The Invisible Language of our Bodies

A guide to healing imagery
By Bernie S. Siegel, MD

“Paradoxically, although our brain waves are active during REM sleep, we are physically paralyzed … not to mention unaware of our surroundings … We (and other mammals) are to all appearances defenseless, raising puzzling questions about REM sleep’s role from the point of view of evolution.”

— Adrian Morrison in “The Brain On Night Shift”


The real question we must ask ourselves is how does the invisible become visible? What is the language of creation and of the soul? How do psychics communicate with animals, distant individuals, and the dead? What do we see when we have a near-death experience and leave our bodies? How does the community of cells speak to the conscious mind about their needs and health? How do we know what future plans our unconscious is creating?

The internal environment controls the body

The trillions of cells in our bodies are designed to act like a community so that our body will be protected and develop in the healthiest way possible. Our problems stem not from our genes but from our perceptions and attitudes that—through the changes they create in our internal chemistry—activate specific genes. Our perceptions and attitudes are derived from our nature, our nurturing (or lack of it), and our subconscious and conscious minds.

Children’s brains prior to the age of 6 are basically in a hypnotic state as seen by their brain wave patterns. They are particularly vulnerable to messages from authority figures like parents, teachers, and clergy. The internal environment controls the body. Though consciousness can override the perceptions residing in the unconscious, that is not so easy to do when they are based upon a lifetime of abuse, indifference, and a destructive lack of nurturing. The unconscious cannot speak to us in words: What is the language of the community of cells? How do they coordinate their activity to protect us in times of danger and help us to grow and achieve our full potential?

Imagery and health

I have yet to meet a medical student or physician who was told, during their training, that in 1933 Carl Jung was able to diagnosis a brain tumor from a patient’s description of a dream.

Through images and symbols the invisible is made visible. We can refuse to acknowledge it because we cannot explain it, but by doing so we close our minds and limit our knowledge. The mechanisms of communication through images are meant to help us be aware of both healthy and self-destructive behaviors. This helps us maintain our health and be aware of our inner wisdom. Even the Bible tells us that God speaks in dreams and visions. Images are the universal language as revealed in the myths and parables of many cultures and religions that share common themes.

The invisible I talk about is what lies within us physically, emotionally, and psychologically. We can be aware of what lies within through feelings and symptoms. If we discover what lies within before a physical affliction or emotional breakdown awakens us, we would all be far healthier. The community within each of our bodies would be far more likely to thrive than have to struggle to survive.

By taking the lid off the unconscious we can be guided by its wisdom and knowledge. It allows us to go within ourselves through the use of our images, whether in the form of spontaneous dreams, guided imagery, or drawings.

None of this was a part of my training or belief system when I became a surgeon. What has led me to a new understanding of the nature of life is my experience. Consciousness is not a local event. I have had an animal intuitive locate our lost cat in Connecticut while she sat in California. I have had a near-death experience and I know that we are more than our bodies. I have had past life experiences and had messages from dead patients delivered through mediums or through hearing their voices speak to me. I did not seek any of these things but I have lived them.

Rather than turn away from the experience because I cannot explain or understand it, I—like the astronomers and quantum physicists—seek to explore the invisible and communicate with it through the language of creation and the movies of our minds.

Guided imagery

What I share about spontaneous drawings and dreams grew from my work with patients and their families. I have always been an artist and a visual person. In 1977 I attended a workshop presented by Carl Simonton, MD, and in 1979 one presented by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD. The former led to my first experience with guided imagery and the latter with a spontaneous drawing. Both revealed incredible insights and information about my life, and so I became a believer and returned to my practice, where a box of crayons became one of my therapeutic tools. I was also quite angry about what I was not taught in medical school about the significance of dreams and drawings as they relate to somatic and psychological factors.

I began to ask my patients and their families to draw pictures to help us make therapeutic decisions based upon not just intellect but inner knowingness, as well as to help family relationships and psychological issues. I was amazed by what I learned and particularly by the revelation of somatic aspects in the drawings. When I wrote to medical journals about my work, the articles were returned with the message that they were “interesting but inappropriate for our journal.” When I sent them to other places they were returned with a note saying, “appropriate but not interesting.”

When I began to realize how much I hadn’t learned in medical school, I made contact with Jungian therapists to explore their work and wisdom. I will never forget a note I received from Susan Bach, the author of Life Paints Its Own Span, a book based upon the drawings of children with leukemia. I wrote to tell her what I had discovered and she wrote back, “Calm down; we know all this.” It confirmed the consistency and the truth of what was known because we had discovered the same things.

What Bach learned in her early work was that both the psychological and the physical were revealed in the drawings. I discovered that when the two sources of intelligence—intuition and intellect—were in conflict about a treatment, the patient suffered more problems and side effects. The drawings revealed the wholeness of mind and body, while integrating their life outside of the clinical area into the somatic aspects. I have made decisions to operate or not based upon my patients’ drawings. The somatic (or organic) aspect helped in the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis, and was an important means of communication for the doctor, patient, and family. When parents see their child’s symbols predicting death they are more likely to let go or respond to their needs than if they are just listening to a doctor’s words.

We also save time by using drawings. When a child with cancer tells me she is not getting enough time from her family, I can talk to six people in her family and try to clarify the issue, or ask her to draw a picture of the family and then show her parents how separate and untouched she feels. They are changed by the picture and I do not need an hour of discussion.

Inner knowingness

Inner knowingness speaks a powerful language and can be used for prevention, treatment, diagnosis, and prognosis of an illness, as well as emotional problems or decisions an individual or family must make, everything from “should I take chemotherapy or eat vegetables?” and more. Very often what one fears may be portrayed as therapeutic and the conflict between intellect and intuition resolved to the benefit of the patient.

Many factors are involved in diagnosing what is in a picture. Through the drawings we can learn and discover what is within us. The drawings opened my mind and led me to pursue knowledge in a way I had never been exposed to. I now refer to myself as a “Jungian surgeon” and use drawings in our therapy groups and through my website to help guide people. By exposing the unconscious and revealing the inner truth, the disharmony within individuals, families, and healthcare professionals ceases; then compassionate care and true healing can occur. Now spirit and symbol serve life, and we can be unique guides and coaches to those we care for and about.

I want people to discover their personal mythology and not my interpretation of it so their soul can speak to them through images and their symbols can lead to transformation. Susan Bach talks about the drawings stirring us through our reactions, surprising us through their meaning and our emotional reaction, and fascinating us through our curiosity.

A door to something greater

Symbols also open the door to something greater than any one person’s wisdom. They connect us to our inner knowingness, creative instinct, rightness, and our creative designer. When we are done we know ourselves, and the unconscious becomes conscious. This communication can be done anywhere on this planet, with anyone, because symbols are a universal language. It can be preventive as well as diagnostic.

We spend a lot of time and money on outer space, but I think inner space offers the same wonder and mystery. Near-death experiences tell us we are more than just physical bodies. I believe we sleep for long periods of time to give our body, brain, unconscious, and conscious minds the ability to communicate in the universal language of symbols. This universality can be seen in the symbolism and common themes of myths originating from various peoples.

As Jung said, psyche and matter are complementary aspects of the same thing. We can communicate nonverbally with our bodies and the unconscious. Consciousness can be experienced as a universal field that affects us all. There is an inner intelligence within all matter that can be utilized by humans to become aware of somatic matters, induce self-healing, and reveal psychological insights.

Try it yourself: Tonight ask yourself who or what decides what you will dream about.


Bernie S. Siegel, MD, retired from surgical practice in 1989 and has since dedicated himself to humanizing the medical establishment and empowering patients. He is a sought-after speaker around the world on patient and caregiver issues.

Based on the book The Art of Healing. © Copyright 2013 by Bernie S. Siegel, MD. Reprinted with permission from New World Library.