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Archive for September, 2007

As a graduate student in Honolulu, I had a friend – ex-Peace Corps (Ethiopia) volunteer – who shared with me a love of cycling, especially outside of the city. Not natives, we loved the local exotica we encountered cycling along the quiet roads outside Honolulu – sights and critters best seen from a bicycle. We also shared a common need to manage the stresses of graduate school. This led us both to meditate – a nice counterpoint to the intensity of cycling, which itself led inevitably to physical relaxation – always good for the mind.

He proposed to me one day that we drive up a route we would normally cycle: a lovely winding road close by the university, a route which ended at a high spot overlooking the city and the hilly country inland which was populated mostly by trees. We would do this, he suggested, so that we could sit in the quiet and wait for dawn -a dawn meditation leading into the day. A lovely idea, which required that we arise early, drive away from the familiarity of our little dorm rooms, out into the dark in anticipation of the coming light.

And so we did, one morning. That is how we encountered yet another marvelous dawn, sitting up above the city, in the cool air, waiting until our reward came, while the faint sweet scent of plumeria drifted over us. That day had a good beginning – quiet, calm, comforting.

As I write this I’m struck by the metaphor this memory embodies. A child well might not have understood what we were about, setting off to go sit in the dark. Children don’t really understand psychotherapy, either. It’s an adult idea. Children can experience, and benefit, but only adults (and mature children, in all fairness) can intend such things. Psychotherapy usually involves encounters with darkness – with negative views, ideas, and feelings, causes of distress in a person’s life. This encounter is taken up in the hope that light will dawn, which it usually does, but not always immediately.

On that morning, some years ago, we both could see the light – in our mind – before it gleamed in our eyes. This was helpful. It gave us reason to leave our warm beds and journey off into the dark. It’s good to know that light is coming. Belief in that possibility is at the heart of psychotherapy. Children are good at hope, if they are reasonably well cared for, but adults are better – they simply can see farther. Almost anyone can enter into psychotherapy, but only adults (and some mature children!) can intend to.

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