For a long time I’ve wanted to write my own story of Jack Elias. Because although he’s a master hypnotherapist and a brilliant, boisterous teacher, his greatest accomplishments are hidden. He keeps these personal wins to himself. And I guess this is as it should be. But I often wish, as students and clients come and go from Jack’s home office, that people knew more about what makes Jack who he is. For about 14 years now I’ve had the view from backstage at the Institute for Therapeutic Learning, home of Finding True Magic and Transpersonal Hypnotherapy/NLP. So I feel qualified to share with you how it came to be that Jack is such a kind and effective teacher, as well as a genuine friend to the many people who look to him for encouragement.
What Separates the Great Teachers and Authors from the Merely Good Ones?
A little bit about where I’m coming from. Yes, I’m Jack’s wife, but besides that, since 1988 I’ve worked as a book editor and publishing consultant. I only accept four clients at a time, so I have to be choosy. I only develop projects with authors who have these three essential qualities:
1. Accomplishment as a teacher, speaker and/or writer, with the ability to convey their message in fresh language that commands not only attention but contemplation.
2. Not merely textbook knowledge, but hard-won lived expertise in their book’s subject.
3. A willingness to share their personal life lessons in order to help others avoid unnecessary pain. In other words, the author needs to be not only smart and kind and interesting, but also to have an unwavering persistence about improving the lives of others.
My husband Jack is just this sort of person — the ideal author, teacher and guide. He has experience: he’s been training and certifying therapists in Transpersonal Hypnotherapy/NLP since 1988, based on his study of Buddhism and other Eastern philosophy. He has wisdom, which he came by honestly through applying his studies to his lived experience. And he nourishes that wisdom daily, from tender places in the heart, and so the wisdom continues to emerge. No one, including me, will ever really know all that went into the winning of this wisdom. But I’m going to share the little that I can. Because Jack doesn’t usually share these things, and I think someone should. Also, when I asked Jack’s permission, he said it would be all right.
What Is Important About a Teacher or Therapist’s Personal Story?
We human beings live by stories. Aristotle, in his Poetics, said that storytelling is what gives us a shareable world. In other words, our stories are not simply nice to have — they are essential to sharing our lives.
There’s the narrative we are constructing daily by living it, and there is the sharing of that narrative, that story. It is in the sharing that we most often discover meaning. To go further, to share our stories in a way that helps others, that story must be considered and contemplated until its innate wisdom reveals itself.
When we trust a teacher or a therapist to help us grow beyond the frightened places we normally hide from others, it helps to know something about their story. Because in order to really be of help to us with the weird difficulties of our own story, a therapist (or teacher) must have lived a story with some challenges in it, must have contemplated those challenges until the wisdom shines through, and must develop a natural generosity that causes that wisdom to constantly, spontaneously give itself away.
My Story of Jack
My husband Jack Elias has been a Buddhist practitioner since age 20 when he left Wesleyan University after only two years, traveling across the U.S. to San Francisco in order to meet the great Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. Since that time Jack has studied closely with a succession of enlightened teachers including Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, and now Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.
Just a few weeks after arriving at Zen Center in San Francisco at age 20, Jack got a call from his father to come home. His mother, to whom Jack was very close, had been diagnosed with cancer. For the next six months a very young Jack and his father nursed his mother as she died in their family home, in a time well before the hospice movement, palliative medical care, and nuanced pain management for the dying.
Not long after his mother’s death, Jack returned to San Francisco Zen Center. He studied there for some years until Roshi was diagnosed with cancer, and died within six months. Jack then moved to Boulder to study with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Jack had seen Trungpa Rinpoche and Roshi together several times during visits by Rinpoche to Zen Center. When Jack saw the clear and deep devotion Trungpa Rinpoche had for Suzuki Roshi, Jack knew he would be traveling to study with Rinpoche after Roshi’s death.
Like so many children of the sixties, Jack was unconcerned with where he worked or whether he had the trappings of prosperity. He took various jobs to support his meditation habit. He led guided trips to National Parks throughout the Western United States. He sold gemstones with fellow Buddhist students.
Silent Night, Holy Night
Jack fell in love and got married. Jack put on a suit and tie and sold real estate to support the family. He and his wife had four beautiful children.
He took time off as each new baby was born so that he could be there to nurture them, play with them, and sing them to sleep. Jack knew only one lullaby: Silent Night. When I mentioned this to Jack’s younger son Andrew recently, Andrew (now 31 years old) said, “I do get a warm feeling whenever I hear that song.”
All of the children were healthy except Sara, who at age ten was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease. The family needed to move Sara from the mountains of Colorado down to sea level where she could breathe more easily. They decided on Orcas Island in Washington State.
About that time, through a series of synchronistic happenings, Jack had made a strong heart connection with Gurumayi, a realized teacher from India. He went to meet her, then returned with the whole family. Jack has said that, as he sat with Gurumayi, everything taught by his Buddhist teachers became profoundly clear.
Not long after, Jack and his wife divorced, and Sara came to live with Jack in Seattle. He began searching for a new livelihood — one that would allow him to stay home and care for Sara, who required portable oxygen 24 hours a day.
In 1980 Jack had taken a course in neurolinguistic programming (NLP) and felt an instant affinity for it, quickly recognizing NLP as a reshaping of certain aspects of the wisdom his Buddhist teachers had taught. It wasn’t until 1988 that he took a certification training in hypnotherapy. Jack began seeing clients in private practice out of his home, where he could personally keep an eye on Sara.
Jack also began teaching what he called “Transpersonal Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy/NLP.” He established a school — the Institute for Therapeutic Learning — where he offered certification courses in this hybrid of hypnotherapy, NLP and Eastern wisdom teachings.
Shortly after her 15th birthday, in the month of March, Sara died in the middle of the night.
By autumn of that year, Jack’s other three children had come to live with him. Jack had practiced meditation for many years in the presence of enlightened teachers, and he had become strong. Instead of the helplessness he had felt at his dying mother’s bedside, with Sara he had been able to offer calm reassurance in her final moments.
Students in Jack’s trainings had been urging him to write a book about his transpersonal approach. After some years, Jack’s son Andrew looked up from his breakfast one day and said, “You should write your book.” At last Jack acted on the suggestion, and two years later Finding True Magic was published. These days, when people learn that Jack lost a young daughter to illness, he listens to their words of concern. Then he always responds the same way: “It was a great blessing. She had so much grace.” To understand why Jack says this, you would have to know much more than I could ever tell you.
What Does Jack’s Story Have to Do with Transpersonal Hypnotherapy?
There is much, much more to Jack’s story than what I’m sharing here. But I’ve watched him up close and personal, and what fascinates me is what Jack has made of this story. As a professional hypnotherapist, as a teacher, and as a friend, he has an unshakable conviction in the basic goodness, the pure essential creative loving power, that is the source of each one of us. To believe this is one thing. But to know and affirm it as Jack does, daily, hourly, gives him a powerful ability to encourage others, a deep compassion that all by itself eases a person’s pain and grief. In this way, Jack passes on to others the wisdom his teachers have given to him, holding nothing back.
This strength of conviction didn’t occur by chance, or overnight: Jack took his challenges, his losses, and applied what he was taught. Jack is quick to say that everything he has to teach, he learned through the blessings of his own teachers.
Part of what Jack Elias knows — and it’s rare that someone truly knows this right down to the bone — is that by encouraging those who grieve, he encourages himself and all of us, too, all at once. As our Buddhist teachers explain, grief is an inevitable feature of our lives. Grief goes with impermanence.
We grieve our youth, our dreams of romantic love, the “perfect parents” we wish we’d had, our moments (or years) of cruelty or indifference. We mourn the loss of good friends, great loves, loyal pets. We mourn old stomping grounds and alma maters. We mourn the many lost opportunities and fleeting moments of beauty. And sometimes we mourn our children. So there’s plenty of work for Jack to do. There’s plenty of work for us all.
What’s It Like to Live with This Guy?
We both work in home offices, about 10 feet down the hall from each other. And Jack still teaches the Finding True Magic certification course out of our home in Seattle — as he has done since 1988 when he first began training and certifying people in the practice of Transpersonal Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy/NLP.
And now you know why the author of an internationally respected book on Transpersonal Hypnotherapy/NLP teaches the Finding True Magic course out of his home, why he didn’t travel much. You can’t fly from city to city and keep a close eye on a dying child. Now that all of our children are launched, Jack is able to travel to places where for years people have been inviting him to “Please come teach here!”
We work in tandem now. He’s the talent, and I’m the backup singer. He’s the heart-source of the teaching he does, and I help people discover it. At events, in therapy, via Skype, in our hometown and abroad. The same wisdom in many forms and in many places.
We worked closely even before we became full-time business partners. And the physical proximity of our work has given me a profound, if peripheral, experience of Jack’s connection with his clients and students.
This is how it goes: Jack opens our bright red front door and greets you with a big smile and a buoyant “Hi! Come on in!” It’s the kind of hello you’d expect from a fellow four-year-old welcoming you to a delicious pile of mud. A hello that says, “Whatever we do now is going to be GREAT.”
The greeting is the same no matter how the person appears when they arrive: depressed, disheveled, tired, in physical pain, angry, worried, hopeless, insecure, or numb.
As they leave, I often hear Jack as he says goodbye, sending them off with a few last encouragements as they head out the front door. Jack is emphasizing the positive, making a parting wisecrack that reminds them to practice whatever they’ve just learned in their session. I hear them laughing down the front walk as they brighten in response, “I will!” They’ve caught Jack’s playful tailwind, and I know how that feels. When Jack Elias makes you laugh out loud, it’s a big blessing. It nudges your heart open, and pulls you onto the path of self-kindness. The sound of your own laughter brightens your mind, and you recognize the joy that was there all along — the joy you can never lose.
You can meet Jack Elias in person at his live trainings and seminars, or by scheduling a private session. And you can listen to select recordings of Jack’s trainings on video and on mp3. You can also read or listen to Jack’s stories of his time with Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche on Cuke.com and ChroniclesofCTR.org, respectively.