A Dubai journalist tries to bump up his EQ.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Beryl Comar, one of the pioneers of alternative therapy in the UAE, sat down with a client in her Jumeirah office and closed her eyes. "Breathe," she said. "Just breathe." Comar, who established her practice in Dubai in 1981, has become the emirate's go-to authority for people looking to improve their emotional intelligence, or EQ. The Comar promise, according to her website, is "wellness, healing and happiness" - for Dh500 per hour. The session on this particular afternoon was with a 46-year-old journalist named Chris, and it would entail two hours of neuro-linguistic programming, a technique that aims to help people think and feel differently about their lives.
"By the time you're 46, you've had every emotion you will ever have," Comar said at the start of the session. "We just need to sort it out so you'll behave like a 46-year-old instead of a six year old." She added: "I did have another journalist in a few years ago. She couldn't even get into a swimming pool because of a fear of sharks. She got rid of the fear in one session." The bulk of Comar's clients come to her for help with what she calls the "three esses": smoking, stress and slimming. Chris's problem was a pathological fear of flying, a condition that reached its climax last year, when a plane he was on had trouble with its landing gear on a descent into Heathrow. "Let's go right back to the beginning," Comar said, pulling out a sheet of paper, "when the sperm meets the egg." She rapidly filled the paper with concentric circles and words like "beliefs," "willpower" and "lazy."
For the next 45 minutes or so, Chris sat in an armchair opposite the therapist, answering questions about his family, drinking habits and hobbies. Bespectacled and slightly overweight, he wore a pale blue shirt, tan pants and purple suede ankle boots. Comar was about a decade older and a foot shorter, sporting the tousled hair, baggy clothing and oversized beads favoured by hip headmistresses. "Panic and fear go back to beyond consciousness," she said. "My job is to get from here" - she tapped the word "conscious" with her pen - "to here" - she tapped again on "subconscious."
Comar went on to illustrate the difficulties involved in this endeavour by imagining a dialogue between the rational, analytical self and the emotional, reflexive self. "I will not smoke," she growled, mimicking Reason. "I will not have negative thoughts." Emotion responded in a whiny falsetto: "But it makes me feel better, uhh-uhh-uhh, I can't help it." Comar tapped the page again, vigorously. "Consciousness only accounts for 10 per cent of our being. So who do you think wins?" She paused and added, "the 90 per cent!"
Her ultimate aim, Comar added, is to reconcile the emotional, pre-logical side of a person with his more sensible side. It's not enough to know that the majority of plane journeys don't result in fiery horror, you have to feel this fact in your very deepest parts. "I have the wrong job description," she said. "I'm not a hypnotist; I'm a de-hypnotist. My job is to rid you of all these feelings that have built up over the years, to take you back to the moment you were born, that feeling of having no anger, no guilt, no fear." With this, Comar kicked off her shoes and stood up: "Time to do some work."
The first order of business was to establish Chris's historical timeline, which - for the purposes of the session - ran along the floor from a sliding-glass door to the office's back wall. "Step onto the line," Comar said. "Now close your eyes and think about yourself. I want you to think about all the resources you have, your inner strengths. I want you to feel them. Tell me about them." Chris said that he was strong, honest, loyal and good with words. "Are you a capable person?" Comar asked. "Well," Chris replied, "don't ask me to fix a washing machine."
Comar ignored the remark. "Right, breathe deeply and put all your resources into this hand, your basket of resources there," she said. "Feel them, feel what it's like to be you. Isn't it a good feeling?" Chris nodded. "Now turn around and look at your past. This is what made you. Without everything that's happened, you wouldn't be who you are. This is your life. This is what made you." Chris nodded again. "Now step into that thing with the aeroplane, about a year ago. You're thinking, 'My God, I'll never survive this.' But you do, you do."
"I might not next time," Chris said. "But you do," said Comar. "You do. How do you feel about that?" "I feel OK. But I'm not up there." "But you are in your mind. What's imagined becomes reality. You're circling Heathrow, but you know the plane will land and everything will be OK. You're up there, you're banking, but you're resourceful, strong. You know you're going to land. Tell yourself you're going to land. Everything is fine. I know everything is fine. Tell yourself: I get through this. I'm fine! It feels good, doesn't it? You're a survivor!"
Things continued in this vein, with Chris stepping in and out of various upsetting and humiliating chapters in his life - telling the bullied 11-year-old that he'll get through this, the hormonal 16-year-old that he'll get through this, the recently laid-off editor that he'll get through this. Chris did it all, hopping back and forth along his timeline, dipping into his basket of resources and telling himself that he'll be fine.
Finally, Comar asked Chris to turn toward his future. "Take a step," she said, "and another step, and another big step. Where are you?" By then, Chris had almost reached the far wall. "I'm dead," he said.