Dear Dr. Norquist:
I wrote to you last month about a friend of mine who was with the wrong people at the wrong time and even though he did nothing wrong, he was arrested with them. Not only did he lose his job but because he could not pay for bail, he is now in jail. I feel so bad for him. He is interested in what you say – I know he has read your columns. Could you write a column that could be helpful to him in jail? I will make sure he gets it.
Dr. Norquist responds:
For your friend who is in jail:
You are in a place where your outer world has been extremely constricted and the inner world is clamoring for your attention – probably mostly through fear, anger, depression, helplessness, and other unpleasant feelings. You are in a place inside yourself where there is an urgent need for calm and inner peace.
One path to finding this is through observing your breath, as strange as this may sound. By observing or witnessing your breath as it goes in and then out, you are developing a connection with a part of you that is bigger than your subjective experience of this moment. There is the you that is feeling anxiety (for example), then there is the you that can observe (or witness) the anxiety as something that is going on inside you. Over time, this “witnessing” part of you can observe as that anxiety comes, swells like a wave in intensity, and then retreats, as the wave of your anxiety passes.
By being in this witnessing place you can allow your emotions to come and go without being so attached to and affected by them. It can start by just practicing watching your breath, noticing the sensation of the breath as it enters at the tip of your nose, how it hovers with its own individual rhythm inside, then of its own accord, at its own pace, exits your body (again with the accompanying sensations in your nose). This is a simple tool that you can use, a resource to provide you with inner strength and stability to manage your current situation.
There is also a prayer that client of mine gave me that you could memorize and repeat often for protection:
o The light of God surrounds me
o The love of God enfolds me
o The power of God protects me
o The presence of God watches over me
o The peace of God sustains me
o Wherever I am, God is
There is an inner place of peace that you can practice accessing when you are ruffled by fears and anxiety. It is there for all of us, if we can divorce ourselves from the clamor of this world. I hope your friend will find this helpful. May some kind of good come from this horrible situation in his life. Thank you for caring about him.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services