I’m wearing a long white sun dress and silver hoop earrings, pink gloss because you should look nice when your life is falling apart. I am channeling stoicism and when I run into Carol at Starbucks and she asks me how I’m doing, I say fine and turn quickly to my latte before she can see the tears spring.
I’m headed to see Dr. Jan because I’ve run out of options. I have a home on the ocean and enviable career success, I’m fit and I have three beautiful children. There is a chasm of distance between me and my husband because we can’t say the things that we need to say because that disintegrates the stoicism, battles the stories we’ve created, solidified, continually told ourselves over so many years. To mess with those stories would mean the end, probably of our relationship but also of the comfort we’ve cultivated in the creation of our own life narratives. I’m knocking on Jan’s door because I have all the things that are supposed to make me happy. And I walk around everyday with a limping, injured heart and wonder what it will take to finally feel peace.
Jan’s office space is deeply comforting: affirmations on the wall, fuzzy blankets in disparate colours, soothing smells wafting out of a diffuser. She sits with me and asks me questions and does not hurry my responses. Her eyes are deeply kind and she asks me questions that make me feel like she knows things about me that I don’t know myself. When she asks me if I’m ready for Breath, I don’t hesitate to climb on the little bed and wait for the explosions to begin.
Here’s the thing that I keep turning over in my mind: in Grade 8 I learned how to make Bermuda Shorts in sewing class, and in Grade 11 I took CALM — Career and Life Management, a class devoted to providing teenagers with tools that would equip them for a successful life. I remember feeding a fake baby in that class, and then later learning about Medieval History and Urban Studies in University. I learned quickly that none of this obscure learning applied to real life and the shit I wanted badly — love and joy — weren’t in any of the tools that I had. Maybe they were in outside sources, I thought: boyfriends, really excellent boots, deep at the bottom of several bottles of strongbow.
Laying on Jan’s table with my knees bent, I close my eyes. This was only my second session with her and she’d warned me that “they are different every time.” I start breathing: deeply in through my mouth and then with an exhale at the top without a pause, a smooth, round motion like water droplets falling from a fountain. Music plays in the background: the kind with drums and lots of emotions and Jan is telling me it is safe to feel, safe to be. Tears prick behind my eyelids and she touches my shoulders and one hour later, covered head to toe in sweat and gratitude: I am totally transformed.
In the one hour session(and which feels like fourteen minutes) I experience: clarity. Extreme, indescribable clarity on why my Dad was so hard on me as a kid — and compassion for both him and me in the process. I learn why my own power and boundaries are so important, and what I need to do to repair my relationship with my husband. I also feel a kind of revelation that I’d never experienced in my research and my studies nor in past therapy sessions. I can only describe it as a kind of profound realization of connectivity. My joy is nowhere to be found at the bottom of a wine glass or in micro-managing my relationships. It’s not in a more modern house or in the academic achievements of my children, it’s not even in a suddenly problem-free marriage. It’s deep within my soul — which (minus my ego) is an incredibly beautiful place. Joy and clarity can be manifested in breathing with intention, in the hands of a skilled facilitator. Who the shit knew this?
Here’s the other thing: I have been writing on the Internet for almost twenty years. About single motherhood and career balance, about new relationships, addiction and death. I’ve written about the birth of my children and the surprise of getting older and what happens to me when I do breathwork with Jan is something that is incredibly difficult to describe. Until you do it yourself — there is really no way to understand it.
Right now, Breath Work seems to be a relatively new and West Coast based phenomenon. There are a handful of facilitators doing independent sessions individually and in groups. Almost every single person I know who has experienced one of these sessions has had their mind blown. This is something, finally, to believe in.