The Guide says over and over that we can’t do this image-finding work alone. And that when we’re ready, we’ll find people who can help us. For those not already working with a healer of some sort, here’s a suggestion for how to get started in uncovering your images.
Create a group of two to ten or so people (an even number is best) who are interested in getting to know themselves better. Plan to meet for two hours, every two weeks. Ask everyone in the group to commit to a certain number of gatherings, starting with a six or eight-week commitment.
Round One: 45 minutes
Sharing in Pairs: 25 minutes
Begin the evening by pairing off, preferably with people who don’t know each other as well. If there are an odd number of people, one group will be of three, and the times for the exercise adjusted. If meeting by video, be sure to use a system such as Zoom that supports breakout sessions. The Teller and the Listener will take turns telling each other about one specific problem, conflict or disharmony they are dealing with. Tips for who goes first: whoever is shortest, or whoever has the shortest hair.
One person in the room will set a timer for 10 minutes for each person to share. This can be adjusted down to five or seven minutes as people get used to telling their story more succinctly. The Listener may want to jot down a few notes. When the timer goes off, switch. While the Teller is talking, the Listener does not comment, but may ask clarifying questions. Also, the Listener may repeat back, word for word, a phrase the Teller said that seemed important or powerful. “She hates me,” or “I can’t do this alone.” If feelings come up for the Teller, make space for the feelings to surface and breathe with them for a few minutes. Then go on.
Sharing in a Circle: 20 minutes
Form a circle and then give each Listener one minute (seriously, one minute, using a timer if needed) to tell the essence of the problem to the group, without sharing the personal details. “She is struggling at work. She hates her boss and was just given a terrible new assignment. Also, she works really hard but it’s too much, and now they just promoted someone who didn’t deserve it.” The Teller may want to jot down some notes about what the Listener heard. How well did I communicate my situation?
It’s possible the Listener couldn’t follow the story. Then the Listener might say, “It’s hard to follow the story of what is going on because she couldn’t really stay focused.” Or, “He was having a hard time putting his finger on the problem.” Such observations can also be helpful in seeing how today’s experiences reflect a pattern. For example, someone who can’t pinpoint the source of their unhappiness may have been confused as a child about what was happening in their home.
Round Two: 45 minutes
Sharing in Pairs: 25 minutes
Go back into pairs. Now each Teller will share a story about something that happened when they were young, probably before the age of 10. Trust that whatever memory is surfacing, it’s just the right thing to share. Even if it seems completely unrelated, everything in our lives somehow connects with everything else.
Sharing in a Circle: 20 minutes
Reform a circle and go around the group sharing the essence of the experience. Again, boil it down to just a few sentences, leaving out the details. “She was very hurt when her parents chose to take her brothers with them to an event. She felt left out, like they didn’t want her.” Or, “He told me about a time when a friend betrayed him. He felt both humiliated and infuriated.”
The process of shortening our story is helpful, because it helps us communicate more clearly. We’re not seeking blame or pity, but to express our experience. Instead of rambling, we must get to the point. For if we never get to the point, we can never uncover our images. The process of synthesizing what the Teller shares helps us in learning to look for common denominators. We need to discover the similarities in our stories, which we can only find by looking underneath the details.
The intention of these exercises is to uncover our images. But the process will naturally help us learn to open up to others. It may also help us see our lives through a different lens than the one we’ve habitually been using. Keep moving in the direction of honest revealing. But starting out, don’t overshare. Allow some time to create a safe container with your group so that you feel comfortable revealing deeper and deeper pieces. Support each other.
Round Three: 30 minutes
Sharing in a Circle, Making Connections: 15 minutes
After the second sharing is done, go around the circle again. Give each person a few minutes to see if there are any dots they can now connect between in the underlying themes of their own stories. What do these stories have in common? What was the original impression? And what did I conclude? We are looking for phrases that are simple statements of what we now believe to be true. These will be complete phrases, and they will contain simple words, because we formed these beliefs when we were younger than 10 years old.
So rather than saying something like, “I am perturbed by people disregarding my preferences,” an image will sound more like this: “No one cares what I want.” What we’re really searching for is a childish streak that’s still living inside us*. And it will have an unreasonable nature to it. For example, behind a belief that “no one cares what I want” may lie a demand that “I always want to have my way.” This, then, is what we actually desire.
In fact, if we boiled everything down, we’d find that this is what all of us want. We want the work to be done for us, and that dear God in heaven should give it to us. But that’s not how divine laws work. For example, it’s a spiritual law that we must make an effort to have what we want. And what’s more, there’s always a price to pay for having what we want. So it’s entirely possible that what we say we want is at odds with the desires woven into our images. And these are always at odds with divine laws.
If we’re not able to see any connections yet, that’s fine. Jot down a few things that might feel right. Remember, we may need to peer inside quite a few buckets before we start connecting any dots.
Sharing Insights: 15 minutes
Then go around one last time and offer any gifts of insights that might be helpful for someone else. “Your story reminded me of a time in my life when something similar happened. And I now realize I concluded ‘you can’t trust men’.” Such an awareness might be helpful for someone else, but keep in mind, we’re not trying to fix anyone. We’re offering our own insights, not advice. Or we might say, “It sounds like all those changes in your work environment that are affecting you, are similar to the changes when your parents divorced and remarried, which really affected you.” The idea is to help someone see a connection they may have missed. Trust them to know for themselves whether it resonates.
If it feels right, go home and do some further journaling about what you learned. It can also be very helpful to journal a bit each day about any conflicts or disharmonies. Take brief notes about what you were feeling throughout the day, and then look for commonalities.
Keep in mind, our Higher Self is the part of us that wants us to surface our images. Don’t write so that someone else can read it or understand it; write so your Higher Self can speak. This way, you may be able to catch a thread of inner wisdom that will help illuminate what’s going on. After all, your Higher Self is already resting in truth, and it wants to shine more light into your world.
* It’s important we see what our images create due to their rigid and unyielding nature. The sequence goes something like this: We want life to go according to our desires. When things don’t happen as we wish, we kick and scream inside. In this part of our being, we’ve gotten stuck, so we are still very young. As a result, we act like a baby.
So whenever something happens that triggers our image, we behave immaturely. When we are acting maturely, on the other hand, we roll with life. We don’t demand that life follows our wishes, but rather adjust to life as we follow the way it is flowing. Where we have an image, though, we don’t adjust.
Instead, we make demands and then throw temper tantrums—inside ourselves, as well outside—when our demands are not met. But our demands are built on top of very faulty thinking. Beyond that, although we may get what we ask for, we also get what the unconscious part of ourselves is demanding. But since that part is unconscious, we didn’t know about it.
Consider, too, that we are wanting a certain thing in life, or a particular way of life—whatever we personally desire—because we want its advantages. But we ignore—just as we did as children—that every advantage comes with a disadvantage. So when we insist, through our never-ending inner crying and demanding, that we get the advantage we want, the disadvantage also shows up. But we don’t like the disadvantage that we’ve been unconsciously asking for. So then we claim that life is treating us unfairly.
As we search to find our images, then, we can keep an eye out for places in life where we feel life is handing us something we didn’t deserve. How is this connected with my image?
Caution: Watch Out for Shame
Another thing to watch for is shame. For as we get close to recognizing an image, profound feelings of shame are likely to surface. When this happens, it’s not because we’re about to discover something hideous or wicked. Not at all! We are more likely to feel ashamed of finding something that, to our adult mind, is rather silly.
When we formed our image, we were using the reasoning of a child, working with our limited capacity to reason and think. From where we now sit, that thought process may indeed look silly. And as the intelligent person we now are, it may be hard to accept that such a juvenile reaction is still living inside us.
Worse, we’re now at the point of discovering that we’ve been sitting on this wrong conclusion—this faulty deduction—for years and years. And so we may feel quite embarrassed. Not only was this faulty thinking part of our mind when we were young, but below our level of conscious thinking, it’s still part of our mind. And therefore it controls our reactions!
The reason it’s still there—that part of us is still a child—is that we left this whole reasoning process in the darkness of our unconscious. But consider this: There is no one we know or have ever met who hasn’t done exactly the same thing.
So we are most certainly not alone. We’re also not alone in not realizing that this has been going on, and in trying to keep our hidden beliefs covered up.
By developing self-awareness though—by getting to know our own “stupidities”—we certainly can have an advantage, especially if others don’t yet know theirs. The advantage is that we can start to see our way through our conflicts. And in this way, we can contribute greatly to helping the world unravel its many conflicts.
Adapted from Pathwork Lecture #41: Images: The Damage They Do