At a writers’ workshop I attended in April, there was one session advertised in the brochure as an opportunity to mine one’s subconscious mind for writing material using relaxation techniques and guided imagery.
That’s code for “hypnosis” if I ever saw it, so naturally I signed myself right up. If there’s anything I love more than looking up an old boyfriend on Facebook to see if he’s bald yet, its New Age religion.
Now, in the past I’ve had no success getting in touch with my spiritual self. I was the person at your high school retreat who kept one eye half open and peered surreptitiously at her peers during quiet prayer. I’ve tried meditation, and found it nearly impossible to shut off the running commentary in my head. But I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to mine the old spiritual quadrant – and for writing material, to boot!
The presenter, Suzette Martinez Standring, began the session by speaking very eloquently for some time about the art of writing, about the kind of writing that resonates most with readers, and about the importance of evoking all five senses in one’s work. I took copious notes and before I knew it, it was time to go under.
The process was familiar, one I’d tried to follow countless times before when awake with insomnia or in the throes of an airborne panic attack.
The room was darkened, and we were encouraged to breathe slowly and deeply.
To still our minds.
To get centered.
To tune in to faraway sounds.
And to relax each part of our bodies in turn.
Next, we were to imagine a cord of light extending from the bottoms of our feet down to the center of the earth. We were invited to visualize ourselves at the top of a staircase. We would take three steps down. With each step, we would journey deeper and deeper into ourselves so that when we finally reached the bottom, we would be “in trance.”
I was skeptical, but earnest. When I got to the bottom of my visual staircase, I was supposed to enter a place of great beauty and serenity. It could be anything I wanted it to be, as long as I felt comfortable and at peace there.
I didn’t see much.
So, I pictured myself lying face down on a patch of lush green grass in a forest clearing. Though I am generally an indoor girl, I have always enjoyed lying face down in grass because I like to think of it as hugging the earth. I see myself in my mind’s eye, a small, desperate figure curved around the contours of a spinning globe. It’s very profound.
Anyway, I’m lying face down on the grass and trying to conjure up the feeling of sunlight on my back. It seems as though a babbling brook should be there, so I install one, and spotty sunlight beaming through the trees, as well.
The problem is, I know I’m not really in a forest. I know I’m still in the Torch Lounge at the University of Dayton. My hyper vigilant brain has failed me again, but I continue to visualize the heck out of that forest clearing because I am going to get hypnotized if it’s the last thing I do.
After a few more minutes of this, we are told to let a memory come to us, anything at all.
I get nothing.
After a little while, though, I see a red ball with a faux weave pattern, the multi-purpose kind every kid who has ever gone to school in America knows well. And that ball brings me back to Mr. Finneyfrock’s gym class on President’s Physical Fitness Test Day, like this:
I am ten years old. It’s President’s Physical Fitness test day at school and I am hanging from the playground chin-up bar in a test of endurance. My size two feet, encased in white Keds with rainbow stripe friendship pins threaded through the laces, dangle several feet above the loamy ground. The mustachioed Mr. Finneyfrock, in soccer cleats, shorts, and yellow jersey, is standing next to me with his timer. It is warm out, and a soft breeze is blowing. I’ve been up on the bar for almost four minutes now and am barely showing signs of fatigue. My classmates stand in a semi-circle around me, cheering for me and my freakish strength.
I continue to hang there, wondering how much longer I should stay. My arms are not very tired. In fact, I like the slight burn, the sense that by the strength of my thin, tanned, arms alone, peppered with the golden threads of hair I detest, I am being held aloft. When I finally lower myself down, I am an elementary school hero. “IT’S A GODDAMNED RECORD!” Mr. Finneyfrock bellows.
Granted, this was not an unfamiliar or buried memory, but it was unbidden and true. Thing was, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was supposed to mean. I thought about it in the context of my current situation and the soul searching I’ve been doing to find my calling in life, about how I’ve always hoped that calling would include writing in some form of another. (Ironically, being at a writer’s conference was unearthing all the self-doubts that have always plagued me in this regard.)
I decided it meant that I was strong, stronger than my outward appearance belies. And then I didn’t think about it again.
One evening a few weeks later, I was sitting on my couch, staring at the wall and picking my cuticles. The kids were asleep upstairs, and my husband was down in the wine cellar, updating his inventory. I was considering making myself a cup of bedtime tea and turning in for the night to take a stab at some prophetic dreams, when suddenly it hit me.
Hang in there.
I’m supposed to just hang in there. It’s as plain as the nose on my face, as obvious as the chin-up bar in my waking dream.
And . . . as cliché as a Hallmark card. Apparently, my subconscious mind has been drinking Riunite and watching Lifetime TV.
But something is going to happen.
I know it.