There is a bit of folklore saying that animals can sense an impending earthquake. Dogs whine and pace nervously. Roosting birds take flight, as if startled by something. Deer freeze, motionless. There is an uncomfortable electricity in the air. A heaviness.
I think of these things as I talk with the woman in my office. She’s agitated. Restless. She glances left, right, up and down, eyes darting. Her breathing is shallow and slow, like she’s listening. Her hands massage her knees, then her forearms, then her knees again.
She begins the session by shrugging and giggling “I don’t know why I’m here.” She repeats that hapless wonder three times in the first twenty minutes.
Shifting scenes on the back roads/ Of a lonely place in your mind/ Deep, deep inside of you, something’s born/ And something else must die/ You’re in for a big surprise
She presents no particular temporal crisis. Her marriage is thriving. She loves her work. Her children present the normal challenges and unspeakable joys. She has no recent losses. She’s not depressed or acting out in addiction. She’s not beset with memories from a traumatic childhood. She’s an enormously competent human being.
What she is – indeed, what her very body is crying out – is restless and agitated. Somewhat anxious. Like she knows something is about to happen. Or is already happening.
Pristine scenes on the highway/ Of a life you made out of mirrors/ Can this be you with the hammer raised/ To smash all you hold dear/ Or thought that you held dear
I thank God for my teachers, because, without them, it would be so easy to insert a presumptuous reflex: the woman has an emerging anxiety disorder. Prescription: meds, yoga, and back to the fray.
See, “I don’t know why I’m here” is a perfectly valid reason for going to therapy. First, because it’s often accurate. Sometimes the Self (the soul!) summons a meeting with the many parts of the human unconscious. The meeting takes place in a conference room deep inside of ourselves. But the Self doesn’t invite the ego. The Self doesn’t even let the ego know the meeting is happening. Smart move, because the ego is counter-productive in such meetings. The ego will either resist, or “get a bright idea.” The Self knows that either move is a distracting waste of time.
But “I don’t know why I’m here” also speaks to competence, because it points to a deep trust in self. Even if the impetus makes us feel a bit foolish and crazy.
You stand at the edge looking down into nowhere/ And then you hear the call/ Something inside of you says to jump/ And build your wings as you fall
It’s like an earthquake. Tectonic plates, moving in two different directions, begin to build and store energy. Then, suddenly, years of tension give way. The plates move. The earth settles its business how and where it will, without regard to anyone who might have built a perfectly normal life on top of ground zero.
Human development is like that. Oh how I wish I could learn and grow and evolve a little every day! In easy, imperceptible increments. But I’m singularly resistant to learning and growing and evolving. So I put it off. And off and off. And the energy and pressure builds. And, finally, some wiser part of me says “Not going to put this off any longer. It’s time.”
And things collapse. Things I thought were important. There is discomfort, sometimes agony, fear, rubble, and the unfamiliar. Friends and family members politely (or not-so-politely) wonder if I’ve lost my mind.
It’s like there’s a force in the universe which sometimes insists upon and effects our human development in spite of ourselves.
So here you are in a free fall/ Dazed and feeling insane/ A moment of thought and you’d’ve stepped right back/ And stayed forever the same/ Life in a picture frame/ You risk hell to be saved
I suggest to the woman that she trust herself. That something likely is happening. Already happening. That she has reason to feel unsettled. And, together, we begin to dig in to the woman she was, the woman she is … and to coax out of her the vision of her own longing for the woman she has never met, but soon will.
And we make a plan to evacuate some of the ‘buildings’ sitting on or near ground zero, to minimize the collateral damage.
Becoming is a harrowing business.
(Steven Kalas is a Nevada author, a therapist and an Episcopal priest. He writes a weekly column for the Sparks Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)