Ruth’ Review: Thank you for this delightful narrative of how to maybe meet folks at self-help seminars.
Asheville is a laid-back town. A love-the-world, pot-smoking, vegetable-eating, dog-loving, hippie-looking, mountain-hiking, alternative-medicine kind of town. Most people here do yoga or tai chi. I do both yoga and tai chi! With all this Reiki and self-actualization, is it any wonder there are dozens of life coaches practicing in the area? If you want to find someone to guide you through the process, you can certainly hire someone to help you with your self-help. Only you can do it! In the interest of meeting people and making community connections, I began to attend seminars, lectures and presentations that were open to the general public. Most were titled on the topics of learning how to grow your business or how to get what you want out of life or changing your current shitty habits to realize your full potential. Though the lectures had different names, all of the presentations had the same format: figure out what you want to do with your life (or are called to do), recognize what is getting in your way (fear, as it turns out) and take action (you get to decide). Every single presentation.
Sharing your inner-most grindings seemed to be an integral part of the deal. I was an enthusiastic participant during my first seminar, spewing forth my intimate brain workings onto unsuspecting table-mates. I came to that first presentation mired in indecision about how to launch into a new life, a new community, a new purpose. Voicing the possibilities helped me to sift through them and narrow them down to the essentials. I was so focused on my own revelations that I did not hear what anyone else said. I hoped the process was working for them as it was for me. By the forth presentation, I lost my patience. I had gone to hear a lecture about money and I got a rerun of the Fulfill Your Destiny show. I felt ready to move on. That sentiment may have been a bit premature.
My fifth such attendance was in an actual theater as opposed to an office, conference room or community center space. As presentations go, it was slick. There was singing, there was dancing, there was a charismatic presenter. The power point presentation was enormous, filling the entire back of the stage, making a bold statement about the experience we were collectively having. I knew the presenter. We had met at another one of these motivational presentations. Maybe that’s where she got the idea to go big. She’s a lovely lady who genuinely seems to love the world. I received a post card promoting the event, The Shift: from fear to love. I liked her enough to support her effort, hoping for something different while not really knowing what to expect.
The theater was one I had never been to before. The marquee is brightly displayed on a major boulevard downtown. When I arrived at the entrance, under the marquee, I could not find the front door. Some other ladies were standing on the sidewalk out there between the taco shop and the tavern. “Down that way,” I was directed by them as I stood perplexed on the street. The indicated direction was an alleyway between two buildings. Finding my way to new places takes me out of my comfort zone. I just stood there looking down that alley, desperately not wanting to enter its dark and narrow confines. I almost panicked. I was rescued by the kind ladies who had given me those ominous directions. Taking in the sight of my wide-eyed hesitation, they turned and led the way through the tunnel and around a construction zone of an entrance.
Inside, I felt lost all over again. The attendees clearly knew each other very well. There were hearty hugs and shouted greetings. I was alone, an outsider, an interloper in this gathering of like-minded, connected individuals. My ticket put me in a row by myself. Lonely and uncomfortable. The seating in rows, suitable for a play or concert, was not conducive to meeting and conversing with strangers. A drummer started the proceedings, thumping out a lively beat on a djembe as he slowly made his way from the back of the auditorium to the stage. Bright lights, music, off-Broadway production value. Spotlight on our presenter speaking loudly in a voice I deemed a bit theatrical. The crowd gave back with cheerful shouts of greeting and agreement. I felt like I was the only atheist at the hippie version of a Christian revival. Alone in my little seat, I tried to work up some enthusiasm. I was anticipating a message equal to the quality of the presentation. I listened attentively. I radiated my willingness to be part of the collective consciousness. When the program began to take on familiar dimensions, I gave a great sigh of disappointment.
First was the dreary meditation. The same one as in all the other presentations on what God, the Universe or Whatever was asking me to do to fulfill my destiny. At one point we were asked to turn to the person next to us and introduce ourselves and offer what we each had learned or received in the previous meditation. There was no one next to me. I turned to the empty seat and softly said, ” Hello, there’s no one next to me.” Two women behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted to join their group. This was an inclusive crowd and I was grateful for their invitation. I felt relief when one woman stated she did not receive any message from God, the Universe or Whatever as to what she should be doing or was called to do. I already knew mine! I did not want to say that when it was my turn to share. I just shrugged and they accepted that as valid.
I resisted my smart-ass tendency to provoke. I had been to four of these things and already knew the ropes. In my state of boredom, I so badly wanted to state something shocking, to rock the boat, because I fully believed that was what I had been called to do during the first seminar I attended, and was currently in the process of fulfilling. “I feel God has called me to taxidermy.” Oh, that would shake things up a bit among these vegans and dog-lovers. Or “The Universe is telling me that my basement is uniquely suitable for cultivating the perfect skin for transplants.” Silence of the Lambs always has shock value. I was prudent enough to rein it in. I couldn’t bring myself to mess with these people as they were probably my future tribe. Never burn a bridge especially if you are standing in the middle of it!
Musical interlude. Then the ubiquitous litany of fears. What is stopping you from doing the thing you are called to do by God, the Universe or Whatever? Fear, that famous gatekeeper between you and your destiny. Name That Fear (or list of fears if you must). Write them down. Call them out! Since I had already done this and imparted this information to strangers at previous presentations, I did not feel the need to share. I have so many fears that I assign them numbers like customers at the deli counter. I try to encourage them to take turns so that no single fear reigns supreme. “Your Child is Going to Die,” asserts itself quite often and needs to be battered back into its cage from time to time. “You’re Going to Get Lost and Crash the Car,” is quite the talker, which simply needs to be occasionally proven wrong in order to coexist peacefully with “Hello, My Name is Cancer!” Anything that potentially interfered with fulfilling my dream of becoming a successful smart-ass had already been assigned to the second-tier level of horrors in my collection. I loved that our presenter stated a few of her own fears, especially the fear of becoming famous and then being stalked by weirdos. That felt totally relatable.
I have a thing. It’s a limiting thing. Not a fear. Just a thing. I don’t stick around more than about two hours for anything where I have to sit in an uncomfortable chair in a dark theater. I generally tend to get up and move around every twenty minutes or so no matter where I am. It’s just me. I don’t travel well. I must confess that I left the presentation during the next musical interlude. I knew what was coming next anyway! Or maybe I would have been completely surprised by some unique, off-the- usual-script third part. As I was leaving, I saw someone I knew in the lobby. I thought when I see her again, I could ask her how it all ended.
I dashed out through the creepy alleyway to catch the bus home (the last bus ran one hour before the stated ending time of this presentation so I was going to leave early anyway!). I sat during the ride home contemplating what the second two hours of the presentation would have brought. Sometimes this is more fun than being there. It’s like being asked to finish writing the narrative of the play where I get to decide the surprise ending. If there was a surprise, then I was truly sorry I missed it.
It was there on the bus that a revelation hit me like a road bump bounces my butt on a rickety bus ride. Finding my path, the trail head for my next adventure, did not occur during that first lecture. It did not occur during the second, third or fourth presentation I sat through, but was ongoing. What was the essential message of all these events? To get where you want to go, sometimes you just have to get out of your own way. Needing a surprise ending was the equivalent to taking the bus home when there was a limo waiting for me on the corner. I had not only left the presentation early; I left the process believing it had already been completed. I didn’t need a surprise ending. I just needed to recognize the right vehicle and once again engage with the process knowing that there are many paths to success and many avenues for new endeavors throughout life. Repeat as needed. As often as possible for a rich and interesting life.
Our presenter probably had this revelation long before I did. When I see her again, what should I say to her? Yes, I was there but I left early. I had many excuses to do so. But I learned something that day. Perhaps she would like to add it to her next presentation—if she hasn’t already (I missed the last half of the program). If she gets huffy about it, I can always ask if she is familiar with the joys of taxidermy.
The ever-present chore of taming the fear-dragons (mine seem to be mating and producing offspring) should clear the path for discovering something new. Weaving, preparing tax returns, writing a blog or conjugating Spanish verbs are all possibilities. Perhaps I will find, during some future meditation, that one of these activities is one of my God, the Universe or Whatever- inspired life purposes. Until then, I will share my experience whenever I find myself in yet another Live Out Your True Purpose in Life seminar by freaking people out or by igniting their souls. Either way is good. There might be smoke on that bridge, but it hasn’t burned down. I am starting my own tribe and its members may need to cross over it to join me.
Follow your dreams (but not that one where you are stuffing dead animals),
Guest Editor Ruth has been a friend for years and was a later member of Bad Ethel…the band. She is a fellow writer and has a private blog that she lets me read. In editing she pointed out the awkward bit that needed redoing. It’s probably a little less awkward now.