Cosmic Patience

I hadn’t said a word the first three days; I had nothing to add and was seeing plenty about myself simply sitting on the floor and listening—how I still need to control my environment so I’m not too hot, not Yin-Yangtoo cold, not too tired—and how hard it is for me to relax and not believe my discomfort will lead to my certain death. This is why I’m so rigid at times; it takes a lot of armor to protect myself in my world. I was in a four-day workshop on being present. I observed myself slow down, heard my mind quiet, felt my body relax. Then I watched myself undo it all by getting riled by a young man, who in the beginning I felt only mildly irritated by, and by the end wanted to slap silly, rattle his brains, and then choke to death. I hate the packages my lessons comes in.

This kid—a slumping question mark dressed in a shapeless brown hair-shirt of a sweater—said nothing in three days other than he was angry but didn’t know why he was angry, and that he wanted to kill someone and then he’d actually describe how he’d do it, and that he was sad but didn’t know why he was sad, and then he’d cry and say he just wanted to express his sadness and his anger but didn’t know how, so he mostly sat there and whined or writhed on the floor like a sniveling worm in tears and… you get the picture. Any previous compassion I had warped into fantasies of murder. By his thirteenth time in front of the room, okay so maybe I’m exaggerating, maybe it was only his twelfth—my being held hostage thing kicked in and I snapped. At the break I took my frustration to the teacher, a perfectly normal looking guy in a casual shirt and slacks who still has bruises on his thighs from my claws digging into them, threatening that if he allowed this to continue, either he or this kid would be dead. Suggesting I bring my complaint to the room, he said I would also be speaking for others, and yes, perhaps he had let him go on a bit too long this time. THIS TIME? Oh please.

I attempted to speak up before I’d gone into a total meltdown but I wasn’t called upon and was being polite. Then—it was too late. You see, this was a SPIRITUAL GROUP and where I was headed was anywhere but spiritual. After the break (which I spent outside in the gray drizzle stomping and raging for twenty minutes) I was the first to take the microphone. Wild horses couldn’t have stopped me. Composed, even-spoken, direct—and in front of ninety people—I blasted this brat, then warned him with what I would do if he dared come in the front of the room, ask for the mic, or be ever so stupid as to even raise his hand until he had a complete thought, was willing to perhaps at least get to some point, or had something to contribute that was even mildly useful. “No more complaining, whining, or drama from you. None. Or you will be very, very sorry. I will hurt you. I promise.” The room softened and he was the only person in my vision; for the first time, he was sitting up straight. It was fortunate as it lessened my intense desire to stalk over and kick the crap out of him.

When I said everything I had to say, I waded through the sea of people to my chair. The teacher, laughing, said, “Were you part of the encounter groups in the 60s?” I turned halfway and said, very slowly, “No.… I was working in the sixties.”

Several hands shot up. This kid’s girlfriend, who I personally think is as screwed-up as he is simply because she sees something in this little dweeb, glared at me and spit, “I feel nothing but hate for that woman.” Then a second disgruntled bliss-bunny demanded to know if the teacher was going to let me get away with what I just did. My reaction at one time would have been: oh, oh, I’m in trouble. This time my internal retort was: kiss my white ass. The teacher’s rejoinder was for them to mind their own business—this had nothing to do with them and any reaction they had was their stuff. (I rather like this guy.) His response to the rest of the room was, although I may not have done it very elegantly, I’d hit the nail on the head and this young man might want to listen to what I had to say—maybe he could learn something. I knew when I returned to my chair and at the dinner break that I’d spoken for a good part of the room by the majority fervently thanking me under their breaths. (I must admit I do appreciate people going to agreement with me: it validates I’m not the only one, it validates my righteousness, it also validates my rightness—and—my right to speak.) A few weren’t triggered and simply witnessed what was going on. Frankly, I don’t know if I want to live my life that flat-lined, having cosmic patience, willing to pay attention for hours to someone who is a candidate for shock treatments or a lobotomy. This is why I don’t teach—they don’t let you slap the whack-jobs.

So what else did I observe? That I’m weary of workshops where I pay $500 to see myself; I could stay home and give my family ten bucks each and save a bucketload—they’re happy to point out my blind spots. I could hang out with my sons if I want to get triggered. I could look for answers inside rather than out there. It’s just so overpopulated in me that I can’t hear over the din: my mother’s in here, my father’s in here, my sisters and brother, the rest of my family, my ancestors, my teachers, the Pope, Judge Judy, Miss Manners, the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter, my beliefs, structures, entanglements, my attachments and opinions, my superiority, my inferiority, my past, my future, all the stuff I make up, all the stuff I drag around, and all the stuff I hang onto. The Gestapo is in here too and they can’t even break it up. In addition, I see how my unwillingness to surrender, my internal critic, external judge, and my resentful ego can entirely, totally, and utterly run my show.

And so, thank you Lord—I get to be present with me. I’m grateful. I could have come back this time as that kid. It’s hard enough being in my morally superior and abrasive scolding body; I can only imagine what it must be like to be in his.

Catherine Sevenau
April 2004

Postscript: I attended an evening course a couple of months later (it took me that long to recover…) led by the same teacher, and the slumping question mark just happened to be sitting in front of me (there are no accidents), only he looked different, very different. At the break I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself, wondering if an apology from me was in order. He reared away from me in consternation, then composed himself and leaned forward. “I owe you a thanks. I heard what you said to me in the room that week-end, and it changed me. It was hard to hear, but you were right.”

You just never know. Sometimes my greatest accomplishment is keeping my mouth shut; other times my greatest contribution is when I don’t.

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Comments

  1. Denise Sales says:

    I have much admiration for your honesty and directness. How I would love to have that same courage to stand up and speak my mind. The worry of being the object of vitriol for airing my views would have gagged me into cosmic submission. I would rather be full of loathing for my own cowardice than tell it how it is.

    Why should this be? I was brought up to choose words with care for fear of causing hurt but I may have taken this too far! I’m sure my husband and kids will beg to differ having been on the receiving end of my tongue lashing one too many times over the years but they know I love them really and it’s not quite the same as standing up and speaking your mind to an audience which is working on how to be present!

    Sometimes it’s necessary to be truthful and blunt if only for the shock factor of forcing someone to open their eyes and see things from a different perspective – well ANY perspective really. I truly believe you did that young man a huge favour and I sincerely hope your words gave him food for thought, if only to stop him from inflicting his woeful litany on any more unsuspecting, cosmically patient, fee paying and definitely PRESENT punters.

    Love your writing Catherine.

    • Denise, I went to an evening course a couple of months later (it took me that long to recover…) led by the same teacher who did the four-day workshop, and the slumping question mark just happened to be sitting in front of me (there are no accidents), only he looked different, very different. At the break I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself, wondering if an apology was in order. He reared away from me in consternation, then composed himself and leaned forward. “I owe you a thanks. I heard what you said to me in the room that week-end, and it changed my life. It was hard to hear, but you were right. I saw myself, and it helped me grow up.”

  2. robert s says:

    Good one. Reminds of my experience in the “est” group I attended in the OC during the early 70s.

  3. David Hauser says:

    I admire your courage to speak up. Regardless if the young man “got it” he will remember your words and, hopefully, a seed was planted. With as much anger as you described, it would only be a matter of time before he unloaded. But, because you spoke out, it may spark some insight that could be his saving grace. Well done!

  4. Bob Rice says:

    Love what you write, how your write, why you write. Thanks for sharing it all my friend.

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