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Well-being Q&A: Leslie Davenport

17 Apr

How much do you know about self-guided imagery? If you think it’s about visualizing beautiful landscapes to cope with stress, that’s not it. Well, maybe that’s a little of it. I guess Thomas Moore summed it up well when he wrote, “I see imagination as the most important power we have. As we imagine the world, so we live and understand. But a great deal of the imagination that shapes us lies under the surface. We need to tap that underlying storehouse of images in order to grasp who we are and where we are headed.”

So whether we understand the power of self-guided imagery or not, we’re doing it all the time. So says author Leslie Davenport, a pioneer in the role of guided imagery in psychotherapy and integrative medicine. She  is she a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with Master’s Degrees in both the arts and psychology, as well as an ordained minister in the interfaith Sufi tradition.

Leslie says that images are the natural language of our intuition and the wisdom of the heart. So understanding the images that flow constantly through consciousness as well as creating them deliberately can help heal and transform our lives. I asked Leslie to cover some of the basics on the hows and whys of self-guided imagery.

JHR: In your book Healing and Transformation Through Self-Guided Imagery (Celestial Arts/Ten Speed Press, Feb. 2009), you say that we are constantly being guided by imagery all the time, and that entering a different state of consciousness is not necessary. How does that work?

LD: If you have ever worried, daydreamed, or fantasized you have successfully done imagery. In essence, we move in and out of different states of consciousness all the time. Those common forms of imagery are a far cry from the range and depth of the healing possibilities with imagery, but it’s important to recognize that imagery, among other things, is the natural way that we store and expresses information. Try this simple 30 second exercise: Take a moment right now to answer the question, “How many doors, including closet doors, do you have in your home?” (pause) Unless you recently remodeled, you didn’t have a number pop into your head. You retrieved the information you were after by taking a quick imaginary tour of your home and looking around the rooms. The ability to enter imagery is easily available to everyone. And if we do take the time to relax and move into quieter realms within, we can also tour quite subtle and soulful aspects of our inner landscapes.

JHR: Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell talk about the idea that mythology is the result of the collective subconscious of humanity. Is there a link between this idea and the information individuals can glean from self-guided imagery?

healingselfguided1LD: Yes – very much so! The imagery journey is paradoxical in that it is both intensely personal and vastly universal. The images that arise have a characteristic of being exactly what is needed for the person at that very time in their lives, and yet the images themselves are often surprising, as though they originated from a realm beyond their knowledge.

By turning our awareness within through an imagery process, we can travel below our personal beliefs and psychological defenses, and tap into the layers of the subconscious and unconscious. Jung referred to the collective unconscious a “reservoir of the experience of our species,” and it is said to hold shared ancestral experiences. In imagery, people often tap into wisdom images that have meaning for them, but are unexpected and unfamiliar. As we dip into this shared layer of consciousness, universal images, or archetypes, arise that often appear in many different eras and cultures. Joseph Campbell describes universal imagery as the “mythic imagination,” and writes of the hero archetype in his book, Hero With a Thousand Faces.

JHR: Why do you think the practice of self-guided imagery is experiencing a renaissance now?

LD: While imagery is a very natural way of knowing ourselves and life, it has been severely underutilized in our contemporary culture where achievement, analysis and organization are prized. While those skills are valuable, when we fail to draw upon the full range of human perception, it creates imbalance. The cumulative lack of balance eventually becomes unsustainability which is now showing up on a global scale in health, environment, and economic crisis. This is a time when we are not only called to action, but to examine why we find ourselves here. As Einstein is attributed as saying, “Problems cannot be solved by the same consciousness that created them.” While I’m not suggesting that if we had all done imagery none of these problems would exist, I am saying that we have collectively lost sight of the mystery, beauty and soulful aspects of life as ways to inform our decisions. Imagery is one of the ways to remain connected with those depth aspects of life.

JHR: If someone is first getting started in the practice of self-guided imagery, what are some basic steps to be aware of? Is it a good to begin the process with a facilitator?

LD: I can’t emphasize enough how imagery is a natural process, and for that reason, it is very possible for someone to tap into meaningful images on their own. That being said, there are quite a few misconceptions about imagery that can initially get in the way. One example I often hear is, “I’ve tried before to picture a pretty place, but I just can’t.” While about 55% of the population does have a visual orientation when it comes to internal sense perceptions, there are also kinesthetic impressions, auditory responses, olfactory memories, all of which are valid portals for the full expressing on internal guidance. We often just sense something and it is accompanied by a feeling that rings true. All these internal impressions are the language of imagery. When we did the 30 second “door” exercise in question one, the images of your home may not have been Technicolor, but it was clear enough imagery to retrieve the information you were after. That’s all it takes! The goal is not to picture something: The goal is to tap into the amazing source of wisdom and healing within. When you are new to imagery, sometimes it is useful to have an experienced guide who can coach you through some of these kinds of temporary obstacles.

JHR: How does self-guided imagery support physical healing? How is the process different from emotional or spiritual healing?

LD: Recent research has confirmed that whether we are imagining a situation, or actually experiencing it, our physiology responds in almost exactly the same way. For example, if you are replaying a heated argument you had yesterday with a neighbor, a cascade of stress chemicals are released in your body in much the same way they were when you actually interacted with that person! The good news is that we can use this same mind-body connection to cultivate images that support wellbeing and trigger a healing response.

We are unitive beings: Your body, mind, emotions, and spirit are intimately connected. If we begin to relax our muscles, it quiets our thoughts and emotions. If we let go of a distressing thought, our muscles naturally relax. At the same time, we are complex beings. If we find ourselves with an illness, for example, it doesn’t mean that we created it because we had “bad thoughts” or weren’t spiritual enough. It does mean, however, that we can focus our minds to optimize healing and wellbeing because of the existing links with the various layers of who we are.

Because imagery is based on focused awareness, we can become more acquainted with and attend to the wounds and wholeness within all areas of our being, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

JHR: Can you share an exercise that readers can use today to begin utilizing the process of self-guided imagery?

LD: The imagery journey begins as soon as you close your eyes and bring your focus away from your thinking mind. Bring attention to your breathing. Each time you breathe in, silently say the word clarity. Every time you exhale, silently say the word peace and feel your body relaxing. Continue to deepen your relaxation with this breath practice for about three minutes. Then invite an image to arise of an environment where you could feel even more peaceful and supported, and when it takes shape, notice the colors, texture, sounds scents and feel. Step in and soak in the healing atmosphere of your inner sanctuary.

JHR: What are you reading? What are some books or authors who have influenced you in your life and in your work?

LD: My earliest teacher of imagery came from years of embodying living images as a professional modern dancer. Tapping into the creative well within as a choreographer opened the way for a growing understanding of the body-mind-spirit connections which took a healing focus later in life. I have great respect for imagery colleagues Martin Rossman, David Bressler, Jeanne Achterberg and Belleruth Naparstek. In the spiritual arenas, I have been influenced by Thich Nhat Hanh, Byron Katie, Eckhart Tolle, Meister Eckhart and Patanjali. Poetry nourishes me, and Mary Oliver and Rumi are top favorites. I am currently reading Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating.

Free Mother’s Day Book Download from Renee Trudeau

17 Apr
From May 8-10 Download this Book FOR FREE!

From May 8-10 Download this Book FOR FREE!

Download a free copy of life balance expert Renee Trudeau’s award-winning book  The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life for 48 hours: May 8th-May 10th at Sign up today!

And here is a reprint of an interview I did with Renee:

At one point or another many of us come to a crossroads in our professional and personal lives. We sit back, sigh deeply and ask ourselves “is this all there is?” For Renee Trudeau, the deep inner calling of her life became louder and louder until one day she decided to leave a successful corporate career and change the direction of her life forever. What happened next not only took her own family in an entirely new direction, but her powerful message of motherhood and self-care has changed the lives of thousands of women worldwide. Now, Renee is exploring the world of everyday spirituality. And somewhere in the process of being a student, she has become the teacher.

CL: You left behind a lucrative and very stable career in order to pursue your passions. Can you tell me about that decision, what you decided to do and how leaving the corporate environment changed your life?

RT: Gregg Levoy, author of Callings: Finding and Following An Authentic Life says “Generally people won’t pursue their calling until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so. But, it’s amazing how high our threshold is for this type of pain.” I knew after a stable, 14-year career in the marketing communications field that there was another way I was meant to use my gifts and talents.

I had coached professionals (for free) for years on how to develop and leverage their personal brand and I had a strong desire to help others express their potential. So, after much soul searching—more on this journey in my book– I launched Career Strategists in 2000, based on my strong belief that we are truly meant to integrate “who we are” with “what we do” in the world. Yes, like all that make the leap to self-employment, I had a lot of fear come up. But I knew that the life I desired (one where I was the master of, not the slave to my life) was more important than the fear. Ultimately, I had no choice but to take this leap.

I believe we all receive these taps on the shoulder throughout our life. The question is, next time you receive a tap, will you shrug the feeling off, or say yes (to your life)?

CL: How did the concept of personal renewal groups and your book, The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal, initially come about and what has been the response?

RT: After having my son at age 37, I was shocked to realize how profound the transition to parenthood is. I believe having a child, literally changes you on a cellular level. Who you are will never be the same. And, at the same time, it really rocks you to your core and challenges you to get clear on why you’re here, what is your path and what does the life you truly desire—look like? (My video talks more about this.)

After searching for resources and books that support mothers in nurturing their essence while taking care of their kids, I found nothing and was ultimately guided to start a Personal Renewal Group (self renewal circle for women) in 2003. Five years and countless groups later, after repeated requests from my Personal Renewal Group members, The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal was born. Now thousands of women around the US/Canada and beyond are leading these groups, which are based on the Guide, and supporting women in nurturing their emotional well-being. The response has been phenomenal (many therapists, coaches, doulas and women’s empowerment advocates are being called to lead groups.) Everyone seems to immediately get how important and needed a life coaching program like this, is. The book will be published in Korea later this year. It seems that the messages that came through me are resonating on a universal level.

CL: When people come to a crossroads in life, they are often told to pursue their passions and the money will follow. Do you believe that’s true?

RT: Yes! After working now for more than 20 years in this arena (I started helping family/friends with career strategy when I was eighteen) and having supported thousands in both big and small career and life transitions, I absolutely believe it is our job, our responsibility, to give birth to the best that is within us. And when we do this from a place of truth and authenticity, we will prosper.

I also work with clients a lot on marrying their passion with their brilliance (what you innately “do best”). This is where the magic happens! When we leverage our innate God-given talents, we’re in flow. We’re doing what we were put on the earth to do. And, when this happens, we can’t help but prosper financially. Interestingly, for most of my clients, the hard work isn’t around manifesting, it’s around “receiving” (believing that you’re worthy to be paid for these gifts).

CL: We all know how important it is to take good physical care of oneself in order to be effective in life. What else do you advise people to do to take care of themselves? What is your definition of self-care?

RT: Self-care is the practice of self-nourishment and self-nurturing. It’s essential to feeling whole and to being human. Cancer survivor/activist Audrey Lorde says “Self care is not about self-indulgence, it’s about self-preservation.” Taking time to fill our cups first before helping others is essential to our well-being and to optimal living.

Start by cultivating an awareness of how you talk to, treat, think about and care for yourself—physically, emotionally and spiritually. I have found the practice of self-care is a portal for many of us to our deeper selves. Loving ourselves and treating ourselves as if you would treat a small child, requires a deep honoring of spirit, of our essence (you can learn more about the transformative power of self-care in The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal). Begin with baby steps, be gentle with yourself and know that developing a self-care practice takes time and being around others who believe this is essential, too.

CL: What are you reading right now? What are some books that you can recommend for people interested in personal/spiritual growth?

RT: Life coaches Jennifer Louden and Cheryl Richardson are two of the original self-care advocates/pioneers and all of their books are wonderful and highly recommended, particularly if you’re just getting started on your self-care journey. In terms of physical self-care, I am reading Quantum Wellness by Kathy Freston and The Wisdom of Menopause by Dr. Christiane Northrup—both are very holistic and integrative in their approach to physical/emotional/spiritual well-being. I am also reading (I’m a multiple books at one time reader) Practicing The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, Soul Signs by Diane Eichenbaum, Conversations with God (again) by Neal Donald Walsch, This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women and Open Heart, Open Mind by Father Thomas Keating (who will be in Austin Feb. 21-22).

CL: I understand you are working on a new project. Can you tell us about that?

RT: Since last summer, I have been researching and exploring the theme of “everyday spirituality”—the idea that the sacred is present and accessible everyday, through simple daily rituals and activities like walking in nature, playing with our kids and artistic expression, etc.

I think most Americans are overwhelmed, overworked and overscheduled. They are craving meaning in their lives, but when they hear the term “spiritual practice,” they think forget it, who has time to go on a ten day silent retreat or go sit on a mountaintop! I’ve got kids to get to soccer and bosses to appease! I believe strongly that there are many avenues for nourishment on the“spiritual practice” continuum and that each of us just needs to get quiet and hear what spiritual renewal looks like to us.

I was raised in a very interesting family (my latest blog posting on Spirituality talks about this)—I have a brother named Shiva and a sister named after St. Theresa. Questions around spiritual renewal and fulfillment have been sitting with me for a long, long time. I believe this is the direction my work will be taking me over the next 5-7 years.


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