Laila's Journal- 2008 RETREAT REVIEW

Floating Meditation

The tiny emerald island of Bali has a healing energy that nudges seekers into their personal growth process in unexpected, sometimes provocative ways.

In addition to leading retreats there, I return to Bali each winter for an extended 40 days just for this reason; to participate in her accelerated spiritual growth camp, her ongoing Masters training in the rigors required as I strive to ‘walk the talk’. I fly 21 hours for experiences and lessons that I’m never really quite ready for and yet wouldn’t miss for the world. During my extended stay, Bali inherently provides the professional/spiritual development necessary to maintain the caliber of leadership clients rely on.

Even at this early stage in the year, a prevalent theme has emerged in my own 2008 healing journey. It’s mostly about living with personal peace.

Integrating noble intentions like opening my heart more fully, inviting peace into my relationships, and committing more deeply to the service of healing hasn’t been a bed of roses. ‘Be careful what you wish for’ wryly comes to mind.

These good intentions point to the process of surrender. Surrender ultimately relies on and requires increasing degrees of trust in the unknown. Whether you refer to spiritual trust as it relates between you and the universe, Spirit, God, Gaia, Shiva or any other deity, it’s usually about a connection to something bigger than yourself.

Arriving a week before facilitating the first retreat, my gentle initiation happened in the pool at Gaia Oasis Resort in North Bali. Floating is not new to me- In the mid 90’s in the warm waters of Cinnamon Bay in the USVI, I was bracing myself to return to a gruesome working situation in Toronto, and decided in that moment to remember the miracle and perfection of finding myself floating in the sweetly gentle Caribbean Sea with the balmy breezes blowing through the palms trees- an image I have occasionally used to keep me above emotional waters through difficult times. This year I took floating to a whole new level.

The Bali sunrise quickly heated up the black beach beside the pool. After swimming a few laps I wanted to soak up some rays while resting on the refreshing surface of the water, straight limbs outstretched in wide angles from my torso in what I had learned as a child was the optimal floating star posture.

The juxtaposition of Bali’s constant invitation to let go, flow with and just be in the moment inspired a new awareness: I was holding myself stiffly- my limbs rigid, dutifully in place in the perfect floating position. Only thing was this didn’t feel like relaxation. As an experiment I loosened one body part after another which took a lot longer to accomplish than you’d expect. My awareness of the tension that remained after each attempt to release stiffness in my muscles guided me back on a loop till I was certain I was limp.

There’s a helpful Gestalt Therapy trick when you’re trying to stop doing something- in awareness consciously repeat the undesired behaviour in an exaggerated way, then attempt the desired alternative. So I stiffened my limbs into discomfort in order to determine just how relaxed the muscle became by comparison with each conscious release that followed.

Curiosity- that wonderful neutral ally- encouraged my diligence. What I discovered was that when fully relaxed in the water my natural body position involved slightly bent knees usually leaning to the right, feet under the surface, hips also surprisingly submerged somewhat rotated and receptive to movements in the water, my arms loose and asymmetrically hanging about close to my body, elbows deeper than my hands- all in all like sleeping in memory foam as opposed to holding a rigid star formation.

For a woman used to chronically carrying around entrepreneurial responsibilities, it was a glorious, utterly delicious experience giving myself up to an environment ready and able to support me completely while I was off duty.

But I noticed my neck was actively holding up my head and this was a bit tricky to resolve- try consciously relaxing your neck when you’re lying down in water. Successfully allowing my neck to rest and my head to tilt back, virtually letting go of my head, this was the moment I really got what it was to trust and feel OK about it.

Now I simply focused on my breathing and noticed that as my lungs filled with oxygen I bobbed up a bit and felt the surface of the water rearrange itself over my emerging body as the air met patches of exposed wet skin. As I exhaled, along with the rest of me my face started to slowly submerge. This was weird. I felt the water creep over my forehead and chin, and then cover the crevice of my closed eyes to create an ever shrinking ring of waterline surrounding the island that was now my nose and mouth.

But by then it was time to inhale again, and slowly up I went like a lazy fleshy balloon going nowhere but in. Sometimes I opened my eyes and observed the wiggly watery world of smeared sky, palm trees, hibiscus shrubs and hovering dragon flies.

Each morning began with this unhurried meditation, with the now familiar sensation of trust that reminded me with each tickle of the expanding and collapsing ring of water over my face that I would always be able to breathe no matter how much oxygen I released while bobbing slow motion in that liquid embrace. When it was time to inhale my nostrils were still clear and functional and my need to breathe was met. Eventually I stopped wondering about it- and simply floated in blissful abandon.

It sounds so simple, this floating meditation. It profoundly changed my understanding of what it is to rest limp and receptive in the hand of God. The paradox about receptivity is that it requires the active principle. I had to first choose to and then actively relax in order to achieve a state of surrender. It became easier each time.

This practice manifested and translated a spiritual metaphor into a sensory experience. I understood at a cellular level what it physically felt like to voluntarily let go of control and consciously trust. And still manage to stay afloat to talk about it later.

Concurrent with that euphoria was the humbling process of integrating just how futile and unnecessary- even deluded- it is to make efforts to help something that was functioning just fine without me, like trying to help the water keep me afloat with my original stiff posture. The water didn’t need my help. I was OK to relax. I was OK to let go of trying to control it. Let the water work without my help. Let the water help me relax. Let me let go. Be supported unconditionally, no strings, no payment. This enabled a radical and ongoing conservation of energy. A working woman's dream.

This new ritual nurtured an extraordinary inner peace. It delivered an experience of what it is to allow a liberated heart and mind set to emerge. That's what it is to surrender and trust- true liberation from outmoded assumptions and habits.

Without knowing it at the start, I had created a personally ideal state of being from which to pray and listen; invite and commit; open up wide and simply be.

A quiet joy settled into that space inside. I was home.

The lessons from the floating meditation were the prerequisite groundwork for navigating successfully through the challenges ahead that would accelerate my healing journey beyond imagination.


In future issues of the Aziza monthly Newsletter, you’ll find accounts like this one of how the journey unfolds.



Written by Laila Ghattas 03/08

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Laila Ghattas is an artist, Gestalt therapist and Reiki practitioner. She is an author, public speaker and the founder of Aziza Healing Adventures. Laila combines creative self-expression with psychotherapy in programs designed to heighten awareness, inspire personal insight and improve the life of those who participate. She holds therapeutic workshops in Toronto, and draws on her worldwide outdoor adventure experience to facilitate international healing retreats for women, couples, mixed groups and corporations. Photo by Mark Trusz