[These excerpts are from BURNOUT, Book 1, Burnout to Bliss series.]
From Part 2: Down the Rabbit Hole:
Time for Breathing!
The flyer Mimi had given me announced that the Holotropic Breathwork event was scheduled to begin after the end of the semester, after my trip to Scottsdale to present my paper. Nothing could keep me from it.
Finally, the reign of suffering at Mount Purgatory was over for a while. I stayed up all night grading papers so I could turn in my grades immediately. Cackling like an old hen alone with a tray full of feed, I flew off to Scottsdale to deliver my paper at the International Society of Educational Biographers while my colleagues suffered through yet another graduation ceremony in the gym. I had worked hard for this. I looked forward, finally, to being in a group of colleagues who might appreciate my work.
And wow! They did! I even made a new friend. That alone was worth the research, the paper, and the trip.
After the conference, when I returned to Purgatory, I told myself things would be quite different, at least for the summer, because I was finished with the college for a few months.
I had survived the worst year of my life. I had learned about self-love, without which any relationship is doomed. I had begun to see my part in creating the nightmare of the previous year, including attracting a worthy adversary I chose to call Nemesis in my journal. I had discovered the concept of personal boundaries and had begun to speak my truth even in my personal life. I realized I still had much more to learn about that. I had faced my worst depression up to that point of my life and survived, with a little help from a few of my students, who recommended some very talented alternative therapists.
My body had been massaged, and my chakras had been balanced. Acupuncture, mind-body counseling and swimming laps after work at a nearby hot spring had helped heal the very painful Metatarsalgia I had incurred, no doubt as penance for having gone on Christmas holiday with – call it what it was – a stranger. I had seen a chiropractor who “cleared my computer” of miasmas and “ridded my body of the alien entity attached to my heart.” Even while all that was going on, I had continued to be my compulsive workaholic self; I continued to be a full professor with all the other duties including preparing an original paper to present at an international gathering of academics.
But now I had the entire summer before me to “get well” before school started again. Life was good, and it was about to get even better. I even had another housemate!
One Saturday morning, wearing sweats and armed with pillows and a sleeping bag, I parked the car at the big hotel in Purgatory and sauntered toward the entrance with my new housemate, Heather, a former student, now friend, massage therapist and so much more. Kathy, my other housemate, wished us well and spent her weekend with her dad in New Mexico.
In a downstairs meeting room, we joined about 10 other souls to do Holotropic Breathwork with a CEO-turned healer who introduced himself as a recovering alcoholic.
We did this thing in pairs. One of us – the “breather” – lay on the sleeping bag and pillow we had brought while the other sat beside and watched; that person was called the “sitter.” If the partner lying down needed something – a tissue, a drink of water, or the bathroom – the “sitter” was there to assist. Heather found a partner on the opposite side of the room, and I had the pleasure of meeting a new friend to be my partner. I was there for her, ready to hand her a tissue, or gently help her up and guide her to the bathroom so she could keep her eyes closed, maintaining her trance-like state.
The experience for each “breather” lasted about an hour. Choreographed with music to evoke particular emotions, music keyed to the various energy centers or chakras, we breathed in and out in a continuous loop without pause – much like a newborn baby does. The leader and his assistants circulated through the room, stopping at each “breather” to touch their body in a particular way to assist with the process.
During my turn as “breather,” someone touched the soles of my feet. I don’t know whether he was grounding me or if he somehow knew I was an out-of-body traveler and wanted me to stay present. Another time he touched my shoulders, and I responded with a flood of tears. Shoulders are about responsibility, our “shoulds” — as in what we “should” do or be.
During my experience, my own hands repeatedly pushed down hard on my belly, as if to rid myself of something. If this process was about “rebirthing,” what was I rebirthing? Myself?
Throughout the experience, I heard screams and crying as participants released old emotions or even acted out in psychodramas some traumatic event from their past.
After both partners had “breathed,” we were invited to create personal mandalas, visual representations of our experience. A table had been set up against one wall with newsprint and crayons.
I drew a squiggly-looking thing someone later identified as a nerve cell. I had no idea what it meant. Others drew pictures of eagles soaring over valleys, self-portraits, or even actual mandalas – graphic designs using triangles, circles, squares, etc., in complex interaction, like the beautiful Buddhist tapestries some people used for meditation. We spent the last hour or so in a large group discussion explaining what our pictures meant and how they revealed our experiences in the breath work.
What I took away from this experience was a technique called continuous or circular breathing – in and out without pause either on the inhale or exhale. Relaxing the abdomen by extending it on the inhale and flattening it on the exhale is the healthiest way to breathe – the natural way. Consciously doing it even for the hour or so while we were doing breath work made me aware of just how often I tend to stop breathing!
In addition, meeting Jack, the leader of the workshop, proved to be the beginning of an important association for me. When Mimi invited me to join her and some of the other workshop participants to have dinner with Jack at a place in town, my new self emerged and said, “Sure!”
Over dinner, while everyone else was talking about their experiences in the workshop, I quietly asked Jack what he would be doing next.
“Vision Quest in Mexico,” he answered with a wink.
He whispered hoarsely, “Indian shamans and peyote.”
“Are women allowed?” I whispered back.
He nodded affirmatively.
I considered the possibility for at least two nanoseconds. There were white people in this town who called themselves “shaman.” I wanted to see a real one first-hand and go through the authentic healing rituals I’d read about. Besides that, I was feeling more alive than I had in years, as if I were emerging from a crypt! I wanted to get out of Purgatory and do something different.
Camping with this funny guy and some of his friends in Mexico with real shamans from some Indian tribe I’d never heard of sounded good to me. Jack had even suggested that it would be a pleasurable camping trip, which I richly deserved for surviving the academic year with Nemesis – like guys who go fishing to drink and talk about their crappy business deals. No big deal, right?
_________end Chapter 8, end Part Two_______________
Would you have jumped on the chance to camp with real shamans? Please share your thoughts/experience in a comment below.
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About the Burnout to Bliss Series
Book 1, BURNOUT — How a Desert Lizard Restored My Faith, was written to help educate others about extreme burnout. I wanted the reader to feel what I had felt in that time — a kind of madness that included psychotic visions which might occur even while I was teaching — and the chaos of doing my job while trying to understand what was happening through the lens of a spiritual seeker. I tried to achieve that by grouping events by topic rather than writing the entire book as a timeline story of this happened, then this, and then this.
The first get away from that extreme situation was to a “sanctuary” in California as related in Book 2, CYCLING in the CITY. That get away apparently was presented simply to heal myself enough to take the next step.
In Book 2, CYCLING in the CITY, I wanted to share the experience of “loss of self” — like not being able to do even familiar things like riding a bicycle after extreme burnout — and how I fought back, how I got my self-confidence and self-esteem back. That led to wanting to show others how they could make whatever change they wanted to make, so it ended up being written in two parts.
The real story of the ego surrendering control began when that sanctuary was no longer available and I became The Fool (Tarot card, pictured here), jumping off a cliff with a tiny knapsack and a little dog for company…
Book 3 is a full-length book, currently sitting at 70,500 words. It’s a tale of trusting God (or the Universe if you prefer), of letting go and trusting that life is good and safe and that all my needs will be met even before I realize I have them. It is the final story of an awakening experience, my two-year journey with one modest paycheck and no plans that was launched with BURNOUT. (Working title is “Practicing SURRENDER.)
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Click the BURNOUT TO BLISS tab on the far right at the top of the page and scroll down, and then follow the directions OR simply click the link below:
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Coming up next: “Chapter 9: Dancing with the Desert, May 1989” from Part III — Vision Questing, Somewhere in Mexico
Till next time, please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows. ~Tzaddi