ‘centre stage’ what has been described as “the essence of being”. Experimental evidence has consistently shown that the body’s metabolic rate can be decreased in this way and it is claimed that restorative and healing propensities accompany such a state. From ancient times on, methodological reflection on eternal truths swiftly turned meditation into a religious pursuit. Consequently, it plays a major role in all religions, ancient and modern, major and minor. Christian meditation is often described as a search for deeper insight into the will of God, while a goal of Buddhist meditators is to achieve the state of “non-self” or Nirvana.
Whilst a religious essence and focus for meditation for some is essential, for others it may be much more diffuse in that it encompasses the daily miracle of indefinable space, together with the inestimable possibilities of human consciousness and what it has achieved and inspires: the joy and privilege of sharing great feats of achievement, e.g. the wonders of art, of music, of scientific and technological invention and discovery; and by no means least, the excitement and challenge of the daily round of life, inspiring courage, tenacity, meaning, fulfillment and beauty.
All of the above and more beside have, at different times, been witnessed in some form or other in ordinary mortals, e.g. cast adrift for awhile on a barren and deserted island: (if not literally then in their perception of their present lot) held captive in a death camp: faced with the bleak prospect of an incurable disease etc. It shines like a beacon from the lives of men and women such as a Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King nelson Mandela. Robert Louis Stevenson in his writings tells of an old byresman· who was once asked how he dealt with the invariable muck and unending stench surrounding him in his daily toil. The old man replied in the form of a simple statement: “He that has something ayont·· need never weary”. To arrive – by whatever route – to the belief in a Providence, a power and purpose, beyond what is immediately apparent and to find a focus and acuity for that belief to the point of conviction and some degree of fulfillment, is, for many, a crucial component of coping.
I was a boy of twelve years when one day I read a story of heroism and bravery in a national daily newspaper, which touched me deeply. One of its war correspondents had been among the first on the scene of the infamous Nazi Concentration Camp at Buchenwald in Northern Germany. He described how the stench of burnt flesh and rotting bodies pervaded everything. Then, as he entered one of the death huts next to the gas chamber, he noticed a grubby piece of paper gently wafting across the floor in front of him. The war correspondent was intrigued to find that it contained writing but in a language entirely foreign to him. When translated it became clear that it had in all probability been scribbled down as a final testament by some unhappy former camp internee. It read, “Today they intend to switch of the light…but they shall never disconnect me from the source of its power”. (C) SB.
Note for Information to whom it may concern: I am being approached from time to time with requests for permission to include reference to my postings in their own writings, accompanied, of course, with due acknowledgement of origin and source etc. Not only do I not mind; I am honoured to know that other colleagues regard my work as being in whatever way useful and supportive to their own work. Please ‘be my guest’; thank you for asking; best wishes. SB.