My son Josh and I were driving out to Van Etten for a silent retreat. I’d gone to this same retreat six months before and learned some things about the awakening experience. I’d been having some experiences, for years really, and wanted to learn more. The previous retreat had provided me with some answers to questions I’d had and I looked forward to asking more questions and coming closer to understanding what exactly it was that I’d been experiencing.
Josh chatted the whole drive out, about an hour, while we listened to a new CD a friend gave me, a Martin Scorsese selection of live Hendrix blues. We both enjoyed the music and Josh talked some about learning some Hendrix and blues on his electric guitar. Both of us I think were a little nervous and full of expectations.
When we arrived at the top of the hill where Light On the Hill sits, and walked up to the front doors he turned and said to me, “It looks like a rehab.” I said back to him, “Do you need one?”
I have worried about my son much over the years. He was always an unusual child, diagnosed ADHD in second grade, seeing ghosts and hearing voices, I worried in his teen years about schizophrenia. He’s 24 now and lives in Philadelphia where he attends graduate school in psychology. He wants to be a therapist and is working toward a PsyD, which is like a PhD only it concentrates on therapy instead of research. He has been getting wonderful grades but his anxiety level has been high. He told me on the drive that he worried that he wasn’t cut out for the life he’d chosen and wondered if he should persist.
Josh has always been secretive and warmly accessible at the same time. You looked in his eyes and what looked back was old and wise, but also troubled that it found itself here in this place. You got the sense from Josh that he knew too much and would rather not. His experience of life so far had led him to try alcohol and pot to ease the thoughts and anxiety that he couldn’t escape.
As we entered the lodge and removed our shoes I went right into Mom mode, securing his room and mine and showing him around the building. There wasn’t much to do until everyone arrived and they served dinner so we decided to take a walk. As we approached the front exit I saw Dr. Hall and three other people come inside. He introduced Josh and I to a woman, Margot and a man, Bart and another man I remembered from the last retreat, Elliot. He invited us to walk with them and visit in the lovely cabin he’d be staying in.
At the cabin we rested for a moment and talked. Margot seemed interested in Josh and what he was doing in life and he told her his plans to become a therapist. I told her that I’ve done many things and have come to believe that writing is the thing I’m supposed to be doing, aside from being a mother and wife.
Margot needed to acclimate to the space and prepare for her presentation so Josh and I left and followed a path outside the cabin that took us away from the facility and into the woods. Soon we found ourselves in a lovely deciduous woods sprinkled with hemlocks. We weren’t in silence yet so we continued to talk freely about whatever came to our minds. At first we talked about what we thought was up with Margot. We agreed she was an interesting and approachable person, but we were eager to hear her story. It was obvious she had one.
We talked about home and Josh’s half siblings, my twin 11 year olds at home with my husband. They adore Josh and he admitted he really misses them when he’s away at school. We didn’t talk much about why we were at the retreat or what our expectations were, we’d already exhausted that topic in the previous weeks waiting for the retreat to begin and knew we would soon learn whatever it was we came her to discover.
We finished our walk and went inside for our first meditation and welcoming talk from Dr. Hall, whom everyone called Michael. He was the retreat facilitator but you never got the sense that he controlled everything that happened. He had a plan I’m sure when he chose the people he invited but after that he seemed content to sit back and observe. He never seemed to insert himself into the conversation; his focus remained on others and their experiences. He was one of the more laid back people I’ve ever met.
The first meditation was a difficult one for me. I felt unable to get to a quiet space and I thought I could feel Josh next to me falling asleep. He was sitting like I was on a cushion with a back support, knees up in front of him and it was his knees that I saw wobbling in my peripheral vision. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and I nudged him to wake him up. He glared at me. Apparently I’d made a mistake. I felt bad and vowed no matter what to separate from him this weekend and allow us both our own experiences.
We went to dinner and found delicious vegetarian fare. People were meeting for the first time and also greeting old friends. A couple people I recognized from the last retreat. I felt as if the energy in the room was growing warmer and by the time we went into the great room I felt as though I was among well meaning friends.
Once we found our seats and got quiet, Michael began our weekend with an introductory talk welcoming us all to the retreat. Then he introduced Margot and she began to describe her awakening experience. Her story involves a complete disintegration of her life and her ego. Once she worked as a life coach and traveled the country lecturing on how to become successful in life. But one day she woke up and realized the things she was telling people no longer felt right to her. She was teaching them how to gain material success but wasn’t addressing what now seemed to her to be the most important goal of all – personal enlightenment. She now felt that until people got right with themselves and “got it” really GOT IT, nothing would help them feel true fulfillment. Her realization tore apart her business and her home life. She lost her job, became alienated from all she had previously known, including her own identity. “Margot was simply gone,” she told us. She then embarked on a journey that took her to Central and South America. With no means of supporting herself, she relied on the kindness of strangers and her faith that God would provide. She lived fully in the moment, never knowing what would happen next or even planning where she would sleep that night. She did this for four years until she finally found the answers she sought and learned what had happened to her was an awakening experience. She’d never heard of such a thing before it happened to her.
Honestly, her description frightened me and I wondered if this was what happened to everyone who awakens. Mostly I wondered how I could ever allow this disaster to befall my own family.
The second part of her lecture introduced the concept of reality she discovered in awakening. She used this construct to illustrate a reality that she also told us was indescribable and must be experienced directly to truly understand. But her illustrations and descriptions immediately made sense to me. Although words seemed to frustrate her somewhat, she described beautifully the way the ego is like an overlay of lines that block “IT”, or what many of us call God, from coming through and directing our lives. And if it were only possible to break down this ego enough then we could feel our direct connection to “IT” and be able to move in the world on its purpose, which is divine.
I thought this was very similar to a concept I had come to on my own many years ago. In my twenties, after my divorce, I came to the idea that God or “IT” is an energy which exists inside everything without exception and is experiencing this life through all which is here, human, animal, plant, rock, the cosmos. So intellectually, I got it when Margot began talking. I so got it that I felt a warmth in my body like when I think about someone I love and a happy moment we may have shared. It was a sense that perhaps this is the way it is. But the ever-present feeling of fear that had been growing inside me for several years, causing me occasional panic attacks, was not just in the background of my thoughts now, it was central. I wasn’t sure I could handle the upheaval of awakening and still meet all my obligations as a mother, wife and an active, involved adult in my community.
After Margot finished speaking, Michael introduced us to Bart and he began to tell us his story. He told us briefly of his first experience of the truth of existence when he got blown up in Viet Nam as a young adult. He spent a long time in a VA hospital recuperating and thinking. This began his life long search for the direct experience of “IT” and while his journey seemed less dramatic than Margot’s it was no less miraculous. And for me, his journey seemed more possible. So much so that I was compelled to stand up and say that all of this is something I’ve longed for since I could remember but that if I had to lose all that I held dear, my children, my life and run off to Argentina to meet God on a mountaintop, then maybe this could wait till retirement. A few people laughed but Bart assured me that the path I was on was the perfect path for me to wake up on and that it was happening exactly as it should and that I wouldn’t have to give up my life for it. In fact, he told me, nothing in my life would really change, when the change in me occurred, only I would change and that would make all the difference.
He also said that before he experienced this change himself he had been lucky enough to watch a few close friends go through it and saw that, “Ok, he’s pretty much the same guy as before, maybe this could happen for me.” He said key elements to preparing oneself included understanding intellectually the awakening experience, cultivating a sense of gratitude for EVERYTHING, learning to become still to allow the experience to come in and letting go of wanting this to happen while retaining the faith that it not only could happen to you, but that it would.
All this made so much sense and yet it felt as unattainable to me as if someone had asked me to bring home some stardust for supper. Then Michael, who I’d been seeing regularly since the last retreat said to me, “This is your path, you are exactly where you need to be.” I smiled as some of my anxiety slipped away and I felt that perhaps this was true. And yet.
We were given our “In Silence” tags and sent to bed, to rest and think and pray. I prayed that I would be shown what to do when the time was right. I said goodnight to Josh and we parted for the evening. I didn’t write that night on the novel I was working on, I didn’t even shower like I normally do. I just brushed my teeth and went to bed. Sleep came immediately. No dreams. No realizations in the morning. Just the rest my body needed for what lay ahead.
The next morning I woke at 5:30, not unusual for me but what was unusual was I didn’t want to go back to sleep. I was awake and eager to begin my quest. I went to the kitchen for tea but hot water wasn’t ready yet. The man told me to come back in thirty minutes. I took a shower and got dressed came back for tea and went outside on the deck. It was an overcast day but warm enough with enough humidity in the air to let me know it would be stifling later on. I sat on a chair and cleared my mind. I felt moved to do some yoga for my body and so I did, it felt wonderful. At 7:30 the bell rang for the first 30-minute meditation and I went to the cushion I set up at the window so I could meditate and look out at the fields and mountains. I saw a hawk flutter high above the earth looking down at the meadow for breakfast. I watched it beat its wings with powerful strokes to keep itself in the same spot. Something about it held my gaze. I felt as if I could see the truth if I could just understand the hawk. Three times it did this hovering in the air then flew off for another field. I don’t think I’d ever seen a hawk doing this for so long before, usually I just saw them soaring. I thanked the universe for allowing me to see this today.
Then I saw a Bluebird for the first time ever, I’d always wanted to see one actually. It landed on the azalea in front of me several times and I watched it until it left my sight. Again I said a small thank you for this gift. Then I sank into silence. The glass in front of me seemed not to exist anymore and I had the feeling that my physical boundaries had blurred. I got the impression that if I wanted to I could pass through the glass and embrace the sunlight and mist like a lover. I rested in this moment and felt the pulse of everything rocking me slightly as if I were cradled in the arms of creation. Pretty abstract words I know, but these are the thoughts that come to me now after experiencing this kind of moment. I can’t help but wax poetic and yet my words are poor representations for the feeling and none of these words came to me in the moment. The words come after, in an effort to describe somehow that which I cannot possibly describe.
After meditation there was a short break and Josh, who had sat down next to me to on the deck earlier to put on his running shoes asked if I’d like to take a walk. So we went down the path again and broke the silence of the retreat, but it was all right, this was what we were here to do, experience this moment alone and together.
I apologized for waking him at meditation and he said he wasn’t falling asleep and said he forgave me then laughed. I just assumed he’d been tired after his drive up from Philly and was falling asleep as a result. Also, Josh has had sleep issues all his life and I’ve never lost my compulsion to help him in any moment. I told myself I must stop trying to protect him.
We went to the lecture after lunch and spoke again with Michael, Margot and Bart about the profound experience of awakening. This time I asked a different question. I asked if it were possible that I’d been having awakening experiences in small doses for some time and was it possible that my experience of awakening would not be the sonic boom that Margot described. They told us they all had spent years in awakening and that it was only after the fact that they could connect the dots and that it looked like a story of a miracle. And that as miraculous as it is, it also is as simple and ordinary as what we were doing right now, in this moment. That this, right now was it, in fact. Now is all we have, all we know for sure. There is no past, no future, only now. This moment. And that’s as simple and ordinary as it is.
This befuddled me and I said, “I just don’t know if this will ever happen for me and I’ve always wanted it. But I don’t know where I am or where I’m going.” My voice broke; I hate it when my emotions betray themselves in tears because I see tears as weakness, which of course they are not. But I was overwhelmed with my desire to see past the illusion, to see what is really before me and my frustration had reached a climax I hadn’t realized I had even reached.
Michael said, “That’s sounds like a good place to be to me!” And I turned and I saw him, looking at me, smiling as if this were the greatest news he could give me and I couldn’t understand it, not then.
Josh and I went to the stone labyrinth after that and I told him how to ask a question if he wished, or not then walk in mindfulness through the maze. He did this and said he heard a voice tell him, “the answer you seek you will not understand.” On the drive down we both related dreams we’d had the night before about bears. In his dream he was walking through the woods and seeing a small turtle on the ground he leaned over to pick it up. When he stood he saw that several bears were surrounding him. One mother bear was growling at him in a frightening way. It took some time but it occurred to me that the turtle represented knowledge and the bears were his walls, or “beariours”, to his finding what he seeks.
The evening lecture was a surprise guest, a woman who ten years ago was given a profound gift of direct knowing and has been helping people see where they are blocked so they can live happier lives. I was immediately intrigued with her and the possibility that perhaps I had a block I was unaware of that was keeping me from awakening fully. So boldly, and without any thought I said, “Can you read me? Right now?”
“Now? In front of everyone?” She seemed dubious that I would want to do such a thing publicly but something was pushing me forward. Michael recognized this and said, “Come on up, Judy.”
I didn’t demure. I leapt up and sat in a chair next to her. The woman, Janine, was about my age, in her forty’s and I found my self looking into her clear powder blue eyes, the color of my father’s and brother’s and my youngest son’s. They were clear seeing gentle eyes and I felt comfortable in their gaze. She took my hands in hers and pressed the bones in my palm. Her eyes were closed and a troubled expression came over her face. “Are you sure you want to do this in front of everyone?” She said and without hesitation I said, “Yes, I’ll be fine.”
So she began. She told me that I had suffered many awful early traumas. My abusive childhood sprang into my mind, my mother leaving me as an infant, and I said simply, “yes,” as there was nothing else to say. Then she told me that I still carry the scars, that I hold onto them and won’t let them go and until I do I will not move forward. “Wait, I’m a writer, I use those memories for my work, maybe this is what you’re seeing.” Inside I’m exploding. “No!” my ego rails inside my head. I’ve dealt with these issues! I’ve been through therapy, I’m clear, I’m not angry with this any more! You’re wrong! It felt as if she were reading the person I thought I was ten or twenty years ago. I couldn’t imagine how she had read me so wrong, because clearly she was.
I heard Michael say, “Are you all right?”
I smiled and said, “Yes, of course.” My ego was enraged but unbelieving and so its tight hold on itself was unshaken. I thanked her and went and sat down. All the rest of the evening I could not stop thinking about what she said. I talked to Josh about it he tried to help me put it into context, to make sense of it. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t accept the possibility of what she claimed. So I went to her again and told her I had worked very hard to heal those wounds and thought that I had and that maybe it was the writing that was keeping them close. She allowed that this was happening too and that what I was doing with the memories and writing was producing a beautiful and healing thing. “You are being called to writing,” she told me, “but I also see this other.” Mostly she stuck by her conviction that I needed further healing and that I wouldn’t move forward until I’d done that work.
Not long after this I watched her leave in her blue car that she’d parked next to mine, not realizing I’m sure that she had just turned my idea of myself upside down.
After I calmed down some Josh told me that he went to see her as well and he wasn’t happy with what she told him either. But unlike me he knew what she was going to say, because he knew she was the real deal. “She told me my body was full of toxins and that until I cleaned up she couldn’t read me.”
“Yeah, I didn’t want to tell you but I’ve been drinking to quiet the voices.”
I couldn’t say anything. I knew that he’d had trouble with alcohol years earlier in undergrad but I thought he got past it. But here we were again, and I worried that it could only get worse. And I could do nothing to help him.
We went to the bonfire and I told him that we should talk to Dr. Hall about this. He said no and I knew it was from shame. He didn’t want him to see this in him. He had such a high regard for Michael that he couldn’t talk to him about it. So we sat by the fire each of us thinking, if we’re the last two with Michael here alone, then we were meant to talk to him about it. But as people began to leave and my hopes began to rise, suddenly Michael stood up and bid us good night. Josh and I left right after and went to his room, which was a double with a single and a double bed in it. We talked about the philosophy of awakening, me only half understanding what the heck he was talking about, fearing that my boy was drowning in font of me and I couldn’t reach him in time.
The next morning as I woke an idea formed out of the silence I’d been sleeping in and a voice came through me and said, “It’s not your mother or any of the other abuses you suffered as a child. It was your first husband and you missed it. She said, you swore you’d never let yourself be hurt like this again.” And that was it. Those were the exact words I’d said to myself over and over after I left my first marriage with my 18-month-old son. Never again. And even though I met and married a man I felt I could trust, I never allowed myself to become as vulnerable to him as I had to my first husband. This was it; this was the trauma. Now what? Obviously I had more work to do, to clear myself for awakening. This I found to be the most depressing thought yet.
After breakfast I went to my room to relax and Josh went to shower. Soon I heard a door slam. I knew the others were in a meeting I was skipping because I felt so awful so I wondered who that could be. Then I heard a loud bang as if someone had dropped something very heavy on the floor. Quickly I left my room, thinking only of my son and the direction of that sound. I heard another door slam as I opened my own. I ran to his room just down the hall peered into his room. I saw his glasses lying on the bed and the contents of his wallet flung around the room. I went out and went to the outside door, it’s glass and I looked through it without opening it. Outside on the deck, with a thunderstorm coming overhead I saw him, doing martial arts moves with a devastatingly focused look on his face. He was my son but I didn’t know him. All I knew for sure was he had to do this thing alone. Dark night of the soul and all that, I was a little familiar with such things.
I sat on my bed and waited until I heard him come in. I went to his room and felt his energy had calmed so I entered his room. He told me that he came back from his shower and as he dressed he found his wallet stashed deep in his bag. He’d forgotten he put it there and felt certain that he hadn’t wanted it with him for some reason. As he opened it and looked at the things inside he felt as if the contents belonged to someone else, and he came to understand that this was the persona he had made for himself to hide the fact that he was different from everyone else in that he knew this life was only an illusion.
I always said my son came out with his eyes wide open. And he did. Joshua was awake from the moment of birth. Growing up in an awake state is how we all begin but add in the sensitivities he was also given and no one to guide him and you have a mixture for a difficult, confusing childhood. As he described all of this to me I felt a growing sense of guilt and dismay that I had messed up on him, that I should have been better at helping him through this thing, but of course I just did the best I could with what I had at the time. This is all any of us can ever do. He told me firmly that I was the mother he was meant to have and that this was the way it was supposed to happen. He was supposed to mess up and hit this wall so that he could do what he was sent here to do. Help others. Become a therapist. Gone, he said was the Josh who needed to drink to still the voices, he had lost that desire completely. (I must say here that we’re not talking about alcoholism)
When he’d finished I told him I wanted to go walk in the storm. He said he wanted to rest. So I went to my room and put on running clothes. I looked out my window and saw Margot running in the rain, arms out stretched, a wide smile on her face. I longed to do that as well, I wanted to feel the joy I saw on her face. Then from my back I heard my cell phone buzz. I looked at it. It said Dad. I hesitated a moment, looked out at Margot and decided he might really need to talk. I answered the phone.
We had a good conversation. We hadn’t spoken in a couple of weeks. And as we spoke I felt the tug of the storm and frustration that I couldn’t be out there. Then I gave in and sank into the conversation I was having. I really listened to my father. I learned that he called to tell me he’d found an apartment he could afford for the winter, he wouldn’t have to live with us again come October. I lost my frustration and felt that it was possible that this moment was supposed to be for this, not running in the rain. And so when I hung up I went to look for Josh.
I met him in the main hall. He had an apple in his hand and he had just taken a huge bite but what caught my attention was the glow about him. He appeared so much lighter almost carefree, no, he was carefree. Not manic, or hyper, just groovin’. “What happened to you?” I said to him because I couldn’t believe my eyes. He just smiled huge, like I hadn’t seen since he was a young boy and said, “It’s me, I’m young again, that other guy is gone.” “Wow.” He walked down the hall toward our rooms and I had to follow him I was so intrigued. Either his ego had made a great illusion I was seeing or he was having a psychotic break. “I think you should go for that walk,” he said and a clap of thunder sounded in the distance. And so I did.
I grabbed my bath towel off my chair and headed outside. I walked down the path toward Michael’s cabin and headed toward the field where I’d seen Margot earlier. But it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like I imagined in my room, and a voice said, “You’re just a girl in the rain.” And I chose to believe it. I sat down in the middle of the field and I wept. I shouted “Why?” to the sky. The rain lightened and I said, “Don’t let up, I want it to pour!” And surprisingly it did. At first I heard the rain in the trees come louder and harder then it was in the field where I sat. I got up and ran, not in joy but in despair. Despair that it was only rain, and I was only a silly girl out in it. I headed back up to the lodge. I stopped by the edge of the woods and looked into the darkness in the trees. This is like my life, I thought, I can’t see the forest for the trees, and then I laughed. Then I cried again until I felt stupid standing there in the rain, a towel around my neck crying for no good reason. In that moment I couldn’t have cared less about awakening. I knew it wasn’t within my control and all these things I’d been doing for years didn’t really make any difference. It was out of my hands. Who’s having a psychotic break now, I thought.
I went back in and took a shower. It was dinnertime and so I ate. Josh sat next to me. We didn’t speak. After dinner the sun came out and it was lovely. He asked me for a walk. I told him I wanted to lie down but I found myself picking myself up off the couch where we sat after dinner and following him out of the building again. A child leading a child.
We went down the same path and he spoke of the way things looked to him. He said he hadn’t seen the world this way in years, since he was a young boy. I told him I was happy for him and he laughed. I said, “No, really, I know it sounds cynical, but I truly am.” “Don’t worry,” he said, “It’ll happen for you.” And instead of feeling talked down to or angry in anyway I said, “I know it will, really, I do, I just don’t know when.” And I really meant it.
We went back inside and I told Josh that I just wanted to ask Margot one last thing before we left. We found that we’d missed another, and final lecture so we sat out side the meeting room and listened to their laughter. I thought, it’s ok, without my energy there they’ll all have a different experience, someone else will be able to come forward because I’m not there inserting my self. I was rather disgusted with my behavior at that moment, thinking I was just one big ego. And a self indulging one at that.
So we waited and soon the doors opened and out came a woman who said, “They’re taking the picture, go get in it.” So we went to the doorway but I couldn’t go in because Margot was standing in my way. I realized this was the moment, I couldn’t hesitate, I said, “Margot, may I ask you one last question?” “Yes, of course, let’s sit.”
She took my hands and pulled me to the floor where we stood just inside and to the side of the doorway so others could pass. Josh melted from my awareness as I looked at her and began.
“Yesterday Janine said I had some trauma that was blocking me, but I realized this morning that it wasn’t my childhood trauma,” and she finished for me, “It was something else, yes.” I said, “It was my first husband and when I left with my son I swore that I’d never let anyone ever hurt me again and even when I met the man I’m married to now, and even though I knew I could trust him, I refused to make myself as vulnerable to him, I held a piece of my heart back.”
She nodded, “Yes, but all you have to do is remove this,”
“But how? I don’t know how.”
“It’s already done. You see?” She held my hands and looked in my eyes.
I felt gooseflesh crawling up my arms to my neck and said, “I’ve got goose bumps.” She laughed and said, “I have them too; it must be true.”
And no sooner did she say this and in that moment I felt a great warm wind rushing through me. It came from my back and it poured out of my chest until it had blown my whole body away into dust. I took a huge gulp of air and my eyes came open wide. I looked at her in amazement.
“I feel it too,” she said.
“But now that I’ve cleared that away what can I do to awaken?”
And she said, “You’ve been so close but now it is done.”
“It’s done? I didn’t know it was so simple.”
“It’s that simple.”
And still the wind rushed through my body and I looked out the window and saw a vibrant world I hadn’t seen before and then my son was there, kneeling down next to me, concern on his face because I’d begun to cry so uncontrollably, holding my hand over my face, then both my hands to hide this enormous feeling that surely my body could not possible hold. And then it eased and I took my hands from my face.
I looked at Margot. “That’s it?”
“That’s it. Simple, yes?”
“I never knew.”
She smiled and held my hands as I rested for a moment, trying to take in what had just happened to me, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even begin.
We took the group picture and I felt reborn, though I hate to say that word with all its connotations. That’s what I felt like. A baby, plopped down in the middle of this amazing wonderful beautiful dream. Because it is all a dream, but my god, what a wonderful place to be.
I walked outside with Josh and we felt the mist on our faces, we gazed at the tress with their shimmering leaves, each leaf I could see from a mile away, like 3-D plasma only better! I touched a Zinnia for the first time in this new life.
“Smell it,” he said and I did.
“Zinnia’s aren’t supposed to smell, but it does! It has a wonderful smell. It smells so real.”
He laughed at me as I touched every green thing in the garden.
After lunch we said our goodbyes and packed up my car.
“It seems like we’ve been here a year.”
We headed back for one last load when we saw Bart at the edge of the drive, waiting for his ride; he’d flown here from North Carolina. He looked at me and as our eyes met I knew he knew. I lowered my eyes; I wasn’t ready to speak yet.
He reached out his hand for me to shake, I took his hand in mine and I felt a warm tingling sensation fly up my arm to my face and I looked in his eyes. We met there and I really saw him. He smiled wide and pulled me into an embrace. “See you again,” he said and then he was saying goodbye to Josh.
“It was good talking with you,” he told Josh. I’d forgotten that Josh had sought him out as I had gone to Margot.
“Thank you,” Josh said and then we were getting our stuff and driving away. Just like that. And I really couldn’t believe that what happened was real. I’m still waiting for this to end. Waiting for the thoughts to come back unbidden. Waiting for my worries to face me again and demand attention. But so far I’m clear and just living each moment knowing somehow whatever I’ll need to do or say will be revealed in that moment. But still I’m not convinced. It could just be an illusion. I’ve tricked myself into believing this could have happened. It was so simple and so awesome at the same time. I’m not sure. Really, I’m not.
Eight Months Later
Several months have passed since I wrote “A Weekend in June.” I wrote the piece within hours of arriving home from the retreat. I could do nothing else in fact. I was in a kind of mental limbo where the previous day’s events passed in front of my eyes as if it were all happening again and the only way to remedy this I felt was to do what I always do, write it down. Thankfully I did, as much of the detail and the exact sequence of events have faded from my memory. Though one moment stays clear to me, the moment I sat with Margo on the floor and felt that warm wind embracing me. That moment is easily recalled still, almost in its full effect. For this I am grateful because at times since I might have discounted what I experienced if not for that indisputable event. I cannot deny what I felt and how profoundly it has shifted my perception of the world I now see around me.
For much of the next three months I marveled at how much calmer my thoughts were. Gone were the familiar obsessive thoughts and ruminations on problems that had occurred or ones I had feared might occur. I no longer worried about what might happen or how I would cope if things didn’t go a certain way.
I met with Dr. Hall on a weekly basis and with his guidance I was able to understand the new experiences I was having. Perhaps the most noticeable occurrence was what Dr. Hall described as “acting out of no mind.”
One Friday evening I took my eleven-year-old twins to a pizza party at a roller skating rink and found that the place was overcrowded with raucous teens with little or no supervision. At one point I went out to my car to get my skates because my daughter wanted me to skate with her and as I approached the glass doors I could see two young boys fighting in the parking lot with several on lookers who seemed to be egging them on.
I stepped outside and had intended to walk by and ignore the incident but instead I stopped a few feet from the boys and shouted, “What on earth do you think you’re doing?” The boys stopped and looked at me. The smaller one, who had been getting the worse of the beating, took that moment to flee back inside the building. I continued to stare at the other boy who actually took a step toward me and said, “It’s none of your business.” He said this with such contempt that his voice sounded like a snarl in my ears and I immediately took a step toward him and instead of asserting my authority over him which he could easily dispute, I said, “How old are you?” Apparently caught off guard by this question he answered, “Twelve.” I shot right back with, “Oh then you’re a man, act like one.” I turned and without looking back or even thinking twice about turning my back on him, I walked away to my car and did what I’d come outside to do.
When I came back to the building the boy still stood outside with some others who had observed the incident and none of them even looked at me. It was as if I had never even seen them before. What was clear however was that the violence had been diffused and further injury to either boy had been avoided. I had without thought done exactly what was needed in that moment. I did it with a courage I wouldn’t have felt if I’d thought about what I should do in such a situation. I did it without thought for my own safety or concern for what might happen after I said what I did. And yet, it was exactly the right thing to do and I marveled later that I had acted in such a decisive way in a situation that would normally have sent me running the other way. Such is the way of acting out of no mind.
There is no way to prepare yourself for what any given moment might require, so why worry about what might happen in some future which has yet to occur? This is how I live my life now. I see life now as a succession of moments that feel like bubbles of time connected but distinct where what is needed is revealed to me and I act without having to think about or censoring my responses. I know I will be guided and I am.
Another remarkable change that has occurred since June is that I have finally lost the twenty pounds I would have liked to have lost ten years ago after giving birth to twins. I had tried so many times to diet and to begin an exercise routine, even hiring a personal trainer for two years to force me to get fit, but none of it worked. Until now.
Sometime in September I started noticing those Jenny Craig ads almost every time I turned on the TV it seemed. I had Kirstie Alley's and Valerie Bertinelli’s voices echoing in my mind for hours after viewing an ad. “Have you called Jenny yet?” So one day I went. I just walked in and said, “Can you help me lose twenty pounds?” They said I needed to make an appointment and though disappointed that I couldn’t begin that day, I returned three days later and began. Within four months I had lost the weight, and am continuing on to lose an additional five pounds to put me at my most optimal weight.
At the same time I began playing racquetball with my husband for an hour a couple times a week. At first these sessions wore me out so much that I was winded within ten minutes and sweating like a prizefighter. Then I noticed after a couple of weeks that I didn’t break a sweat for at least twenty minutes of play. It wasn’t long before I had lost ten pounds and decided I could begin running again.
Now my workout is a pleasure. At this time I run thirty minutes, bike for thirty minutes then stretch and do weights for another thirty. Instead of finding excuses and begrudging my “lost” time, I look forward to going to the gym. I’ve realized that my husband is more than happy to see me go when he gets home after work if I haven’t had a time to do it during the day. He is so supportive and I don’t have my thoughts derailing me anymore so success has been simple. Not easy though, there’s nothing easy about losing weight. But from my experience of the last ten years of failure and now this sudden success I can say that my biggest barrier to losing weight was my own mind.
A more subtle change, but perhaps the most wonderful change, has been in the quality of my relationship with my husband. We’ve been together for twenty years and sometimes slip into negative ways of relating to each other at certain times over certain issues. Mostly concerning our different approaches to childrearing.
Whenever we begin to regress into one of these negative exchanges I find myself responding in a different way. Instead of becoming defensive and letting my emotions get the better of me because I’m feeling threatened, I find my thoughts staying clear and can see the real objective of this conversation. I’m able to say things that diffuse his anger. I stay to the issue and speak clearly on that only.
At other times I’m able to redirect him when he begins to ruminate or over think a situation that doesn’t require action or even further thought at this moment. I tell him not to give so much energy to a negative situation. I’m helping him see too that if it isn’t happening right now there’s no point in creating emotions that can destroy the present moment. It’s most times unproductive and pointless to invoke the negative emotions of an earlier time. Of course there are times to revisit an event to make a plan for the future, but don’t dwell on these things unnecessarily.
It’s not that my life is perfect now by any means. And I am not like a super hero running around acting out of no mind stopping fights and catching villains. But there’s no disputing the fact that I move through my life differently now. There’s no question in my mind that this perceptual shift has allowed me to move more freely and to live more fully and be more present and genuine with everyone I come in contact with. For this alone, I am grateful, every day I am reminded of the uniqueness of this life experience. I am here, in this place at this time and I am living every moment I can in the moment without my mind creating the distracting chatter that so plagued me before. I’m more present for my family and friends, for anyone I encounter and this gives me the opportunity to give them the best of me in that moment. And that’s all any of us can do in a given moment anyway, don’t you think?
PS After being too afraid to fly since 1995 I have just booked Andy and I for a vacation in the Virgin Islands in March. Such things I couldn't imagine getting over, but now suddenly I am!