Thursday, February 25, 2010


1989 + Waterville, Maine

I decided to seek psychotherapy. I needed someone who cared, someone I could trust, someone who would be invested in my well-being, for the long haul. I had not encountered anyone to date who was qualified. I did not want to be coddled or talked down to. I sought someone without false optimism or easy answers. I wanted someone who could see my evasions and excuses for what they were. This therapist would be willing to challenge me and approach these sessions rigorously.

I asked around of friends and was directed to Ahmed. He agreed to meet with me to assess the possibility of working together. He was up front with that. I could tell right off he didn't waste time or mince words. I felt both hopeful and fearful when we first met.

He was in his mid-forties and from the Middle East. He spoke precise and impeccable English with a slight accent. His black hair and warm complexion framed his self-assured face that bespoke non-arrogant confidence.

It was those eyes! So deep, so quiet. I felt as if I were looking down into a silent and beautiful well without bottom. You could get lost and found in those eyes. They held me spellbound and focused at one and the same time. I knew immediately, beyond thought, there would be no getting around this man or those eyes. I tried.

For instance, early on I came fairly bouncy into one session, thinking I had everything figured out. I was fully charged as I laid out in detail my thought and conclusions. Everything was in its particular category and proper compartment. There would be no need for future sessions. I had created an analytical House of Mirrors. It was as though I had discovered a shortcut through the labyrinth of my being. I acted as if I had successfully reached the exit.

Ahmed sat immobile. His gentle eyes followed mine as he respectfully let me have my say. He did not interrupt. His non-judgemental appearance lent me the impetus to say more than I intended. When my ramblings were done, I expected him to congratulate me. He spoke almost in a whisper, clearly enunciating each word. "You'll have to find another way", he said. That was it! With those six words, Ahmed had shattered my House of Mirrors. I felt deflated and perplexed. I trusted him explicitly and without question, so I gave no argument. The session was over.

I went home wondering where I had gone wrong. What was it about my approach that had failed the test? Like a novice laboring over a Zen koan, I racked my brain, taxing my thoughts to the limit. Like Frog's fixation on Dylan's lyrics, I set myself to know this one thing. One morning I awoke, answer in hand. Ahmed was nurturing me to openness, emotional honesty, and deeper feeling. Less thought, more depth, much as the Zen master to the student.

In his loving way he was challenging me to contact my heart directly, without evasion or diversion. As the months passed, I learned to do this more. Ahmed was putting me in immediate touch with my pain, which had accumulated for so long. I was growing up, again.

On a cloudy, cold, and drizzling late afternoon, I dragged myself into our meeting. I felt I was back at square one. All my progress was lost, I thought. I felt utterly miserable. By this time i was feeling comfortable enough with Ahmed that I kept nothing back from him. During this session, I poured out a full hour of non-stop black misery, all the while sobbing uncontrollably. My eyes grew soar and red. Ahmed sat there like a holy man, respectfully silent, compassionate, and present. When I had ended, he simply said, "You have a strength in your heart that is unique". I wasn't sure what i had expected, but it wasn't that. I left.

Those words stayed with me; they were like a life jacket to a drowning man. I knew then that Ahmed trusted and honored what I hadn't seen. In one of my dark and despairing hours, he had peered directly into my heart. He saw the resources I had failed to see or honor. Like Hindus and Buddhists are instructed to do, he had addressed and paid homage to the Divine he perceived in me in ten simple and easily understood words. I had been shown an example of love in action. Ahmed had presented me the precious gift of himself. Galadriel's glass was to be used in Frodo's darkest hour, when all other light had failed. These words of Ahmed helped light the way through some of my darkest days to come.

Eventually I came through depression and despair to a fuller and deeper life. Due to this great man's wisdom and skill, I had, in some sense arrived.

Great people, such as Ahmed, Juanita, and Cesar Chavez, prompt us to appreciate and respect the Divinity in ourselves and those around us.

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