You are standing at the edge of a canyon. One step forward and you fall into the abyss. On the other side of the canyon is the beautiful new life you wish for but never achieve. What if your new life is closer than you think? What if you could get from here to there just by changing the way you think? I know. You’ve tried positive affirmations, and they don’t help. Why not? Because talking to the head doesn’t change the heart. It doesn’t change the unconscious beliefs that drive your life. Guided meditation goes beyond conscious thoughts and into the roots of your belief system, the source of your pain, and the unseen forces that are keeping you stuck. Often, mental health providers will tell you that you have a “disorder” that cannot be cured and must be medicated, and counseling is centered around learning to cope with your symptoms, not curing your illness. The religious approach often resorts to blaming and shaming the sufferer into silence and hiding. Whether you’re experiencing a vague sense of dissatisfaction with your life or serious bouts of anxiety and depression, guided meditation can help put you back in the driver’s seat of your life.

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Artist: John DePianto

Guided meditation, or guided imagery, can be used to help you relax and imagine the future you desire. However, used correctly, guided imagery can do much more than that, too. You might find yourself feeling trapped in bad habits, troubling relationship patterns, or heavy emotions such as anger, fear, or shame. Guided imagery can gently lift those negative patterns up and out of the psyche. It may not require spending hours on the therapist’s couch or years doing cognitive behavior therapy to retrain the mind.

Change is difficult. Always. When we come face to face with an aspect of ourselves that we dislike or that hinders us in some way, we try to change it. In other words, we fight against it. We resist emotions that we think are unbecoming or harmful. We push them down. We argue with ourselves about their validity. We often succeed in taking charge over the emotion or habit until we face a stressful situation. Sometimes the problem comes barreling forth with such weight and speed that we just can’t catch it. The results can be anywhere from mildly embarrassing to downright destructive.

This is why I believe it is better not to approach problems head on, opposing ourselves in an internal battle that can truly be quite exhausting. With guided imagery, we can cut through the analysis, the resistance, and the conflict with ourselves in about 15 minutes. How? We do it by changing our brainwaves to match the state it was in when the problem first wound itself into our thinking pattern. Now for a very brief explanation.

The brain normally operates in one of for brain wave states, Delta, Theta, Alpha, and Beta. Delta is deep restorative sleep at about 1–3 hertz, or cycles per second. Theta is the dream like state between sleep and wakefulness at 4–8 hertz. Alpha is the state of imaginative wakefulness at 9–13 hertz. Beta is the normal state of wakefulness during conversation, work, or study, between 14 and 30 hertz.

Our general belief system is developed between the ages of 0 and 8. Infants’ brain waves are exclusively in Delta, even when they are awake. Children’s brain waves between the ages of 2 and 5 are in Theta. Children are in Alpha from age 5 to 8 during daily activities. At this age, children start to interpret and draw conclusions from their environment. Still though, the inner world of imagination tends to be as real as the outer world of reality (

The point of all this? It helps to understand why no amount of evidence to the contrary can change your your beliefs about yourself that were formed during childhood. If nearly all of the messages and experiences you received as a child were positive, you will be undaunted by failures and setbacks. You will likely have unwavering confidence in yourself and will assume positive intent of most people. On the other hand, if you experienced some rejection, criticism, negative comparison, abuse or neglect, these are interpreted as reality and filed in the brain as truth, not only about others but about yourself.

To take just one example, look at the prevalence of what is known as imposter syndrome. No matter how successful a person is, they continue to believe they are undeserving of that success and at any moment they could be exposed as a fraud. They simply cannot give themselves appropriate credit for their hard work, natural talents, and legitimate accomplishments. They are sure that their status in life is a result of luck and undue kindness from powers that be.

This explains why positive affirmations do not work. If you sat down and wrote or spoke, “The sky is yellow and grass is purple,” every day, would you ever start to believe it? It’s highly unlikely. The “reality” that was programmed into you is as true to you as the color of the grass and sky. How, then, can we ever hope to change it? Very simply, by changing our brainwaves to Alpha, the state where these beliefs were formed, and giving the subconscious mind a new narrative. This is done gently, because, remember, we are dealing with a child’s mind now. Yelling, demanding, convincing, persuading, and contradicting will never change that belief. The most beautiful thing about guided imagery is its gentleness.

We use guided imagery to slow down the brain waves, then we speak to the Alpha brain in its own language of imagery, metaphor, and symbolism. We let the “child” lead. By understanding what this “problem child” is trying to achieve or obtain, we can begin to meet those needs either symbolically or practically. Remember, in the Alpha state, the brain does not know the difference between what is real or imagined. If you give that child the love, acceptance, empowerment, or practical help it needs, it will begin to believe a new narrative. So often I hear mental health professionals and clients say, “you cannot change the past.” Guided imagery would question whether that is true.

Written by

Sondra Longbrake holds a master’s degree in counseling. She developed a method for personal healing that changed her life, and shares this through her writing.

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