Ursula James is a premier hypnotherapy practitioner and teacher in the UK and has written extensively on related subjects.
'The Source' is her latest work. You can read an extract from the book here:
I thought I knew it all - really I did. I was working hard, I was doing well professionally. So what if I didn't have a partner and my friends didn't invite me out any more because I was too busy? That's what life can be like in London. That's what happens when you get successful. So, I would spend my way out of registering the feelings which were growing inside me. Feelings of darkness and loneliness. Feelings of pain. I would take myself out of London and sit on a beautiful beach in Thailand or India and try to be real. It was an effort. All of it. I was no longer in my own head or my body, and had lost all respect for myself and sight of where I was going. It didn't matter where I went, I went with me, and I started to detest it. The inner voice of self-loathing grew louder and louder, until I felt as if the whole world must be able to hear the battle going on inside. I walked the streets of London. I sat outside in the freezing cold with my latte and newspaper. So self-possessed. So chic. So dead. It took a number to change it.
The number for me was forty. The age I was about to become. I didn't want to be forty - anything but. To me, reaching that number without children or a partner in my life, without love and people to share with felt like a failure. I had made it professionally. I was doing well, I was good at what I did, people seemed to respond to me - but it all felt empty. I wasn't rich enough to give up work nor was I at the top of my profession. Close - but no cigar. Any victory I could claim felt hollow and brittle. I knew that if I was brave enough to look forward in time I would see my life progressing on the same course for the next forty years until I was old, worn out and bitter. At best I could cultivate my oddness, my eccentricity and make a virtue out of it as if I had chosen it, really I had. The worst of it was that I could feel the bitterness already - I could taste it in my mouth like bile. I felt unhealthy and bone-weary.
So, I took myself up to a Buddhist retreat in Scotland. I usually did a spa every year. It would be good to try something different for a change. What I hadn't bargained for was the cold - God, was it cold - and so gloomy. Everything seemed grey and squashed beneath the sky. Surely this was a mistake. It was supposed to be summer, for goodness' sake. I remember looking around at the people who were there with a mild disdain. What was I doing? This place wasn't for me - no soft towels, no bubbly spa, no elegant food, no alcohol! And the people, well there was just no one here to connect with. No one from my world who could be useful to me when I got back to London. No point in networking at all. Ah well, I was here now. At least I could catch up on some sleep. Thing was, I wasn't going to be given the chance.
This was spiritualist boot camp. I was woken on the first day to join the walking meditation group. At least I had asked for a silent retreat so I wouldn't have to communicate with any of these dreadful people. I dragged myself out of bed, and joined the end of the snake of people making its way into the forest. Pissed off and shivering, I followed instructions as a female voice whispered in my ear. 'Step only in the footsteps of the one who walks before you.' Her own feet were sandalled and dirty.
When I looked up to see her face she was gone. I started to walk - well stomp, to be accurate. I walked like a grumpy child, head down and arms wrapped tightly around myself. It took a while, but gradually the feelings of irritation started to wear off, and I began to take in my surroundings - making a game of placing my tiny feet into the tread made by the boots of the man before me. It was like when you're little, and you avoid the cracks in the pavement because you know that if you don't step on them you can make something wonderful happen. Little rituals that calm you. When did I stop doing that?
In my musing I walked straight into the back of the man before me. We had stopped walking and I hadn't noticed. He turned around and reached out his hand to steady me. It felt rough and dry, like the bark of a tree. He smiled and turned his back on me again. It was the weirdest feeling - I wanted to cry. I wanted to take his hand in mine and carefully drop the tears into his palm. Oh yes - I was sure of it then. I was definitely starting to lose the plot, and the sooner I got away from this place the better. I needed to go back to London now. That was it. I would go home and everything would be all right again.
The snake of people set off again, and the path got steeper. I was getting tired - my legs were starting to ache and I still wanted to cry. This was too ridiculous. When we got back I would find someone in charge and they could arrange for a taxi to collect me. I couldn't stay here any longer. I walked for hours and hours - until the forest started to give way to rocks and heather. The air hurt my lungs. I couldn't think properly. I tried to list all the things that I was going to do when I got back home to London, but the thoughts wouldn't come. I was walking in a dream now. The words faded and my mind became blank and empty - my body went on autopilot. Nothing else mattered, except to keep walking. I concentrated on the footprints and time passed without meaning. I wanted to cry so badly now it was beginning to hurt, and I just couldn't think why. I did try. I tried to remember where the pain came from, and why it was so urgent for me to leave this place, but I couldn't remember that either. It felt like hours had passed by now, but I had no way of telling.
Finally I looked up - I had left the forest and I was alone on a hill. I had walked halfway up the mountain. I could see the tilted roof of the retreat down below me and feel the strength of the mountain rising behind. I sat down on a rock - and cried. I cried for myself, and for the life I felt I had missed. I cried because somehow I had lost the path. I cried because I was alone and I hadn't noticed when it had happened. I cried ugly, unselfconscious tears, the kind that mark your eyes the next day and leave you looking like a frog. I cried until I was exhausted. I slept right there, curled up in the heather like an animal. I could feel the wind on my cheeks, and the clumps of heather pushing at my body. I slept until the rain woke me. Big fat drops of rain hit my face, and I began to laugh. Sitting up I could see the sun dropping away on the horizon, red splattered clouds around it. The sky was really beautiful - so beautiful. This was a beauty I couldn't capture with a camera and take home with me. This was nature's show - vast and unique, and I was the only spectator. It sounds like such a cliché, but it was true for me that day. For the first time in my life I felt connected to the earth, every part of it. I felt different, but I still didn't know quite how different I was.
Walking back down the hill through the path in the forest I knew that something had changed inside me, and I thought this change was something I could carry back into my old life, as if the visit to the mountain had been no more than an interlude. If I had known how different I would become as a result I might have thought twice about coming back down off the mountain. Hindsight is a wonderful gift, and as I read my words I notice that all I talk about is my thoughts, but this had nothing to do with my thoughts. My thoughts were irrelevant here. My feelings drove me up the mountain, and my feelings drive me now. This was an old lesson - one Mother had tried to teach me as a child, but education was all that mattered to me then. Education, education, education. I bought into the lie, and forgot to feel. No matter. The lesson got learned later, that's all.
I came down the mountain, cold and hungry and ready to feel. I washed quickly and made my way to the eating room. Food was shared out in silence, and I looked out for my companion from the hill. He wasn't there. For some reason I felt disappointed. I wanted to communicate with him. To smile at him. Instead I looked at those around me on that long, worn table for the first time. A woman to my right smiled at me cautiously. I smiled back and touched the back of her forearm with my hand, pointing over to the bread with the other. She gestured to the other side of the table, and the bread found its way into my hand. I smiled at her, and dipped the rough bread into my bowl of soup. The food that day tasted like nothing I can describe to you. I could taste the love with which it had been made, the care with which it had been served, the friendship with which it had been apportioned out to those around the table.
When the meal was over, I picked up a tray from the sideboard and started to collect the empty bowls and spoons. The woman sat opposite me did the same. Someone picked up a cloth and wiped the table. Another started to sweep the floor, brushing the remaining crumbs out of the door. I started to wash the dishes, then halfway through was gently moved aside as someone else took over. Every task got completed. No instructions. No words. There was a gentle rhythm to it all, like birdsong - seemingly without structure but complete and beautiful. I returned to the dining room, then walked through it to the heart of the building - a large round room with an open fireplace. People were already gathering around the fire. Some were reading, others watched the fire with eyes half closed. I found myself an armchair away from the fire so I could sit in the shadows. I didn't want light or conversation, nor did I want to go straight to my solitary room. I wanted to be around other people, to feel them. My eyes started to close, and yet again I could not hold on to a single thread of thought. It was the strangest sensation, like floating in a salt lake with no sense of your body, but with this feeling I was losing my sense of self. For some reason that didn't bother me, although a small past voice dressed in a suit told me that it should matter. I blew on the figure and she disappeared as if made from mist. My old self. Suited and serious. Brittle and fragile - and, if I wanted to be brutally honest, a bit of a pain in the arse. She had to be right. Had to be in charge. She always knew best. I decided there and then that she really needed a rest. Not a break, but she needed to be put to rest. She deserved it. That much was certain, so I took her back up the mountain and let her sleep - there on the mountain where she could be safe and free. I surrounded her with summer sun and flowers, and let her hair grow long and beautiful. I dressed her in a long velvet dress, like a princess from a fairy tale, and I put her into an enchanted sleep. All this while dozing in the shadows, unseen and unheard. I stayed until the fire burned out, and I knew she was safe on the mountain. That night I slept so heavily. I slept on a narrow bed with hard scratchy sheets. I slept better that night than I had in the finest hotels in the world, and when I woke I felt alive and awake, and ready to do things. Yes, I know - do things is a little vague, but that is all I could think that day. I didn't have a plan, just lots of energy. So I cooked and cleaned. I swept leaves. I dusted and polished the bookshelves in the library. I felt as if I had been wired to the national grid. This continued for the three days of my stay. Each night I slept soundly and without dreams. Each day I worked on whatever needed doing. By the end of the three days I knew all of my companions by name - well, names I had given them, anyway. Blue hat. Aztec scarf. Bell earrings. I wondered what they called me. I never did find out. By the third night, new faces arrived around the table, and it was time for me to leave. The next day I cleared out my room, bundled the sheets up and took them down to the laundry. With his back to me I recognised him. It was my pathmaker. I handed him the sheets and he opened his arms to me and held me without words. I looked up into his face. He had beautiful blue eyes, crinkled all round with laughter. Clear blue eyes like the sky over my old self on the mountain. He turned back to his work and I left for London.
The journey back by train was uneventful. I turned on my mobile and let the world come back in. Lots of voice messages. Lots of emails. I must be important. I turned it off again and spent the rest of the journey staring through the window. Back home, nothing had changed, and that surprised me. I had, why hadn't my surroundings? Okay, I know. It's one thing to have a spiritual experience when you are away from home, but then you have to deal with reality. Your reality - as created by you. That was the thing, really - I was still living in her house, wearing her clothes, and living her life. Not only did it feel wrong, but I wasn't even sure if I could pretend to be her any more. It was as if by leaving her on the mountain I had also left her ways of doing things behind me - and I didn't have a clue what I was supposed to do now. I only knew what I didn't want. I did not yet know what I did want. So I did the only thing I could do, and that was to open her diary and see what she was supposed to be doing this week. It was a busy one. It would be. She had hypnotherapy clients booked for the entire week. That meant I wouldn't see daylight until Saturday. So I got on with it. I dressed in her clothes, spoke her words, comforted her clients. By the time Saturday came my head was stuffed full of other people's sadness and grief, anger and pain. I needed to decant it, and quickly. I decided to do some self-hypnosis to tidy up my thoughts. Saturday morning came, and I lay on the bed in the sunlight from the skylight above me and closed my eyes in preparation. That's when Mother came to me. Fully formed, loud and clear, and in glorious Technicolor. Morning, she said convivially. Ready to listen now?
Published by Random House