Resources for Recovering Resilience: Cultivating the Imagination for Healing, Change and Growth

I’ve had the privilege of writing a chapter for Leslie Davenport’s wonderful new book Transformative Imagery: Cultivating the Imagination for Healing, Change, and Growth.

Leslie has pioneered the integration of guided imagery into mainstream medicine and psychotherapy; in this gem of a book she has brought together the teachings and tools of many other leading pioneers in the field of using imagination and imagery for healing: Rachel Naomi Remen, Martin Rossman, Emmet Miller, with a table of contents that makes it easy to find exercises like “Travel Within the Body for Pain Relief” or “The Gift of Reconciliation.”

The entire book is so well-researched and referenced; it’s solidly grounded in case studies and opens the horizons to larger, universal, archetypal perspectives at the same time.

One of the exercises I included in my chapter, “Using Guided Imagery to Create Brain Change,” I’ve included here below, to demonstrate how using our imagination can reveal new insights that can lead to the behavior changes that lead to healing, change, and growth. May you find it helpful, and perhaps even Leslie’s entire book helpful in your own path of recovering resilience.

Noticing and Naming

Imagine that you’re walking down the sidewalk in the neighborhood where you live. You notice a friend walking toward you on the sidewalk on the other side of the somewhat busy street. You call out and wave “hello!” but there’s no response. Notice your own split-second reaction to that “no response” in your own body: a contraction, a drop in energy. Notice whatever thoughts might begin to cascade in response to your body’s reaction. “Hmm, that’s unusual. I’d better try again.” Or “Whew! He has a lot on his mind. I wonder if I should even bother him?” Notice any reactivity to those thoughts. “Gee, he seems a little stuck up today.” Or “Oh, no! What have I done wrong?” Notice if your thoughts follow a pattern that you’ve observed in the past: feeling bad about yourself or wanting to reach out even more, for example.

Now imagine that your friend suddenly sees you, calls out, and waves “hello!” to you. Again, notice the split-second reaction in your body to the friend connecting with you: a smile, an uplift in energy. Bring awareness to any shifts in your body, notice any shifts in your thoughts. “He noticed me!” “I’m glad we weren’t disconnected after all.” As you reflect on your experience, notice if your thoughts follow a pattern that you’ve noticed before, perhaps relief or gratitude.

Take a moment to name the reactions and the patterns you discovered, with compassion for any reactions that may have been triggered by what you noticed. With every moment of this practice of noticing and naming, you are strengthening the parts of your brain that do the noticing. And by pausing to do this, you are conditioning your brain to create choice points, which give you a chance to respond with more flexibility and choose a different response the next time.