First remove distractions— let others know not to bother you.
Make yourself comfortable, so that your thoughts are on the image and nothing else.
My daughter, the younger twin, has had trouble sleeping lately. After days of patting her back, staring out the skylight at the stars, drying her tears, I figured that we were doing it wrong. I found some guided imagery prompts which we listened to right before bed. It worked. The narrator’s voice, firm but inviting, soothed away her insomnia.
Get completely focused. The more focused you are the better.
Imagine yourself walking along an old country road. The sun is warm on your back, the birds are singing, the air is calm and fragrant.
You find yourself in an overgrown garden, flowers growing where they have seeded themselves, vines climbing over a fallen tree, green grass, and shade trees. Breathe deeply, smelling the flowers.
If the meditation goes well for me I’m instantly on the wildflower-lined road by the house we rented last summer, a hundred feet up a steep ravine from the southwest end of Skaneateles Lake. The ravine continues up behind the road and is threaded with red flowers.
The path takes you out into a sunlit clearing where you discover a small and picturesque waterfall.
I’m transported down this road to the other side of the lake where there are mini waterfalls and a tiny beach littered with fossils. Fossils on this, the clearest of all the Finger Lakes. Its water is cool but not cold, and rests in a glacier-carved v-shaped bed that is three hundred fifteen feet deep. I sift through shards of black rock stamped with primeval shells.
Feel the gentle breeze, warm against your skin.
When the meditation doesn’t go well, I’m replaying my run down the street, a hot July wind at my back. I don’t even bother to put on my sneakers because my water shoes seem comfortable enough. I wasn’t planning on going for too long anyway. It’s just that after a few days with my water-loving family I need to feel the ground again. I run past houses: a teardown listed for $500,000, a retired Amtrak car-turned-house with flowers in the garden. I see a man standing in front of a septic truck. He raises his eyebrows and waves at me. I hesitate, then half-smile back. Minutes later I pull over to the rocky shoulder as two men in an old blue Ford pickup roll past. They stare hard at me and I feel my heartbeat travel up my aorta into my neck; if I screamed, who would hear me?
You come to a wooded area where the trees become denser. The air feels mild, and a bit cooler. You become aware of the sound of a nearby brook.
The ravine is getting shorter and shorter and suddenly I see it: the end of the lake. Here it looks like just an ordinary lake, nothing special, without the geologic intricacy of the Finger Lakes. It’s narrow at the end, rounded, and there are unkempt bushes creeping over an unwelcoming beach. Someone has chained a sign between two trees: Warning: Private Property. A brook dribbles out of the southern edge of the lake.
The brook is clear and clean as it tumbles over the rocks and some fallen logs.
I know what’s beyond the tip of the lake, where that brook goes. We drove through on our way in from Syracuse, where we stopped for vegan milkshakes. It’s a vast swath of rural hills, farms tucked into the valleys. It goes on for miles and miles, all the way through the Pennsylvania border. It’s long stretches of roads with no cell signal, no gas stations. It’s beautiful country, barely a hundred fifty miles from the flat, sprawling suburbs where I grew up. It feels bigger than the entire state of Massachusetts, where I live now. It’s purple mountain majesty and amber waves of grain. It’s signs proclaiming Trump’s 2020 victory. When we did find a gas station we weren’t the only Chevy in the place, but we were the only plug-in hybrid in a sea of trucks. I felt the stares of men piercing me through my window. It was summer and there was no hiding the depth of my brown skin from them.
It’s now time to return. You leave this secret retreat for now, and return down the country road.
The road continues past the end of the lake but I turn around and head back up the hill to our rental house. The blue pickup drives by me a second time. Again the men stare. Why are they back so soon, I wonder. Ahead I see the septic truck driver doing a three point turn in the narrow street. Now he’s heading towards me. He laughs and waves again. It’s hard to run on the uneven shoulder. I take shallow breaths until I no longer smell the diesel from his truck.
I don’t see anyone else until I’m nearly at the house. Down the street, an Asian woman is walking with a white man. Like us, I think. The fear I had while running dissolves. I smile at them and they wave back. Below me, the lake is deep and still and ancient. I hear my children’s shrieks and my husband’s whoops, as they jump off the dock into the water. Part of me wants to live here, right in this spot, to watch the leaves turn in fall, the furious snows through the long winter, and the vulnerable, bare earth before the turn of summer; to see the water undulate from shore to shore over and over again; to witness imprints in the sand set into fossils.
Then, back to the room, slowly open your eyes, and remember, you can visit this place whenever you wish.
My daughter is ready for sleep. I kiss her forehead and tuck the blanket around her shoulders. I don’t ask where her country road took her.
Meditation prompts excerpted from Guided Imagery: Country Road; CBT-i Coach app Version 2.1, 2022