My Imaginary Doctors

Dad took me to a Transcendental Meditation center as a teen.  I aced TM.  Well, I aced it that first time. For about 5 minutes.  Then never could do it again.

Dad was going through his wellness obsession stage the last eight years of his life. He had been diagnosed with a serious heart condition in the fall of 1972 and the doctor told him to relax, stop exerting himself, take some pills, and he might last a few years. Toward the end of those eight years, Dad learned that there was a wildly experimental surgery he could try.  He decided to reject that option and died while on sabbatical in Israel.  But between diagnosis and death, he delved like a mad man into the field of “wellness.”

The core of his wellness approach – an emerging academic field’s wellness approach – were four principles:

1.      Exercise

2.      Diet

3.      Relaxation

4.      Community Connections

As a professor at the University of Washington School of social Work, he studied and wrote about “The Peckham Experiment” which was an academically designed post-war intergenerational wellness community and research project in England.  He created, along with Dr. Hy Resnick, the “Wallingford Wellness Project” in the Seattle neighborhood of the same name, as an academic case study of the Peckham model.  And he practiced wellness in his own life with a missionary zeal.  Hence the TM and hence his encouragement of his son to join him.

TM was quite a “New Age” fad in the 70’s.  The TM business would provide – at a price – one-time instruction on how to meditate along with a secret mantra.  Supposedly, everyone was given a distinctive mantra tailored to attributes of their personality.  Once given, one was to never say the mantra out loud nor tell anyone its alliteration, lest it would lose its mythic and transformational power.

In that first session, TM staff led me through the process of chanting the mantra internally. I needed to release my mind, not focusing on anything but the mantra. Quickly, I found myself in an incredible state of well-being, and just as quickly they “woke me up” and said that the session was over.  I was now able to do TM.  If I needed any help in the future, I could come back – for an additional fee – and get a TM tune up.   

Dad continued TM for the rest of his life and found it of great value.  I tried to recreate the experience after that first session, and never could.  I gave up trying, concluding that I would revisit relaxation when I really needed it. As an old man.  Perhaps after age 40.

A couple of years after my TM exposure, I went off to The Evergreen State College, a local alternative school. Life was exciting and stressful. A popular book amongst students at that time was “The Well Body Book.”  It was a kind of hippy American version of Mao’s “Barefoot Doctors Handbook.”  

In the rear of the book was an appendix with the concept of an “Imaginary Doctor.” The appendix provided an approach to creating one’s own Imaginary Doctor, and the process of conjuring up this doc whenever you needed it/him/her.  That conjuring process turned out amazingly like TM that I had been taught a couple of years prior.  But different in one key respect.  Instead of emptying my mind of thoughts when I would perceive them, the Imaginary Doctor approach would follow and direct those thoughts in a manner that tried to solve whatever issue or problem was going on in my life. 

The Imaginary Doctor became for me principally a mental health therapist. A therapist who I could visit at any time and discuss any topic, and feel safe and secure in the knowledge that I was in consultation with a wisdom that also knew, more than anyone else could, my personal history, values, and ideals.

At age 22, I created my Imaginary Doctor and named him Larry.  And he is “with me” to this day. Larry is a retired wheat farmer from the Great Plains. About 65 years old. Overweight, but not obese. Barrel-chested would be a fair description.  Sparse, short-cropped gray and brown hair on his balding head.  No beard.  Looks a bit like Roger Ailes, but without a trace of nefarious political guile. Larry is always wearing OshKosh B’Gosh overalls over a red and white plaid shirt, Redwing boots and white socks.  And he is deeply kind, compassionate, wise, and funny. Sometimes I need to ask him to be serious, which he promptly does in a good-natured manner.  But sometimes I really appreciate his positive silliness, which lightens my mood and gives me perspective.

I conjure him through a rote exercise.  Closing my eyes, I chant internally my TM mantra. “EYE-EEM, EYE-EEM, EYE-EEM…” I say it to myself silently, and imagine leaving a wooded glen, walking through a field of native grasses to a 30’s-era yellow bungalow house.  I am the age I am.  Once young, but now not.  I walk briskly up a flight of five stairs to the front door.  It is my home – though I have never lived there.  It is where I visit with Larry.

I open the door, turn left and quickly right down the picture-lined hallway to my special room. The house is warm, with a lived-in feeling of inherited wealth.  I open the door to my room and walk over to a tall, bejeweled chair.  Sitting down on that chair, I face a large box, four feet wide and of ceiling height. Like the door off a Star Trek Enterprise hallway, I will the door to open, and it quickly slides from top to bottom and out pops Larry.

Over the years, Larry has been a wonderful resource.  Our conversations have been intimate, and they have been healing. 

A few years after Larry came into my life, Dad died. Larry and I talked about this, and then he surprised me. “Would you like to see your dad again?” he asked.

“Of course.”  

“Then here he is.”  And with that Dad walked out of the same “box” that Larry emerged from.  We gave each other a big and long hug.

“I miss you, Dad,” I cried.

“I’m here anytime you need me.”

I looked toward Larry and asked him if this is ok with him.  Ok that I have this image of my father as a supplement to him as my Imaginary Doctor.

“If this is helpful for you, I’m all in favor of it,” came his reply.

25 years later, Mom died. And yes, she came through the box as well. Six years after that, my sister Ann died.  Yup… I can see her too coming through the box when I want. 

It’s my choice of course.  When I conjure up my Imaginary Doctor…. Doctors, I select whom I want to talk with.  It might be one or four or any pairing in between.  And none of them resents it when they are not picked.  Well, almost none. Larry has been known to pout a bit… and let out a fart of displeasure.

10 thoughts on “My Imaginary Doctors

  1. Meditation, no matter how it is attained, is a must for good mental health. I’ve never taken a TM course, nor have I read how to do it. I guess over the years I’ve just figured out how to get myself into a delightful state of mind that’s similar to what one feels right before one falls asleep – complete peace of mind and relaxation of the body. Thanks for the fun read, Daniel. Your personal doctor just shows what a great imagination you possess. No wonder you’re so good at writing!


  2. Good article!

    My Dad also tried TM for a while, at about the same time, but could never really get into it, he said, because “he didn’t like the sound of the mantra they gave him.” My folks had each other and even in their minor disagreements, (how to make sorrel soup, for example, or “correct” Yiddish way to pronounce a certain word) they balanced each other for a long long time.

    I suppose I have been on my own longevity crusade via yoga, but now find that a daily “constitutional” does the trick.

    I wonder if there might be imaginary rabbis, as well? I don’t have an imaginary doctor, but if I did, he would speak Tamil.

    By the way, singing (anything anywhere but especially in the shower) is good for longevity, I have heard.

    zei gezunt,




    1. I vaguely recall Murray talking about that. Notice, I broke the mantra secrecy rule, and lived to tell about it.

      We can calm and center ourselves in many ways. I’ve found one that has been a continuity and help for decades. Glad you have yoga.


  3. My first question. 11:46 pm. What are you doing up that late?

    Second, these vignettes. In your mind are they linked together, like beads on a necklace, or discrete entities? Is this the beginning of a larger project on the Making of Daniel, or just looking through the kaleidoscope of your life?

    Was Larry always 65? As a (retired) wheat farmer, did/does he have a medical license? What does he say about handling the daily stress of Covid?

    On Thu, Jan 28, 2021 at 11:46 PM Daniel’s Derekh wrote:

    > Daniel Farber posted: ” Dad took me to a Transcendental Meditation center > as a teen. I aced TM. Well, I aced it that first time. For about 5 > minutes. Then never could do it again. Dad was going through his wellness > obsession stage the last eight years of his life. He had ” >


    1. Great questions. Have you ever thought of being, say, a journalist?

      1. When I can’t sleep, sometimes I write.
      2. Vignettes and a kaleidoscope. Yes. Both fit, I think. What is evolving for me in these dispersed writing pieces is some generalized opportunity to take stock of my life and for others to get to know who I am – and upon my death, who I was. It’s the better part of me, of course. Or perhaps more accurately, the part of me which wants to explain my life and its choices from a coherent and evolving gestalt.

      My thought is that if someone at my funeral service would want to get to know who I was and what I saw as the self-image that I wanted to show the world, they could sit down and read all this stuff and get a grasp of it. As for a larger project, I think continuing with this is that project. I don’t have a life which lends itself to a singular piece of autobiography. Just snippets here and there that add up to a life.
      3.Larry was always 65. Now, strangely, I’m his age. And sorry, no. He’s no medical expert, but if you’d like, I can ask him for advice on stress during COVID. I’m sure he’d have opinions. He always does.


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