Serious Illness – Managing Change

Waterfall Visualisation Exercise

This is an exercise to help you find your personal meaning in the experience and to regain control of your life. It is also a way of helping you take stock and make the big choices in your life.

You need to feel it is the right time to do this visualisation, probably after the first shock of the onset of a serious illness is over and you are through the main initial treatment period. You can also do this exercise several times if you want to, at intervals of several weeks or possibly months. It is a powerful exercise, and if it is realistic and feels right for you I suggest you do it in the company of someone supportive, such as your partner or a trusted friend.

You will need about 30 minutes to do the visualization, and pencil and paper. If you write the important things that come into your head during the process this can be useful for you afterwards when you want to think back and reflect on the experience, and as a record to look at again at a later time.

When you feel it is the right time and place, and you are ready to begin:

Imagine your serious illness as being like a waterfall. Draw this on the blank piece of paper. Draw a horizontal line, then the waterfall, and then continue the horizontal line forward along  the page to the paper’s edge..

  • Now imagine that the line is the river of  your life, with the waterfall representing the powerful and irreversible  change that your serious illness has brought. Take a little time to slowly  look back and forward along this river, and take it all in.
  • Next draw a canoe on the horizontal line of  the river below the waterfall, and draw yourself in it as a stick person.
  • Begin to have a look around in your own mind  from this position in your canoe. You can look back at the waterfall, its  power and suddenness, the shock and upset , and the turbulence in your life it has brought to you.
  • Then look further back up the river above the waterfall, and remember how it was before your serious illness occurred.  Tears may come, so be ready. Have some paper tissues nearby, and if you  are with somebody else, let them support and comfort you as much as you feel that you need.
  • After a time and when you are ready. You can  now turn your attention to where you are now, sitting in the canoe on the  river below the waterfall. Begin to examine your position. Look at the health you still have, and assess it carefully and honestly. Yes, there have been losses, but begin to think of the things you can still do. Take stock of yourself. Be honest about the upsetting parts but also look for the positive and uplifting parts, and what makes your life worth living.
  • Now turn to look downstream, and imagine the river of your life ahead flowing on. Begin to think of all the things you want to do and could do if you set your mind to it, including the big choices you need to make in your life, as well as some of the other  smaller, perhaps practical but still important things you need to do. Write these down if you want to.
  • When you have done enough and you feel like  finishing, begin to return to being inside your own body. Let the waterfall dissolve, along with the idea of the river and the canoe, and you in it. Take a few moments to become wholly present in the here and now, and when you are ready make it a moment of conscious decision to end the visualization session.