Thirty years ago I was staying with some friends in Florence.
I had two small kids; my daughter was four years old, my son one year old.
My husband had finally agreed to participate in the Landmark Forum and the course that worked for us was to take place in Leeds, U.K.
We had left Italy by car, and were on the ferry crossing the Channel; I remember with uncanny clarity what happened while on the ferry.
The sea was rough, the ferry moved quite a lot and the other passengers seemed to be worried. I was not having problems, but in this heightened awareness, a strange sense of presence.
Seated at a round table in the middle of the large lounge, I picked up a magazine, a popular one at the time. On the cover I saw the picture of Werner Erhard next to a scandalous title. Amazed, I started reading the article and got physically sick to my stomach; the accusations were sickening. The feeling of sickness was coming from the contradiction between the love and respect I had for the man, and what “maybe” was true, as related by that article. I kept reading again and again, and the feelings I was present to were coming one after the other rapidly.
The next thing I did was to hide the magazine so my husband would not see it, and maybe refuse to participate in the Landmark Forum. I was aware of what I was doing, having started to watch myself and my thoughts, which now – after the initial shock – were kind of slowing down.
Werner had created the Est Training, and countless people were benefitted beyond any expectation. I was alive, not only breathing, because of it. I had a life I did not dream possible because of this course. I felt profoundly indebted.
I asked myself if such a being as he was could do all those grotesque things so ruthlessly splashed on a popular magazine whose name I refused to even utter. In my mind I concluded that it was not possible – the compassion, the clarity, the love and the difference he had made – were not compatible with it. Going through this process I was again present to my unconditional love and gratitude for the gift that course had been for me and so many other people.
Then, to allow the possibility that what was written could also be been true, I reasoned that he had his own life, entitled to make and learn from his own mistakes, on his own journey in this life, for which he was sole accountable.
Intuitively I had allowed for both these possibilities, and after allowing for both I reconnected to the unconditional love, respect and gratitude I felt from the very first night I graduated the Est Training, and I still do to this day.
What is the point of this story?
I am happy I was aware enough to have chosen to honor the value I had gotten from my association with that man’s work and not with my mind and its slaughtering judging machine. Had I have allowed myself to do the judging based on that article I would have cut myself from an unimaginable source of power in my life.
It became clear to me that I like to take responsibility for thinking with my own mind, and always assume the risk of “looking like a fool”, if that is the case.
What is another point to this story?
Being a public person one is open to all types of judgments, even verbal attacks.
The people responsible for this are normal people, only sometime of a very poor intellect coupled with very active, undistinguished judging machinery. Other time, unfortunately, some very dense intellect occupies important, decision-making places politically, in media, corporations, etc.
When such people formulate opinions based on gossip, lack of information, and only look at satisfying their petty minds – on the principle of “some people are taller by cutting other people’s heads off”, if you are the object of their attention, it is like being caught in a dirty net constituted by their thoughts and judgments. This activity has the potential of being quite an overwhelming experience, unless…you are aware. If you are “caught” in the net, it is a sign you are not far from them in your evolution.
So, how do I handle such situation?!
Almost four decades ago I gave up trying to be invisible, hiding so people would not judge me and have me look bad.
Nonetheless, I am still caught unawares sometimes. When it happens I use a small arsenal of tactics I found out for myself to work.
The first most empowering maneuver I use is I voice for myself a line I heard in the movie “The Bucket List”, and this is: “Never too late!”. It is part of a short dialogue in which:
Morgan Freeman says: “But I don’t want to make a fool of myself!”, and
Jack Nicholson replies: “Never too late!”
A huge smile spreads over my face instantly as that dialogue reminds me it is ok for me, and others, to be assholes from time to time, that no time is too late for that. As I allow myself, and others, to make mistakes, I also get released from righteousness – the sure sign one is a real assholeJ
Then more ‘enlightened’ approaches flow in my mind after that.
Castaneda’s Don Juan saying to Carlos that he should make sure he protects himself against the ruthlessness of people.
Or a quote from some Buddhist, Zen book I read, about the fact that a river cannot be put in a glass.
Then, a most beautiful story from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki called “Is that so?”.
The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life.
A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him.
Suddenly, without warning, her parents discovered she was with child.
This made her parents angry. She whould not confess who the man was, but after much harassment, named Hakuin.
In great anger the parents went to the master “is that so?” was all he would say.
After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else the little one needed.
A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth – that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fish-market.
The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back.
Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: “Is that so?”
I like that, being an asshole and being detached.
Most importantly, this gives permission to the ones judging you to be assholes, getting that ……. their level of awareness may never allow them to acknowledge it.
Besides, the things we say reflect more accurately who we are than the ones we criticize or invalidate.
I hope this made a difference for those who asked me to write about the subject.
In any case:
“Never too late!”…. and you know for what:)