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Guided Imagery

Quality Tools > Tools of the Trade > 42: Guided Imagery


In our last session on creativity for a while, we are going to push the further reaches of the softer side of our imagination. For those of you who are still reading this (the more rigid readers probably took one glance at the title and hurriedly moved on), it is serious stuff, based in real psychology. The very real problem that it addresses is accessing the subconscious mind. Our conscious minds are the tip of a very big iceberg, with our huge and complex subconscious pretty much doing what it likes below the surface.

You typically need at least two people: one to read the script and one or more to relax and listen (although you can do it alone by replacing the reader with a tape recording of your own voice). This must be done in a quiet and relaxing place, of course, and read in a calm and sypmathetic way. It will not work if you read it quickly in the middle of a noisy office.

The listener first must get comfortable, sitting or lying down. Closing their eyes avoids distractions of the room around them. The person who is reading should take care to pace their reading to the listener’s state of relaxation. The voice should be slow and gently expressive, helping the listener to visualise.

The script is below:


“Are you comfortable? Good. Now stretch and take a few moments to relax. Close your eyes and notice any tensions in your body and just let each of them go….That’s right.

   Now, imagine yourself sitting in a field, the grass soft and sweet-smelling beneath you, the sun comfortably warm above and a soft breeze gently rustling the leaves of the trees around the field. You smile within and stand up. As you look around the field, you spot an old gate on one side. You walk over to it, open it and go through into the deserted lane beyond.

   Beneath the archway of branches from the trees either side, you walk slowly down the lane, listening to the soft sounds of the breeze in the trees and distant birds calling to one another. Seeing a stile at the side of the road which leads to a path up a hill, you walk up to it, grasp the stile firmly and climb over. Just as you are about to walk on up the path, you notice a piece of paper on the ground. It seems to have something written on it. With a sense of anticipation, you pick it up and look carefully at it.

   Walking on up the path, you gaze around at the placid woodland scenery as you stride easily between the trees. As the hill starts to level out, the trees end and you see that the upper part of the hill is grassy. Continuing upwards, you see that there is a stone tower at the top, with a single wooden door at the bottom and deep windows at various points on the walls. You reach the door, turn the handle and enter into a single, musty-smelling, dimly-lit room, from which a stairway goes up the tower.

   You walk up the musty-smelling stairway until you come to a closed door at the top. You knock on the door and a vaguely familiar voice bids you enter. You turn the handle and walk into the tower room, which is bare apart from a table and couple of chairs, from one of which a person is rising. The person smiles, walk over to you and greet you warmly.

   Knowing you can trust this person, you talk about important things. They listen carefully, then pause for a while, considering, before giving you a valuable reply. You continue in deep discussion for a while, and then both go to the window to look out across the trees and the fields, pondering what has been said.

   Eventually, you feel that is time to go, and say so. The person agrees and leads you over to the door. Just before you leave, they hand you something. Surprised, you thank them, and then depart, going back down the stairs and out into the sunlight. You then retrace your steps, back to the trees, down the hill, over the stile, along the lane and through the gate, back into the field.

   There, you sit down on the flattened grass where you were before and, holding the gift that the person in the tower gave you, you look carefully at it, turning it about in your hand…..You then muse for a while, remembering your conversation in the tower…..Then you recall the paper you found by the stile, take it out and look at it again.

    After a while, you stretch, open your eyes and come back into the room, bringing with you the insights and discoveries you found on your journey.”


How does this work? First of all, it uses sensory language, encouraging the listener to concentrate on the imagined world rather than the real world. The story then leads them on a journey of discovery. The paper, the conversation and the gift, are all opportunities for the subconscious to slip through ideas to the conscious mind. The paper is visual and picture- or word-based. The conversation is aural and word-based, with the context of a wise advisor. The gift is physical and tactile. These different media increase the opportunity for subconscious-conscious connection.

What appears in these connections may well not appear to be of much relevance as the problem with the subconscious is that it is rather fickle and often appears to communicate in metaphors (hence using the story form to communicate with it). Thus a gift of a glass hedgehog might be about a prickly problem that can become beautiful. A drawing of a map might be about the need to plan your future. Often the easiest to interpret is the conversation.

This method can give you significant ‘aha’s on deep problems. The trouble is that it is highly unpredictable. It can work one day and not the next. It can be difficult to work out what the communications are about. You might just draw a complete blank. But if you persist and give your subconscious space and permission to come through, this method can lead to insights and ideas that cannot be found through any other approach.


Next time: The Five Ss


This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Institute for Quality Assurance

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