“Your experience of life can teach you everything you need to know if you are but awake enough to receive the message. ” – Hendricks & Weinhold (1982)
It is an interesting dynamic that human beings often seem to require permission to be in the moment. Our conception of time as defined by discreet events linked together often stands in stark contrast to the experience of a moment as singularly connected yet outside of time. Often it is only in those times of major life trauma, transition, and ecstasy that the individual seems to be connected to the presence of the moment; while in the mundane experiences of everyday life he or she may never find the permission necessary to shift into a state of awareness of being.
What experiences, other than facing one’s own mortality or that of a loved one, an occurrence of religious or spiritual ecstasy, falling in love, or using psychedelics can assist the individual in reaching an awareness of being in the moment? The following vignette describes a ritual which gave a group of MSW students the permission to be in the moment and to transcend their normal experience of being.
As part of my faculty assignment in a clinical social work masters program at a state university I teach the three semester sequence in individual, family and group treatment. At the close of each semester I end the final class with a ritual designed to help the students integrate their experience of the class. Last semester, during the final individual treatment class the students participated in the following ritual: First, students were each given a yellow helium balloon and some markers and were instructed to reflect upon their class experiences throughout the semester – how had they grown, what did they feel, think and learn about therapeutic work, and about themselves. They were then asked to put into words what they had concluded from their reflections and write this on their balloons. What they were writing would not be shared, processed or discussed in any way; it was simply an experience for each individual. When they completed this part of the exercise, we walked outside and stood in an open area near one of the university’s parking lots. Standing in a circle I told them that we would each release our balloons on my count of three; they were free to say or not say anything at the moment of release. On three, the balloons were released and in complete silence each student stood looking into the sky watching the stream of bright yellow fill the sky and float higher and higher. For what seemed like a long time they stood silently watching the sky.
Finally a student placed her hand upon her chest and asked, “What is this in my chest?” She went on to describe the sensation of “fullness” in her chest, saying it was like “sadness, happiness and completeness at the same time.” Other students began touching different parts of their bodies, their chests, heads, stomachs, and talked about what they felt and how it seemed related to the release and ascension of the balloons. No one discussed the content of what they had written, or their intellectual interpretations, or clinical observations – they simply stood there immersed in the experience of what it was to be in this particular moment. Finally, a student remarked that she felt “wide awake” even though she had come to class exhausted.
After some time had passed we walked back into the classroom so that we could all gather our belongings and depart. The usual chatter of a final class was replaced by an atmosphere of quiet reflection. Finally, a student said that he felt the same sense of presence that he used to get when he meditated; a practice he had not engaged in for about twenty years. Other students agreed that this ritual had made them feel “acutely aware of what was happening.”
Reflecting upon this final class I was struck by how mundane, and seemingly un-conducive to any sort of existential experience the circumstances and environment really were – surrounded by parked cars on the hot asphalt of South Florida in May. Despite this however, each of the individuals was readily able to transcend the physical surroundings and enter into an experience of profound being-ness. Each student was intimately engaged in the ascension of those balloons just as though each one had been lifted off the ground and taken flight him or herself. This simple ritual had offered permission for them to enter into an experience of being in the moment, without the need for discussion or explanation; and with that permission, each of them had willingly taken the opportunity.
From wonder into wonder
— Luann Conforti-Brown
Hendricks, G., & Weinhold, B. (1982). Transpersonal approaches to counseling and psychotherapy. Denver, CO: Love Publishing.
Lao Tzu.(n.d.).1-Famous-Quotes.com. Retrieved Mon Aug 29 10:50:58 2011, from 1-Famous-Quotes.com Web site: http://www.1-famous-quotes.com/quote/1191347