Experiencing Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) as a Traveler

As I’ve written about in previous posts, the past few months of my life have been filled with change. While I can always talk about my life with friends or family, I felt like I needed a new approach to process my experiences and emotions. Recently, the opportunity to experience a session of the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) came up and I jumped at the chance. Now, this was my second GIM session as a traveler so I wasn’t completely new to this music therapy approach.

If you’re not familiar with GIM, it’s a music therapy approach that involves one-on-one sessions with a client (traveler) and a music therapist (facilitator). If you’re interested, lots of information is available on the Association for Music and Imagery’s website. For now, I’ll just give a quick overview of my session. When I met my music therapist, Josh Wilson, MM, MT-BC, we introduced ourselves and had a 20 minute chat about what I hoped to get out of the session (i.e., gaining perspective on recent life transitions in my personal life). I’ll admit, at first it felt a bit revealing to be in the “client” role when I’m usually in the “therapist” role. After setting an intention, I laid down and did a short relaxation activity with my eyes closed to induce an altered state of consciousness. At this point, the music started. I listened to about 40 minutes of classical music that Josh chose for me based on my original intention. Every few minutes, I reported aloud what mental imagery I experienced in visual, auditory, or kinesthetic form. Below is my own transcript of what I experienced:

The opening image set me on top of a grassy hill that was rather steep. From the top of the hill, a river flowed to my left and a dark forest unfolded at my right. I started walking down the hill, at first tentatively, but then I let gravity carry my legs as fast as they would go. I felt pulled to where the river and forest converged, but as I walked the grass spontaneously grew taller until I had to push through the grass with my arms. With the grass as tall as corn stalks I couldn’t see where I was anymore or where I was headed. I decided to abandon the point of convergence and I began floating up above the grass. A small flock of fireflies joined me and I enjoyed trying out my new flying abilities with somersaults and playful turns. Mid-air, I turned around and flew back toward the hill, but went beyond what my view had seen before. I looked out at a blank horizon with no notable landmarks.

At this point the sun was setting and I started to ascend even higher up into the clouds until I couldn’t see where I had come from. The clouds began to shift around me and it felt cool, but hazy. I wasn’t sure where I had to go next. Suddenly, a vertical tunnel of light opened above me and I moved toward the light at an increasing speed. When I reached the top, the light was so blinding I had to close my (inner) eyes. When I blinked my eyes open again, I was surrounded by reflective water on all sides. Again, there were no landmarks on the horizon. I could walk on this water, but also dip my toes into it. I felt a desire to go into the water and so I dove in, feeling the same flying feeling but with more resistance against my body. The water was dark blue green and got darker the further down I swam. The water was empty except for  me, with nothing was lurking underneath. And again, I spent a few moments swimming and exploring how my body moved around in the water. Not seeing anywhere to go or anything to interact with, I ascended toward the surface.

When I broke through to air again, the bright horizon had changed to an overcast sky with a breeze. I sensed that my hair was wet and I felt a chilly sensation. I noticed a boulder in the distance and swam to it. When I had climbed out of the water and onto the boulder, I was concerned about how I would get dry. I looked up to notice a lightning storm in the distance, but it did not move closer to me. I felt like the boulder was too small, so I began willing the boulder to grow in surface area until it was about 16×12 square feet. Puddles of water remained on my new island, but it was still hard stone. Since I had just grown the island, I had the thought that I could also will the island to grow some grass or other plant life, but for some reason this didn’t feel right to me.

I walked over to the part of the boulder I had originally climbed onto and noticed a vein of something gold that I hadn’t noticed before. I began using my hands to clear away the rubble to reveal a vein of gold. As I pushed more stone out of the way, the gold vein revealed itself to be larger, almost as though the entire island had a layer of this golden sand beneath the dark grey rubble. I began manipulating the gold sand with my hands and it had the texture of kinetic sand (see video here if you’re not familiar, it’s great!). I could form and manipulate the gold into any shape I wanted, but I sensed the shape would be compromised with if anyone else touched it or needed to put pressure on it. As I heard the music ending, I smoothed the golden sand in my hand back into the vein it had come from and felt satisfied that I had discovered it.

After the music program ended, I sat back up and drew the mandala at the top of this post as a visual way of processing the imagery I had just experienced. This time, my mandala was a part of the golden sand vein in the stone. Then, I talked through certain symbols in the imagery with Josh in the context of the intention I had set at the beginning of the session. Did turning away from the tall grass and flying above it mean that I cut my losses in an impossible situation, or did I leave that situation before I had fully seen it through? How did I feel that so many of the scenes I experienced had no landmarks and that I was alone? What did it feel like to explore my environment by flying versus swimming? Why did I noticed that the golden sand felt impermanent and not ready for someone else to interact with it?

Talking out a few of the symbols that came to me in my imagery opened my perspective in a new way. Even the points that I had verbalized aloud before felt more legitimate because I had just interacted with them in a (simulated) embodied experience. Leaving the session, I felt validated and more positive that even though many areas of my life contain uncertainty, that I am more than capable of navigating and making a positive change for myself.

If you’re interested in experiencing the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and music for yourself, I recommend checking out the Association for Music and Imagery’s “Find a Practitioner” search engine to find a trained GIM facilitator in your area. I’m hoping to incorporate GIM into my self-care routine in the future and looking forward to scheduling another session!

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