|Swans ring the bell at the bishop's palace in Wells|
He is from England. Does he know the city of Wells? Of course he knows Wells, he snaps back at her. She says she used to go walking there, by the water. There was an extraordinary sense of peace. And when she closes her eyes now she can see it all so clearly, green grass and golden sunlight on the stones of the church across the moat, and she can hear the bells and the jackdaws in the tower. Can he hear them too? Yes, he can hear the birds.
In this way, in her soft lilting voice, chanting more than speaking, she leads the patient inside a scene he remembers until he is there as well as on his sickbed. He can see the daisies and dandelions in the grass, the austere geometry of the cathedral tower challenging the tender blue of the sky.
"And the swans."
Yes, the swans. Impossibly beautiful, yet entirely real. He sees the curve of the swans' white breasts lifting and parting dark waters.
The words give him deep satisfaction. As the dreamy voice leads him, he finds himself floating with the swans, on that smooth surface between darkness below and tender blue above, between here and far away, between one world and another.
Floating like a white bird on the water, he allows himself to slip into the flow of a great smooth silent river, allowing the sleeping river of life to carry him into a profound peace.
The patient drifts off, contented, as the voice continues to chant. Above the river, he sees huge white clouds and at her suggestion, he floats up towards them until he is streaming on a river of air, up into the freshness of high mountains.He feels a delicious cool wind on his skin, and falls deeper into sleep, his fever broken.
I have paraphrased an extraordinary passage in Aldous Huxley's last novel, Island (first published in 1962) that is a magnificent description of imaginal healing. When Susila, the beautiful young healer, reports to her doctor father on what she did with the patient (the cynical journalist Will Farnaby) she says "he went off more quickly than expected" because she opened his imagination by calling him to a place in England that he knew. She explains that she worked with indirect rather than direct suggestions. "They're always better." She gave him a different body image, one that suggested grace and strength to carry him beyond his present injury, so it became "a miserable thing in revolt against a huge and splendid thing."
There is a model here for how to grow a vision of healing for someone who is in need of images to make the body well. Start by taking them through the doorway of a life memory. Don't harp on physical symptoms. Give the body - as well as the mind - of the patient living images strong and graceful and fresh enough to shift it beyond its current complaints, as the swan glides on the water or lifts off to claim the sky.