In 1984 my colleagues and I opened Connection Holistic Counseling Center. That might not sound like a big deal, but in Memphis, Tennessee, the term holistic was akin to a pejorative. The word was just coming into vogue in the more progressive spiritual circles. Yet those who were not in the know or the flow wondered, “What are they doing in that brick structure on the corner of Perkins and Renshaw?” One concerned friend told us we had better be ready to run during the middle of the night, in case we were bombed. And though that sounds crazy, we did have a bomb scare a few years later, when we moved to a larger location.
Connection gave me the space to open a holistic practice that I branded as “Life Enhancement Counseling.” It was actually what we now call coaching, but the word and concept of “coaching” had not entered the self-help narrative 37 years ago. Though I was eager to help people with life coaching, there were always extenuating circumstances that must be addressed before my clients were free to focus on their life’s work. One person would be living with a raging alcoholic; another would be an alcoholic. Some clients were heartbroken because their partner just left them, and others dealt with the sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one.
Holistic counseling is based on working with the mind, the body, and the spirit, and that’s what we did. We jumped into the sea of existence and angst, with no nautical charts to guide us. We swam on intuition and the help of benevolent, unseen forces. I spent numerous hours wrestling with clients over self-nurturing. Everyone was on a fast track. I instilled its importance: “We must nourish ourselves with the beauties and joys of life. We can’t afford to be aware of every negative current event.” My clients would then talk about getting massages and pedicures. To them, these were the epitome of self-care. Some might even throw in a much-needed wardrobe update, so as not to look like the little match girl. Yet, I knew there was something missing. I was not sure how to convey those lost elements, and, at the tender age of 37, I wasn’t feeling spot on about what the missing links were either. I was barely one step ahead of them, in the game of self-survival.
I was tenacious and emphasized the importance of the mind as well as the body. “We need to be aware of our thoughts, and, in some cases, consciously choose to change repetitive, self-effacing thoughts.” I knew the missing element was spiritual. Sure, I taught people to meditate, self-hypnotize, and to calm their rage and fears, and, though they might be freed from immediate self-destruction and feel great when they left my office, these feel goods were fleeting.
As I’ve grown, I’ve finally put my finger on the missing elements. Their plan was to nurture the physical body, and, though physical maintenance is essential, caring for ourselves requires much more. Even meditation can be short-lived. Ramana Maharshi tells us that meditation only tethers the minds; it doesn’t free us. All our work on the mind and body, and even part of our spiritual work, leads our parched selves to the edge of the water. This is important. We need to find the water of our souls, but we must drink of the water if we are to be filled.
What is drinking the water? It is moment-to-moment awareness. It is listening more. It means watching the breath and planting and watering the seeds of compassion and peace within us. It means giving up all resentment toward everyone and every situation, at the point in which it occurs, and not escorting irritation and judgment around. It means feeding ourselves so much equanimity that we build a strong foundation, so that when the storms come, and they will come, we can still stand on the grounds of peacefulness. And, just like a garden needs continual care, our inner worlds require constant awareness. We must sew and nourish the seeds of peace and compassion as an ongoing practice.
Remember how people talk about Sunday Christians? They go to church on Sunday and then feel free to sin the rest of the week. As we all know by now, the word sin means missing the mark. If we meditate 30 minutes a day, but do not carry the practice of generosity and love into our moment-to-moment experience, we are like Sunday Christians. We do our work and then go about our business, and put our intentions of living a compassionate, loving life away, as we scamper back to our hurried, cynical, or fear-driven worlds, where we nurture our upsets and opinions.
No matter how we live our lives, we all have free choice. But if we say we want peace and happiness, we must cultivate it in each moment, in the garden of our lives. This is not about efforting; it is about repeatedly tuning into the ongoing Presence of something greater than pain or transitory joy. We must easily relax into the deep stillness of the eternal now. We must open the gates of our hearts in every situation and not sit in the comfort of old games, such as having to be right or championing cynicism. Being a spiritual warrior is both easy and hard because we take the simple and twist it into a challenge. It’s always time to stand up for what we want, get clear on what we believe, experience who we are, as opposed to the caricature we call our selves, and to live in awareness of the presence and the present, because when we do, life becomes EZier and EZier.