For a period of about five years, I had the privilege of teaching alongside Dr. Richard Bandler, the co-developer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and a true original in his approach to helping people change. His willingness to experiment and learn, always with the client’s best interests at heart, made him a kind of hero of mine, and while his methods were at times extreme, his results usually spoke for themselves.
One of my favorite stories he told was about an executive who had been continually stressed at work, had a breakdown, and was temporarily committed to a mental hospital. The executive had a snake phobia, and his breakdown took the form of continually seeing snakes everywhere he went. This essentially meant he lived in a state of such heightened terror that unless he was heavily medicated, he spent most of his waking hours screaming.
When the executive’s wife was told that there was nothing that could be done about her husband’s condition and suggested she make his commitment permanent, she approached Richard, who worked from time to time as a consulting psychologist at the hospital, as a last resort.
Richard knew that as long as the man couldn’t tell the difference between a real and imagined experience, he would continue to suffer and be unable to function in the world. So a plan was hatched involving the cooperation of a couple of hospital orderlies, a barrel of rubber snakes from a joke shop in Chinatown, and a boa constrictor named Alice.
With the help of the orderlies, Richard placed the rubber snakes all over the shower room in the ward and turned all the showers on until the room was filled with steam. He then placed Alice the boa constrictor around one of the shower heads, where she gratefully coiled herself, enjoying the warmth. Finally, he arranged for the executive to be wheeled into the shower room and left there until Richard was done with him.
I have no idea how dramatic the scene actually was, but in my mind I always imagine the heavily drugged wheelchair bound executive coming to his senses in what must have seemed like a heavy fog and seeing himself surrounded by his worst nightmare. When Richard made his presence known, he offered the man a way out.
“When you can tell me which snakes are real, which snakes are toys, and which ones are only in your mind, I’ll wheel you out of here.”
While at first the man was blinded by his own fear, at a certain point his inner knowing kicked in and he began pointing out the differences between the snakes.
“Toy snake… toy snake… imaginary snake… REAL SNAKE!” Within a short time, the man could easily discern not only between Alice and the various rubber snakes in the room, but also between those things which existed outside his head and those which were only real inside his mind. By the end of the week, he was released from the hospital and given a clean bill of health.
While I have never personally taken my clients through a scenario anywhere near as dramatic as that one, I recognize that my job is a similar one:
-I help people discern between things that actually need to be dealt with in the world and those that only seem like problems as part of their individual thought-created realities. As they begin to wake up, life gets simpler, less scary, and much, more fun.
In essence, while our circumstances vary wildly, we’re all up against the same thing – unrecognized, transient thoughts disguised as permanent, unchangeable realities. Fortunately, we also all have within us the capacity to see through the illusion in any moment.
Any time you feel scared or sad, angry, lonely, or in despair, you’re experiencing thought taking the form of a scary, bleak, or upsetting personal reality. And as you start to see the role of thought in creating your moment by moment experience, you’ll also begin to wake up to the most wonderful truth of all:
You are not your thoughts. You are the space within which thoughts arise and dissipate.
With all my love,