“How was class?” I asked her.
“It was wonderful!” Miriam replied.
Every week? I thought. She enjoys her counselling course every week? Who enjoys every class they attend? Is that even possible? She even loves her teachers and can’t stop telling me how great they are. After all my struggles in school when I was younger, I didn’t think you could enjoy learning like that. I had to find out more.
I signed up for the one-day workshop organised by Peter, the man who ran the psycho-spiritual counselling course Miriam was on. About 50 of us gathered in a meandering circle that almost touched the edges of the village hall that afternoon in the South of England.
To start, Peter asked us to each find a different way to introduce ourselves to each other. We were told that we couldn’t repeat what had been done. The first few people waved, shook hands, offered hugs and kisses. By the time it got to me, all the usual ways you greet someone in that part of the world had already been taken. So I decided to use the Malay Muslim greeting of brushing someone’s hands with your hands then putting one hand on your heart.
When I got to Peter, I reached out to brush his hand and put my hand on my chest where my heart is and paused. Startled, it was as if I was in a vortex when I stood in front of and made contact with him. There was depth and breadth I’d never encountered before in a person and certainly not in anyone I’d already greeted that day in the circle. This man was special; I sensed it. I decided to apply for the course.
I did my due diligence by making sure the teachers were qualified and the diploma course was accredited. Besides running and teaching the course, Peter trained nurses and counsellors at a local college, counselled those who’d been sexually abused as well as sexual abusers. After being diagnosed with HIV, he’d been involved in setting up the first AIDS hospice in the UK. He was at the time completing a PhD. His CV was certainly impressive. As much as the vastness of his heart and very presence.
When I was accepted onto the course, it turned out to be a life-changing experience for many reasons. I struggled with the theoretical and academic aspects but loved the shamanic teachings and ceremonies. I had a natural ability to tune into the shamanic ceremonies that were held on our course, and I could perceive subtle energies easily. This was where my connection and deep love for shamanism really started to take root.
The Unexpected Magic
One time, I looked across the room and saw the face of another student transform from a white English woman in her thirties to a Native American woman twice her age. I spoke to her later and told her what I saw. She told me that she had a love and affinity for Native American spirituality using sage to clear the negative energy in her home and sweetgrass on the mantelpiece to attract good energy.
Another time when Peter was teaching, I saw a vision of him breaking down in tears in my mind’s eye and a few moments later, he shared with us that during lunch, he’d gone into a church and cried.
I remember a shamanic journey where we had to partner up and journey for our partners while Peter beat his Celtic shamanic drum. As we journeyed Peter guided us on a visualisation where we came across a big rock and stepped onto it then looked down to see what we needed to take back for our partners. I stepped onto the rock, looked down and saw an image of a lion with the word ‘courage’ written under it. When we came back from the journey I was reticent to tell my partner about this as I felt it might offend him to tell him he needed courage, him being a Latin man known for their bravado. But we were encouraged to say what we saw without interpreting or questioning it. So I shared what I saw. He immediately looked shocked and told me,
‘I have a photo I took of a drawing on the ground of a Lion with the word courage under it.’
He happily accepted this sign as significant for him and told me he brought back a unicorn for me. I personally didn’t feel any strong connection to unicorns but knew they were magical and mystical creatures that exuded grace and presence.
Peter taught us to create a sacred space when counselling. A sacred space is an environment that’s healing, loving, safe and non-judgemental. One where a person you’re holding that space for feels they can share themselves in an honest and real way because whatever they say will be accepted, contained and worked through with professionalism and kindness. I thought that I was learning to create it for my future clients but it turned out that a sacred space was being created for me too.
Then There Was a Call
Just after I started the course I received a call from Singapore. My father had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Being so far away from him as he was going through this was harder than I thought it’d be.
The intensity of my pain had me wondering if I was dying instead. It took the ground right out from under me.
My friends on the course showed such sincere concern and one of the teachers dedicated a sacred sweat lodge ceremony to me. A sacred space was held for me as I staggered my way through a desolate and disorienting cavern of emotions.
I discovered that our most vulnerable moments can also be our most connected. They are when we are unguarded and without pretence or a mask. More open to others because we’re in such genuine need of support.
The tools I learnt and comfort I received was instrumental in helping me be functional and lucid enough to join my family and loved ones in Singapore through the last few weeks of my father’s life and his passing.
A Decision of Heart and Mind
I barely made it through to the end of that year. I fell so deeply into despair that there was nothing left not even hope. Somehow in that hopelessness, a force within and around me urged me to reach out and ask for help, maybe it was grace.
Because when I reached out for help, it came. In the arms and care of loved ones and helpers willing and able to be there for me so completely at all hours offering solace and their loving kindness.
I’m so glad I trusted Miriam’s judgement and signed up for the one-day workshop because it led to me joining the course. Not only did I realise that it’s possible to love what you’re learning and be enlivened by it but that the right teaching and teacher can have a life-changing impact on you and help you find your way through your darkest moments and the greatest losses of your life.
What I learnt that year wasn’t just from class with Peter but also from what I lived through and experienced with the loss of my father. I gained an understanding of what it’s like to be so overcome with grief that you can only stumble through helplessly until you get the help you need.
When I got that help I saw that often we just need a comforting contained space to allow our pain and suffering to unfold in its own way and time so that we can find healing. This allowing is even more powerful when it’s rooted in an experiential understanding and therapeutic expertise in helping others move through their pain and suffering.
Therapeutic training, combined with experiential knowing, and sacred space help make it possible for us to overcome the most intense emotional pain and to gain a greater sense of perspective and appreciation for our lives and others.
I learnt this that year, and it was pivotal in the development of my work helping others heal and deepen their personal and spiritual journey. It’s work that gives me a sense of purpose. Actually, it’s so much more than work. It’s an opportunity to serve and live in a more fulfilling way, making a difference for others. Even more, helping others gives meaning to the suffering and pain I’ve come through and helps me find resolution for it.
Coming through that year and through my struggles has helped me be more fully present and non-judgemental of others who are struggling and feeling despair. It’s made me treasure my companions and the support available to me and to learn the value of reaching out and allowing others to help me through the bumpy times. I now pay close attention to heart-centered connections and magic, seen and unseen, as it guides me through my life and the essential moments when I’m present with another in their suffering and pain, offering care and a sacred space.