Forest meditation with collie and golden retriever

I was at the lowest ebb, ever. My parents died. My family fractured along fault lines based on ancient grudges and current gripes. I had just arrived back in Manhattan and could barely drag myself along the street. I would never again (I was sure of it) have confidence, energy, hope, or even the ability to get out of bed in the morning.

Self-Hypnosis: The Complete Manual for Health and Self-ChangeOn a mysterious and dusty bit of Broadway sidewalk, on one of those ubiquitous tables of books that sprout even in snowstorms, my eye was caught by a bright red cover. The title was Self Hypnosis, the Complete Manual for Health and Self-Change, and the authors are Brian M. Alman and Peter Lambrou, both PhDs.

“How much?”

“I’ll give it to you for five,” the bookseller said.

“Do you really need that?” my husband asked, the obligatory husband question.

“Yes,” I said, and the man placed the book into my hands.

In the year since, I’ve read and re-read the book daily, trying out every exercise, and then starting over. I learned to shut out the sirens and cabs of Broadway, the cell phone conversations of neighbors, and even, just slightly, to relax on a dentist’s chair. Eventually, as the authors suggest, I wrote goals and dreams.

The authors never tell you what to do. They claim the subconscious or inner self doesn’t like being bossed around.

Professors Alman and Lambrou didn’t start me on a path I hadn’t previously explored. Sitting beneath ancient cedars I believed could offer wisdom, I meditated as a child. I sought a spirit vision, a naming quest.

In college, graduate school, and in between, I enrolled in workshops on how to meditate, relax, stop being a Type A personality, heal myself and others, and regress to past lives. I cobbled methods that worked for me, and I set aside an hour every day to practice them.

Then I met a lapsed Chinese Buddhist monk. He said my practice was bunk. “The only real meditation practice is to sit bolt upright in Full Lotus.” As he tried to manipulate my body and mind into this position, all peace fled.

With Brian Alman and Peter Lambrou, I didn’t need to sit Bolt Upright. I needed only five to fifteen minutes a day to breathe deeply, to relax each muscle group, and to descend (or ascend) to a place of deep relaxation and calm.Molly the Collie and Lilly the Golden

Oh, you might ask, particularly if you were my husband the lapsed Buddhist monk, how is self hypnosis related to meditation? Alman and Lambrou base their book on peer-reviewed studies and textbooks of clinical hypnosis, but I don’t see much difference from what I learned in all those meditation workshops. You can do Empty Mind, or you can do goal setting, or you can simply calm down and take a few deep satisfying breaths (as the authors like to say) and relax your muscles for awhile.

Right now, I’m back in the wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Today was probably one of our final sunny dry days, and I had workers at the house. But that wasn’t going to stop me from meditating. Deep in the forest, I found a mossy patch by an old logged stump, now a nurse stump with Vaccinium ovatum, salal, and ferns growing out. I put the leashed collie and golden retriever on a Down/Stay, and then stretched out between them. I took deep satisfying breaths and let loose the muscle groups. I counted down from ten while descending imaginary stairs. When disruptive thoughts passed by, I let them pass without judging.

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