By: Sharon Nelson

I lay my head back against the upholstered chair and take a deep breath. I don’t quite feel settled, so I wriggle around until I find just the right spot to rest. All the while, I’m listening to the facilitator, her voice soft and low, like a lullaby coaxing me to let go: “Picture yourself in a place of beauty and calm. Perhaps, it’s somewhere you go frequently or a place that you’ve always wanted to visit. Maybe it’s a place you’ve seen in photographs or a film. But choose a place that’s not associated with any trauma or stressors of any kind. Once you’ve found your place, take a deep breath and then slowly release it.”

I do just as she suggests – I close my eyes and picture myself stepping into a forest, dimly lit. There’s just enough golden sunlight filtering through the dense canopy for me to see my immediate surroundings. Fixing on an image of sun-tipped foliage, I pull in a deep breath and then slowly allow its release. My neck and shoulders begin to loosen and I sink further into my chair.

The facilitator’s voice interrupts: “After you’ve entered this space, I want you to pause. Take notice of your surroundings – the sights, the sounds, the smells. Can you taste anything? Feel anything? Take some time there and experience the space fully. Breathe deeply and release deeply.”

I take another breath, and upon its release, feel the tension fall from my fingertips. I become aware of just how quiet it is. All I can hear is my own breath, in and out. The clearing I stand in is surrounded by walls of trees, evergreen and deciduous of deep shades of green made even deeper by the subtle light. The earth underneath my feet is carpeted with forest debris: pine cone fragments, various sized sticks and stones, and rust colored pine needles and leaves. Moss creeps along rotting stumps and orange fungi clings to decaying matter. I feel protected and safe, like I’m supposed to be here.

My mind’s eye projects an image of a particularly weathered tree, one with a gnarly trunk that I imagine is bent from too many battles with the elements. I rest my cheek against its knotty bark and allow the ridges to press into my skin, hoping this magnificent tree will impart some of its wisdom to me. My fingertips glide along the rough texture of the scarred wood until my outstretched arms are hugging the tree. Connection.

Suddenly, the facilitator breaks through my thoughts urging another deep breath. She says, “Now, you can choose to stay where you are for rest and contemplation or you can continue on your journey.”

The golden sunlight beckons me down a winding path, while fascination and curiosity pull me forward. As I breath in, I conjure the scents of damp soil and moss intermingled with the fragrance of warming pine needles and sap. As I breath out, I feel peaceful.

It seems like only seconds have passed when the facilitator suggests, “You are nearing the end of your journey. Now, I want you to visualize a box. It can be any size or kind of box that you want it to be. Picture it now.”

Ahead on the path, I see a clearing in the canopy from which sunlight pours in and illuminates a small treasure chest. It looks old: battered by time. The latch is rusty. The facilitator instructs me to open the box. Without hesitation, I approach the chest and lift the lid and I’m amazed by what I see! Inside is a big beautiful luminescent pink heart: more beautiful than I can describe. I scoop it into my arms and gently push the heart into my chest. Tears fill my eyes.

In this quiet moment, a new awareness emerges. I started my journey on the winding path of recovery several years ago. I embarked on that path full of self-loathing and self-pity. I was wounded and had wounded others. There were many times that I no longer wanted to live. Now, after all of the self-help meetings and therapy appointments I’d attended, along with all of the admissions, apologies, and self-examination leading to the change of outdated habits of thought and behavior, I’d come into possession of this precious treasure. In this quiet moment, I realize, I’ve received the treasure of self-love.