Ritual Imagery in Healing and Inner Work

Carlos Durana Ph.D., M.Ac. practices acupuncture in Reston, Virginia, Bethesda, Maryland and in Washington D.C.

Rituals are stereotyped symbolic acts or interactions which allow for the expression and/or alteration of values, meaning, feelings, relationships and events.  Images and symbols as well as symbolic acts are the building blocks of rituals.

As a basis for spiritual and religious ceremonies, rituals make concrete the intangible and unknowable.  They serve as a doorway into non-ordinary levels of consciousness, helping link two orders of reality: the physical and the metaphysical.  Rituals enshrine and attune us to the abundant presence of the sacred, helping release its transformative power.  The source of energy and power that can be released from rituals renews and regenerates, uplifts and reinforces commitment.

As cultural devices, rituals facilitate the preservation of the social order.  In acting like markers of natural changes, rituals connect us with the rhythms and working of the universe.  Rituals mark transitions from one state to another.  Common patterns of interactions can be seen in rites of passage during birth, marriage and funeral ceremonies.  These actions generate a feeling of beginning and/or completion.

Another purpose of ritual is to provide healing such as when ritual imagery or therapeutic rituals are used in self-transformation and psychotherapy (Achtenberg, 1985).  These rituals facilitate a sense of control, legitimize the expression of feelings (e.g. mourning), provide structure in the face of disorganization (loss) or celebration (holidays), and facilitate social interaction.

Imagery

Imagery has been used since ancient times as a resource in healing and self-transformation.  Imagery is a part of our self-concept, our self-image; images are an integral part of our feelings and our thoughts which they can in turn influence.  Images are inner representations of our experiences; they are the thought, feelings tastes and smells we can see.  They are the stuff of dreams, memories, plans and spiritual visions.  Images are involved as well in the process of illness, recovery and wellness.

Like dreams, images convey their meanings though symbols.  They can be used to discover connections between our physical symptoms and stressful circumstances as well as coping patterns that may be maladaptive (Goleman & Gurin, 1993).  In our growth, they can be used as doors to our inner process.

Today, imaging is widely used in “mind-body” medicine to produce benefits in healing, such as minimizing the side effects from chemotherapy
in cancer treatment and improving immunology.  Images can affect our physiology directly.  When we tune into ourselves, we can notice signals that convey information about our state of health.  Before becoming sick, our organism sends numerous signals, like the oil light on the dash board of a car displaying red to signal a potential engine seizure.

The effectiveness of imagery based approaches may be explained biochemically, neurologically and psychologically.  With respect to the latter, Sheikh (1983) has suggested that when we monitor and rehearse images, we enhance the feeling of control, modify the internal dialogue
and meaning associated with maladaptive patterns, and enhance our
coping skills.

Imagery: My symbolic nature

—  Relaxation, breathing and grounding (container exercise) to be
used throughout.

—  Find a safe place; notice the sights and smells.

—  Imagine what is right with you.

—  Contact your inner guidance.

—  Who are you symbolically?   What is your symbolic nature?  Are you an animal? a plant? a power? an angelic being?  etc.?

—  Does it have a name?

—  Become intimately connected to that symbol.  Let it speak to you. What messages are there?  What does it teach you?  How does it inform your growth and healing?

—  How is it a part of something greater?

—  Let it become a source of wisdom and power.

—  Allow yourself to feel the symbol.  Notice its actions, expressions, sounds, energy and presence.

—  Allow your body to move to the rhythms and energy of the
symbol.  Absorb its energy fully into all of your cells.

—  Be grateful for what you have received.

—  Imagine what is right with you; be grateful for that.

—  Drift back to the present.
Ritual imagery and inner guidance: Releasing

—  Relaxation, breathing and grounding (container exercise) to be used throughout.

—  Find a safe place; notice the sights and smells.  If appropriate, light a candle, burn some incense to create a symbolically sacred space.  Add an offering, for example, so the result of this exercise may be of   benefit to me and others.

—  Imagine what is right with you.

—  Become aware of a sound or word that you can use internally or externally as a repetition to help you go further inside.  Are there any colors associated with this?

—  Ask for and look inside for a creature, plant, animal, person or spiritual being that can be your ally, your guide.

—  Make friends.  Ask for your guide’s name.

—  Discuss the problem with this ally.  Ask for advice.  Be aware of your reactions.  Ask for relief or answers to change the problem.
Listen carefully.   Answers may come as images, thought, feelings or body sensations.

—  To allow something new to come (healing or growth), it is necessary to   let go of something.  For example, if it is lack of forgiveness of self or another, reflect on that.  What needs to be released?
Ask for advice.

—  Imagine the benefits of releasing it.  What holds you back?  Ask for support and courage.

—  Imagine yourself after releasing it.  What do you look like?  How do you act?   Feel the impact of releasing it.

—  Ask to meet daily with your guide to reinforce the release.

—  Feel grateful, and give thanks for what you have received.

Acupuncture services offered by Carlos Durana Ph.D., M.Ac. are available in Reston, VA, Bethesda, MD and in Washington D.C.

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