I hadn’t said a word the first three days; I’d nothing to add and was seeing plenty about myself simply sitting on the floor and listening—how I still need to control my environment so I’m not too hot, too cold, or too tired—and how hard it is for me to relax and not believe my discomfort will lead to my certain death. This is why I’m so rigid at times; it takes a lot of armor to protect myself in my world. I was in a four-day workshop on being present. I observed myself slow down, heard my mind quiet, felt my body relax. Then I watched myself undo it all by getting riled by a young man, who in the beginning I felt only mildly irritated by, and by the end wanted to slap silly. I hate the packages my lessons comes in.
This kid—a slumping question mark—said nothing in three days other than he was angry but didn’t know why he was angry, and that he was sad but didn’t know why he was sad, and then he’d cry and say he just wanted to express his sadness and his anger but didn’t know how. By his thirteenth time in front of the room, my being-held-hostage thing kicked in and I snapped. At the break I took my frustration to the teacher who suggested I bring my complaint to the room. After the break I was the first to take the microphone. Wild horses couldn’t have stopped me even though his was a spiritual group, and where I was headed was anywhere but spiritual. Composed, even-spoken, direct—and in front of 90 people—I blasted this brat, then warned him with what I’d do if he dared come in the front of the room, ask for the mic, or even raise his hand until he was willing to perhaps at least get to some point or had something to contribute that was mildly useful. The room softened and he was the only person in my vision; for the first time, he was sitting up straight. It was fortunate as it lessened my intense desire to stalk over and kick him.
When I said everything I had to say, I waded through the sea of people to my chair. I knew that I’d spoken for a good part of the room by the majority fervently thanking me under their breaths. The teacher, laughing, said, “Were you part of the encounter groups in the 60s?” I turned halfway and said, very slowly, “No.… I was working in the sixties.” Several hands shot up to complain about my stance. The teacher’s rejoinder was for them to mind their own business—this had nothing to do with them and any reaction they had was their stuff. He also added that I’d hit the nail on the head and this young man might want to listen to what I had to say—maybe he could learn something.
So what else did I observe? That I’m weary of workshops where I pay $500 to see myself; I could stay home and give my family ten bucks each and save a bundle; they’re happy to point out my blind spots. I could look for answers inside rather than out there. It’s just so overpopulated in me that I can’t hear over the din: my mother is in here not to mention the rest of my family, my ancestors, my teachers, Judge Judy, Miss Manners, the Queen of Hearts, my beliefs, attachments, and opinions, my superiority, my inferiority, all the stuff I make up, all the stuff I drag around, and all the stuff I hang onto. In addition, I see how my internal critic, external judge, and resentful ego can entirely run my show.
And so, I get to be present with me. I’m grateful. I could have come back this time as that kid. It’s hard enough being in my morally superior and abrasive scolding body; I can only imagine what it must be like to be in his.
Postscript: I attended an evening course a couple of months later (it took me that long to recover) led by the same teacher, and the slumping question mark just happened to be sitting in front of me (there are no accidents), only he looked different, very different. At the break I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself, wondering if an apology from me was in order. He reared away from me in consternation, then composed himself and leaned in. “I owe you a thanks. I heard what you said to me in the room that weekend, and it changed me. It was hard to hear, but you were right.”
You just never know. Sometimes my greatest accomplishment is keeping my mouth shut; other times my greatest contribution is when I don’t.
An irreverent humorist, storyteller and local author (“Queen Bee,” “A Family Memoir, Through Any Given Door”) Catherine co-hosts Random Acts, a monthly open mic at Readers’ Books, practices keeping her fingers off the keys on Facebook, and posts a memoir series every three days at Sevenau.com. She can be reached at CENTURY 21 Wine Country or [email protected]