I started taking a transpersonal therapy course. I had no idea what to expect and hadn’t even heard of transpersonal counselling prior to find the course. I was excited about it because it incorporates spirituality into the therapeutic process. Every so often we have these weekend sessions and I had no idea what they would consist of. Essentially, we get an hour long lecture, a half hour break, then we break into smaller assigned groups and spend the majority of the afternoon practicing. This was not 5 minutes. These were 25 minute sessions where we had to bring a real issue. I wasn’t concerned until I started talking. I told myself I was absolutely not talking about my dad, who had passed away only a month before the session. Not to mention the fact that 2 days before the anniversary of his death was my parents wedding anniversary. Needless to say I was raw. But I had no idea the impact.
I started talking about a work situation but even in that my grief was in the room. It made me a lot less tolerant of issues that I may have just let wash over me in normal circumstances.
Process 1: The role play
In this scenario I was the client and one of the other group members was the therapist. I started talking about a work issue. I went through the fact that I wasn’t involved directly in the issue but that a friend of mine was so I was constantly hearing about it. I talked about the fact that I found the behaviour around me petty and that there were individuals in the office that appeared to be taking pleasure in distressing others around them. I talked about not really having the emotional space to deal with this. It was in that moment that I realised my grief was ever present and in the room with me at all times. As was my dad. I talked for quite some time glossing over this huge elephant sitting on my chest, trying to pretend it wasn’t there. It was there that I realised, this wouldn’t be something I could distance myself from for the sake of appearing to be coping and functioning, not in that environment.
We went to lunch shortly after and the fresh air did me good. I came back in the room and was fidgeting. I couldn’t understand why I was fidgeting and wouldn’t understand until the day was almost over.
Process 2: Self soothing
Coming back from lunch as we sat just discussing the morning and being silent, I began to fidget. Nothing blatantly disruptive, as a matter of fact they were minor movements – a twist in the chair, moving, stretching – things one might attribute to being sat down for long periods of time, but which I knew were not a norm for me. As the role play happened in front of me I could feel myself moving, and moving often. It didn’t appear to disturb the process happening and I’m not sure anyone noticed. No one mentioned anything afterward.
When the role play ended, I realised at some point I tuned out as we were all supposed to provide the “therapist” with feedback and I struggled. At this point I still didn’t realise I was self-soothing, reeling from the morning’s revelations. I felt a bit bad because everyone had been so engaging and attentive throughout the day and I didn’t feel like I was giving it back. It was a fleeting admonishment to myself but it was there. We had a bit of break before moving on to the last role play of the evening.
As I watched, I was again fidgeting, first with a bit of wrapping from a snack in my hand, then with my bangles/bracelets. It was funny because I found that I didn’t like fidgeting with either of those because they made a sound and brought me out of myself. I started playing in my hair. And, at maybe the third or fourth stroke, I realised what I was doing. I was self-soothing. I was transported back to the morning where I had previously started playing in my hair. I was made aware, within myself, that was what my fidgeting was about at the start of the afternoon session. I knew what I was doing. I knew what I wasn’t doing. I knew instantly I had been made vulnerable and that I, again, was not paying attention to what was going on in front of me. I was not being a supportive group member. I admonished myself because my inattention as a peer in a learning environment was completely unacceptable. I was doing all of this processing. I didn’t know all this realisation happened in the course of about 3 minutes into this 25 minute role play. I kept stroking my hair, obviously I needed it but I also tuned in and brought myself back into the room.