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Yesterday, I saw my counselor, whose face I already can’t remember, though I remember he wore a wedding ring and talked about how we must rid ourselves of unhelpful thoughts, how our mind makes thoughts up all on their own and we must decide what to believe, what to buy into, that our mind is the ultimate selling machine and it is selling thoughts to us.
I wondered if his mind sold him a thought on marriage, and if he believes all these ideas that other minds had about thoughts, and about how we don’t make our thoughts, then does he think that marriage was an idea he bought in to? He says my idea that every time I get really sick will be the time I die is just a thought that my mind made, but I didn’t. Is that what love is, a thought that your mind made up with its chemicals and its hokum and its voodoo magic?
I had these thoughts while simultaneously understanding what he was saying, about how there was four of us in the room: him, his mind, me, my mind. “Do you understand that?” he said. “Are you following along?”
“Yes, four of us,” I said, because I was following along. I get it. I am an open vessel, mostly. It is something I already knew, about being separate from my mind.
He showed me an almost Venn-diagram he had drawn – “specifically for our session,” he said, though I’m almost positive he has it on hand for every session, but I didn’t say that; I just thought about what words were under all those stacks of other papers that he had upside down. The diagram had three bubbles labeled: thoughts, feelings, behaviors. They all had little arrows leading into one another. He wanted to demonstrate how they are all interconnected, as if I didn’t already know how cyclical life could be. Me: with the auto-immune diseases that relax, attack, relax, attack. Me: with the trauma-based anxiety, who feels the panic in waves when the wound in my chest carves open like the morning, that felt like a night, that my heart stopped beating on the operating table.
“Unhelpful thoughts lead to feelings, which lead to unhelpful behaviors. Like thoughts you have where your mind says this will be the time I die, lead to feelings which bring on unwanted behaviors.”
“Like how I erratically and frantically clean things when I am having a panic attack?”
“Yes, like behavior to distract yourself. So today, I want us to focus on the thoughts. The unhelpful thoughts that your mind is making on its own. I want to give you a tool to use, to practice, to help you deal with the unwanted thoughts. Okay?” he asked earnestly.
“Is it okay if I ask us both to close our eyes for this?” he asked delicately, as if I might be worried that in the minute we spend with our eyes closed he will do something obscene. I am not sure if that is a cause of his profession, that he deals with those whose trauma is much more than mine. Or, if it is because he is a white man, and he understands what those of us who are not often think of white men as those who take things that don’t belong to them and smash them into pieces. But this man, the one who talks about nature as if it is a temple for the bereaved, he is not one of them.
We close our eyes and he says, “Imagine yourself in a natural area. Imagine there are trees around, and maybe you can even hear the birds singing.”
I am on the beach in Warrenton, where my friend Jordana and I discovered the biggest mushroom I have ever seen hidden under some ferns. It was bigger than my outstretched hand. The forest bleeds into tall dune grass that pricks your feet if you dare go bare foot. The grass dunes bleed into the sand and into the sea. I am there and I hear the birds. I hear them.
He says, “Okay, now imagine there is a stream, quietly trickling and running along.”
There is no stream in the real-imaginary place I am in my brain. But never mind that, I think, I am the architect. So, I dig out a stream that runs right in the middle of the area where the sand dunes dip down, where if you lay down there is little to no wind. And just like magic, there is a stream where none exists, and I am crouched down by it in my young girl’s body that I no longer have, white-blonde hair flowing around me.
“Okay,” he speaks again, “now imagine there are leaves flowing down the stream.”
I pluck three leaves off the bank of the stream and set them gently down on top of the river, like I have always done when graced with the gift of moving water. I love to see things float away.
“Now any thought you have, good, bad, it can even be a thought about how you are having no thoughts, place those thoughts on the leaves as they come to you. Place them on the leaf and let them go. It is okay if one tries to stay with you for a moment, just keep pulling yourself back to the stream, place the thought on the leaf, and let it go.”
The stream is so serene, this place on the beach. I have been here thousands of times, though there was no stream, but surely there must have been. I have spent a lifetime on this beach, trying to let things go. I remember the last actual day I ever spent with my first love, but it wasn’t the last actual day, it was just the last actual good day. We had been separated for over a year and a half. He had seen me outside the mini-mart and neither of us could look away. Our eyes locked, and they stayed locked as I got in the back of my friend’s car and we drove away. The next day, when I arrived at my friend’s house that she shared with her then boyfriend, there he was, my first love, sitting in the sunroom. I can see myself looking at him, standing in the doorway with my blonde hair curled around me in a loose bun, just the way he had always liked it, leaning with one arm against the doorway, a sideways smile on my face, feeling the most beautiful I have ever felt on any day of my life in a lace white camisole I had thrown on when I had felt the electricity in the air upon awakening. “I knew you’d be here,” I said, our friends mysteriously missing from the side of the house we were on. “I wasn’t going to come,” he said, “But when you looked at me I knew it wasn’t over.” I shrugged, “It’s never over.” The next day we met up in secret, the way so much of our previous relationship had always been, but this time the roles were reversed. It wasn’t him who didn’t want to be caught with me. I was the one who had something to lose by being caught, but I would have thrown everything away for that one day with him on the beach. The same beach I was on now in my counselor’s office. I came back to the stream. I looked out at the beach where the two lovers that would always, and never again be me, sat looking out, hand in hand. I shrunk them down, picked them up, and sat them on a leaf and watched as they floated down stream. “See you later,” I said.
Some things you just can’t let go of. We like to tell ourselves that we had no choice. But there is always a choice. And so very often there is no right and wrong. We choose to let go of something, while still holding on tightly. Yesterday was a day of letting go. A simple choice. The leaves flowed around the bend in the water. Tomorrow, I may find that things have swam back upstream.
In this meditative state other things came up, like the problems I have been having with my car. I shrunk my car down. I am a physical person, mentally-physical, not physically-physical. I hate being touched. I couldn’t place thoughts on leaves that do not have a form of matter. I shrunk my car down and placed it on another passing leaf. My illness, another physical-less thing, turned into the image of a heart. I set it on a neon-colored leaf, for contrast.
All of this was in the span of one minute. About halfway through our exercise the stream began to expand. Slowly, and then all at once, the stream was a river, and I was floating in the river, and the river was an ocean, but the ocean was still and calm, like what I imagine floating in space must be like. The water was a deep cerulean blue. I saw myself from under myself, floating listlessly, a body that was mine, but was more delicate, more female than I have ever been. One leg reached down to the depths, dangling in the darker water.
“Okay, now come out of it,” he said. I blinked back the light from the window that was suddenly in my eyes. “So, what did you experience?”
I told him about how I started off placing the thoughts on the leaves and watching them float away and saying see ya as they passed by. I told him, “The stream became a river, and then I was in the river floating and I was a leaf, and then I was floating on my back in a cerulean blue ocean.”
“Ummm, okay,” he said, “that wasn’t exactly what we were going for, but it sounds very relaxing.”
“Oh, it was. I am the leaf,” I said as I stretched out my arms, reaching into the veins of my leaf body.
He looked confused, as if this had never happened to him before. As if he had never had a patient so open that she could transform her body in less than one minute, sitting in a tiny room, in a hard chair.
“Most people,” he said, “have a really hard time with this stuff. They can’t grasp the concept that thoughts can be separate from the whole body. They try to think too much about it, that they can’t think of separation without bringing into the equation questions of the soul, or spirituality. Whereas you’ve went the opposite direction.”
“None of these concepts are new to me,” I said. “I read a lot about a lot of things. I am open like a book.”
“Well, my instruction to you is to practice this ‘leaves on a river’ technique. Try to stay with the leaves. Set a timer. Do it at least once a day. It will help. I promise.”
“I believe you,” I said as I shook his hand and stood up. “I am so glad I am finally doing this.”
“Doing what?” he looked confused.
Addressing my trauma, I thought, calling it by name.
“Thank you,” I said instead as I walked out the door, replacing my sun hat on my head.
“Can you find your way out?”
“Always,” I said as I glanced down at my watch and saw that what was supposed to be an hour appointment went for only half an hour. I like to think things about myself when things like this happen, like when appointments go shorter than they are supposed to. Like that I am so easy to work with that he didn’t need the whole-time period. But maybe it is the opposite. Maybe I derailed the system so much that he didn’t know what to do with me so he sent me on my way. That’s okay though, really, either way I got into the car with my friend and we drove forty minutes to a place in the Clackamas River I had seen two years ago and always dreamed of. I looked out at the calm swimming hole, waded into water so cold it coursed through my veins like ice. No wonder it was so blue. I stood stark still, waist deep, legs numb, and large fish began to swim around me, grazing on the rocks at my feet. Hello, I thought, as they swam away. I plunged into the snow water, just once, just enough to feel myself float, to cleanse everything. I baptized myself to nature, to the ebb and flow of the river, to the creatures that live below. For the rest of the day the only words I could think were everything I touch turns cerulean blue.