I approach the home of Cliff Lloyd, my "rebirther" for the day, with some trepidation. My worst fear is that within minutes of entering his flat, I'll find myself scrunched in the foetal position, primal screaming, and confessing my darkest horrors. He is, after all, a complete stranger. "A little nervous," I confess, diplomatically, when Cliff enquires how I feel about my forthcoming rebirth.
An intense ex-computer scientist, Cliff begins our two hour session with a valiant stab at explaining rebirthing as "the search for greater harmony between body, mind and spirit". Unexpressed emotions are stored in the body as "frozen layers of energy" and show themselves as blocks in our conscious lives. Rebirthing is a deep breathing technique that aims to "bridge the conscious and subconscious mind" and reveal these blocks to us. It's called rebirthing because birth is our first repressed trauma.
After this chat, the session begins with half an hour of talking to identify "issues". Since I'm still at a loss as to what the rebirthing will actually consist of, I rabbit on vaguely about my worries. Cliff makes a perspicacious comment about how there seems to be a lot of "self-blame" in my anxieties then suggests we get on with the rebirthing.
By now I'm a bag of nerves. I am alone in the home of a strange man who is about to take me into what appears to be his bedroom, make me lie on his bed and do - well - I still don't know what to me. But in the interests of investigative journalism, I slip off my boots and climb into Cliff's bed. At this point, he goes round lighting candles and switching off the phones, announces that we're "incommunicado" and kneels down next to the bed.
"Relax," he suggests. "Close your eyes and breathe deeply." I am rigid. He's not particularly tall or broad and I'm calculating whether I could take him on. But I've seen the mono-ski in his kitchen and he looks wiry and fit. I hear his neighbours in the flat above and decide to scream incredibly loudly if he turns crazed.
He starts heavy breathing next to me. I screw my eyes tight shut and wait. For an indeterminate amount of time, we breathe. Then he asks, "How do you feel about being touched?" Right, I think, this is it. I get ready to hurl him off me. "Hmm?" I reply, discouragingly. Cliff explains that he may need to rest his hand on my "upper chest" to help me with the breathing technique.
He does this, and after a moment or two, I finally decide to give in and trust him. We puff on. I'm waiting for him to take me back to my birth, or something. But he says nothing. Finally, he asks: "What was that thought?" Weirdly, a bizarre cartoon cat has popped into my mind. Freud would have a field day; Cliff chooses not to comment. I continue to see the cat, prancing, and to breathe deeply. Then, it's as if someone has switched me off. "When you're ready, begin to breathe normally," I hear Cliff say, distantly. I realise I've been in a kind of trance - not sleeping, but no longer thinking about my breathing, or about Cliff being an axe-murderer.
So, no screaming, no birth memories. Cliff says this is a typical first session. He tells me how rebirthing has profoundly changed his life - he suffered from a traumatic childhood, and has come to terms with this through the "nurturing" process of rebirthing.
Though my own session remains mysterious, hearing Cliff's honest story suggests to me that people who have suffered genuine trauma and find counselling no use, could benefit from the meditative, calming qualities that rebirthing offers. Enlightenment, of sorts, came later, with Cliff's particularly acute "feedback" about how the pattern of resistance and surrender in my session seems to reflect my attitude to big life issues.
I left his home disappointed at not having relived my birth (though if my mother is to be believed, I'm better off not knowing), relieved that Cliff turned out to be a genuine, nice man and really quite perturbed by that cartoon cat.
Rebirthing costs between £35 and £50 per session. Cliff Lloyd can be contacted on 0171 624 4864; email: email@example.com
The British Rebirth Society 01568 610030