(About therapy #5:) Therapy as sailing lessons


“But I don’t want to meditate,” Alice says.

We’re in group, discussing whether to start each meeting with a meditation.

“I hate it,” she says. “I can’t do it. I can’t stop thinking. I’d much rather use group time to talk.”

“Okay,” I say. “And you want to talk about…”

“You know,” she says. “Whatever’s driving me crazy at the moment. Husband, kids, mother. Covid, politics.”

“So by talk you mean vent.”

“Right. It reduces my stress. Meditation just makes me nuts.”

Roberta, sitting next to her, smiles. “Actually it just reminds you of how nuts you are.”

“What do you mean?” Alice asks.

Roberta has been meditating for five years. “I don’t meditate to relax,” she says. “I do it to train my monkeymind.”

“I don’t understand,” Alice says.

Roberta turns to me. “What’s that quote you told me, about sailing?”

“I cannot control the wind, only adjust the sails.”

“Right,” Roberta says. “Meditation helps me adjust the sails. Like you, when I meditate I usually think about all the crap that drives me crazy. But then I notice that I’m thinking, and I label the thought — Having a thought about my dumb husband, for example.  And then I go back to counting my breaths, until the next thought comes along.”

“But what’s the point? The thoughts never stop, do they?”

“No, they never stop,” Roberta says. “But I stop believing them. Instead of getting swallowed up in whatever I’m remembering or projecting or fantasizing I’m able to step back and say Oh, there I go again and go back to my breathing. It helps so much, not taking thoughts seriously.”

“But nothing changes,” Alice frowns.

“Yes and no,” I say. “Her reaction changes. And something else too.”


“What I call problem definition. Roberta stops thinking of her dumb husband as the problem and redefines it as her reaction to him.”


“So one’s beyond her control and one isn’t. Alice, what did you say drives you crazy? Husband, kids, mom, covid, politics. Can you control any of them? Your husband, for example?”

“Fat chance.”

Roberta laughs. “Me too. But it’s really nice to not have to get mad at him.”

“And that’s adjusting the sails,” Alice says.

“Right,” I say. “Actually I think it’s something that needs to be at the heart of every therapy these days.  Things are so stressful now, so crazy and unpredictable and uncontrollable. Life feels like one big endless storm, and if we don’t learn to sail, we’ll capsize.”

“Okay,” Alice says. “Let’s meditate. I won’t like it, but it’s better than drowning.”


Art: Chuck Paine




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: