At the end of my annual physical about six years ago, my doctor turned to me, and said with uncharacteristic enthusiasm, “Last time I saw you, you arrived in a wheelchair. I’m really glad to see you’re doing so well!”
I nodded. I’d had a debilitating chronic health condition for about 14 years, and some things had been getting worse. I remembered having my husband wheel me in so that I could see my doctor without too much distress.
“You look completely different now,” he said. “You look healthy and vital. I’m curious what you attribute the change to? Frankly, most people who have the kind of symptoms you had don’t get better.”
My doctor was in the middle of a busy day, so I offered the shortest answer I could. “I think what’s made the biggest difference is a new kind of inner work that I’m doing. I call it the Wholeness Work.”
“Wholeness Work,” he repeated. “What’s that?”
I couldn’t give a complete answer in his office that day, but the answer is available to you in my book, Coming to Wholeness, and in the online streaming video trainings offered on my website. It was only after dealing with debilitating physical symptoms for quite a few years and trying many things — medical tests, naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, herbal remedies, the list goes on — that I finally stumbled upon what I now call the Wholeness Work.
My journey to discovering Wholeness Work actually began many years earlier, when I was just 25. It was the two most difficult times in my life that led me there.
During my first crisis as a young woman facing a decision about love and marriage, I experienced something we could call a kind of “awakening.” This opened my eyes about what was possible for me and for all human beings. That experience faded over the course of a few months, but afterward I “couldn’t rest” until I found a way back to the wellbeing and clarity I’d briefly experienced.
The second crisis came 18 years later, when my physical body seemed to be falling apart so quickly and dramatically that I was afraid I would die soon. My desperate search for answers finally led me to discover a profound new way of healing and transforming. Let me tell you about my “spiritual experience” with a renowned therapist and the “therapy” insight I got from a guru’s teachings.
The First Crisis: A Matter of the Heart
When the phone rang, it was my dear friend, Lena. “Connirae,” she said, “I’m organizing a group of therapists to visit Dr. Erickson. Would you like to join in?”
Dr. Milton Erickson, MD (1901-1980) was a psychiatrist from Phoenix, Arizona, whom many considered to be the world’s foremost hypnotherapist. He had a reputation for getting results with “impossible” clients, and it was fairly common for therapists from around the US to send him clients they’d given up on. Though I didn’t know it at the time, Erickson was in his final year of life. At age 78, he was crippled from polio and got around in a wheelchair. Despite his slurred speech (also from polio) and waning energy, he devoted a lot of his time to meeting with small groups of therapists in informal “teaching seminars.” He wanted to use his remaining time to pass on as much as he could to the next generation of therapists.
I quickly replied, “Yes! I’d love to.” From there our conversation became more personal. I told Lena I was going through a difficult time in my relationship with my partner, Steve, and wasn’t sure if things were going to work out long-term. Steve and I had been together for four years, and our lives were quite intertwined on a practical level. We were teaching workshops together and had co-created and published two books. More importantly, our lives were intertwined on an emotional level — he was my best friend and companion. Simply put, I loved him, and he clearly loved me. Now after four years, I felt it was time to make a decision — either “go for it,” get married, and have a family together — or decide go our separate ways.
But it wasn’t at all clear to me which choice was best. There was a lot that was positive in our relationship — I was more in love than I’d ever been. But I also felt there were some significant ways that this relationship might not be good for me. Yet I couldn’t just let it go. I felt a kind of neediness that got in the way of me being able to decide. I didn’t know what to do; neither choice seemed right.
“Why don’t you ask Dr. Erickson for a private session when you’re there for the teaching seminar?” Lena suggested. She revealed that a few months earlier Erickson had worked with her privately on something similar, and it had helped her tremendously. She was married, but wasn’t sure the marriage was right for her, and Dr. Erickson helped her get clarity. She’d decided to get a divorce, and as she told me about it she sounded congruent that this choice fit for her. That encouraged me to follow her advice.
Fortunately, the time to fly to Phoenix and meet with Dr. Erickson came soon. Erickson’s office was in a “guest house” next to his home and his workspace was filled with shelves containing books and a multitude of fascinating objects, many of which were small gifts of appreciation from former clients and colleagues. There were Seri sculptures of ironwood, a dried skate on the wall with flashing red lights for eyes, and other unusual items. When we arrived, Dr. Erickson was already there in his wheelchair, wearing what looked like a purple jumpsuit. We’d been told that he was color blind, and purple was the only color he could see.
I was definitely nervous. Would he accept me as a client? And if so, would he be able to help? Dr. Erickson didn’t do the “talk therapy” that was standard at the time. He had the reputation for sometimes changing people without their knowledge, and sometimes in ways that they least expected. We knew a man who had gone to see Dr. Erickson with no interest in getting married or starting a family. Yet soon after visiting Erickson, this man was happily married with a child on the way. As I worked up the nerve to ask for a private session I thought, “If he changes me, I hope I still like the person I become!”
I felt a bit embarrassed about asking for help. After all, I was a therapist in training; we were supposed to “have it all together.” Plus, I was quite aware of my history of being a “difficult client.” Things that worked for other people usually didn’t work for me. As a graduate student in clinical psychology, I had gone to see a therapist whom a lot of the other therapists in training had found very helpful. But after a number of sessions, he said, “I don’t know what to do; I’m doing the same things that work with other people, but they don’t work with you.” Later on, when I began teaching personal growth workshops, the methods I was teaching usually worked well for the participants and for my clients, but almost never worked for me. I didn’t know if even the “best therapist in the world” would be able to help.
But it seemed worth a try. Standing there in Erickson’s office, I gathered my courage and asked, “Dr. Erickson, will you work with me privately?” He smiled at me and gave a big nod. “Yes,” he said in his slow relaxed voice, slurred from the polio. I felt a rush of hope… But then he turned away, leaving me confused. “What do I do now?” I wondered. “How do I set up the session? When and where will this happen?”
Dr. Erickson was a very authoritative person, and he turned away from me just as congruently and emphatically as he’d said, “Yes.” It was clearly the end of the conversation. So I allowed myself to be ushered into Dr. Erickson’s meeting room and found a place in the small circle of chairs. Then Erickson’s wife, Betty, wheeled him in and the teaching began.
This wasn’t a typical therapist training. Dr. Erickson primarily told stories about clients he’d worked with, or about his life experiences. “Back when I lived in Wisconsin,…” he’d begin. Or “A woman, who had hysterical outbursts of anger any time her husband even looked at another woman, came to see me …” The stories usually kept us riveted on what would happen next, or whether he would find a way to solve some seemingly hopeless situation. Meanwhile, everyone in the room had the sense that more was going on than was obvious to the eye.
As I listened to Erickson’s stories, I continued wondering how I was going to schedule the individual session. Then, in the middle of that first morning, Dr. Erickson casually stated, “By the way, I recently received a letter in the mail, from the state licensing board. It said my license for doing individual therapy has just expired, so I can no longer do individual therapy.” And he laughed, as if this was the funniest thing. Meanwhile I was not laughing. “Oh dear, what does this mean?” I was thinking. “It sounds like he can’t see me privately after all.”
Hypnosis was an important part of Dr. Erickson’s therapy. Often he preferred to put clients into a trance state, and work with the “unconscious mind.” As the seminar continued, I noticed that occasionally Dr. Erickson would demonstrate a hypnotic method with someone in the group. I thought, “Maybe that’s how I’ll get my individual work; perhaps he’ll use me as a demonstration person.” I tried to convey my readiness to be a cooperative trance subject. When he talked about trance I would allow my eyelids to flutter a little bit, and start to go into a relaxed state. But he didn’t pick me that day.
Nor did he pick me the next day.
But I began to notice a pattern. Often Dr. Erickson would use the person sitting in the chair to his immediate left to demonstrate something. So the third day I arrived early, and made sure I got that chair. However he still didn’t choose me for a demonstration.
I felt somewhat discouraged, and on the fourth day didn’t bother to sit in the “special chair.” That was when he finally did use me as a demonstration person. As he began guiding me in a simple trance induction, I thought, “Oh good, maybe this is it!” But nothing happened — at least nothing that I noticed — and I felt even more discouraged. Each day I went in hoping something might happen, and each day I was disappointed. Four out of the five days with Erickson had already passed. Back in my hotel room that evening, I thought, “OK, I’m giving up. It looks like I’m not going to get anything for myself personally. So I may as well see what I can learn as a therapist.”
On the last day I didn’t try to be cooperative, and I didn’t try to go into a trance. I kept my eyes wide open, and was ready to observe whatever I could about what Dr. Erickson was doing with everyone else in the room. I had some understanding of his way of working, so I noticed quite a lot. And I at least thought I understood some of it. I paid attention to messages he marked out to others, and since I knew some of some of the people in the room, I could track that the messages seemed to fit.
Then, about an hour and a half into that session, as I was sitting there alert and attentive, all of a sudden a shift came over me. I felt like a completely different person. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I’d never felt anything like it before. If I try to put it into words, it was a sense of deep, deep wellbeing and peacefulness. Of everything being OK. Somehow I knew that everything was OK, and everything would be OK, no matter what happened. I liked it. I had no idea what I’d do, but somehow I had this knowing that there wasn’t a problem any longer; nothing needed to be worked out.
At that moment Dr. Erickson looked at me from across the circle and said, “And your unconscious mind has just made an important decision.”
I nodded in agreement, thinking, “And I don’t even know what it is.”
He added, “And you don’t know what it is.”
I felt my skin prickle as his words perfectly matched my inner experience. My next thought was, “If he offers to set up a private session now, I don’t think I’ll have anything to work with.”
It was at that moment that Erickson asked me, “And do you still feel the need to see me privately?”
We all just laughed; Erickson laughed, I laughed, and the whole group laughed.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Back home, over the next week or two, I felt something percolating inside; some kind of processing was occurring that had no conscious content to it. There weren’t any ideas coming to me — just a visceral sense of something happening. It felt almost like a continuous bubbling, a bit like champagne or sparkling water, but even that is too physical a description to be accurate.
Somehow I wasn’t concerned that I had no solution. I just knew I’d be OK and things would be OK no matter what happened. That had never happened to me before. I’d always been someone who needed to have a plan — a sense of what I could do to handle things — and who also doubted I’d actually be able to. I’d never experienced wellbeing like this, or this ease with not knowing. I somehow knew that when the time was right, I would be clear on what to do and I would take the action that fit.
After a week or two, that’s exactly what happened. I was clearer than ever about the strong love I felt for my partner, Steve. I also knew that for me to feel congruent about moving forward with getting married and having a family, three things that mattered to me would need to be in place. So the two of us sat down and I shared with him what would make me wholeheartedly ready to make a commitment to him and to our relationship.
As I was sharing this, it felt incredibly good for me to know that even though I was totally in love with this man, I didn’t need him to say “yes” to me. I could just express this out of my love and then wait for him to make his own decision, because these things would involve both of us doing some things differently. I said, “I know it’s your choice, and I don’t know if this will fit for you. And it’s OK if you want to take some time to think about it.” I didn’t want him to agree to my requests unless he considered them carefully and decided they would be for the best for him as well. And emotionally I felt able to give him the space and freedom to make the decision that was best for him.
This shift in “mode of being” that I was experiencing in my primary relationship also showed up in other contexts and other relationships. I was feeling an ease with things. The neediness that I used to feel wasn’t there; instead there was just a knowing that things were OK. There was a comfort with making my own choices and with other people making theirs.
The only problem was that this didn’t last. This clarity and ease with life gradually started to fade over a period of a few months, and I began feeling more emotionally reactive and more plugged in to what other people did once again.
So I scheduled another visit to Dr. Erickson. He had been my answer before, “Perhaps if I go back a second time, he’ll work his magic again.”
Shortly before my scheduled trip, I got a call from Jeff Zeig, who was working closely with Dr. Erickson. The tone of Jeff’s voice gave away his message in advance — Dr. Erickson had died.
Nobody was very surprised. Erickson had had polio twice; he’d been living with many physical impairments. Years ago doctors had predicted that he wouldn’t live past 40. When he died, he was almost 80. However, I was still very disappointed — in fact, devastated. My source was gone. What was I to do now? My experience with Dr. Erickson had shown me something quite remarkable was possible. If I were to find my way back, it appeared I would have to do it on my own.
However, I was at a loss as to how to get there. I tried replaying my inner movies of the teaching seminar with Erickson, searching for clues as to what he might have done that brought about the change in me. But I came up blank. I meditated on it. I asked inwardly for answers and guidance for how to get to that kind of state again, but nothing came. I had no idea how Dr. Erickson had “awakened” that experience in me.
Finally I decided to undertake an experiment that I hoped would help me find my way back. I knew it was easier for me to get results with other people than with myself, so I decided to start there — working with other people. I was leading seminars on personal transformation, and I put out the offer that I wanted to work with a few people who had a major life issue, and who had already “tried everything,” but nothing had worked. I thought these conditions might help me find a method that would go “deeper and farther” than anything already known. To the people who responded, I said, “We’re going to sit down together and work with your issue, and the only thing I’m going to guarantee is that I’m not going to do anything I already know how to do,” adding with a smile, “And you can go home when you have what you want.”
With the very first person who agreed to this experiment, I began using a particular line of questioning about his life difficulty, and fairly quickly he came to a surprisingly profound state. I don’t remember what he called it, but it was something like “peace” or “presence” or “oneness.” He might have even called it “Oneness with God.”
I immediately recognized the power of this profound state. It came to me intuitively what next steps to include in the process, so that this would be more than a passing experience, and instead could transform his life.
After it happened once, I was curious if the same line of questioning would get the same results with the next person. It did. And with the person after that. Out of the first 12 people I guided, nine of them described their experience after one session as either making a “profound” difference in their life, or a “subtle yet profound” difference. It was clear that a method for deeply transforming people’s difficult issues had emerged. And follow-up phone calls revealed that the results were lasting through time.
I decided to call that method “Core Transformation,” because that’s what was happening — people were experiencing transformation from the core of their being.
After seeing the results for my clients, I started using the same guided questions with myself. Not surprisingly, I was still “the difficult client.” Many of my clients after just a single session would say “Wow, that was profound!” The process did have an effect on me, but it was more gradual. I felt like I was now, very slowly, reclaiming what I had experienced instantly with Dr. Erickson.
The Core Transformation work uses our limitations as a doorway to an inner source of wellbeing. Clients and workshop participants consistently described their experience as “peace,” “beingness,” “oneness” or sometimes even “oneness with God.” As I began doing it as a daily practice, I noticed it was making a gradual shift in many areas of my life too. My “driven” qualities were softening, and things that had triggered me emotionally as a parent, partner, or friend were shifting. In the first stages of my practice, the “states” I was experiencing through the process were fairly ordinary. I called them “OKness” or “beingness” or “presence.” I didn’t experience anything so powerful I would call it “love” or “oneness with God.” I didn’t even know what that might be. However, the shift was strong enough that other people in my life noticed. One day on my way to one of my children’s classrooms, the school administrator stopped me on the sidewalk and asked, “What have you been doing? You look really radiant and peaceful these days. You’re sort of glowing all the time.” More confirmation.
(A Timeline Note: I developed and tested Core Transformation in 1989, and taught the first public seminar in 1990. Tamara Andreas co-authored the book, Core Transformation with me (1994, Real People Press), based on our experience teaching and using the method from 1989-1993. From there the method gained international interest, and has now been translated and/or published in over 15 languages.)
What was it?
When I had the experience with Dr. Erickson, it never occurred to me that the inner wellbeing I was experiencing might be the same thing that spiritual teachers talk about when they use words like “awakening.” Erickson never described what he did in spiritual terms — only as “therapy.”
However, when people began reporting back about the benefits they experienced with Core Transformation, many of them would add, almost as if telling me a secret, “You know, it’s really a spiritual process.” My thought was, “However you want to define it is totally fine with me. I’m just glad it’s changing things in your life.”
The Second Crisis: Physical Challenges & More
In the spring of 1997, after I’d been doing the Core Transformation work for years — with other people and with myself — I had a second life crisis. At that point, everything was falling apart, on all levels.
On a relationship level, Steve and I were going through a difficult time. On a physical level, my health was deteriorating rapidly. Initially, I had what I believed to be pneumonia. I’d had several bouts of diagnosed pneumonia previously, but this time when my chest symptoms gradually cleared up, I felt like I was actually getting sicker. It seemed like my body was shutting down. I was experiencing symptoms so bizarre that my best guess was that I was dying.
There was a constant strong surge that felt like electricity going through my spinal column and out the top of my head. It was extremely intense — as if I were wired for 110 volts of current, but had been plugged into a 220 volt outlet. It felt so real that when I looked in the mirror I almost expected to see a fountain of sparks shooting out of the top of my head. Because this “electric” flow was non-stop, 24/7, it was almost impossible to do anything else. Thinking, reading, writing, sleeping, interacting with others — doing any “normal” activities — were all an extreme challenge. I didn’t see how my body could physically survive it.
During this time, I was in bed 14+ hours a day. Extremely sensitive to any kind of stimulation, I couldn’t tolerate being in the same room with a TV or radio without feeling a desperate need to escape. Traveling anywhere was intolerable because the jostling of a car seemed to collide with the vibrations in my spine and left me feeling frayed. I avoided going into stores because seeing so many things on shelves felt almost as if my body was being shredded. Though given with kind intention, handshakes, hugs, or even a gentle massage felt like an assault. And I couldn’t, just by thinking pleasant thought, “override” these feelings of attack.
Given the vulnerable state I was in, it seemed unlikely I would live much longer; but I did think, “If I’m going to survive, perhaps I need to do everything differently. If I let go of everything I think I know, maybe I’ll have a chance.” I’d been learning and teaching personal transformation methods for over 20 years, so there was a lot to let go of. But it didn’t seem like a question. I just did it.
Before my health crisis, my husband and I had been teaching NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and were mentoring other trainers to extend the reach of that meaningful changework. A central focus of my own work had become Core Transformation; trainers from around the world were coming to become certified to teach it. Frequently, I received letters from people around the world thanking me for Core Transformation, and telling me how it had helped them resolve major life struggles (often after nothing else had worked). It was gratifying to receive these letters, yet now their descriptions of deep peace and oneness with God or spirit seemed worlds away from my own experience. As things seemed to be falling apart for me personally, I thought, “Even though I’ve been regularly doing Core Transformation with my own issues, all of this is still happening.” I took it as a sign that perhaps everything I was doing was off track. So I let go of NLP and even of Core Transformation.
I was very motivated to find something that might work — anything. I explored all kinds of solutions — western medicine, alternative medicine, personal growth, therapy, and on and on. A few healers were especially helpful to me in getting through this difficult time: several insightful therapists, acupuncturists, and a highly-skilled osteopath. However, even with all their help, I wasn’t showing much improvement. Each day felt like a huge struggle just to stay alive — and I didn’t know how long I could continue.
From the beginning of this crisis, a few people said to me, “Connirae, has it occurred to you that what you’re experiencing might be a spiritual awakening?” Well, no — I had always thought spiritual awakening would feel good — and what I was experiencing felt anything but good. But I did begin researching experiences of awakening as described by spiritual teachers and mystics from many traditions.
I read everything I could get my hands on that was a personal account. I wanted to know what people experienced, not their ideas about it. One of the first was Autobiography of A Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda. I read the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, a European mystic from the 18th century, Irina Tweedie’s Daughter of Fire, The Experience of No-Self, by Bernadette Roberts, and Ramana Maharshi. I read Papaji’s biography, Nothing Ever Happened. (This one was a three-volume set, which my husband thought was very funny: “So it took three volumes to explain that nothing happened?!”) I didn’t care what religious tradition the author came from. I thought that whatever was true in these reports was likely to be universal to human experience, not limited to any particular tradition.
I wanted to know if the “enlightenment,” or “awakening” these people described had any resemblance to my own experience. And even if it didn’t, perhaps their experiences would offer clues. These people talked about coming to a deep and profound sense of peace. They reported changes that defied verbal description. Was there something in this that could be useful to an ordinary person like me going through a very challenging time?
I was especially drawn to Ramana Maharshi from India whom many consider to be among the greatest sages of the 20th century. As a teenager, Ramana had experienced an intense awakening, and ran away to southern India where he developed a reputation as a spiritual teacher. Seekers from around the world, from all the major spiritual traditions, began coming to him for help and advice. Some came with practical problems, “My crops have all failed. I can’t feed my family.” Some sought emotional or relationship help, “My wife has died. How do I go on without her?” And of course some were asking, “How do I become enlightened?”
Curiously, no matter what problems were presented, Ramana’s guidance was basically the same. He told everyone, “Find out who you really are, and you won’t have this question.” To do this, he told them to continually ask, “Who am I?” This question was intended to help people understand an idea prevalent in the literature on Eastern spirituality, which is: “You aren’t separate; you are already one with everything. You aren’t who you think you are; you are a vast Self.” For the Maharshi, this didn’t seem to be just about something we could call enlightenment. He was presenting this question — “Who am I?” — as a real solution to life’s difficulties.
So I seriously pondered this. The Maharshi was saying basically, that if we realize who we really are, our problems in life will vanish. And he clearly wasn’t talking about teaching people to live in “lala land,” or to be disconnected from problems. He was describing a fundamental shift in how we can be in the world, so that we experience a deep sense of peace, and a natural wisdom to deal with what needs to be dealt with. When we live from that shift, we can begin to see that at least some of the time, what we had thought were “real” problems, can be just our tendency to create artificial meanings and interpretations for life experiences.
This all sounded pretty good. The only problem with this teaching was that almost nobody got results. Ramana’s students would try this method of continually asking, “Who am ‘I’?” and for most of them, it didn’t lead anywhere. So Ramana’s students (the ones I read anyway) described this teaching as “advanced,” saying that one had to be “ready.” They had the idea that perhaps only one in 10,000 or 100,000 people was actually ready for this.
Because the Maharshi seemed to be the “real deal,” I kept thinking about his teachings. I sensed that he was truly experiencing something authentic and attempting to teach it to others. So what was he experiencing? And was there an easier way everyone might have access to it?
Since I wasn’t functional enough to be guiding other people, this time I experimented with myself. However, instead of doing the process the way the Maharshi advised, I changed the starting place. Here’s why. He was inviting people to directly experience something called a “vast Self.” But this isn’t where most of us are. Most of us are experiencing ourselves as a limited self so I thought it would work better to begin where we actually are. If we are experiencing ourselves as a separate and limited self, then what is this separate and limited self? How can we find it?
Instead of asking, “Who am ‘I’?” and hoping to get to a grand experience of a vast self, I asked, “Where am I?” With this new starting place, I wasn’t asking where is my literal body, as most normal people would understand this question, I was asking, “Where is my subjective experience of ‘I’?” “Where is the ‘I’ located?” And this made a huge difference.
To fully appreciate the difference this makes, read my new book, Coming to Wholeness: How to Awaken and Live with Ease. (Or watch the free Video Training at www.TheWholenessWork.org) But this is it in a nutshell:
- When asked in relationship to an everyday experience, the question, “Where is the ‘I’ located?” invites a discovery of the every-day sense of ‘I’ from which we are each unconsciously living in our daily lives. This is easier than trying to experience a vast ‘I’, which hasn’t yet been available to most of us.
- We are finding a specific location. Starting with the location grounds the practice in direct experience, rather than abstract concepts. If we want to change our experience, we need to start with our actual experience, not with our concepts or ideas about it. Fortunately, every actual experience has a location in space.
When I tried this myself, I immediately found a location for my own “small I.” Then the question became, “How can I go from experiencing this small contracted ‘I’, to experiencing myself as the vast ‘whole’ again?” For this I instinctively used a step from a simple meditation I had developed years earlier, called the “Acceptance/Dissolving Meditation.” The result for me was an immediate dissolving of the ‘I’ and a subtle sense of relaxation and “presence.”
When I first began doing this myself in 2007, it was an experiment to discover if I could find a way to the “awakening” spiritual teachers were describing. And if I could, would it also help me with the physical and energetic issues I was having? While I did immediately experience a relaxation, the experience was so subtle, that I believed there must be a better way. For the next couple of years, I continued my search, reading more accounts, and sitting with spiritual teachers from different traditions. Many of these teachers said, “A path with steps cannot be the true path,” and I thought they might be right. If they were, all my inner experiments with dissolving the ‘I’ would be taking me down the wrong track.
But I kept returning to the simple practice that I eventually called the Wholeness Work. It wasn’t dramatic, but it was specific and doable and most importantly — reliable. I began using it any time I had difficulty sleeping, and it made a huge difference. For the first time in a long time, I was getting the rest and replenishment I needed. Any time I experienced my emotional buttons being pushed, I used the process for that — and again it helped. It didn’t instantly cure my physical issues, but it was helping a lot, a little at a time.
As I began doing Wholeness Work regularly, I started feeling like I had a way out. Metaphorically speaking, for some time I’d been feeling like staying alive was a constant struggle just to keep from going under. Now instead of just barely keeping my head above water, I was very gradually but consistently, finding my way to a centered, grounded experience that felt more complete than ever before in my life. As I became less emotionally reactive, I noticed many changes in my responses and behavior. Sometimes I was spontaneously meeting challenging life situations with an easy humor, rather than with tension or stress. I was finding simple solutions and was less attached to my preferences.
And Wholeness Work helped me dramatically with sleep. (That’s a full topic in itself, and the Wholeness Work trainings include more on using this approach for sleep.) As the Wholeness Work became my daily practice, it offered me a way to process whatever came up in my life.
Almost more interesting than these changes in my emotional responses and behavior was the shift in how I experienced “myself” in each moment. I was beginning to experience an increasingly full aliveness in and through my physical body. This change is something that many people who practice Wholeness Work report happening for them over time, and it’s easier to understand as you experience it.
Ready for Prime Time: Sharing the Wholeness Work with Others
Within a year or two of my first “dissolving ‘I’” experiments in 2007 and regaining some physical stamina, I began individually guiding a few others in the process. In 2012, I taught the first “Coming to Wholeness” workshops on Saturday mornings in my basement. Having practically been a hermit for 15 years, and still feeling a bit physically vulnerable, I remember having moments of “stage fright” in the days before the training. This material was different than anything I’d presented before, and my husband thought it was pretty “woo-woo.” I found myself wondering if I could teach this, and “What if people don’t like it?” Yet, with each concern that emerged, I did the Wholeness Work process, and felt a sense of ease and peace settling in. So by the time the training began, I was feeling quite comfortable and totally enjoyed the process. Each time life brought me new challenges, they became the opportunity to become more integrated and more whole.
For the most recovery of my physical stamina was a gradual process. However after using one of the Wholeness methods I teach in the training, I experienced a sudden increase in energy and stamina that enabled me to begin teaching longer trainings again. So after teaching several extended home-based Wholeness programs in 2012, I taught the first weekend intensive in 2013. Teaching of any sort had been unimaginable to me when I was in the worst throes of my symptoms; so this was several significant steps forward.
A Few Reflections on my Healing Journey
Consciously Reclaiming “It”
In quite a few of the spiritual accounts I read, the teacher at some point cut the student off and required the student to be on his/her own. The idea was that the student had received something from the teacher, but that to further evolve, the student needed to somehow “claim it” for him or herself. The next step would need to be of the student’s own doing, rather than something that could just be imparted.
As I began doing the Wholeness Work as a daily practice, I sensed that this is what was happening for me. With Dr. Erickson I’d experienced an amazing shift in consciousness — but it didn’t stick. Now I was “consciously reclaiming” what I’d received a glimpse of through what we could call “grace.” I began reclaiming this state with the Core Transformation work; now the Wholeness Work was taking me farther.
Reflecting on my slow recovery, I wondered if the reason I hadn’t made much progress even with excellent healers, was because at some point, real progress required me to actively own the process. My osteopath could settle my system and open some possibilities in my body, but these shifts seemed to undo themselves unless I also processed the shifts more actively with Wholeness Work. I needed to sense the related small ‘I’s and other contractions of consciousness, and integrate them.
A therapist or friend could offer useful possibilities in sorting my life — and I could recognize these ideas as on target, yet for me to live out the ideas in a way that was congruent and natural, I needed to consciously and systematically dissolve my automatic emotional responses, rigid beliefs, and other conditioning. The Wholeness Work gave me a way to do this.
I have come to think that the Wholeness Work gives all of us a way of doing this. It lays out a universal process for evolving. By finding the ‘I’s, and inviting them to dissolve into Awareness, we are going directly to the source of the stress and tension in our bodies and minds and transforming ourselves at that most basic level. (Note: This describes the beginning phase of Wholeness Work; advanced Wholeness Work includes more.)
A Second Reflection: About Labels
In my reading of spiritual awakenings, I noticed that some people described having symptoms much like the ones I experienced — including electricity and vibrations along the central column. I felt comforted that in Daughter of Fire, for example, Irene Tweedie had experienced everything I was challenged by, and that she’d not only survived it, but found purpose in it.
I noticed that my experience was also similar to what people call “panic attacks” or some other diagnostic label associated with anxiety. So as soon as my crisis began, when some people were telling me my experience sounded like a spiritual awakening, others were saying, “It’s probably anxiety or depression. You should try meds.”
From my background in working with others, I didn’t have a lot of faith in diagnoses like “depression” or “anxiety,” or in the drugs commonly used to treat them. However, I was willing to try anything that might help, so after other avenues hadn’t worked, there was a phase where I gave the pharmacology approach a try. I set up an appointment with a psychiatrist and slanted my answers to her questions in such a way that I hoped she’d be willing to prescribe several kinds of depression and anxiety medication for me to try. I got the prescriptions, but the experiment quickly went awry, as taking even a tiny amount of any of these pills made me feel absolutely horrible.
Since I responded a lot better to Wholeness Work than to my brief experiment with drugs, I wondered if at least some people diagnosed as “depressed” or “anxious” might also respond better to Wholeness Work. So far, my work with clients suggests the answer to this is “yes,” and I hope future research will be done to fully answer this question.
What I know for sure is that the experience of seeing a psychiatrist felt a bit humiliating to me. The psychiatrist herself was quite kind, but the intake person treated me like a diagnostic category — one of “them” — and the label of “depression” made me feel a bit “less worthy” than someone “normal.” In contrast, when people told me maybe it was a spiritual awakening, I felt special, and a bit better than “normal,” that somehow I was perhaps on the “fast track” for evolving.
Consciously I knew that neither of these reactions was really true or balanced, but at the time I didn’t have an effective way to process them. After discovering Wholeness Work, I revisited that time and then included, dissolved and integrated both the “one who” felt less than, and also the “one who” felt special. (See Chapter 20 in Coming to Wholeness, on Reactions.) Increasingly I could enjoy life just as me. Without feeling unworthy, and without needing to be special, there has been the ordinary joy of just being present and whole.
Whether we use a nice-sounding label like “spiritual awakening,” or a less pleasant-sounding label like “panic attack,” is it possible that the kind of experience I had might be more usefully described in other ways? Perhaps what’s happening is that the body/mind system is attempting to release the constrictions and contractions of consciousness that have built up over our life span, and simply experience the wholeness that we are. And perhaps this is a normal and natural process that many of us experience in somewhat different ways, and at different times in our lives. If this is the case, then Wholeness Work can facilitate this process, as it did for me.
It can be very easy to label our experiences. Sometimes these labels are useful. For example if we learn we have a specific physical condition, this can help zero in on effective treatments. But often our labels also lead us into some form of reactivity or constraint — into creating yet another ‘I’ who has fixed beliefs about something.
A Different Kind of Story
My story isn’t an “instant-miracle” story, where I was gravely ill, and then miraculously, completely cured in a single instant. A lot of books start with someone’s personal story of a dramatic cure that implies, “Here is the miracle process that can cure you too.”
However, life is often messier than that.
When we read stories with the sudden, miraculous reversals, without even realizing it, we can form expectations that it will or should happen that way for us too. And then if we don’t experience miraculous healing, we might think something must be wrong with us or that we’re doing something wrong. There are plenty of things in life we all consider worth doing that take some persistence over time to learn to walk… to read… to drive… to get a higher education. Think about it. Where would our lives be if we expected success in all of these things the first time we did them?
So mine is a different kind of story. It’s an “imperfect cure” story. Yes, I’m dramatically better than I used to be. (I was about as non-functional as one can get and still be alive.) And I am functional now — more than functional. There’s a lot I can do — write, teach internationally, visit grandkids, garden a bit — I’m able to contribute and to enjoy life again. I no longer feel the intense “electricity” that for years was surging through my spinal column. And while I still value quiet times (you won’t find me at a rock concert) and I live a low-key life, now I’m comfortable with the level of visual and auditory stimulation that’s present when teaching large groups of people.
But my “cure” is an ongoing process. Traveling is still more of a challenge for me than for the average person, and I still experience some “side effects” if I use my arm muscles too much. Though nothing like what I used to need, I still require extra meditation and rest, especially when teaching or traveling.
At this point when I lie down and relax, I usually experience mild to strong vibrations just happening, which now is a bit pleasant, whereas before it felt intense and dangerous. I don’t know what this is, but my guess is that these vibrations are part of an energetic transformation that is continuing on both a physical and psychological level. My sense is that it’s my own “conditioning” and “contractions of consciousness” which are increasingly dissolving. What I know for sure is that I feel present “in and through” my body in a way that I never did before. I don’t sense this process is complete for me — I know I have more to go — significantly more — yet I’m inhabiting my body with increasing fullness.
Some others who have been using Wholeness Work as a life practice have shared with me that they have also have experienced vibrations in and through their bodies, particularly when the processing starts becoming automatic. So it may be that this is a part of the evolutionary process, at least for some people. (It’s quite possible that for some people this vibrating never happens and isn’t needed.) Looking back, I even wonder if my initial “crisis” when I felt strong electricity surging through my body, was my system attempting to dissolve my conditioning. Because I didn’t know how to work with it, it was frightening to me. It felt like dying because I was clueless about what was happening, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Something was dying, but not my physical body. I was being called to notice the rigid, inner structures that were contracted, and allow them to dissolve back into the whole.
Back to My Story
I have no idea if I ever will be completely “cured” on a physical level. I’m OK with not knowing — and OK with however it may go. And, the kind of deep and fundamental change we’re embarking on here does, I believe, give the body its best chance at full physical healing. If/when it’s possible for the body to heal, this work will enable that to happen. It will clear the blocks, deeply relax the nervous system, and bring in resources.
However, the Wholeness Work is also about a deeper level of healing, one where we no longer need to rely on our life circumstances — the perfect job, the perfect mate, the perfect home, or even the perfectly healthy physical body — to have full access to “well-being.” When we are free from needing those things, we have real freedom. That’s what this story and Wholeness Work is really about.
~ Connirae Andreas
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A Footnote about Core Transformation:
I spoke of letting go of my Core Transformation practice, because I thought my best chance of survival would come if I did everything differently and completely opened myself into discovering other possibilities. However as time went on, I realized that Core Transformation is a powerful companion method to the Wholeness Work. Both methods work at the level of “beingness” for deep transformation. Core Transformation can get certain results that the Wholeness Work can’t get, and vice versa. For most people the easiest order is to begin with Core Transformation, and then learn the Wholeness Work. However, either order works. Learning one of these methods enriches the benefits you can get from the other.
If you’d like to know more about how each method works, watch our free video introductions here:
You can also read:
Core Transformation: Reaching the Wellspring Within
Coming to Wholeness: How to Awaken and Live with Ease
I am grateful for the support of many family members and friends, as well as committed physicians and talented healers who have walked with me on this healing journey. Whether I was receiving chicken soup or a specific bodywork technique — I realized that loving care matters. That and that I wasn’t alone. In the healers department, I’m especially grateful for several trusted therapists, a sensitive acupuncturist who identified an herbal pill that helped me a bit with sleep long before I’d discovered the Wholeness Work, and a skilled osteopath whom I continue to see regularly. I’m also very appreciative of several spiritual teachers, plus some fellow seekers, whose presence offered love and a calm presence during a time when I couldn’t find these things within myself.
This is a story of discovering what I believe to be a significant breakthrough in personal transformation and “awakening.” And as always, this happened in the context of a community which helped make it possible.
 Uncommon Therapy by Jay Haley is an excellent source for Erickson’s client stories.
 To understand how this works, read Chapter 11 in Coming to Wholeness, which discusses shifting from our interpretations of experience, to what I call “direct experience.”
 Most of those who already easily experience a vast ‘I’ also report significant benefit from the new way of working that emerged from this exploration. See the book, Coming to Wholeness, for more about how and why.
 Called the “Acceptance/Dissolving Meditation,” this meditation is an outgrowth of the Aligning Perceptual Positions work and is on my 1996 audio set, “Healing Meditations.”
This method, “Integrating Authority,” is included in both the 2-day and the 3-day streaming video Wholeness trainings. It builds on the material in the book, Coming to Wholeness: How to Awaken and Live with Ease.
This 2-day training is available as a streaming video program. www.TheWholenessWork.com