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Story - Stars Above The Road by Treasa O'Driscoll

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STARS ABOVE THE ROAD, by Treasa O'Driscoll available through or by calling Treasa at 1-705-722-5408.

Treasa listed writing a book as one of her goals during a group session with Ross at the Institute.


Stars Above the Road is a magnificent chronicle of an individual's journey toward the process not only of self-healing, but of understanding and growing with the world around her. There is a spirit of enquiry in this book that moves throughout these pages, anomating every word and infusing the text with an energy that guides the will to love above the trials and tribulations of the world, and there it illumines as a beacon. On this truly remarkable journey, the stars not only shine above the road, but reach down and touch the soul.

                                              Bruce Meyer, author of The Golden Thread



Into The Deep Heart’s Core   


By Treasa O'Driscoll



And the spark behind fear

recognized as life, leaps

into flame….

                       David Whyte


            My involvement with the work of Dr. Ross Laing, who ranks, in my opinion, as a significant western Master and teacher of perennial wisdom, deserves a book in itself. A member of his core group from 1988 to 1990, I sat in the circle with him on a almost daily basis and learned through direct experience how to identify underlying patterns in human behaviour that interfere with our fundamental desire, to love and be loved by one another.

            Ross chooses to describe himself as a metaphysician in the Socratic mode and a radical psychiatrist in the Claude Steiner mode. The Toronto Institute of Self Healing became the context for a new style of encounter he introduces to a growing number of people seeking to become more genuine in their relationships. It was my privilege to engage with Dr. Laing in the first wave of this experiment through which I experienced fundamental life changes and profound psychological healing. In his approach, self healing is defined as ‘becoming the true self’.  His genius was to make people realize that the manner in which they thought, felt, and acted brought about their actual state of being. People could enter deeply into the present moment and begin to throw off the burdens of the past in the environment of safety and acceptance Ross could provide. 

    In our current climate of specialization, clear lines are drawn between professions and it is rare to encounter a doctor who embodies and fulfills the originally integrated functions of physician/ priest/ philosopher. Laing presents a paradigm of wholeness that promotes a healthy functioning at physical, emotional and spiritual levels of being. He said once, “What we are working with here is consciousness, seeking to transform it from the state in which we find it.”

        His stated aim is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable and my experience of his therapy included both these modalities. Ross offered me and others the opportunity to observe how remote our habitual behaviour was from what we wishfully imagined it to be, how far removed we were in the actual living of our lives from the ideals we espoused. He reminded us that Aldous Huxley was on the right track when he wrote:


If only I knew who in fact I am, I should cease to behave as what I think I am. If I stopped behaving as what I think I am, I should know who I am.


            Acquiring a whole new set of concepts from the New Age smorgasbord will not of itself guarantee a fundamental change in behaviour. A close friend, Anne Stockton once remarked to me, “Ideas do a stimulating dance in the middle of our space. But do they travel horizontally in one ear and out the other? What trickles down into the heart? How much drips down into the will?”

    The symptoms of distress in evidence in our lives belong to a culture we all help to shape. The antidote must also arise out of that social context I believe. The one-on-one relationship between therapist and client is but one aspect of  a more comprehensive group process. Any dysfunction in social interaction can be identified and healed in a safe and therapeutic environment.

Those who sought Dr. Laing out  were suffering from contraction in the soul life, in flight from circumstances that brought hidden fears to the surface of consciousness; fear of failure, fear of success, fear of violence, fear of intimacy, fear of life. The variations on the theme were endless although we might not have been able to identify their common source. Ross, through vigorous discipline and witnessing, had already found the depths of love within himself to lead us into an open-eyed encounter with the autonomous force of fear itself. This truly was my entry into what Yeats had termed the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. Another revered friend Robert Sardello had made his own brave entry into the fray with the publication of his book Freeing The Soul From Fear.  He said of fear in his introduction:


Besides showing up as individual psychological difficulties, we now have to contend with this destructive force as a cultural phenomenon that touches us all more deeply and significantly than we might ever imagine. The soul life of humanity is in danger….


Ross developed four basic principles which are fundamental to my life and which I continue to share with others. They are the following:


Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing

To breathe in such a way that the waist expands to its maximum at each breath for twenty minutes twice a day.



As we began each conscious breathing session Ross encouraged us to repeat the following words: “I am willing to experience and express the fullness of my feelings and thoughts in ways that uplift me and all creation.”



We were frequently reminded to express self appreciation, self-acknowledgement and unconditionally loving compassion, to foster a spirit of gratitude and celebration, to engage in physical stroking that would create a sensation of warmth in the heart.



We had to present a willingness to explore the concept of taking full responsibility for creating the quality of our own experience.


  Ross devised these guidelines while holding steady to his goal of thirty years. He had witnessed his beloved brother die at the age of twenty of Hodgkin’s disease. He resolved then to devote himself to finding the cause of and antidote to the cancerous condition.  He became convinced that our way of breathing is crucial to our health and well being.   He could also prove that the inner picture we carry of ourselves, positive or negative, influences our state of bodily health and our quality of life. He had once been a shy, awkward and relatively anti-social person himself:“ Nobody could  empty a room faster than I could.” As we sat contentedly in his peaceful, loving and magnetic presence we could hardly believe this to be true but it helped us to realise that we too might create an environment to accord with our inner aspirations. “The more you visualise the qualities you aim towards the more form will follow. There are contrary influences, dependencies, but they do not determine the outcome!” we were told.


                                   Becoming Free


The greater the difficulties the greater the potential for good contained in them. I sought refuge at the Institute when I could no longer cope with the daily circumstances of my life…..

I have already alluded to the manic depressive disorder that became entrenched in my husband. This naturally caused great upheaval in our household and resulted in his periodic suspension from university teaching. The family became used to a survival mode that functioned in reaction to the enfant terrible in our midst, all attempts to establish a routine were confounded, even the distinction between day  and night became blurred for me when a manic phase took hold. My social life dwindled to nothing and most of our friends dropped away, with the notable exception of Bill Graham(now Canada’s minister for Foreign Affairs)and his remarkable wife Cathy, the generosity of whose  spirit, the practicality of whose assistance has left our family forever in their debt.  I was torn between a need to protect the children and compassion for Bob, in whom this syndrome had taken root after a near-fatal car accident, years before. Having myself been relegated to the position of enemy in his bizarre order of things, I had to accept that there was no further hope for communication with the person with whom I had shared so much. Yet I hesitated to take the step of leaving with the children, afraid of the battle that might ensue.....           



      I remember Dr. Laing’s first question:

      “Why are you here?”

      “I am here because I can no longer cope with my husband’s paranoia.”

      “You cannot cope with your paranoia.” he responded.

      “You misunderstand me, Dr. Laing. I am speaking about my husband’s paranoia.”

      “Your husband is your mirror,” he gently replied.



      My cry of dismay at the shock of this possibility was my first introduction to the notion that my own inner state might be somehow reflected in the external conditions of my life. I was unaware as yet, that the numbness I experienced in my physical body was due to the grip that fear had on me at a cellular level. This manifested in my environment as severe emotional disturbance always claiming my attention. There were daily revelations after that about the underlying patterns in attitude and behaviour that led me to experience these circumstances. I learned about my own neurosis by watching and assisting other group members in their processing of similar material and through Ross’ intuitive interventions. All my life I had been excessively tolerant of unwelcome behaviour, hungry for approval. I had avoided confronting issues out of fear of reprisal and was always more than willing to compromise my own wishes.

   The only curriculum at this academy was life itself and our homework entailed a willingness to deal with issues that arose on the home front. I found that it was much easier to be strong and to hold one’s ground when supported by a trusted community. Every direction given to me by Ross was intuitively right and guaranteed to empower me. He noticed, for instance, that I could hardly utter one sentence without mentioning the name of my husband with whom I was excessively preoccupied. He asked me to count the number of these references made in the course of the day. I had to continue to report on this in nightly phone calls to him until I had entirely broken the habit. Habits do not evaporate of themselves but we can outwit them if we adopt the right strategy. The energy that is thereby released can be channelled into more positive action.

      After two years of attendance at the Institute, I had succeeded in breaking free of my own entanglement with Bob’s behaviour, which remained unaltered. Only I had changed, and could now remove myself from the situation. Ross’ definition of the guilt that had dogged me, “The impulse to change being turned back against oneself,” had helped to free me of it. I had a new and practical goal to live up to-the ability to maintain an open heart regardless of circumstances. Nor did I harbour any more illusions that I could help anybody who had not specifically asked for help.

            The emphasis on our group work was not so much on what we would talk about, but on how we spoke to one another. Ross operated on the premise that ninety four percent of the unspoken in our communication can be gleaned from the tone of our voices. When we really listen we become aware that most people speak out of a tone of desperation, he said, and this is due to the fact that we were never truly loved for our own sake. I was often stopped in mid-sentence: “Are you aware of your tone?” In listening to others we were encouraged to hear what was going on behind the words and to respond accordingly, thus establishing more of a feeling connection with the other.

      We learned to question one another without resorting to accusations, never starting with “You should....” or “You always...” or “You did not...” Ross also expressed the wish to “ clear the world of gossip”. This impressed me particularly, as one of a race about whom G.K. Chesterton said: “The Irish are a fair people. They never speak well of one another!” We agreed to only speak well of one another in absence but to be very direct with our hidden judgements in the context of the group.

            When criticism was levelled in its proper context and resolved there and then, it curbed our tendency towards backbiting. A decision not to speak about anything that transpired in the group, increased the energetic momentum and ensured the integrity of our whole endeavour.

      I resorted often to poetry in the course of this process and I spontaneously recited at moments when we were all at a loss for words. One of my favourites is by R.D. Laing. A namesake and mentor for Ross, this maverick Scottish psychiatrist had based his research on the observation that, We experience each others behaviour.  We do not experience each others experience….


         There is something I don’t know

            that I’m supposed to know,

            I don’t know what it is I don’t know,

            And yet am supposed to know,

            And I feel I look stupid

            if I seem both not to know it

            And not know what is I don’t know.

            Therefore I pretend I know it

            This is nerve-racking

            since I don’t know what I must

            pretend to know.

            Therefore I pretend to know everything…….


      What happened at the Institute constituted the only show in town for a period of time. There I could observe and participate in an unfolding, never-ending human drama. I witnessed scenes of apparent conflict and saw them move towards resolution. I noticed the scapegoating which is such a part of all group interaction, was laid to rest as families were restored to the fundamental vibration of love that bound them in the first place. Family members flew in from far-flung places when a moment of reconciliation was at hand. Such joyful reunions confirmed my belief in the power of love. I often lay on the carpet and listened to Ross interact with new arrivals. One day, a couple in their twenties presented their story. They had fallen in love with each other and had decided to live together, only there was a snag -the young man already had a wife. What should they do? Ross’ first question was addressed to the girl:

                        “Have you spoken to your sister?”

                   “I don’t have a sister,” came her reply.


      He repeated the question twice until she realized that the sister he had in mind was the woman whose husband she desired. Ross then suggested that she attend their next session because she too was a vital player in whatever would enfold. In listening to such exchanges I was always tuning into that-which-is-not-yet, becoming acquainted with the presence I mentioned earlier in another of its guises. I will leave the reader with some of the other lines spoken by Ross, which drifted in my direction forever etched in memory:


“Healing is perfectly natural. The only reason we don’t know about this is that we work against it twenty-four hours of the day. You don’t have to do anything except breathe with the diaphragm and be willing to experience the fullness of feeling.”


“You must demonstrate your ability to keep your word no matter what.”



  “Unless information is embodied it has no chance of generation.”


“My definition of unconditional love is the practice of unconditionally living on the creative edge.”