Symptoms of a New Age

by Charles C. Cole


The retreat was achingly beautiful and peaceful, a sanctuary in the woods of southern New Hampshire, with surprisingly soothing sage smoke lingering in the air and the use of harmonizing “singing bowls,” as well as a small murmuring brook that traveled right through the house, the continued dampness purportedly bonding with his exposed negative emotions as they were lifted from him, like loose dead skin, and carried out to the ancient “old wood” swamp beyond to be recycled into a type of cosmic organic waste.

There were worse ways to spend an hour or four, including a 90-minute commute each way. This was the best that New Age free-thinking and personal growth had to offer: a solid black long-haired therapy cat, “Merlin,” who would let all visitors pet him in an “ionizing” quest for inner calm.

Flagstone from a nearby, now-inactive quarry decorated the large sunny room like a patchwork quilt patterned on Mother Earth’s less complicated pre-human days, and copper solar passive trough-like fish tanks on either side of the main entrance with real koi, huge by pet fish standards and almost ghostly. Even a “spiritual sentry” peacock strutted vigilantly, almost reflectively, over remarkably white crushed quartz.

This soothing “otherness” was almost addictive and could easily compel the most hesitant truth-seeker to open up to the pseudo-sensual rebirthing experience. One didn’t need to believe wholeheartedly in the non-traditional approach — color therapy, aroma therapy, crystal therapy — to feel cared for, even if the results were temporary like the nirvana of indulging in comfort food, like the “Zen” of meditatively dipping fresh Nilla Wafers in Marshmallow Fluff and sticking them whole against the roof of your mouth to exude tasty goodness.

Stripping down to his nondescript boxers, new for the event, had been a personal stretch for the inexperienced patient, alone before this soft-spoken hands-on healer with the forearms and hands of a professional sailor and the pot belly of someone who indulged in the simple pleasures of life, a therapist who fortunately allowed the patient to set the pace and the limits and “the risk.”

Afterwards, as instructed, he eased himself naked off the dock into the private, chilly, spring-fed pond, completely immersed, then showered outside under a rainwater tank while “the facilitator” burned a DVD of their first session together. He dried and dressed, then met the counselor beside his car in the courtyard, next to the white noise of the granite “infinity fountain.”

The therapist, with a wispy gray beard and James Joyce glasses, wore a simple, faintly pink healing-colored kimono and well-worn leather sandals. He handed the patient his “bio-material,” his tools, his homework to review before they met again. If they met again.

“Shall we hug?” asked the master. “I know it’s not traditional in some cultures, but here it’s what I call closing one chapter before starting another.”

“Can we raincheck that?” asked the guest, stiffening slightly, already thinking of the long drive home.

“Of course.” Then, a little cooler, professional, possibly in recognition that this was most certainly only a cautious experiment for the newcomer. “Email me when you want to set up another appointment. I’m always able to fit in those who ask. The universe always finds opportunities. You’ll see.”

“Great.” Noncommitment from the guest.

“You may find yourself having vivid dreams in the next week,” the therapist explained. “You should keep a notebook by your bedside; it could be the ‘pure you’ communicating through your unconsciousness. You want to be ready. You might find your emotions bubbling up unexpectedly, like a volcanic mud puddle. It’s a natural side-effect, a preparation for the journey you’ve started, not mood swings.”

“Thank you for your time,” said the guest. “It’s really been eye-opening. I can see the allure.”

There was a vibe of familiarity. “I feel we’ve met before, maybe not in this life,” said the counselor. “Have you been to one of my open-house seminars?”

“Never.” Simply.

“I feel a connection, that we have something in common,” insisted the teacher. “You feel it, too. But — I apologize if you’ve already told me — how did you hear of me?”

“Through my ex-wife, during our recent divorce proceedings. Perhaps she told you. The two of you met while volunteering at an ‘alternative movement’ event in Watertown. She told me you were amazing, the way you could look into a person’s soul, with an immediate and intense intimacy she’d never known before. It was, in her words, ‘deeply satisfying.’

“It took her a while to reveal the emotions of that night to me, almost as if she was embarrassed or maybe exposed. She kept it from me for weeks, shut me out because she, again in her words, ‘needed to compartmentalize the experience.’ Anyway, I had to see for myself. I was either going to punch you out or wish you two the best of luck.”

“I know who you mean,” explained the instructor as he recalled the evening. “She was radiant, really letting her heart open to new connections. There was a definite physical attraction. If it means anything to you, we didn’t do anything that night; we just talked about the struggle inherent in co-dependent relationships and how wonderful it would be to simply follow our ‘positive impulses’ wherever they might lead, breaking out of the shackles of conventionality.”

“She’s free to follow them now and she owes it to you. I won’t be back and I won’t hurt you, if that’s what you’re wondering. I just wanted to know for myself that this isn’t a scam to seduce vulnerable women. Not enough evidence to convict, as they say.

“But I have to think it’s against some ethical code for a therapist to sleep with his patients. Don’t even deny it. Call it old-fashioned, but I think there’s a clarifying certainty, a stillness, when we think before we act. That’s my free advice. Take it or leave it.”

With that, the visitor climbed in his car and drove off, leaving the materials behind.


Copyright © 2012 by Charles C. Cole

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