I just got back from a bike ride in the beautiful countryside of Central PA where I live and bike paths are plentiful. Are you asking yourself why I am talking about my most recent biking experience but the article is titled, Imago Workshops: The Gift That Just Keeps Giving?
While I was on the ride, I thought about all the experiential similarities that biking and Imago Workshops both have in my life. I began biking again when COVID hit our country. I was suddenly asked to work from home. I am an extrovert who needs other people to gain energy. As a result of the isolation necessary for health safety, I was only able to talk to and see my husband and my clients whom I was able to keep seeing virtually. By the end of March 2019, my husband recognized that we needed to get out of the house to do something physical and fun. His solution was to surprise me by taking me to a friend’s bike store to ride my first E-bike. It was a beautiful day for riding. It was sunny and a perfect temperature. Few people were outside. Traffic was minimal and my husband’s friend had two bikes ready for us to ride and told us to take as long as we wanted.
At first, I felt nervous, careful, anxious and a bit preoccupied about everyone watching me. What if I was terrible at it? I was 59 years old and had not been on a bike in 10 years. I rode slowly at first, not trusting my own ability, especially riding an E-bike for the first time. Until that day I had not heard of E-bikes, let alone ridden one. We rode for an hour and a half! I quickly became more comfortable and confident in my ability to master the new style of bike. Then, I was riding like I never stopped. I was in love with the bike and the feeling of being outside on a sunny day with a cooling and gentle breeze. The sun felt just the right degree of warmth on my skin and I was with my best friend and partner! Then, suddenly, my bike slipped on rocks while I was going downhill. I panicked and pulled the wrong break. The bike went down and I went with it.
I ended up in an ambulance with blood dripping down my forehead and a leg that hurt badly. I fainted until the ambulance arrived and the EMTs woke me up. It took me over a month to recover physically. I was terrified to ride again but I wanted to try. I wanted all the wonderful feelings that had been woke in me from that first ride in March. I was very careful downhill for weeks. Riding on gravel surfaces also seemed too scary. Little by little I was able to ride with a sense of freedom and oneness with the road again. My husband was patient, kind, and encouraging as I attempted to slowly try all the scary things again.
Today, after three-plus years of riding regularly, I have put 2700 miles on my bike. I feel one with my bike. I feel more comfortable riding my bike than walking these days. I am completely in love with riding and it is so much fun. Riding bikes and exploring rail trails has been my favorite new source of fun, exercise, and meditation in motion throughout the pandemic. I have explored new places and made new friends. An unexpected world of others who love riding has opened our lives in unexpected, exciting, and wonderful ways.
Now, how does my bike story connect to Imago Workshops? I attended my first Imago Workshop when I was 27 years old. A good friend of mine who was a psychiatrist in greater Philadelphia and his wife recommended that I go to one. They had done a couple’s workshop just months before. Though I didn’t know anything about what they learned or experienced there the effect on their relationship was obvious. They were more loving and empathic and argued less. Their relationship appeared to be on the mend.
Coinciding with the same time period of time I was realizing something about myself. I was repeating the same relationship trajectory and pattern with different people. Each relationship I had begun with a prospective partner the person was charming and exciting in the beginning. Three to six months into the relationship they all began to look flawed. I would break up with them. I could not understand why I kept attracting the same type of person and ultimately have to break up! I was successful in every other area of adulthood but relationships.
Imago offers several variations of Workshops. One is for those not currently in a committed relationship. This workshop is called, “Keeping The Love You Find: A Guide for Singles”. This is the workshop I first attended at 27 years old. I was curious if anything could help me understand why my patterns in relationships kept repeating despite my best efforts. This is why I was willing to trust my friends and attend the workshop weekend. I was nervous and worried about how I might do or what others would think of me. After all, I was not totally broken! It felt a lot like riding a bike after my bad accident without having ridden for ten years before. I did both anyway because I wanted the experiences I hoped both would provide. I will never forget how scared I felt when I arrived at the Workshop on the first day with strangers. I soon realized most of us were feeling some degree of the same things. The therapist with her husband’s assistance masterfully led the workshop and created a space for all that felt very safe. This allowed me to feel comfortable trying new skills and participating in conversations I never had the way we were having them in the workshop. Imago Relational Therapy has a design that uses language in a brilliant format within the structure of workshops using pre-designed dialogues way. The therapist’s name was Sunny!
Sunny, little by little laid out the Imago Relational theory. She introduced exercises we experienced with partners we were assigned to while in private rooms. Sometimes they would ask for volunteers and demonstrate the exercises. The demonstrations were very enlightening and informative and only added to my willingness to try the skills myself which opened my eyes to ideas and reasons for my own behaviors in relationships. Through a process like this, I had an “ah-ha moment” that answered my question about why I kept being attracted to the same types of people. The more I participated the more understanding and empathy I felt for myself and others. The experience began healing parts of myself that were keeping my patterns in place.
My relationships began to improve a little at a time. There were obvious differences in my patterns. Changes unfolded slowly at first. It took years to find my husband and for us to begin the truly incredible marriage I have been blessed with and continue to have for over 25 years. I believe that I grew into the partner that I am and attracted my wonderful husband into my world as a direct result of the journey that the Imago Workshop launched in my life.
The gift of having improved relationships continues to unfold as I learn to stretch into my growth edges. In my 30
’s I also attended an Imago Workshop designed for couples called, “Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples”. This was yet another level of experience, learning, and healing. There is work we can only do in the context of a committed relationship with someone we care deeply for. Seeing ourselves in the eyes and experiences of our partners deepens our connection. Likewise, beginning to understand how I can impact seeing my partner into his best self enabled me to feel twice as hopeful about having the relationship I wanted.
After I met all the requirements to become a Certified Imago Therapist, I embarked on a year of Imago training. My professional training, my experiences as a past workshop participant, and my continued search for new ways to be a better partner and source of relationship and safety for others is expansive and enriching. Being a practitioner of Imago Therapy feels like the most natural thing I share with others. My home in Central Pennsylvania is devoid of Imago Workshops and has only two Imago Certified therapists. My dream is to inspire others to get the training, become certified as Imago Therapists, strengthen partnerships, and improve families, as well as local and international communities by providing Imago Workshops for couples, singles, and organizations of all types.
As a result of my experience at Imago Workshops, I grew into the partner I wanted to have and found a partner beyond my wildest expectations. My husband Jim & I have co-parented three children into adulthood and share one grandson. The best part is that through it all we have continued being sources of healing and safety to cultivate our relational wellbeing
. My husband/partner is the person I admire most in my life. He is truly my best friend. I could not be blessed with a more loving relationship.
By: Leslie Sullivan, LPC, CAADC, NCC, Certified Imago Therapist