Visualisation and Meditation
En excerpt from the book :
IN CANCER THERAPY"
by Ross, R.Ph. Pelton, Lee Overholser
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RESEARCH SHOWS THAT what we visualize in our minds is often what we create in our bodies. The power of visualization has been used to treat a variety of physical and emotional conditions. Likewise, meditation has been used for its mental and physical
Both meditation and visualization begin with relaxation and clearing the mind of distractions to produce what might be called a trance state. With meditation it appears that the depth of relaxation and the elimination of worries are related to the effectiveness of the technique. With visualization the intensity of the images in the mind appears to increase their effectiveness.
Visualization and the Simontons
Much of the early work in visualization was carried out by Carl and Stephanie Simonton. According to their best-selling book Getting Well Again, Carl Simonton noticed that some cancer patients survived because they had a will to live. (20) The Simontons began adapting visualization techniques learned in Silva Mind Control by Stephanie Simonton to treating cancer and other diseases in 1971.
One of their first patients, a man with advanced throat cancer, had a vivid imagination, and Dr. Simonton asked him to visualize the radiation therapy killing the weak cancer cells while his white
blood cells carried them off. The man's cancer disappeared, and he went on to use visualization to clear up his arthritis and a longstanding problem with impotence. (20)
The Simontbns developed a therapeutic approach based on using visualization to mobilize the body's defenses. They definitely saw their approach as being used in conjunction with traditional surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. The first problem they address is the negative mind-set that many cancer patients have. The Simontons also identify and work with the same depression and unfulfilled lives in their patients that LeShan discusses.
The social attitudes toward cancer are strongly negative. People tend to assume that cancer is a death sentence, is uncontrollable, strikes from without, and requires drastic medical treatment, which is usually ineffective and has many unpleasant side effects. The Simontons teach their patients that cancer is a disease that is not always fatal, that the body has defenses against the disease, and that medical treatment can be an important ally in the body's attempt to fight against the disease.
The Six-Week Program
In Getting Well Again the Simontons recommend a specific six-week program for cancer patients. The program begins with reading to change negative attitudes, using books such as The Will to Live and Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer, which promote a positive attitude toward our power to control disease. The patient begins relaxation and visualization sessions three times a day. The patient is to identify stresses in life prior to developing cancer and examine the "benefits" of illness.
Cancer often solves problems for people, such as leaving a difficult relationship or job. It may be a very difficult way of handling a problem, but it works. Of course, the aim is to find less damaging ways of handling such problems. The Simontons also recommend a program of one hour of exercise three times a week, appropriate to the patient's physical condition. The patient should get a counselor and deal with facing death and fears that the cancer will recur. Toward the end of the program participants are encouraged to set goals and find a source of inner guidance.
Setting goals is an important part of the recovery process because it makes the person assume there is a life to be lived. Just setting a goal is a visualization process that includes seeing yourself living in the future and achieving that goal. It gives a person something to live for.
Working with Jeanne Achterberg, the Simontons developed several criteria for effective imagery:
- Cancer cells are weak and confused, and should be imagined as something that can fall apart like ground hamburger.
- The treatment is strong and powerful.
- Healthy cells have no difficulty in repairing any slight damage caused by the treatment.
- There is an army of different kinds of white blood cells that can overwhelm the cancer cells.
- White blood cells are aggressive and want to seek out and attack the cancer cells.
- The dead cancer cells are flushed from the body.
- The imagery session is a story that ends with the patient healthy and free of cancer.
- You visualize yourself reaching your goals and fulfilling your life's purpose. (20)
We can see how these guidelines for visualization worked in the case of Betty, a patient of the Simontons who was thirty-five years old and who had breast cancer, resulting in one and then a second mastectomy. Her initial imagery showed her white blood cells as ferocious fish with sharp teeth. This was interpreted as meaning that her white blood cells were powerful and would win. The cancer cells were drawn as large and clumped together, which is seen as making them too powerful and organized. The other problem was that the chemotherapy was depicted as arrows, which implies both strength and damage—to the patient.
In the second drawing, six months later, the cancer cells were smaller and the chemotherapy was represented as an ointment, much less threatening to Betty. The Simontons report that Betty
is doing well, physically and mentally, and receiving her counseling in her hometown.
Jeanne Achterberg and Frank Lawlis (1) developed a scale for rating the intensity of imagery for descriptions and drawings of cancer cells and white blood cells. Fourteen dimensions are measured, such as the strength and activity of the cancer cells, the relative size and numbers of cancer and white blood cells, and so on. Nearly three hundred patients were interviewed and evaluated in three separate studies. In the cases where the patients died or their condition deteriorated, the evaluation of their images predicted the course of their disease with 100-percent accuracy. For those who entered remission, their test scores predicted improvement with 93-percent accuracy. This is an astonishingly high level of predictive accuracy, and it is exciting to see that mental images can reflect the internal physical processes of cancer patients.
These studies establish that the lines of communication between mind and body are a two-way street. The mind can accurately evaluate the activity and effectiveness of white blood cells, and the mind can directly affect the level of activity of white blood cells. Visualization is now being adopted by some in the medical mainstream, although they question its efficacy as a cure for cancer or other serious diseases.
Bernie Siegel and Imagery
Dr. Bernie Siegel is one of the most effective popularizers of the Simontons' work. Through books such as Peace, Love and Healing and Love, Medicine and Miracles he has made a profound impact on the lives of thousands of patients, especially those with cancer and AIDS. As he sees it, his job as a physician is "not only to find the right treatment but to help the patient find an inner reason for living, resolve conflicts, and free healing energy." (18)
Dr. Siegel combines psychological and visualization techniques. He calls his process personality reprogramming, and he is definitely eclectic in his approach. Use whatever works, be it analysis, imagery, or positive thinking. What stands out in his
approach is the acceptance of the uniqueness of the individual and the meaning of the individual life. Commenting on his approach, he says, "The only thing I would lay claim to on my behalf is the ability to inspire hope in people." (19)
In 1978 he founded a widely known support-group program called Exceptional Cancer Patients (ECaP) to provide "a loving, safe, therapeutic confrontation, which facilitates personal change and healing." (19) The program is based on the observation that there are "exceptional patients" who unexpectedly recover from cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
ECaP groups are designed to awaken the healing potential of patients through exploration of dreams, drawing, and imagery. The program emphasizes that it is offered in addition to traditional medical care and does not offer any medical advice. There is a loosely structured association of support groups around the country based on the original ECaP program, but there is only one ECaP center, in New Haven, Connecticut.
Siegel sees diseases such as cancer and AIDS as a gift, an opportunity to discover the meaning, love, and joy in life. To him, "Cancer, death or loss are not the issue but love and healing are and we finally see that in the pain lies the opportunity to love and care even more." (19)
To evaluate a patient's emotions and attitudes, he asks four questions:
- Do you want to live to be a hundred?
- What happened to you in the year or two before your illness?
- What does the illness mean to you?
- Why did you need the illness? (18)
He is looking for the patient's level of motivation, emotional experience as the disease developed, and the function of the illness in a patient's life. He then has the patient draw a picture. The picture is usually a self-portrait or a representation of the patient through symbols. For example, if the patient draws himself as a small figure surrounded by angry animals and storm clouds above, the prognosis at that point would not be good. Siegel would then work with the patient's self-images and appreciation
for life to produce a stronger sense of self, resolve conflicts, and develop a positive purpose for living.
To those who are caught up in the misery and awfulness of life, people like Bernie Siegel seem absurdly optimistic. To those who choose life, he is not offering false hopes but the real hope of enjoying and experiencing the wonder of the life we have right now. If, as some solid studies suggest, cancer is caused in part by depression and repression, there can be no loss in adopting hope and happiness.
We see in the work of the Simontons and Dr. Siegel the application of several of the principles derived from research on the effects of psychological intervention in cancer. The Simontons and Siegel work to increase the patient's sense of control over the situation. The emphasis is on present activity and anticipation of the future. The patients are encouraged to develop a positive, even joyful outlook. They are taught to express their emotions, especially anger, so that they can develop the ability to fight against the cancer. As they recover, they are encouraged to develop a sense of purpose and future-oriented goals. All these elements appear to be effective behavioral and emotional approaches to coping with and overcoming cancer.
Interactive Guided Imagery
A further development of the imagery technique is found in Dr. Martin Rossman's book Healing Yourself, which promotes a technique called interactive guided imagery. (17) In this approach the individual relaxes and looks for a source of inner guidance. In this way the images are constructed by the individual, not the therapist.
One of Rossman's patients, Alice, had used visualization to help her recover from breast cancer. However, she experienced a persistent pain between her shoulder blades. With Dr. Rossman's guidance she relaxed and imagined she saw an adviser, in her case a man who looked like Merlin the Magician. Her inner adviser told her she needed to ask for help. She began crying and realized she had held back her feelings to spare her loved ones from distress. At the end of the session her pain was greatly
reduced, but a little remained to remind her to ask others for support and help.
There are five steps to Rossman's program for cancer patients:
- Producing deep relaxation
- Using healing imagery to strengthen the immune system
- Using the inner adviser and listening to symptoms for guidance
- Turning insight into action to make healing changes
- Using wellness imagery to increase health and lead a joyful life (17)
The emphasis on the patient's developing and utilizing the imagery may lead to more effective images for the individual while empowering the patient at the same time.
Meditation and Cancer
Meditation has been used in the treatment of a variety of medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, anxiety, and intestinal problems, as well as cancer. Lawrence LeShan points out that the techniques for meditation, whether developed in India 2,500 years ago or in medieval monasteries, bear many similarities. (7)
Meditation begins by clearing ordinary concerns from the mind and focusing on a particular mental task. LeShan distinguishes four different types of meditation in common use:
- Listening to a tape recording designed to induce a relaxed state
- Repeating a phrase (a mantra) over and over in the mind as the patient relaxes
- Visualizing changes in the body or in images representing problems
- Focusing the mind on a single task, such as simply counting the number of breaths one takes
In The Relaxation Response Dr. Herbert Benson reviews the literature on how these techniques produce relaxation and a variety of physiological responses, ranging from lowered heart rate to changes in brain waves. (2)
LeShan goes on to make a valuable point. There is no right way to meditate. For an individual one or another technique may be more effective, but trying to do it in a particular way and no other can lead to a sense of failure on the part of the practitioner and the abandonment of meditation. As he says, "Meditation is one of the great paths that the human race has developed to further the growth of individuals and to help us move closer to our potential. It is a method of helping us grow and change and, as an adjunctive method in the treatment of cancer, can be of very great value." (7) He gives several different approaches in his book How to Meditate. (6)
In 1988 Christopher Magarey in the Medical Journal of Australia reported that he has been conducting meditation classes for cancer patients and others for five years. He found that meditation improved their overall health, sleep, relationships, and attitudes toward death, while it gave them a sense of meaning and purpose in life. He states, "Meditation has led some to report a new sense of truth in their lives, a reality beyond death which dissolved their fears." (9)
A few weeks before her death of breast cancer, one of Magarey's patients composed a poem entitled "On Learning to Meditate." In part she wrote, "In just one second so infinite a change. Peace came to stay, walked in so quietly [...] as bliss poured through me." Her inner strength and joy inspired all those around her, even at the moment of her death. He concluded that practices such as meditation can improve the quality of patients' lives and may even increase survival.
Meditation and Ainslie Meares
Meditation is surprisingly popular as a treatment for cancer in Australia. You Can Conquer Cancer by lan Gawler, which recommends a combination of meditation, natural foods, and exercise to treat cancer (3), was a bestseller in that country.
Ainslie Meares, an M.D. with a practice in Melbourne, promotes the use of a special form of intensive meditation as a possible cure for cancer. Since stress leads to the release of cortisone, which inhibits the immune system, he contends that meditation reduces anxiety, lowers cortisone levels, and improves immune functioning. (14)
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"ALTERNATIVES IN CANCER THERAPY" by Ross, R.Ph. Pelton, Lee Overholser (Contributor)see
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