Visualization Techniques

Dr. Michael L. Ford


            Over the last few years people have treated a phenomena often referred to as visualization as something new. Actually it is not. The way some forms of visualization practices are expressed in modern times is as old as witchcraft itself. In the witchcraft mode of visualization people simply try to impose their will onto reality, whether with or without the assistance of some dark power. This is a far different thing than what a Christian might due when they seek the will of God concerning things they are concerned with and perhaps ask Him to intervene in situations.

            Thoughts do have power. One of the expressions of the power of thought in an evil vein occurs in the warning of Proverbs 23:6&7: Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire his dainty meats. For as he thinketh in his heart so is he: Eat and drink saith he unto thee; but his heart is not with thee.

Certainly this warning is appropriate regarding anyone who would want to influence a believer to focus their mind in a way not consistent with God's will.

            The Bible acknowledges in a number of places the power of the mind including the passage just mentioned. Here the power of the mind influences the actual condition of a person. An individual is what they think in more ways than we fully know. But one thing about the influence of the mind over the individual is that it is always in accordance with God's precepts. The rebellion of the heart of the natural man is that he wants to go beyond that.

            When I was a boy and television was young, a man appeared on a show that seemed to challenge a verse of the Bible: Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?. (Matthew 6:27) On the television show, as people watched the screen intently, he seemed to grow taller as he claimed he could by the power of his mind. But even during the broadcast no one would have thought that it had done so by the space of a cubit not if you used the shorter measure of a cubit. Later it came out that most of the growth we thought we saw was nothing more than the power of suggestion, his will imposed upon our mind. That is the same thing a lot of so called magic tricks are based on. The rest was simply stretching and changing posture. We had been caught in his web of illusion for fun, but some people and a more sinister force we all know have very different motivations.

            So how do we begin to understand what is the healthy and correct methods of how to use and focus our minds and what is not useful? I have written much in the past about Biblical models in the past, and have also done a number of seminars and presentation concerning some of those who lie in wait to deceive from the perspective of religious chicanery. In this article I want to share with you some perspective that is not contrary to Scripture that comes from what we call a secular source. I refer to an article that appeared in the March 15, 1996 edition of Bottom Line. Dr. Steven Locke of Harvard Medical School wrote it.

            In the article I mention the reporter interviewing Steven Locke begins with the premise that attitude and emotional state play key roles in the prevention and recovery from illness. The first focus was on the mind and the immune system. Here Dr. Locke held out that close relationships with friends and family members seem to have beneficial effects on the immune system. He cited studies that show that married people live longer than those who are single or divorced and other studies that showed happiness and positive emotions are linked to longer survival among cancer patients.

            Negative emotions are now known to cause marked deficits in immune function. When things occur that are stressful from the death of a family member to something as common as the taking of a college exam changes in the number and function of specialized blood cells have been observed. We can see from such studies that the mind has the power to affect how our bodies work. It has been my contention that when we obey God in the way we live our lives and center our thoughts, then the promises of God apply to not only our mental health but also our physical health, within the limitations imposed by our state of living within a sin cursed world. In other words I would not agree with those who say that it is never God's will that anyone be sick, and some of the other philosophies proposed by those who are proponents of unbiblical visualization. But when in quietness and confidence He is our strength a whole different light is put on the crises of living.

            The question was posed to Dr. Locke concerning whether there is a cancer personality. He again referred to research that indicated some behavior patterns put certain people more at risk that others. Since the article was written six years ago, a great deal more information has come to light on this subject than was available when he was interviewed to show the truth of this. I have also observed in counseling that people who react stressfully to situations have certain cancer problems just like people who do not obey dietary laws have others. As a matter of fact, I have studied certain families that have high stress responses as part of their character and seen they have higher incidences of cancers through their generations. Some religious leaders might want to say that I am arguing their case that when people get sick it is there fault because God always wants people well. That is not correct. Such a response is too simplistic to begin with, and they usually use this sort of thing as a preamble to teaching some form of visualization or name it, claim it, gospel that is not biblical. People can be sick because of sin but not all sickness is because of sin. The Bible contains examples of people who were ill so God could be glorified. I do not believe the Bible makes mistakes but I do believe that people do even when they present themselves in  ministerial garb.  Heredity can effect who gets what disease as much as the learned response people have to situations and nobody is responsible for the genes they inherit.

            People say that they have experienced remarkable improvements through things like "guided imagery," "deep relaxation" (sometimes practiced like a form of hypnosis), and other alternative techniques. What they have more likely experienced is a form of empowerment. Some benefits can be derived from such things as progressive muscle relaxation which allows cells that protect against viral illness and cancer to be produced for reasons unknown, but this has nothing to do with refusing to see yourself as ill.

             The Reader's Digest has carried a section called "Laughter the Best Medicine" for years, even before it was bought by the Mormons. Even though Norman Cousins, the late editor and essayist that wrote about his own health battles in "Anatomy of an Illness" argued laughter does not play a role there is evidence to the contrary. In a study at Loma Linda University, people watching humorous video actually experienced reduced levels of adrenaline and cortisol. These and other substances that suppress immunity are produced in the body in great quantity during times of stress. So while laughter is not the best medicine it is often useful medicine. People who are involved in visualization contrary to Scripture are often very intense in what they are about. Guess what? That means the stress increases the amount of the very things that might be necessary for their health if the focus of the meditation happens to be their own physical wellbeing.

            On the contrary view to the subject of laughter, Dr. Redford Williams and associates at Duke University found that certain forms of hostility such as cynicism and mistrust are associated with higher mortality. Other studies also suggest that people who are too angry or who never express their anger are at higher risk than people who are not, which is one of the reasons I wrote the booklet on the biblical practice of mind renewal.

            I view the Bible's model of mind renewal and focus as not only a protection against some disease but not all, but also as a protection against the power of disease when we get ill. But this is not to say that it is a curative apart from the will of God. But more than this, when we set our minds into truly Scriptural models of living and thinking it is also a protection from people who will want to deceive and lead us down paths we should not follow such as the use of visualization techniques that are destructive.  




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