Over the now fourteen years of presenting the seminars, I have observed some amazing transformations in the lives of participants. These transformations began with their adopting new ways of thinking.
Providing yourself with the time required to explore your feelings, memories, obstacles and opportunities will allow you to move forward. You should move forward with the formation of a new idea of yourself, and as that idea gets connected with your feelings “you become” that new person. Settled in your new persona, you will never go back to the past you.
My recounting of the experiences of some of the past seminar participants allows me to illustrate the movement from thinking differently to acting on new thoughts, and becoming a new, happier and more confident person.
(the names of participants have been changed to protect their confidentiality)
Sharmila was a young Muslim woman that came to our seminar dressed in her traditional attire, with her head covered by a hijab. The first time she came to the seminar she sat at the back of a room filled with about 50 participants. I noticed her because she cried through the full day of the seminar. While I didn't have time to approach her that day, I could see she was quite distressed. Afterwards, while I wondered what was wrong in her life, I didn't find out until she showed up again at our seminar, about a year later.
This time, while her dress was similar to before her attitude was different. I could see her displaying a big smile, and noted that she had brought a friend with her, an older woman. And, instead of seating at the back of the room, this time she sat in the front row with her friend.
Minutes before the seminar started, she approached me and said she wanted to talk to me at the break. We agreed to connect right after the first break. She wanted to tell me what she had learned the first time she attended the seminar. At every seminar, I tell the participants that they probably came to receive one particular 'lesson', one that could change their life. She wanted to relate to me what that lesson was for her.
At the break she told me that, referred by her doctor, she came to the first seminar at one of the lowest point in her life. She had just come out of the psychiatric unit where she had been hospitalized for a month following her attempt to take her life.
She was a mother of two, one girl of ten year old, the boy, only five.
She then related the following story: When she was a little girl her mother told her she was the Daughter of Satan and whoever came into her life would also become part of Satan.
She never questioned her mother's statement, believing it to be the truth. She never shared this belief with anyone. She made the decision that when she married she would never touch the skin of the people she loved the most - to reduce the risk of passing her ‘condition’ to them.
Previous to attending the first seminar, she received a call from her son’s school to let her know that her son was uncontrollable.
The teacher said that “he was a little devil”, kicking and biting the other children and the teachers. She panicked as she realized that she had not been careful enough with her son, and had touched him, and now he had become Satan.
The incident brought on feelings of depression, anxiety and panic, so, for her, the only way she could help her son was to disappear. Thus, she attempted to end her life.
One of the lessons she got from attending the first seminar was the importance of touch: how our entire body is wired with touch sensors, leading to the importance of a nurturing touch for growth and development.
She said that when she heard that information, she froze, not initially believing what she was hearing. But, she debated in her mind about her being Satan and being responsible for passing that awful burden on to her son by touch. When she returned home, she was more restless and needed to find out for sure what the truth was.
She got up that night and went to her son’s room and began to caress him through the covers. She was too scared to touch his skin. She did the same with her daughter.
Then, she began to get up every night to do it, and continued to do so until she felt more comfortable. As time passed, she began caressing her children’s arms and faces, and as she didn't see any drastic changes in them during the day, she figured she was doing something right. Within a few months, she was giving full hugs to her children and she was enjoying their responses.
One day, she received a phone call from her son’s teacher reporting that her son was doing amazing, participating in all activities while ending his previous biting and kicking episodes.
She was extremely happy by the news, and decided she needed to do her “final experiment” (to see if touching her children had brought positive changes rather than she had passed on the Satan spirit).
She decided “to test her son”. When her little boy returned from school that afternoon, he came running to her just as he had been doing over the past few months, wanting a hug. She pretended she was busy and told him to go and watch TV. The little guy came back a couple of times to her asking if she needed something, he wanted to help. Again, she redirected him to the TV and told him that supper would be ready soon and she would be calling him when she was ready.
The little boy came back for the third time and said to Sharmila: "Mommy could I have a hug even when I don’t have to do any chores?"
Sharmila then felt as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders, she enjoyed a happiness that she could not describe.
That same night, she talked to her husband and finally told him why she had tried to commit suicide. They talked for hours before deciding that while they would continue visiting her mother they would never again allow her mother to influence their children in a negative way.
As well, Sharmila began to look for a loving and nurturing older woman that could serve as a surrogate grandmother for her children.
She approached her neighbour, an older woman that had lived alone since her own children had grown up and moved to different parts of the country, and asked her if she could be a “grandmother” for her children, the neighbour agreed. With that agreement in place, they both decided to attend our seminar, a second time for Sharmila, to listen firsthand to the lesson that had saved Sharmila’s life.
At the end of our conversation, Sharmila said: "I know I am a good person, so I don’t need to worry about loving and touching my family anymore."
What I learned from Sharmila’s experience was that the frontiers of our differences disappear when we become honest about our feelings and share our journey with others. Sharmila was able to cross cultural boundaries and openly approach someone she thought would provide the additional loving and nurturing attention she wanted for her children. She also found a friend and companion, someone that was lonely, missing her own children and ready to give more love to others.
If Sharmila would have kept herself within the boundaries of her culture she would never have had the courage to approach her neighbour with her request. It had taken her many years to understand and address the damage her mother’s words have done.