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Social Issues: New Age

Guided Imagery: Visualization

Guided imagery is a popular technique. It is past trendy. Many well motivated people are using and promoting it. There may even be apparently positive results. But, just because something seems to work does not make it appropriate for public schools.

I am not against relaxation. I am not against imagination. I am not against using the whole mind. Let me show you what I am against and why. Way back in 1989, Minneapolis Public Schools began a High School health program called Teens Learning and Caring (TLC). Its key feature was guided imagery.

Participants were instructed as follows: turn down the lights, play soothing music, breathe deeply. Remember what it was like to experience unconditional love. Smell it, taste it, feel it. Turn that feeling into a liquid light, search your body for a disease, shine the brightest part of the light on your disease.

The visualization leader made statements such as, "The mind operates off of visual images and does not know the difference between fantasy and reality." "We have always used the old tools -- linear thinking and logic. The tool of today is the imagination." He further said, "Learners will inherit the future; the learned know how to live in a world that already no longer exists." "Education is drawing out, not putting in."

The rules for teaching health were to always "be positive." No "don'ts", no "shouldn'ts", no "beware ofs", no "can't haves". In their ideal teaching of sexuality, the pilot project students wanted their instruction to "show the good side of sexuality, not just the risks and asking is it worth it." "No scare tactics on diseases," said one student, and, "Teaching about birth control is boring." "If you do not want to have sex until you are married or never, fine; if you want to have sex tomorrow, that is fine," said another. These were the "star students" brought in to show off the program.

It does not take very much left brain to characterize this program as dangerous, although it is based on a kernel of truth. The more confidence Herschel Walker has, the more likely he is to return a kickoff for 65 yards. However, regardless of how much confidence I have, the only way I would get 65 yards with a football is out the back exit and into the parking lot.

In 1985 and 1986, 300 Minneapolis Public Schools teachers were trained in guided imagery by Continuum Center of Minneapolis, then headed by businessman Michael LaBrosse, who later designed the TLC program. This was called the "Whole Mind Learning Project." After everyone became familiar and comfortable with the technique in its most benign applications, Mr. LaBrosse introduced TLC which indicates that he clearly believes in "creating reality with your mind."

Are there other people around who would do such a thing? Yes there are some who truly believe all this and see the schools as a key place to initiate a change in society.

William McLoughlin (quoted in Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980's, pp. 231, 232.) "The reason an awakening takes a generation or more to work itself out is that it must grow with the young; it must escape... the old ways.... Revitalization is growing up around us in our children, who are both more innocent and more knowing than their parents and grandparents. It is their world that has yet to be reborn."

John Dunphy ("A Religion for the New Age", The Humanist January - February 1983) "I am convinced that the battle for humankind's future must be waged and won in the public school classrooms by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: a religion of humanity that recognizes and respects the spark of what theologians call divinity in every human being. These teachers must embody the same selfless dedication as the most rabid fundamentalist preachers. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new -- the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith...resplendent in its promise."

Dr. Beverly Galyean (in Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy p. 313, 314) "If your district wants discipline, tell them about programs that operate on the principle of self control.... Use natural methods for calming overactive energies: Yoga, meditation, massage, movement, nutrition...The crises now facing most school districts can be the springboard for your own humanistic experiments."

I am not saying that anyone we know is necessarily a plotter. I think most are probably innocent bystanders. Yet plotters there are. Some have been bold enough to publish these remarks openly.

What are the objections to guided imagery? First, it is in-turning, with most attention directed at internal "reality," a sort of Calvin and Hobbes universe which may be much more attractive than the outside world that education has traditionally been about. Secondly, there is the possibility of psychological injury to participants, or "bad trips." I am acquainted with a woman who began to have uncontrollable "out of body" experiences after a similar program. Thirdly, the leaders are inadequately prepared to deal with this possibility. Physicians using guided imagery for therapy stress that it is a powerful technique requiring proper psychological training. Finally, it is completely consistent with New Age Religion and therefore should not be promoted by public schools.

The steps of YOGA (or "Discipline" in Hinduism) are as follows. The idea is to achieve an altered state of consciousness in order to appreciate the unitary nature of all things. It assumes that knowledge is within and that what we know as reality is a creation of our minds that can be altered.

1.Yama -- five desire-killing vows, no: harm to living things, deceit, stealing, unchastity, acquisitiveness
2.Niyama -- cleanliness, calm, mortification, study, prayer
3.Asana -- proper posture(legs crossed, feet on thighs, hands crossed, eyes focused on nose)
4.Pranayama -- Regulation of breathing (reduction of all of being alive to one or two movements, control
of all bodily functions)
5.Pratyahara -- Withdrawal of the senses from all sense objects, shutting out the outside world
6.Dharana -- Concentration on one idea or object until the mind is emptied of all else
7.Dhyana -- an altered state of consciousness that is transition to the final stage
8.Samadhi -- a trance like state in which there is no longer awareness of object or subject, one with the One

(from John B.Noss: Man's Religions, 4th Ed. p. 204)

Modern American versions are essentially "low impact" and condensed. Certain parts are not too popular (1 + 2, maybe 3). The emphasis is on meditation, leading to an altered state of consciousness, destruction of the mind with its insistence on the false distinctions we call "reality". To some, drugs may be a short cut to enlightenment and calling on "entities" may reveal truths to the "channeler".

In the minds of some of its practitioners, guided imagery may not be religious, but sure looks religious and public schools should scrupulously avoid even the appearance of establishment of religion.

Christians also have another perspective on this topic. You need not agree but ought to understand their concern. The Bible describes spiritual entities that have the power to put thoughts into human minds, whose ideas may be encountered by those trying to get in touch with their inner wisdom or faithful guides. These entities, called demons, are deceptive and dangerous. They seek to enslave and destroy because they are in rebellion against their Maker and ours.

Schools should be sensitive to the culture of Christians just as they are of the culture of Native Americans and Southeast Asians.

Should any program be considered appropriate for the schools just because it works? I believe in what is called the "born again" experience. I think that I can show evidence that "it works" to solve the most difficult problems of human life. I do not expect, however, that schools should hold evangelistic services with invitations for students to commit their lives to Jesus Christ, followed by ongoing prayer meetings. Yet this is the exact equivalent to having students achieve an altered state of consciousness in the classroom.

If guided imagery is not an integral part of any particular program or curriculum, it should be removed as a sign of good faith. If it cannot be untangled from the rest of the program, the whole thing has no place in the public school.

Ross S. Olson MD

See Watchman Fellowship's site for more information

Send comments to me at ross{at}

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