A sample from my novel Babe in the Woods

The narrator, Angelo Chiari, is a news reporter in his fifties, comes to a Monroe-like program as a skeptic. In the course of the week, a lot of things open up for him – or perhaps we should say, he opens up to things, as various experiences present opportunities. As for instance on Tuesday night, when Angelo is confronted with the onset of an asthma attack, without his accustomed way to hold it at bay. This is from Chapter Four.

.22.

For a good while there, it looked like a very expensive mistake. Sometimes miracles come well wrapped, unrecognizable.

Debrief was over, and we were sitting around snacking, reluctant to let the day end. Somebody came in from outside and said the night sky was amazing and we should come look at it, and we did. And indeed, it was remarkable to those of us who lived our normal lives within the sky glow of reflected electric lights. We could see thousands of stars, pinpoint-bright against blackness and—for the first time in my life—the glow of the milky way. Wow, I thought, think of that phenomenal background up there all the time, day and night, and us not noticing it.

Then I started to wheeze. I went back inside and pulled out the inhaler—no longer self-conscious about using it in front of people, I noticed—and used it. Tried to use it. The little hiss it made as it expelled a charge wasn’t a very large sound, and it might be that the conversations around me had masked it. But I hadn’t felt the impact on my palate, either, hadn’t tasted the indescribable but unmistakable taste of the spray. Oh shit! That’s right, the damn thing is empty!

Not least among the remarkable things that had been happening to me in these few days was that I could forget something so basic. I had known it was empty, I had known there was no refill, and I hadn’t even particularly worried about it. I’d had a little wheezing in the morning but it had settled down by itself, and I hadn’t had any trouble for the rest of the day, even going out at sunset and standing around watching the sun go down. I’d just forgotten about it!

Now it was payback time, I guessed.

All right, this isn’t the first time this has ever happened to you. You got through plenty of bad nights before you got the inhaler. You know what to do.

Nonetheless, speaking of fears . . .

I sat down at one of the tables and tried to smooth out my breathing, but I couldn’t do it. Instead of relaxing, I could feel myself getting tenser. I knew where this was heading, and I had the entire night ahead of me. Nothing to look forward to. How often had I experienced it. . . .

Sitting at my kitchen table, a sweatshirt over my pajamas, a blanket over the sweatshirt. I wore a woolen cap like sailors wore, pulled down over my ears. I was holding my head in my hands, and I could feel the pull of skin under my fingers. The tips of my fingers were on my temples, the places where my fingers met my palms were caught under my cheekbones. I sat looking out the window, watching the sun lighting the sky, watching as the overhead electric light surrendered to the coming of the day.

Ironically—it always struck me as ironic, despite its predictability—ironically, as soon as I had seen that the sun was coming up, I could feel my lungs begin to ease. All night I had fought for breath, fighting my weariness and headache, fighting the muscle aches that came from tension and lack of sleep. All night I had fought to retain control, to soothe my own breaths, to provide a rhythm, to stop the wheezing from getting out of control—basically to no avail. But as soon as the sun came up, the battle was won—for the moment.

It was enough to make a man believe in astrology. Something connected that sun to me—to my lungs, my psyche, my aching muscles, my headache, my bone-weariness, my stink of dried sweat and the general dirtiness one gets either by going for long periods of time without showering, or by spending a night fighting to breathe.

I sat there a few minutes more, waiting as the iron band around my chest muscles eased, ever so slowly, as my diaphragm was ever so slowly able to open my lungs more easily, wider. I waited and observed as the muscles in my neck lost some of their rigidity.

At length, I closed my eyes to rest them, and when I felt myself give a long sigh of relief—a sigh having no catch in it, no raw spot halfway between the base of my neck and my nipples, I knew it was pretty much over. For the moment. More coming with nightfall, like as not.

Six-thirty. Time for an hour’s nap on the couch. Two, if I was lucky. If it didn’t come back. Then to work as usual, as if nothing had happened. If God had just asked me, I could have told him I didn’t care, lungs or gills, just so they worked okay.

A long night like that never left me in the best shape the following morning, and it got harder as I got older. Still, there was the day to be gotten through. I was in the Inquirer newsroom by 10.

.23.

I think Jeff sent her, or maybe not, but anyway there was Annette pulling up a chair next to where I sat at the table, hunched forward, leaning my hands on my thighs, pushing against them. “What’s happening, Angelo?”

“Asthma,” I said. No breath for further explanations.

“Is there anything you know to do that will help you stop it?”

I smiled at her. “New lungs,” I said.

“Yes, but—practically. Hot tea? Something like that?”

Shook my head. Didn’t have the breath to point out that if I had something I could do that might help, I’d be doing it. It wouldn’t be a question of too much trouble to move!

“Is there something I can get for you from your room? Medicine, something?”

I shook my head. “All out,” I said.

“Is this likely to go away by itself?”

“Dawn—probably,” I said. I didn’t know what time it was but I doubted we were as far along as midnight. Six hours, probably. More.

By now we had an audience, about the last thing I wanted.

Annette looked at me intently. “Angelo, are you all right with us doing some energy work on you?”

“Do I have to—do something?”

“Nothing physical. You won’t have to move.”

I nodded. “Okay with me,” I said. “Don’t go—near my chest.” I knew from experience that someone touching my chest, however lightly, would make everything worse instantly. Not only would my muscles tighten ever more, my anxiety level would shoot up, which would tighten up everything—and knowing it in advance, my anxiety level would shoot up even higher. But I had no breath to explain this, and fortunately she asked for no explanations.

Annette looked around at the dozen or so people in the room. “This is where it gets practical,” she said. “This is a little ahead of schedule—we don’t usually teach this until Inner Voice—but if anyone wants to help me here, you’ll get a glimpse of how much there is to learn.”

All those people watching me? “You are not alone,” the vision had said. “You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone.” Well, alone is what I always have been, especially during an asthma attack. At least it looked that way, but maybe not.

“Angelo, are you okay with somebody holding your hand?”

I nodded, “Somebody—pretty, I hope.”

She laughed. “You’ll be telling jokes on your deathbed, I think. All right. Claire, sit there on Angelo’s left and take his left hand, will you? I don’t think he’ll mind that.” I’d have laughed with everybody else, if I’d had breath enough, but anyway I sort of grunted a laugh. “And Toni, will you sit here and hold his right hand with your left? Now the rest of you, anyone who wants to participate, form your chairs in a big circle and join hands so that Angelo is part of one big circle. I’m going to stand here behind him. Angelo, all right to touch your back?”

“Think so,” I said. This was making me more tense, more nervous, if anything.

“First thing we’re going to do is take a few nice deep long breaths—Angelo, I know that’s just what you can’t do right now, but I want you to sort of imagine doing it. You do what you have to do to breathe right now, but try at the same time to imagine what it’s like to breathe deeply and easily. Everybody, deep slow breathing. Remember what it feels like when you’re doing a tape and C.T. moves you into Entry State. Go for that feeling of relaxation.”

Very quietly, she said, “Now, Angelo, I’m going to put my hands on your back, don’t be startled.” I felt the palms of her hands on my shoulder blades, her fingertips lightly resting on the back of my shoulders on either side of my neck. I don’t think I could have borne to have her touch my chest, but her touch on my back and shoulders felt soothing.

“Now, from that state of relaxation, move into Entry State,” Annette said, “just as if you were doing a tape. Everybody continue breathing long calming breaths, and move into Entry State.”

“‘Do this now,’” Jeff said, and everybody laughed. It didn’t seem to disrupt anything, though.

After a few minutes, she said, “Angelo, follow along as best you can. Imagining is nearly as good as doing it. The rest of you, move on to Wider Vision. Keep breathing slowly, steadily, in a rhythm that is calming to you.”

“All right, Angelo, your job is to form a picture of your lungs as they are when they are giving you trouble. Form a picture—a cartoon, really—of your lungs when you are having trouble with asthma. Visualize them in some way that’s meaningful to you. Red and angry-looking, maybe, or tied up with cords around them. Some visual image that you can pass to your unconscious mind. It doesn’t have to be anatomically correct; in fact, I think cartoons are better because they are more pointed, more obvious. Form a clear cartoon symbolizing your lungs during an asthma attack.”

We could all hear the words “do this now” but this time no one said them.

“Now in a minute, you’re going to take that image and change it, so be sure you have it clear in your mind. Do this while breathing as slowly and as deeply and as calmly as you can. Stay with that state of mind, even if you don’t think you can do it very well.”

A few minutes more, and she said, “All right, guys. What you did up till now is preparation; now it’s the real thing. Go on to Time Choice, and, when you get there, staying in Time Choice, I want you all to close your eyes, and go back to remembering a time when you very intensely gave love or received love. Maybe a pet, maybe somebody in your family, maybe your first love—some time when you were intensely loved or when you loved someone intensely. Remember that moment, remember that feeling, and move into the feeling. Become love again. And when you are inside that feeling—not before—send that love to Angelo, and intend that he use that love energy to heal his body.”

I was in no mood to criticize the technique or to question the logic. Besides, there was no need. I felt Claire squeeze my fingers, and I experienced an enormous surge of love for her, and from her. And it seemed to me I could feel the love being passed through her from Jeff, sitting to her left, and from Toni to my right, and from all those in the circle. More remarkably, I felt the heat of Annette’s hands on my back, and felt her hands get hotter and hotter as the seconds passed.

“Absorb this energy, this love, that is being sent to you by your friends, Angelo. Absorb it and pass it on to your lungs. And as you do that, take that image, that cartoon, that you were holding, and let it morph into a vision of your lungs as they are normally. If you saw them as red and scratchy, now let that picture relax to something pink and smooth, or whatever represents normal to you. If you saw an iron band around your lungs, see that iron band cut off, or disappearing. Whatever, the specifics don’t matter. What matters is that you receive this loving energy from your friends, and use it to transmute your physical condition. Go ahead. As our friend Jeff says, and I think C.T. has been known to say it too, ‘Do this now.’” We all smiled at that, I think, and yet it didn’t dilute the intensity of the experience. If anything, it accentuated it.

“Hold that loving energy, folks, this is very good work you are doing. Angelo, accept that energy. You’re not alone in this. Accept it, use it, let your lungs return to normal.” After a couple of long moments, she moved her hands onto my shoulders and gave me an affectionate squeeze. “How’s that, tiger?” I am pretty sure she already knew.

“That’s amazing,” I said. My breathing was back to normal, or close to normal, and I knew that the attack was either over or close to over. I looked around at my friends who had done this for me, and suddenly they seemed like angels in bodies. You are not alone, I heard again, and I realized that I had tears in my eyes. Very embarrassing!

Babe in the Woods

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