Last weekend I was at a four-day meeting for work.
Oh my lordy, you say, a FOUR DAY work meeting?
But it probably wasn’t the way you’re thinking it was. I am incredibly fortunate to be working for a small non-profit with kind-hearted and interesting staff members and a lofty-but-worthwhile mission.
On the first night, the meeting facilitator opened the session by asking us what our earliest experiences with the “contemplative” were (our org is focused on contemplative practices).
My first thought was: Oooh crud, who is speaking before me and how long do I have to think about this? How can I be succinct but not bore people? Wait, did I just miss what that person said?
I am usually caught in a struggle when I speak in front of people.
I wasn’t always that way. I even became quite good at public speaking in college. Then I started becoming more aware of my speaking. I talk too much. I don’t use the words I really want to use. I’m not asking enough questions. I’m not being respectful of or useful to the listeners. The things I want to say aren’t coming to me as words…they’re coming as images or feelings or sensations.
You’d think that would be a good thing, right? Sometimes it is. But it’s gotten to the point where I now stumble over myself so much to say the right thing that the wrong thing usually comes out instead.
Back to the meeting.
I searched my memories for what I would consider to be my first “contemplative” experiences. I listened to the others. It seemed they could immediately pluck a beautiful, funny, or sad story from their past and tell it to the group eloquently.
What could I possibly say that would be both interesting and authentic? My first time doing Buddhist mindfulness meditation in college? It wasn’t particularly profound, and I’d never even heard the term “contemplative practice” at that point. I meditate every day, but I don’t feel particularly connected to it…
I don’t remember exactly what I ended up saying, but you can probably guess that it wasn’t what I wanted to say. It chose something that seemed “legitimate” and acceptable.
I fumbled and spoke softly and was desperately searching for approval. The rest of the group told their beautiful stories and I listened, relieved to have spoken relatively early in the process, but still annoyed with myself.
The next day, I got to do one of my very favorite things: making stuff.
Coloring. Cutting paper. Gluing. It was awesome. We were invited to create “vision boards” expressing our vision for the year.
I could feel myself over-analyzing again. What would be the very best thing to share with people? What would be most useful to them? What would give the most authentic expression of myself?
And then I got really tired. Like, pre-CFS-crash-fatigue-brain-fog-tired. I thought, What is the absolute bare minimum I need to do here to “produce” something?
So, I fell back on my old standard. Like, preschool old.
To explain: when I was 4 or 5 years old, I drew the same basic image over and over again. All the time. Give me a pack of crayons or markers, and I would inevitably produce a picture of two girls holding hands under a rainbow with flowers around them and a sun in the sky. Sometimes it was just one girl, and occasionally it was a family.
Still: a rainbow, people and flowers underneath, and a big yellow sun.
When I had those markers or crayons in my hand, I felt compelled to draw that image. I could say that I don’t know why I drew it all the time, but I do know why: because I fucking liked it. I like rainbows. I like things in rainbow order. I like flowers. I liked sunshine. I like people. And I can draw them easily. Done and done.
Sure, I drew other things, but not with the same staggering frequency as this rainbow happy-land motif.
I drew this picture again as an adult at that work meeting with the same ease I did 28 years ago. I gave up all attempts to create something that looked profound or seemed to express my deepest emotions, fears, and hopes. Yes, I’m a complex person, but I do not feel compelled to express my darkness and pain through art. I feel compelled to express my rainbows.
When we finished our vision boards, we were invited to share them with the group. This time around, I was ready. There was no searching, no artifice, just a true story about something I used to do as a child and still deeply love.