Kieran breathed deep, taking the earthy scent of the incense into his lungs. Music composed of otherworldly stringed instruments and low humming filled the smoke-filled space around him. The music and incense were meant to be soothing, allowing him to sink into the depths of his mind and find a state of peace. Despite trying really hard, he found the smoke overwhelming, and the small jingle of bells within the music continually jarred him back to consciousness. He really just wanted to roll his eyes.
The longer he tried, the more his mind rebelled. Every time he tried to focus solely on his breathing, his mind wandered and he found himself thinking about the list of errands he had yet to run, or the laundry he’d forgotten to put into the dryer. He was constantly fighting to ignore the itch in his legs and the weird ache in his lower back.
Sighing in annoyance, he shook himself and opened his eyes. “It’s not working.”
The instructor, Martin, a middle-aged man who looked like he’d dropped straight out of a New Age handbook, smiled patiently at him. “You can’t expect immediate results, Kieran. Some things just take time.”
Kieran groaned, hating the advice he’d heard a dozen times already. “You keep saying that. As a matter of fact, you’ve said it for three weeks straight now. If I’d been working out in a gym for three weeks, I’d expect to see a change, any change. But I haven’t noticed a damn thing, except that I’ve started to itch more.”
“I’d say that means you’ve made some progress after all. In this day of ambition and stress, it’s very difficult for the average person to relax enough to find inner peace. The mind does not want to know peace; it wants results and answers. That desire is empty, however, it will never be fulfilled and it will always eat away at you. What you’re trying to do here is find a way to push past those earthly desires and find acceptance,” the man told him in a serene voice.
Kieran fought the urge to glare at the strange man. “And I thought I was only here because I was told I needed to relax so I didn’t have a heart attack before I reached thirty.”
Martin smiled. “Then you still have a couple of years before you have to worry about that. More than enough time to master meditation. And that’s the key here, it’s not simply a matter of skill, but of practice. Meditation must be honed just like any other skill. Did you become a successful lawyer overnight?”
“I wouldn’t call myself successful,” Kieran grumbled.
Martin continued to smile patiently. “No?”
Kieran stretched out his legs, hoping to stave off the urge to knock the smile from Martin’s face. “No. I could be doing way better than I am now. As a matter of fact, I should be doing better than I am. I still have a lot of work ahead of me, and it feels like I’m wasting my time sitting around here trying to listen to my own breathing.”
Martin nodded. “I get all sorts in here, but my most difficult patrons tend to be people like you: young executives or lawyers with dreams of being bigger and more important. They dream of greener pastures, or rather, bigger apartments. Those things won’t bring you happiness.”
“Maybe they won’t bring you happiness, but it’s what I want, and it’s what I’ve worked toward for years now. Just being part of a good firm isn’t enough. I don’t care how much Wilson and Thomson have made a name for themselves. I want more than to just be a small cog in an up-and-coming machine,” Kieran snapped.
“And do you think your ambition will bring you happiness?” Martin asked curiously.
“Every time I’ve gotten a step closer to what I want, it’s made me feel good. I don’t see why that should stop when I finally make a real name for myself,” Kieran said.
“Is getting to the top all that matters? There’s something to be said about being at the bottom,” Martin replied.
Kieran narrowed his eyes. “I know damn well what being at the bottom is like, and it’s not happening again. I didn’t come this far just to hover around the middle and be average.”
Martin sighed, shaking his head. “It’s always like this with your sort. It’s always the next important thing. You need to be focused on the now, rather than the future. Thinking about what might happen in the future will bring you nothing but anxiety. While staring back at the past leaves you blind to the hazards before you, looking too far ahead means you miss everything already beside you now.”
Kieran fought the urge to roll his eyes, sinking back to rest on his hands with his legs out before him. When he’d been ‘advised’ to seek alternate treatment for his ‘stress,’ he hadn’t expected to be spending six hours a week with Martin. He guessed if he was someone who bought into the mystical wise man act, the trips to Martin’s little shop and classroom would be considered a blessing. Kieran’s patience was wearing thin, however, and he didn’t appreciate being told that the path he’d made for himself was the wrong one.
Martin eyed him warily. “You aren’t convinced.”
“Should I be? If I followed your advice, I wouldn’t get anywhere in life. I’d be sitting around, gazing at my navel. I came here because I was pretty much forced to, not because I wanted to,” Kieran told him.
“That may very well be part of your problem. You come here grudgingly each time, and you make little to no progress. How can you hope to find inner peace if you’re bitter about the hours you spend here?” Martin asked.
Kieran huffed. “I’m supposed to be learning how to ‘relax a little.’ My bosses aren’t exactly going to be thrilled if I suddenly start ‘living in the moment’ instead of being the lawyer they hired me to be.”
A damn good lawyer was what he was, and he wanted to have more than just recognition. He’d started with only a scholarship to university and his determination to succeed. His ambition had served him well when it came to his grades, and his aggression had done the same in the various clubs he’d joined, including the debate club. By the time he’d been thrown into a real working environment, he’d honed his mind to a razor edge, while always looking for another opponent to test himself against. It wasn’t until Wilson and Thomson had called him for an interview that he really began to feel tested.
“Look, I’m happy doing what I do, okay? I enjoy it, and I’m damn good at it. I don’t want to give that up because some crystal-waving hippie decided I need to gain inner peace,” Kieran finally told him.
Martin chuckled. “You certainly have plenty of aggression stored up. I’m sure that comes in handy.”
Kieran snorted. “Let’s just say my job is a good outlet for it.”
Martin cocked his head. “Have you always had an aggression problem?”
“It’s not a problem, thanks. My dad had a temper and I inherited it, but unlike him, I learned how to put it to good use. When I started displaying signs of his temper, I also started figuring out how to turn it to my advantage,” Kieran said, uncomfortable as the subject shifted away from his job.
That seemed to interest Martin. “Started showing signs of his temper? You didn’t have it when you were younger?”
Kieran flapped his hands annoyingly at the trails of incense smoke wafting around in front of his face. “Are you a meditation instructor or a shrink?”
“Indulge me. Many people who come to me have emotional blockages that can inhibit their progress. I promise I won’t be too invasive,” Martin said gently.
Kieran shrugged. “I wasn’t always like that. I was a pretty quiet kid. But when you grow up with the kind of pissed-off dad I had, you start to pick some of it up, I guess. It started the same time shit always happens: when I became a teenager.”
“Interesting,” Martin hummed.
Kieran finally gave in and rolled his eyes. “Does it really matter? What fucking teenager doesn’t end up moody and grumpy? I was just worse than some, but unlike them and my dad, I didn’t take it out on other people because I wasn’t going to become like them.”
Martin nodded. “And instead, you’ve turned that aggression into a drive to succeed. I’m told you’re quite the sight in the courtroom. There aren’t many lawyers with both your wit and your ruthless drive to win.”
Kieran smirked. “You been talking to a few of the people I stomped on in court?”
Martin’s brow raised as he smiled. “No, that would come from your bosses.”
“You’ve been talking to them?” Kieran asked, stunned.
“Do you really think you were recommended to me directly by accident? You wouldn’t be the first lawyer in their firm who’s been sent my way, and I don’t think you’ll be the last. I might dislike the way they use me to keep their business flowing, but they do quite a good job of keeping my own going at the same time. Anxious accountants and stressed housewives can only pay so many bills after all,” Martin said.
Kieran snorted. “So, I guess you’ve been doing a little future thinking of your own then. Nice to know that under all that crap is a guy who’s just as worried about money as the rest of us.”
Martin shook his head. “What I do here is help people, to the best of my ability. If I’m unable to keep my store open, how can I help them?”
“Whatever makes you feel better,” Kieran replied.
“Still, I do believe I can be of assistance to you,” Martin said.
Kieran groaned, shaking his head as he wondered just what sort of new meditation technique Martin would drum up next. In the three weeks he’d been seeing the man, they’d tried everything from crystals to something to do with his chakras. Not a single technique had done anything for Kieran, and he wasn’t optimistic about whatever else Martin had in mind.
“God, what now? Are you going to have me try to meditate in a river or something?” Kieran asked in exasperation.
Martin stretched his legs out, still smiling. “Oh, it’s obvious to me now that I personally will be unable to help you. There is, however, a group I know who are far more talented in helping people like you.”
Kieran raised a brow. “People like me?”
Martin stood. “Oh yes. People who do not respond to normal techniques. As it stands, you’ve made little progress with me and you’re resistant to any further attempts we might make.”
Kieran winced, remembering what Martin had said a moment before. “And…how much of your…diagnosis are you going to inform my bosses of?”
Martin tapped the nearby speaker, muting the music. “Oh, you can rest assured I will tell them what they need to know. They have, of course, wondered what sort of progress you’ve made so far and I’ve kept them at bay. You’re not the first person I’ve had to send to these friends of mine, however, and I doubt you’ll be the last. Your bosses will be made to understand that, so don’t worry.”
Kieran stood up as well, nervous. “I think I have plenty of reason to worry.”
His bosses had been the ones to advise him to seek out Martin specifically. Kieran could have kicked himself for not realizing beforehand that it meant they probably knew Martin quite well, and would be keeping an eye on Kieran’s progress. The last thing he needed was for Martin to tell them he was a lost cause when it came to his usual techniques and that he needed outside help to get through to Kieran.
“Look, I’ll try harder, alright? I don’t want to have to drag anyone else into this if it’s not necessary,” Kieran told Martin hastily.
“But it is necessary. I do whatever I can to help the people who come through that door looking for my aid, even if it’s grudgingly. You were sent to me to find some measure of peace you can rely on in the demanding course of your work. In three weeks, all I seem to have done is agitate you further. After our little conversation…well, it’s obvious to me that someone with a different skill set is necessary,” Martin said as he pulled his phone out from a drawer.
Kieran fidgeted. “What exactly…do these people do that’s different?”
Martin’s fingers moved across his screen. “It’s a retreat of sorts. You’ll go to them and they’ll…do what they do.”
Alarmed, Kieran stepped forward. “A retreat? I don’t have the time to go to some…cabin in the woods.”
Martin laughed. “I’m sure that Alexander and Mathew will be more than willing to give you the time off, particularly after I have a conversation with them.”
Kieran didn’t like the thought of how close Martin must be with his bosses to refer to them so casually by their given names. “Look, I need you to understand. If I take time off, that’s less time I have to work and make an impression. I haven’t been working for them all that long, but I’ve caught their attention and I can’t afford to let that stagnate while I waltz off into the wilderness.”
“Caught their attention enough that they sent you to me after they got to know you,” Martin added.
Kieran nodded. “Okay, sure, yeah, and maybe they’re right. Maybe I should learn to relax a little. But making me take time off would be a death sentence for my career!”
Martin peered up at him, smiling. “That’s a little dramatic, don’t you think? They wouldn’t send you to me if they weren’t prepared to deal with whatever I might throw your way to help.”
“There’s no way they’re going to just…let me go, not without consequences,” Kieran protested.
“They will if I say they should,” Martin chuckled.
If there was anything Kieran had learned, it was how to effectively read people. He hadn’t thought it would be necessary with a New Age meditation instructor, but he found himself desperately trying to find an angle he could work from. The man was too easy going to try to stress the importance of the situation to him, and Kieran couldn’t bully the man either, as he was too confident. His attempts to appeal to Kieran’s own set of problems had already been met with an easy rebuttal and hadn’t made Martin hesitate in the slightest.
“What if I don’t want to go?” Kieran asked.
Martin looked up and smiled once more. “You want to succeed, don’t you? In your career?”
Kieran nodded. “You know I do.”
“Then you want to do this. You were sent here to find some way to cope with the stress of your job, and you haven’t done that. I’m not going to let you walk out the door without having tried all the options I have available to help you. So, you can either accept this will happen, and try to have faith that if they weren’t prepared for this possibility your bosses wouldn’t have sent you to me in the first place. Or, you can fight it to the bitter end, and I’m sure they won’t force you to go, but what would it look like if you refused the help they offered in good faith?” Martin asked.
Kieran’s shoulders slumped, as he knew the answer to that question. “What…what will I be doing?”
Martin tilted his head. “You know, in all honesty, I’ve never asked. I simply keep a look out for those who might need their extra help and send them on. After that, it’s in their hands.”
Kieran stared at him. “You don’t even know what they do? And you’re just going to what…send me out there?”
Martin chuckled as he resumed typing. “Rest assured, I know full well what I’m doing, or more specifically, I trust that they know what they’re doing. I’ll arrange it all, but once that’s done, you’ll have to make the call and arrange a time.”
Kieran mentally shrank away from thinking about the amount of time off he might have to take. “How long?”
“Until they say you’re ready? Could be days, could be weeks,” Martin said casually.
“Weeks?” Kieran asked, eyes going wide.
“Yes, weeks. It all depends. Stop looking at me like that; you’ll be fine,” Martin said.
Kieran sputtered. “That’s…far too long.”
Martin jotted something down on a piece of paper and handed it to Kieran. “Then I hope you are as quick to learn as you make yourself out to be.”