Back in 1995, James Redfield’s book The Celestine Prophecy was a monster best seller. I was a little suspicious of a “spiritual” book that was so commercially successful, but I kind of surprised myself by liking it quite a lot.
On the surface, the book is a novel – but actually the story, which is not the strongest aspect of the book, is a vehicle for spiritual teaching. It did not seem to me that much of that teaching was original, but then how much spiritual teaching really can be original at this point – it’s really a matter of packaging old truths in fresh new ways that get our attention. I think Redfield did a good job at that.
The idea from that book that has most stayed with me suggests that when you are having an encounter with another person, if you stick with the encounter long enough – often longer than is comfortable or beyond the point where you might otherwise have moved on – the purpose of your encounter with this person will often become manifest. I have this experience a lot at work – and will devote tomorrow’s post to that arena. Here I want to report three experiences I had tonight at the Jubilee (the funky non-denominational church I attend here in Asheville) Christmas party.
Edna is a very engaging, attractive, 5’4″ woman who told me that she had just recently celebrated her 62nd birthday. I felt a little victorious connecting with her tonight because I remembered her name: over several years of being nodding acquaintances, I succeed at that only some of the time. When I found myself standing next to her in the lovely hallway of the beautifully rehabbed Elizabethan mansion that our minister Howard reclaimed from disrepair over many years, I decided it might be a good time to get to know her a little – she has always seemed interesting, so I was enthused about this. But when I’m manic – which I still am after ten days (it’s time when I usually will shift) – I tend to be restless, and after a few minutes of talking (even though it was all genuinely interesting) I was starting to think of some of the other people at the party that I wanted to connect with. So when Edna said, “I have a story about my 62nd birthday that I could tell you if you want”, I had to think for a moment about whether I actually did want.
But the Redfield idea has been on my mind lately, and I decided to settle in and see what I might learn about my connection with Edna. She proceeded to tell a gorgeous story about being out of her comfort zone camping in the western mountains at her son’s land, of waking at 2 a..m. on her birthday and coming out of the tent into the cold mountain air and having her mind blown by the brightness of the Milky Way. The story goes on to have her wishing she could share this amazing moment with someone and her son promptly calling out to her and then coming out to join her – and a really gorgeous mother-son moment ensuing. My eyes were moist by the end of the story and I had at least a first take on why we were meant to have that conversation. (Who knows what other layers may present themselves for me or her? Writing this blog post is one more layer for me.)
A couple of brief conversations later, I encountered Matt – a big strapping 40ish guy who started our conversation by saying how much he likes the poetry and comedy I offer at Jubilee. (I have done this four times a year for ten years and lots of people know me from it.) After thanking him for the compliment – and being genuinely pleased by it, though I do get it a lot – I attempted to move the conversation along by asking “How long have you been coming to Jubilee?” Even before the question was fully out of my mouth, I thought “Now what kind of a bullshit question is that?” It’s like “Do you come here often?” in being destined to not generate any interesting answers.
But after he said “Six years” (“Yeah, so what?”) I had a better idea. “In those six years, what have been some highlights for you of coming to Jubilee?” Now Matt really warmed up to the conversation. “The music and Howard’s talks.” When I followed that with “What have you liked about Howard’s talks?” we were off and running. Matt had lots to say – stuff that revealed his depth and sensitivity and passion about Jubilee. It was great fun.
My final conversation was with Victoria. I had just a little bit started to get to know her several years ago, but she moved away and hasn’t been around much. She always seemed interesting, though, so when I ended up standing next to her I felt good about talking with her. But still, after just a couple minutes of talking, I noticed my body language: I was standing sideways, perpendicular to her. I was not committing to the conversation at all – I was poised to leave! I realized that – with the party about to end – the restless part of me was wondering who else I ought to see before I would go home.
I decided to let go of the restlessness and commit to Victoria – and to try one more experiment in discovering why this other person and I were having this encounter. The answer didn’t take more than a minute to reveal itself. I can’t trace back how we got there, but Victoria said that she was interested in the Asheville Movement Collective (AMC) “Dance Church” – the free-form improvisational dancing to which I am so passionately committed. This gave me a chance to really ignite over a topic, which was big fun because Victoria was really interested. I know from lots of experience that coming to AMC can change people’s lives – has mine – so it’s a lot of fun offering it to people. And if Victoria never comes or comes and doesn’t like it, we had a conversation that connected us in a fun way and she spent some time thinking about her own creativity and her inner dancer.
I had three experiences in under two hours where what could have been routine conversations with regular people left me instead seeing stars.