When I arrived last Thursday at Garrison Institute for a four-day Contemplative Care retreat and learned that there would be 108 participants, I gulped that number in and took a stroll outside to soak in the beauty and quiet before they all arrived. As I watched them stream in, I exclaimed out loud, out of earshot: “I Hate Groups!”
Especially groups with mostly strangers. I was wishing this event were a silent retreat, not forced interaction, and talk, talk, talk. Silence with strangers I could handle. But the idea of mingling and talking and interacting with so many people I didn’t know, struck a chord of fear deep in my psyche. I reacted by immediately wanting something other than what was about to happen. Although I was glad about one thing: that I’d splurged on a private room. At least I’d have some time alone.
The weekend was for caregivers and structured around the noble eightfold path of Buddhism, which is the fourth noble truth, which is the path to liberation from our suffering, which is created by our greed, anger and delusion, by our desire, craving, and wanting things and people and us and everything else to be different than what is.
By wanting a silent retreat rather than what was being presented, I created some internal suffering. Once I gave in and surrendered to what the weekend was about, I could allow myself to be open to the experience as it unfolded.
I made a decision to talk to people I didn’t know, to open my ears and heart to listening to information I already knew, to see what else I might learn, to give myself mindfully and wholeheartedly to the growth opportunities being offered. And to face my resistance, dark shadows, and fear, without looking away and letting them take hold.
On Saturday, we were on Right Livelihood. Since I’ve spent many decades being of service, doing exactly the work I want to do, and being totally fulfilled, I thought I’d have nothing to learn about myself with this aspect of the eightfold path. But once again, I made a decision to just go with it, see what was there, and have some fun.
We were partnered up with someone we didn’t know and instructed to face each other and keep eye contact throughout the exercise—a not-so-easy and very intimate experience even before any exchange of words. Then we took turns, for about five minutes each, asking the question: “What is your favorite job. And why?”
Once asked and answered, we were to thank our partner and ask it again and again and again, till time was up. We were encouraged to be creative, use our imagination, go deep, and respond without too much thinking.
When it was my turn, my first favorite job was rock star. And why? Because it was so cool, and I could entertain and move people with song. (I don’t play any instruments, nor do I sing. So this wasn’t very realistic, but it was fun to think about. Who doesn’t want to be rock star?)
Then I moved to a few other “jobs” I don’t even remember now. But in the why answer there was a common thread: to move people with words.
Then I got to something that welled up from deep inside me. I felt it first in my solar plexus as if I’d been punched. Then my eyes teared up, my heart expanded, my whole body and being responded to the feelings that were there when I said out loud to my witness: “Baptist preacher!” All I could think was, where the hell did that come from?
The why was the same: because every Baptist preacher I ever knew moved people with their words, their passion, their “dreams.”
I was completely caught off guard, surprised and a little confused. I was raised a Baptist but hadn’t set foot in a Baptist church since I was a teenager and I’ve been a Buddhist for twenty-five years. So, I don’t think I’ll ever become a Baptist preacher. But hey, you never know.
I will hold this idea in my heart and see what it is I need to learn from it, where I need to grow and how this deeply meaningful idea might express itself in what I already do, how it might inform my Right Livelihood and how it will alter the delivery of my message.
So, now I invite you to ask yourself: What is your perfect job? And why? Keep asking and asking and asking. And even if you are in your perfect job now, if you keep this question in your mind and heart, it will only get more perfect.