Dream Gates

Dream Gates

The future of imaginal healing

nurse stump, new life from old

As we reclaim the skills of dreaming, imagery for healing will become central to our medicine. Advances in hard scientific research, especially in the fast-expanding field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) have helped to provide the mandate, because they supply overwhelming evidence that the body believes in images, and that our thoughts and feelings can make us sick or make us well.


It’s interesting to note that research in the PNI field was guided by dreaming long before it was given the clunky name. The first person to isolate and identify a neurotransmitter was Otto Loewi, and he saw how to perform the necessary experiment in a dream. He got out of bed, cut open a frog, and applied vagal juice to its heart as he had done in the dream; the relaxant in the vagal stuff was identified as the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

According to molecular biologist Candace Pert, there is a “psychosomatic communications network” that operates not only in the brain, but in all parts of the body. Our conscious or unconscious thoughts and feelings are constantly affecting our health by sending directives to a pharamaceuticals factory inside the body. In her passionate memoir, Molecules of Emotion, Candace Pert describes how she was guided by dreams and synchronicity in her own scientific odyssey.


The key thing to know, as we seek resources for self-healing, is that the body believes in images and responds to images as if they are physical events. This means we have the ability to shape the condition and behavior of our bodies, for good or ill, according to the images we entertain and the thoughts and feelings that we allow to claim our attention.

Physician Larry Dossey, a leader in mind-body medicine since the 1980s, observes that “The body responds to mental input as if it were physically real. Images create bodily changes, just as if the experience were really happening. ”  Brain scans show that when we imagine an event, our thoughts “light up” the same areas of the brain that are triggered during the actual event.


We are often unaware of our shifting thoughts and feelings. We may be wholly unaware of memories and images, held in the body, that bring us down. The decision to bring unrecognized thoughts and feelings into consciousness is an essential step towards self-healing. Starting from here, we can develop the practice of investing the energy of our attention in images that make us well.

We can make it our choice, for example, to increase blood flow to a certain part body part, giving it the strength to flush out toxins and the nutrients required to heal. Norman Cousins got over a broken elbow and back on the tennis court in record time because he spent twenty minutes a day focusing on his intention to increase blood flow through the injured joint, after his doctor explained that elbow injuries often healed slowly because of poor blood supply.


When imagery is used as a clinical tool, it involves the deliberate focusing of attention on specific images to bring about desired changes. A 2007 study conducted for Blue Shield of California grabbed the attention of the health insurance industry by proving that imagery not only works but cuts costs. Insurance giant Blue Shield of California decided to test the effect of a guided imagery on 905 Health plan members scheduled for surgery were prepared by a simple guided imagery tape, designed to allay fears about the procedure and promote recovery. Most patients were able to receive the imagery, regardless of bias or upbringing, and for most it seemed to relieve anxiety and was held responsible for a notable reduction in the time required for recobery – and a saving of over $2,000 per patient due to reduced time in hospital.


Guided imagery CDs, like the one used in theCaliforniastudy, are now widely available. Hospitals are giving CDs to patients to help them marshal inner forces to attack cancer cells or to establish and visit a healing place in the imagination. In future imaginal healing, our society will go further. We can do much better than offering prefabricated imagery. We can learn to help each other to develop our personal factories of healing imagery, which are working nightly in our dreams. And we can learn to grow healing dreams for each other.

Community-based imaginal healing may include the following:

  1. Pre-need dream clinics

In our clinics and healthcare centers, and other community centers, people will meet to share dreams by an agreed protocol and will help each other to recognize and act on what dreams are giving us, which can range from diagnosis of a developing problem in the body (before symptoms present or are named) to an invitation to soul recovery.


  1. Imagery harvesting

Dreams are a factory of images. Anything that comes to us in dream, including the scary or unwanted things, is ripe and ready for work in the cause of growth and healing. I have found that almost any dream can be a source of healing, if we are willing to go back inside it or carry the story onward to a desired outcome. In my dream of healing medicine, the understanding of basic treatments will be expanded to include sessions to help patients harvest positive imagery for self-healing from dreams and also from positive life memories.

  1. Vision transfer training

We can grow a dream – a healing image, a script for recovery, a vision of larger life possibility – for someone in need of a dream. I teach vision transfer as a core technique of Active Dreaming. In my dream of healing medicine, nurses, therapists and community guides will be trained in vision transfer techniques for producing fresh, customized images for healing that can be gifted to someone in need of the right imagery. An image that I often use, for myself and others, to promote regeneration of the body’s tissue and vitality, is that of a nurse stump or nurse log. The old tree has been cut down, or fallen, but from its apparent death new life is burgeoning; a new tree may rise, tall and strong, from the old Or I might use the image of a giant redwood that has been cored  by fire but is still putting out fresh growth, high above.


  1. Story healing

We’ll come to grasp that finding meaning in any life passage may be at the heart of healing, and our healers – declared or undeclared – will help people to move beyond personal history into a bigger story that contains the juice and sense of purpose to get them through.

In all of this, we will be guided by Mark Twain’s insight that “The power which a man’s imagination has over his body to heal it or make it sick is a force which none of us is born without. The first man had it; the last one will possess it.”

  • Ryan Hurd

    couldn’t agree more! Integrative health is ready for the wisdom of our ancestors again. Have you heard about what Robert Bosnak and Stephen Aizenstat are launching this fall in Santa Barbara? an integrative health facility that includes dream incubation as well as other healing modalities for increasing the endogenous healing response: The Santa Barbara Healing Sanctuary. simply remarkable.

    • Robert Moss

      Ryan – The Santa Barbara project looks like a wonderful initiative. I am glad to see they are incorporating theater, writing, movement and sound, as well as dream incubation, into their approach to healing. These were all part of Asklepian practice, as Robbie Bosnak well understands.

  • Pingback: IHeal Your Body with Your Mind - Imaginal Healing | The Gateway Experience Blog

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Marty Nelson

    Hey Robert –

    How much is it the image or the feelings stimulated because of the experience of the image?

    A reaction is made up of both reactants and catalysts, so maybe the distinction is just academic. But the reason I ask is that I been doing something similar but more focused directly on people consciously making themselves feel positive emotions, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that a lot of people at first try to do that at ‘the speed of thought’ rather than ‘the speed of the heart’.

    Let’s say someone was thinking of something they appreciate, and they begin to feel appreciative, but then they stop and check it off the list like ‘ok I did that, what’s next?’. And what they really need to do is slow down and experience that emotion and become absorbed in it and let the power of that emotion fill them.

    So I was wondering with the guided imagery if people naturally become more relaxed and less mental, or that’s part of the instruction. Or maybe that’s not a part of it at all (though I suspect not).


    – Marty

  • Wanda Burch

    As most who read your blog know, I chose traditional surgery and chemotherapy for my aggressive breast cancer diagnosed in dreams more than 21 years ago; but I accompanied that treatment with guidance and imagery harvested from my dreams. My personal term for this companioned healing was my “dream cocktail.” I wrote my own story – She Who Dreams – of using the gifts of our imagination, which include but are not limited to dreams, in partnering our healing.

    This morning I posted my own thoughts on a WebMD article [“Doctor Do You Believe in Alternative Medicine”]. My comments included a link to this blog post – the future of Imaginal Healing is right on the cusp of being accepted in a way not seen since the early practice of the new science of medicine.

    I agreed with comments on the efficacy of traditional treatment [especially combined with Imaginal resources] and the increased movement toward using the vast repository of natural medicines found in plant life, bacteria, and marine life. I agreed that science does give “pause” where certain herbal treatments are used with little knowledge of their outcomes, but I took issue with a focus on only one avenue of alternative treatment [herbs], ignoring the vast resources available in our imaginal life, which can assist and speed tradtional healing. My own story, I noted, found acceptance and applause from both my surgeon and oncologist.

    The future of Imaginal Healing begins with each of us as we explore the magic of story, song, visioning and imagery in our lives, as so excellently outlined in this Post. This is the information we need in order to understand the limitless possibilities of the mind working in harmony with traditional medical science.

    • Robert Moss

      Wanda – Thanks for being such a passionate and eloquent advocate of healing through active dreaming. You speak on the blazing authority of life experience, augmented by your wonderful work with others and by dedicated research that keeps you up to speed with current thinking and practice across the whole spectrum of cancer treatment and of complementary and alternative therapies. Your “healing cocktail”, as explained in SHE WHO DREAMS, an excellent book I constantly recommend, is inspiring in the most practical ways, since it shows us how we can bring together the best of conventional medicine with the best of our imaginations.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Patty

    I have just finished putting the finally touches for a workshop that I’ll be presenting at a cafe church downtown, open to the public. It will be about bringing people together to do experiential learning, tell stories and dreams using the Lightening Dream Work Game, do theater, paint and collage on a canvas and dare to bring these and dancing and silly games into their homes for their children. I hope to convey how this is as important to growth, health and learning as memorizing and preparing to get an A on an essay.
    Me and a small group of dreamers from your and Savannah’s forum are also preparing a training that I hope gets approved by my national occupational therapy board so I can offer it to local therapists for credit hours. It started with a course I have to complete called the PolyVagal Theory. Of course there’s dreams connected to this now, and words like transpersonal and the mighty image and visualization journeys :-) My goal is to have it certified by November and offer it at my work to local therapists.

    Your and Wanda’s words are more then inspiring.


    • Robert Moss

      Wonderful news, Patty. Thanks for playing dream ambassador! I love gthe sound of the phrase “cafe church”. We active dreamers know that dreamwork is everyday church and more (since it is a path of direct revelation).

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Janice

    Hi, Robert. . . I just read this posting. As a bit of coincidence, I just spent some time today introducing my physician to you and your work. Since our time for discussion was limited, because of waiting patients, I promised to buy him a copy of THE SECRET HISTORY OF DREAMING! to pick up where our conversation ended. He said, “I look forward to receiving it!”

    • Robert Moss

      Wonderful, Janice. We have a number of physicians who have taken my training for teachers of Active Dreaming, and many more who are gravitating towards this approach now it is becoming more widely understood that dreams diagnose problems before physical symptoms present, and provide images for healing and recovery when we need them. Nurses – wonderful people! – remain the number #1 occupational group in my workshops and teacher trainings, and know how to take and apply the Active Dreaming techniques in the the ward, the ER, the OR, and in standing up to the kind of doctor who still supposes that MD stands for “minor deity.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jane Knox

    Dear Robert and Wanda,
    Wanda mentioned “exploring the magic of story” in her response. I would like both of you to speak to “the magic of story” in regard to healing.

    Thank you.

    • Robert Moss

      Hi Jane – Time to read my new book, ACTIVE DREAMING? This is its most important theme – finding and living our bigger stories, and charging our lives with the courage, energy and healing that comes from that.

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