“The best I ever had? That’s tough.”
“Come on. I’m sure you’ve had plenty.”
“Well, I’ve certainly had more than my share. But picking the best, that’s not easy.”
“Okay, how about you pick the best ‘aha’ moment? You know, a time when the light went on and the world lined up just right.”
“I haven’t had many of those, but there is one that stands out.”
“Come on. Let’s hear it.”
“I was sitting naked in one of the hot tubs at Esalen, looking out at the Pacific Ocean after a blissful massage, and suddenly realized my life was crap.”
“What? That was a peak moment?”
“Well, not in a kumbaya way. But, right then I knew I needed to feel more like I did in that moment. My life, which looked good enough on the outside, wasn’t going the way I’d hoped it would.”
“Yeah. I know that feeling.”
“So what about you? What’s the best therapy–kumbaya–aha moment you’ve ever had?”
I was kind of curious to hear it for myself. Eavesdropping on these women while they stood in the reception line, I hadn’t been surprised by what the first had said. Most likely, we can all relate in some way. Maybe not in the naked-Esalen-tub way, but in the way of our lives not being all we’d like them to be. Sometimes it becomes abundantly clear that if we don’t do something, nothing is going to change. That realization is terrifying, liberating, empowering, and life-altering all at once.
So, yeah, I was curious what her friend had to say.
“I’m gonna go another way. I can relate to the realization that your life needs some upgrading, but the moment I’m thinking about is when I was lost in bliss.”
You know that moment right after you have a really good climax and all the tension leaves your body and you feel light and carefree?”
“Boy, do I. I wouldn’t mind some more of that this week.”
“I’m with you on that.”
“I was in the midst of one of those glorious moments. I had nothing to do but languish in it. It was serene. I was lost in space, just floating aimlessly with no cares, when I heard my husband yell out from downstairs, ‘Where the hell is dinner?’”
“What? No, you’re kidding.”
“Bless the man. I knew right then and there I couldn’t live with him another day. That was one of the best days of my life, right there.”
I don’t know if it was one of her husband’s best days, but maybe. If that relationship wasn’t right for her, it wasn’t right for him. But that’s easy for me to say as I didn’t have to go through that upheaval.
I was enjoying listening to these women swap stories about impactful moments in their lives. I suppose this was as good a place as any to be having those discussions. We were checking in to the American Association of Humanistic Psychology’s 1983 annual conference in Santa Barbara, California. Most of the attendees were therapists, graduate students, or educators, here for a ten-day conference dedicated to learning and experiencing the latest theories and practices.
It wasn’t long ago that I’d been to the Annual Conference of Sex Therapists and Surrogates and got caught up in a murder mystery. I’d stood in that reception line and overheard a couple of women talking about the best sex of their lives. Soon thereafter, the keynote speaker had been kidnapped, then murdered. I got swept up in the action—it was a sex conference, after all—and ended up solving the mystery. Here I was, back in the reception line of another annual conference, overhearing two women talk about peak therapeutic experiences.
And So It Begins
July 27, 1983
I have two jobs. As a licensed therapist I’m required by the state licensing bureau to obtain thirty-six hours of continuing education every two years. As a professor, I don’t have to keep brushing up on my skills. Colleges assume you’ll keep on learning as you go. As a therapist, I have to log in that learning. One way of obtaining those hours is to go to a conference, attend some workshops and learn a thing or two that will theoretically help you improve your therapeutic endeavors.
I pay lip service to mandatory continuing education because I believe we all can learn more about how to work and live better. I whine about having to attend conferences because they require my time and money, and I don’t always feel like I get full value in return. Of course, you could say you get out what you put in, and you wouldn’t be wrong. It’s just that I sometimes prefer to talk the talk than walk the walk.
Still, here I was in my hotel room, unpacking and wondering where to eat. The opening session didn’t begin till seven, so I had a couple of hours to kill.
I hadn’t been to Santa Barbara before. Less than two hours north of Los Angeles, it was an easy drive, but one I’d never made. If I had to give up ten days of my life, why not spend it on the American Riviera and learn a thing or two?
The first thing I needed to learn, though, was where to eat and how to get there.
The Miramar had its own restaurant. I figured I’d be spending plenty of time there, so I decided to go see some of the town. A bright-eyed college-aged receptionist recommended La Super-Rica for some “authentic” Mexican cuisine. Sounded good to me.
The Miramar stood at the western edge of Montecito, the upscale part of town with more estates than homes. The property was on a prime piece of ocean-front real estate, but with flaws that made it affordable. I don’t know which came first—the hotel, the train, or the freeway. Either way, there was this quaint hotel by the ocean that had a freeway on one side, the ocean on the other, and a train track running in between.
I drove over the freeway and onto a frontage road that passed a golf course; that, too, might also have been cursed by the freeway. Milpas Street had car-repair shops, a Winchell’s Donuts, appliance stores, and a faded turquoise wooden shack— the home of La Super-Rica Taqueria. The menu was written on a chalkboard on the wall and didn’t look like it changed often. I ordered Tacos de Bistec and a Corona. I sat in a covered porch area with tables.
I’m mostly comfortable eating by myself, though I like a book for companionship. I was reading The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley and appreciating what one reviewer called his “curled- lip repartee.”
“Excuse me, may I join you?”
“Sure, sugar,” is what Crumley might have written, but I opted for, “Why not?”
“Thanks. I’m having a bit of an issue and I thought, well, hoped, you could be of assistance.”
“What’s going on?” I said as I closed the book.
“I know you may not know anything, but I have to think you know something.”
“That’s very kind of you.”
“You’re welcome. Is it all right with you if I have a bite of your taco? I haven’t eaten since I can’t remember when, and my order won’t be ready for a while. You can have some of mine when I get it.”
I gestured toward my plate at about the same time as she scooped up the steak taco; she chewed vigorously, and quickly finished it off. I have to admit, I was impressed. Partly that she’d eaten the whole thing— which went against my sharing creed— but mainly that she did so without getting any sauce on her face, hands, or clothes. I’d have sauced all three.
When she was done, she leaned forward to take some of my beer, then thought better of it. Instead, she got up and went over to a shelf where the utensils, napkins and drinking water were housed. I got a better look at her as she stood there and drank a full glass of water. She caught me looking at her and gave me a “I needed that” look. Which from all appearances, she did.
She was a good-looking woman. Brown shoulder-length hair, blue eyes, warm countenance and a pleasing figure. But there was no sense of her being at peace with the world. She was clearly agitated. Though she had her assertion skills down pat.
“Here’s the story,” she began as she sat down. “I saw you in the reception line at the hotel so I figured you’re a shrink or a teacher or have some acquaintance with the healing profession. Right?”
“I’d say you got three out of three on that.”
“Good. See, I told you I thought you knew something. You chose to come to this conference. That tells me something about you. You could have gone to the American Psychological Association’s annual conference but I’m betting that group is too tight-assed for you.”
“Your batting average is holding.”
“So, given those qualifications, I thought you could help me out.”
“Well, you have my attention. Not sure if I can bat as well as you, but I’m happy to come up to the plate. Waddaya got?”
“That’s part of the problem. I can’t tell you. I need your help and right now I really can’t tell you why.”
“You want me to help you out but you can’t tell me why, is that right?”
“Yes. Later, I can tell you, but now I can’t.”
“Okay. How about telling me what you want me to do?”
“Well, I can’t really tell you that either. You’re just going to have to trust me.” She shrugged as if to suggest that it was no big deal.
“All right, let me see if I get this. You want me to help you. You’re not going to tell me why, or what you want me to do. Is that it?”
“See? You’re a good listener. I knew you’d be able to help.”
“Thank you for the gracious words and for trying to butter me up. Can you give me any more information? Like a little of what you want me to do aside from sit with you and share my tacos?”
“Certainly. It’s really quite simple. When we finish our tacos, I want you to leave with me. When we get around the corner I’m going to blindfold you, take you to my car, and drive you somewhere. Once we get there I can explain more.”
“That’s it? That’s all you want?”
“The opening session at the conference begins at seven. It’s around six now. Do you think we could do this so I get back in time?”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“There’s the problem. Otherwise it sounds like a promising evening.”
“Don’t worry about the opening session. It’ll just be some welcome speeches.”
“That would be true at the American Association, but not at the Humanistic Association. At this conference they’ll do something experiential to get us involved. Plus, I need to get four hours of Continuing Credit signed off.”
“You’ll have other opportunities to get the hours, but this moment is about something else.”
“I’m on a tight schedule with those hours. I’ve sort of charted out what I’d need to do and when I can take off. I was counting on getting those four.”
“It’s only the beginning. Lighten up. Now come on, eat up and let’s go.”
She got up and collected her order. When she came back she said, “Besides, they’ll probably call off the evening because somebody will get kidnapped or something.”
“Yeah, that’ll happen.”
“You never know.”
“I have to admit, I’m intrigued. But we need to have a little talk first.”
“Go on,” she said as she ate her taco without offering me any.
“I’m not really into domination. If you’re going to tie me up and have me do things I’d rather not do, I’m going to the conference.”
“No no no. This is nothing like that. I need to take you someplace and you can’t know where it is. Once we’re there, I’ll take the blindfold off.”
“That’s comforting. Can you give me some idea about what’s going to happen when we get there? Do I need to be concerned about bodily harm?”
“That’s where the trust comes in. I need you to trust me.”