Reflections and Dreams in the Windy City

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Getting There

I’d been on plenty of planes before, sure never as far, but I’ve done some miles in a variety of metal birds that had varying degrees of air-worthiness.
So why today??
As I was being jostled along in a packed shuttle bus a crazy thought had jumped into my consciousness and stubbornly refused to go away.

“What if I have a panic attack???”

In truth this thought hadn’t really come out of the blue.
It had first tapped my shoulder a week before whilst sitting in the dentist’s chair and calming myself down in preparation for the yearly excavations.

My mouth was inelegantly agape and the familiar sharp stabbing in my gum heralded the approach of me mimicking Sylvester Stallone due to lips and tongue refusing to function in their customary fashion.
What certainly was not customary was the room spinning with increasing velocity and my hastily eaten roasted vegetable wrap threatening to
reappear at the same rate of knots.
In truth, despite the dentist’s profuse apologies that she had used adrenaline-
based anaesthesia, this had really shook me up.

So here it was again, that thought that had kept gate crashing my life
since that aborted dental treatment.

“What if I have a panic attack?”

I couldn’t explain it and I couldn’t explain it away.
I was willing to have it, I think I was willing to have it but I would rather It didn’t bring nausea along with it.

As I buckled myself into the diminutive economy seat that American Airlines call generous, I felt a jolt in my stomach as the flight attendant closed the door and I found myself going through the Rain Man in my head and trying to remember if they had a good safety record or not.
I knew I should have booked Quantas…….

Thankfully the in - flight entertainment was on demand and I forced my eyes to squint at the matchbox screen and immersed myself in the Bucket List.

Morgan Freeman, whom I have loved since Shawshank , uttered an amazing string of words that I struggled to hear above the turbulence and I found myself reaching for an imaginary Sky + Remote so I could replay it.
Thankfully he said it again later on.

“When Edward Cole died, his eyes were closed and his heart was open……”

The nausea didn’t subside but my other nagging doubt was answered;
this was why I was shoehorned into a tin, hurtling across the Atlantic
coming face to face with my fear of speaking in public.

The First Evening

The early registration that evening was a bit of an anti-climax.
We had assembled in the bowels of the Hilton in a room that was overwhelmingly dark and Spartan.

It was great to see Steve, Kelly and the other glitterati.
It’s a strange sensation to feel so close to people that you don’t know very well at all by standard measures.

Emily was working hard to get everybody their badges and folders.
My badge had a small sash attached in a lovely shade of purple, the word “Speaker” came as a jolt.
In fact I unaccountably lost this badge later that evening;
I clearly was still in two minds.

The Workshop Days

What can I say about Kelly Wilson?
In reality Kelly is open to you; open in a way that is quite intoxicating because when you are with Kelly you know you’re with another human being and he speaks to that part of ourselves that is quintessentially human.

He’s an extraordinary man.

I had landed and was in the swing of it, I was a long way from familiar surroundings but was feeling right at home.

Conference Day One

A rousing welcome speech was followed by the desperate rushing around to find the right room for the first session.

Luckily for me I found the Alumni Lounge almost straightaway and was treated to a soothing and familiar walk around the Hexaflex courtesy of
D J and Patti Bach.

I love the style that DJ and Patti have when working together.
If someone said they were non – identical twins, I’d believe it.

The afternoon was tremendously inspiring.
The skills – based workshop of Niklas Torneke and Jason Luoma was
an absolute joy.

I haven’t sat in any of Niklas’s sessions before and it was great to have put that right, he’s a very gifted clinician and trainer.
I had already had the pleasure of many sessions with Jason, so I got what I expected, tremendous skill in a very human context.

To say I learnt a lot was an understatement, more so I was reminded of the courage people have and the steps they take in really showing up.

One of many humbling experiences made all the sweeter for getting to meet Kelly Koerner in person.

Kelly was my “buddy” during an online ACT course we did together.
Another truly gifted human being; our community is so rich with people like Kelly being a part of it.

A tremendous Plenary followed.
Hats off to Stefan Hoffman for having the integrity to come and put his point of view – not that we are in any way a hostile crowd – but it is always heart warming for me to see someone stand up for what they believe in.

Conference Day Two

Russ Harris was another guy that had been in my to do list for far
too long. I managed to put that right and his presentation on
ACT with couples was right on the money.

I would urge anybody that has not yet seen Russ to take the opportunity.

The afternoon was a mixture for me.
I saw Jen Gregg and her husband Glenn Callaghan on a session on relationship in ACT.
I think it was helpful for the theme that they were in a relationship themselves as it added great colour and richness to the presentation.

It was slightly unnerving at times as one felt one was eavesdropping on a couple having a private conversation, such was their openness.


The down side was seeing them struggle in a room that had no air, and little light – this was where I would be tomorrow for my presentations.

The thought came again.

“What if I have a panic attack?”

Then there was Steven Hayes.

Steve’s speech on the roots of compassion was simply breathtaking.

You know that simple exercise when you bring a finger close to your eyes and stare at it intently, and everything else goes out of focus?

Well that’s what it was like for a moment or two – there was you and Steve and the space in-between and nothing else was visible.

In the middle of this ballroom it was just you and him, dancing through his life – humbling, truly humbling.

In those moments he summed up for me why I do ACT, why I do the job I do, why I try and pay attention with intention.

Then off to the follies, wonderful, wonderful stuff. Sonja in her garden!!!

I didn’t stay long as I wanted an early night but I did see DJ and Chad
do a tremendous Blues Brothers Song – neat as DJ would say.

Patti did a fantastic PowerPoint of ACT processes from a birds eye view.
I hadn’t realised that Patti was an Ornithologist, she is really.

I took myself to bed before I got too engrossed, it was the first time
for ages that I had laughed myself to sleep.

Conference Day Three

Friday morning brought more nausea which was unwelcome but also
brought Robyn Walser and the therapeutic relationship which was
very welcome indeed.

What more can be said about Robyn?

Many have spent time with her in various far – flung corners of the world, She reaches out and connects to people so effortlessly and compassionately.

Unfortunately for me there was too much adrenaline flying around my body for me to connect and be present as much as I would have wished.
I was simply too agitated.

So I spent a lot of the morning dipping in and out of sessions but
mostly hugging the coffee urn in the foyer.

Lunchtime came and, rather than heading outside to the picnic benches
for frenetic accounts of the inspirations of the morning, it heralded the first of my two sessions.

I loped down to the unwelcoming dark of the Trustee Dining Room and
got set up for the main event.

Me in the blue corner and my fears in the red.

Early in the week Russ Harris had accidentally emptied a glass of water over my shirt and trousers and had meant I had walked around looking like I was engaged in a therapist assisted exposure exercise.

I could have done with that drenching now, I felt as hot as Hades.

In truth my sessions came and went, some of what I feared I did experience, a lot didn’t happen at all.

The most unsettling thing was the audience dwindling hour by hour,
that was the downside to being on the last afternoon; planes to catch.
It was like the incredible shrinking workshop.

And then it was over; stumbling goodbyes in the foyer and before I knew it, I was back in Kitty O’Sheas enjoying one for the road with Robyn, Mary and Ross

And then I was back ensconced in the straightjacket of American Airlines’ economy reflecting on the week that had just whizzed by.

So much had happened that I felt quite heady, unable to process it all.
I would get reminders and remembrances for weeks to follow.

The batteries in my brain had been recharged, in fact you know how hot your mobile phone gets when you leave it plugged in for too long?
I felt like that.

I have found that ACT has brought many surprises to me and opened my eyes in extraordinary ways, mostly when I really show up, in the moment and allow myself to be open to others.

None more so than the joy that has entered my life since getting to
know two antipodeans Mary and Ross.

These guys are the best thing to come out of Australia .

Well apart from AC/DC………..

And Vegemite……………

It was Simon who once said that ACT gave him the opportunity to get
to know some good people better and I would unreservedly agree
and add that I myself am one of those that I have got to know better.

It was a great shame that Joe and Simon were not able to be in Chicago but everyone’s hoping you can be there in Enschede, me especially as without meeting Joe and Simon I very much doubt I would be doing what I am today.

The most important people I have got to know better are my wife and children and whilst I had some anxious moments, especially in the sky, hurtling back to their arms made everything worthwhile.

It had been windy in Chicago but the only thing that had blown me away was the generosity of the Human Spirit.

See you in the Netherlands

Martin Brock
June 2008