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March 29, 1987|Jack Miles

INVENTING THE FUTURE: ADVANCES IN IMAGERY THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE by Marilee Zdenek (McGraw-Hill: $16.95; 196 pp.). Told to imagine a pot, what do you imagine? The Grecian urn on which John Keats wrote his ode? A humble flower pot? A gigantic storage pot? A chamber pot? Potsherds? The burial urn of a deceased friend? A test tube?

Given such a general instruction, each of us will, inevitably, make it particular in our own way. And in the particulars, we will give ourselves a clue to who we are--our habitual attitudes, our unconscious assumptions, our makeup.

Conversely, if we force ourselves to begin thinking about some chosen particular, there will be--just as inevitably--some reverberation, however small, of this particular in the imaginative general. Tell me what you imagine, and I will tell you who you are. Let me tell you what to imagine, and I will tell you what, gradually, you will become.

This, roughly, is the epistemological truth that underlies all mind-over-matter popular psychology as well as all indoctrination. Sophisticates may laugh, but in a way, the laugh is on them, for sophisticated minds predictably foil even the most necessary and salutary attempts at self-understanding when those attempts depend on analysis.

Therapeutically guided imagery can foil that sophisticated foiling, even if, obviously, it can also degenerate into an exercise in kidding oneself. The line is a narrow one. Marilee Zdenek has treaded it knowingly before and does so again in a book with a great deal to give to those able to receive it.

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