“It’s OK, Mommy. You’ll grow another one.” -My second daughter (after I pushed out my fourth baby’s placenta)
A little over a week ago, I attended a three-day therapeutic guided imagery training workshop. It was one of those life-changing experiences… where you know you are exactly where you are supposed to be, learning exactly what you are supposed to be learning. Before I tell you about some of my imagery experiences, let me answer a question that may be on some of your minds: what is guided imagery?
In brief, as a therapeutic guided imagery facilitator, I can help another person come into a relaxed and altered state where we can use the mind/imagination to visualize or imagine a limitless variety of experiences and possibilities and find comfort and healing. Guided imagery isn’t just a sort of woo-woo feel-good hippy trip. It is shown through scientific research to be beneficial in a wide variety of circumstances for a wide variety of physical and emotional difficulties. The Journal of Instructional Psychology explains:
Guided imagery is a flexible intervention whose efficacy has been indicated through a large body of research over many decades in counseling and allied fields. It has earned the right to be considered a research-based approach to helping. (Guided Imagery as an Effective Therapeutic Technique: A Brief Review of Its History and Efficacy Research)
For instance, in a recent pilot study published in Holistic Nursing Practice looking at the effect of guided imagery on stress levels of hospitalized pregnant women, the results were promising:
Mean stress and systolic blood pressure measurements postintervention were significantly lower than mean levels before listening to the guided imagery CD. All participants identified benefits of this holistic intervention. The study provides preliminary evidence that a guided imagery intervention may be effective in reducing maternal stress in hospitalized pregnant women and supports the feasibility of conducting a randomized clinical trial to further support incorporating this intervention into care.
There is nothing quite like entering the imagery state. It feels awesome (you can do anything you want!), and it is a powerfully effective way to reduce the effects of trauma and emotional baggage really quickly.
In one of the imagery journeys we participated in during our workshop, we imagined that we were holding a bowl, whatever kind of bowl we wanted. Mine was a simple wooden bowl kind of like this. Then three separate people/creatures appeared and placed a gift in our bowl one by one. The first for me was an eagle. The eagle placed a white marble in my bowl. My next gift-giver was a tiger. It came walking toward me and promptly vomited into my bowl. Then he told me to drink it. For real? I obeyed. It tasted like juice. Weird, I know. Then a unicorn appeared and put an apple in my bowl and told me to take a bite. After we came out of the imagery state, our instructor asked me if I wanted to share what I had seen. Tiger vomit? Did I really want to fess up to drinking tiger vomit? But after warning them that it was gross, I went ahead and shared my journey.
I knew as the tiger came toward me that he represented courage. And I understood that he was, in essence, saying, “You want courage? Here, have mine….” So I drank his courage-vomit. The eagle was no surprise. I’ve been hanging out with a lot of eagles lately (a story for another day), but I didn’t really understand the white marble until a later imagery journey. The unicorn represented impossible things, and eating her apple enabled me to believe in impossible things. Cool stuff.
So why did I need courage? Well, in part, because I’m speaking to a group of women at a dinner event Tuesday evening. I haven’t done any public speaking for a long time. Eeek! But mostly I need courage because my unborn son is not going to easily give up his hope of being born into my family. Deep breaths.
Just three months ago, I wrote: “I don’t expect I will ever give birth or breastfeed again.” I really thought I was done thinking about this. I thought I had come to peace with being done with my childbearing years. Then we visited my family for Christmas, and for the first time in a long time, I felt him again. Off and on over the past four years I have felt his presence among my children. I have had the sense of a small boy frolicking with my kids. He’s not always around, but every once in a while I notice him. Well he came at Christmas-time. Then I attended an all-day meditation/yoga retreat the first weekend in January, and he came to see me again. And again during my guided imagery workshop.
In one imagery journey, I was in the Swiss Alps, sitting under a lovely old tree on a swing, and he came and sat by me (in the form of a handsome teenager). His presence was like heaven… it felt so amazing I couldn’t even describe to you what it felt like. I told him I was scared that it would kill me to bring him here. He smiled tenderly at me and said, “It won’t kill you.” But he also said, “I love you no matter what you decide.” At the time I was experiencing a real-life headache and neck tension. But he started rubbing my neck and it all went away. And we just sat there peacefully.
Yesterday I attended another all-day yoga/meditation event. During one of the meditations, I felt him come again. My back was hurting at the time, and I felt as though he was sitting behind me, bracing me, and the pain melted away.
I look at baby pictures of my kids and ache to hold them. I see mothers wearing their babies at the grocery store and remember that blissful one-ness. It’s agonizing and terrifying… Wanting to be a responsible and stable parent, knowing that my husband and I and a lot of other people are concerned about what another pregnancy/baby would do to me, but feeling like I already know my unborn son and already love him. It feels like it would be a massive impossible thing for me to get him here. But I guess that’s why my unicorn came and gave me her apple, like a sort of Eve-figure, inviting me to take a bite. Impossible things happen every day. Am I brave (or crazy) enough to attempt the impossible? Does tiger vomit really work?