What I’m about to share is a whimsical little story about a pivot point in spiritual exploration which holds a sweet spot I’d like to convey.
Curtain opens to a typical therapist’s office: wall of books, comfy sofa with a throw nearby, big wooden desk. Me, on that sofa, eyes darting back and forth, tissue box at hand. Therapist, chair rolled away from the desk, yellow tablet in his lap. Patient? Bored? No way to tell.
By the time of this scene I’d been showing up once a week for more than a year, deeply out of place in a life that I’d quite intentionally wished for and made. Health was failing, family turbulent, and it was just not getting better. Originally I’d sought a therapist with a background in hypnosis, with the cover of addressing shyness and anxiety that had plagued public speaking efforts. I envisioned being put under a few times, then emerging with bold ‘after a few drinks’ kind of confidence. But no.
In retrospect, I can see I was actually there to seek permission to alter my situation, someone to certify changes I’d already decided upon.
What I received however, were techniques to contact greater spaciousness in my thinking. I learned to be listened to, and to slow down with simple rituals like breathing, and tea. Along with asking good questions, the doctor walked me through guided meditations with the theme of support, through layers of firm ground beneath my feet, from which stance there would come more realistic proportions.
I thought for many months, this wasn’t working at all, but I did notice a few things.
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.
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 new limits.
Once I began to see that visualization was actually helping, I sought out others, each more esoteric and elaborate than the last. A guide might 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 especially personal. It was also the case that I couldn’t really believe in the support I was visualizing. It didn’t ring true with my reality ‘outside’.
Eventually, I encountered Eckhart Tolle, whose simple guidance to notice breaths at natural openings proved revolutionary. Tolle spoke of groundlessness rather than solidity, which brought enormous comfort and even consistent stability. ‘Natural openings’ practice was something I could easily incorporate throughout the day, for instance counting breaths at stoplights.
Where I live, a defining characteristic of life is driving: everywhere, all the time, through heavy traffic, in hot cars. Stoplights are abundant. I started with five breaths at each stop, little by little increasing the number. The practice tapered off when response became automatic, more easily shifting into a more spacious gear at each opportunity.
A collective shift also began to find lift off during that time. Those in my sphere were becoming more receptive to meditation and talking about that; conversation was in the air.