We had another beautiful opening exercise tonight at CIIS. We were taught by Janice Phelps, a practicing family/marriage therapist and clinical psychologist for the past 29 years. She was an amazing presence. It felt calm and warm in the room, despite so much activity and so many people. CIIS is a bustling place! The world needs lots of healing, I guess.

I’m supposed to be writing my application essays and editing my writing sample for a writer’s retreat I’m applying for. The deadline is Thursday, and I am nowhere near completion. But I sit here and am just floating on the energy of tonight. Here are some feelings I wanted to capture:

  • I feel like a child.
  • I feel like I have so much growth available to me.
  • I am feeling both fear of and hope for change and letting go.
  • I have an intense need to label things, sum them up, neatly tie the ends together. This makes it seem like I am judgmental, when I think (I’m not quite sure though, since I”m just starting to observe this in myself) I’m really just trying to understand.
  • I enjoy listening.
  • I enjoy getting calm.
  • I enjoy being able to receive the positive energy of others, rather than feeling I always to have to be the one giving (out of fear it won’t happen otherwise).

We started with about an hour of sitting and discussing Jon Kabat-Zinn’s seven elements of mindfulness – which Janice calls the most important elements for the kind of therapy we will be doing as music healers. She summed it up so nicely – you must learn how to be with yourself first, before being with others. Oooh, do I know how to be with myself? Haha! The question is, how am I at being with myself, even when I find out things that I don’t like about myself? That’s the kicker.

Then we took a nice long break. I ate my packed dinner. To my surprise, someone (her name was Lucinda) remembered from the last class that I was “a doctor”. She explained that she was a marriage and family therapist. We began chatting, and I learned that she had previously worked at a school in Los Altos Hills, where she said she discovered that, more than at any of the other three or four schools she has worked at in the Bay Area, there was a lot of anxiety in the kids and masked anxiety among the parents. Interesting! She immediately guessed that I must attract a particularly competitive parent population in an already competitive geography, and that she imagined it must be difficult to work with! She asked a little bit about my school, and her eyes got as wide as saucers when I told her how many students I have. She said, “That is a LOT of families to juggle.” I laughed and told her about my own teacher, who manages to juggle three times as many, and she’s been doing it for 40 years!

I felt a pang of “cosmic humor” – a term I’m borrowing from our lecturer Janice. First, during her talk on client-therapist issues, she mentioned that being real and authentic as a therapist is important, and she offered the tool of referring clients away, sooner rather than later, if we feel unsafe or not right or just not wanting to treat their issues. To honor that part of ourselves, because it will only be more difficult later in the relationship. And now, to hear Lucinda empathizing with what she imagined to be a difficult work environment I had created for myself. It was like a weight had lifted off my chest and an angel had landed on my shoulders simultaneously. I felt OK with forgiving myself for the first time in five years. I simply didn’t know that it was OK to feel how I felt. So I kept silent. Kept powering through in the way I had been so well-trained to do all my life.

I realized that NEVER before in my entire life had I been able to sit comfortably in the presence of people and just be. Listen, talk, whatever, but just be who I am. Without anyone wanting anything from me, or me wanting anything from them.

After we reconvened, Janice led us in a guided meditation and visualization of our original feelings when we committed to the class. We were then invited to write our intentions for the course and to articulate three fears and three hopes about the class. And then we gathered in groups of 3 to 4 people to share.

Well that’s when I enjoyed the opportunity to just smile and sit and look at people, and I was the LAST one in the group to share. I didn’t feel a need to jump to the front and lead. I just listened. I noticed many common themes expressed in the three people who talked before me. I noticed so much kindness, openness, willingness, in their eyes. I noticed that every time I opened my mouth to use WORDS to express those same feelings I held in my heart, they didn’t come across right. What I mean is, that’s when I noticed my need to summarize, label, tie things up in neat explanations. I was using words when maybe I didn’t need to. Maybe my simple presence, silence, and willingness to just be there was conveying all the meaning I was intending in my heart.

I can’t tell you what an UNFAMILIAR feeling of calm it was to just be silent. I’m used to always being the one to fill those silences. I’m the one who tries to impress with my cleverness and brilliance (one of our class readings suggested that therapists resist the urge to do this in a client session). The problem is, I’ve been reinforced for much of my life with people actually acting impressed when I do this.

That’s why I feel like a child. Maybe for the first time, I get to be a child. I get to feel supported and calm. I get to be innocent and forgive myself for the things I didn’t know. I get to be patient with myself. I don’t have to strive. I can just be. I can let go. I can return to the world of just plain sound and silence.

The final exercise was an offering of our intentions – all written on different colored pieces of paper – on an “altar” (a square cloth placed on the floor in the center of the room, with a single lit candle in the center). We all gathered around the altar, some sitting and others standing. From the silence, if we felt so moved, we were invited to speak words of intention for our circle of learning, words that would sustain our group over the next nine months as we traveled together. It was BEAUTIFUL to just hear the words emerging softly from the silence, like the first raindrops, or a small steady stream of drops from a leaf onto the forest floor. One woman – who had been in our group and had told us that sometimes she felt fear in the presence of her own power as expressed in her singing voice – actually sang several of her words. Surrender. Hope. Curiosity. Actually I don’t remember more of them because my memory is more like a symphony of sounds, composed right there by each of our voices and intentions in that moment. It ended with the man next to me humming two notes repeatedly, echoing the notes  sung by the powerful woman in my group. Soon most of the voices in the group had joined in. That’s what it sounded like anyway. I had my eyes closed. Listening. Silent. Just breathing it all in. As a finale, Janice started clapping rhythmically. Just an even beat. Then she let out a primal scream, including tongue sounds. I snapped my eyes open and saw, or else I wouldn’t have believed it was her voice. Janice added her blessings to all of us, and said, “That’s the end of the beginning of the end of the beginning of the…”

The energy as we left that room was just so warm and kind. Faces were bright. Eyes sparkled. We were ready to begin.