Next step: The program adviser at Miraval asked me, as they always do at these places, what the intention of my vacation was. What is your intention? I have no memory of what I said, but she urgently sent me scurrying with some marked-up handouts about a man named Jonathan, whose classes, she said, I must not fail to attend.
He had a ponytail, I remember, and old-fashioned wire-rimmed spectacles, and a string of beads lay tight against his throat. Perhaps 15 or 20 years my junior, Jonathan Ellerby, PhD, has the clearest eyes I’ve ever seen, expectant eyes full of light. Was it the glint off the spectacles or some inner glow? At this juncture, it really did not matter; a familiar ponytail and light from any direction shining on me would do just ﬁne.
We sat in a circle on the ﬂoor of the conference room, and Jonathan passed around the handouts he’d meticulously prepared:
She who sees deeply into
one thing, sees all.
She who looks long into all things,
—Ancient Vedic teaching,
circa 4000 BCE
On the next page, this:
If you want to be given everything,
Give everything up . . .
Because the Master has no
goals in mind,
Everything she does succeeds.
—Lao Tzu, circa 600 BCE
You talkin’ to me? I thought when I glanced at them. And then, on the next two pages, were shiny young Jonathan’s own teachings:
The 12 Paradoxes of the Sacred Path
1. Do your inner work to address your outer challenges.
2. Be willing to give all to get all.
3. All the answers you seek are within you now, and you’ll need a path, a guide and time.
4. Be focused, discerning and determined, and surrender to mystery in each moment.
5. That which takes from us gives to us: Sickness is a healer, loss is a teacher.
6. Master suffering and self-discipline to understand joy and freedom.
7. You must come to terms with death to embrace life.
8. Your feelings are as important as they are misleading.
9. Be compassionately indifferent.
10. Learn the power of solitude and the importance of community.
11. That which is invisible is real and lasting; the visible is a ﬂeeting lie: Spirit is the driving force behind matter.
12. Live your authentic, true self, and know that it too is an illusion.
Some curriculum; I should perhaps extend my stay to 20 years, or 20 lifetimes. But I love lists (checking it twice!), and I already love Jonathan and the program adviser who sent me to Jonathan and the wandering boyfriend and everyone on the planet and possibly other planets, too. Be grateful to everyone never seemed so easy as in this moment, even at the exorbitant day rate.
And so I spend a private session hour on each of the next days walking in the desert with Jonathan and picking up stones as he instructs, talking about what each one meant to me, about whom each stone represented, placing it somewhere in relation to the stones already gathered in the hopes of telling him a story (at his prompting): a story about me, a story about, What is your intention? A stone for each parent, one for my sister, one for the ﬂyaway man, one for me.
I know: insane (and I also get a wicked sunburn in the process—not quite the fully transformative reptilian skin shedding I badly need but a symbolic step in the right direction). While Jonathan and I are out here in the desert anthropomorphizing rocks, I realize that Dr. Goudard, who is actually a child psychiatrist, is probably back in New York playacting with his chronologically younger patients in just this way but using wooden blocks or plastic ﬁgures instead of stones.
By the time my little trip is done, the backs of all of Jonathan’s classroom handouts are ﬁlled with his not-quite-childlike handwriting: big block -capital-printed letters, the summary notes he methodically sends you away with each day, usually in the form of more lists. That’s how Jonathan works: He writes notes for you to take home. And if you’re smart, you save them.
The ﬁrst list he gave me, his wrap-up of our initial chat, which hadn’t been billed to be exactly about this at all, or at least not as so stated: BECAUSE OF FEAR—WHAT I WON’T DO.