What I’m about to share took place more than ten years ago. So much has happened since then! But, it is a whimsical little story, about a pivot point in spiritual exploration that holds a sweet spot in my heart.
Curtain opens to a typical therapist’s office. Lots of books, comfy sofa with a throw nearby, big professional desk, lots of wood. Me, sitting on the sofa, eyes darting back and forth, tissue box in hand. Therapist, his chair pulled in front of his desk, yellow tablet in hand. Patient. Bored? No way to tell.
I’d been showing up once a week for over a year, deeply out of place in the life that I’d quite intentionally wished for and made. My health was bad, family turbulent, and things were just not getting better. In retrospect I can see that I wasn’t there to work on myself, but because I wanted permission to assert myself to change the situation.
What I received, were techniques toward contacting greater space in my thinking. I also learned to be listened to, and to slow down more often, beginning with simple rituals, like tea.
Originally I’d sought a therapist who had background in hypnosis, because ‘while I was there’ I thought to address the shyness and anxiety that had plagued various public speaking efforts over the years. I envisioned that he might put me under, then I’d emerge with the kind of confidence I had as a young adult after a few drinks. But no.
What he did do, along with listening, and asking good questions, was lead me in a guided meditation he then burned to a CD, so I could play it at home a few times a day. The meditation was a visualization of support, where I imagined layers of firm ground beneath me, from which stance I could imagine finding spacious proportion in the moment, perspective.
I thought, for many months, that it wasn’t working at all, but I did start to notice a few things.
I first noticed that I could see farther. While I was driving especially, or out and about, what was familiar to me no longer felt as familiar. Distance was clearer, just as a result of being slightly more relaxed.
Then, standing in lines wasn’t a burden. Rather than feeling restless pressure waiting in the (SO!) many lines a modern life entails, I could locate ease, even pleasure, taking in surroundings, testing the new limits.
Once I began to see that the visualization was actually helping, I sought out others, more esoteric and elaborate. The guide would move through meadows and along streams, to encounters with peaceful/wise others, or down staircases into libraries housing any answer I could wish for. These were relaxing, sometimes emotionally moving, but didn’t feel personal in the same way.
I kept looking and eventually encountered Eckhart Tolle.
What is odd, is that for many years I’d been blazing through books about mind-body connections, especially whenever on vacations. Nearly all of these books had led me through short visualizations which I happily went along with, but Tolle’s simple guidance to notice breaths at natural openings, was revolutionary.
The timing may have been right because I was receptive due to therapy, and because the guidance was something I could easily incorporate throughout the day, for instance counting breaths at stoplights.
I live in a place where a defining characteristic of life is driving: everywhere, all the time, through heavy traffic, in hot cars. Stoplights are abundant. So I started with five breaths at each stop, then increased the number, then stopped counting when the response became automatic, when I began easily shifting into a more spacious gear at every opportunity.
Perhaps the timing was also right because of the collective awakening beginning to find lift off around the time. People were becoming more receptive to meditation and active, daily, experiential spirituality. They were talking about it more; conversation was in the air.
It is still hard to pinpoint how long this phase went on before I began noticing more changes, like laughing louder and sleeping less, but I knew I was on the cusp of something durable.