This doesn’t bode well. I’ve been talked into a day-long workshop and I don’t know where to go.
There are two large conference rooms at the Cleveland Marriott. Their doors open across the hall from each other. There are also two different groups convening today, but someone has neglected to post signs at either one.
Now, to figure out which group is mine.
On one side waiters roll in carts of muffins, fresh fruit, and coffee. A tray of bright red strawberries passes tantalizingly close to me. I long to taste just one from the tray, but show uncharacteristic restraint due to the press of people entering that conference. Through those doors walk people who are impeccably dressed. Not only suits on the men but shined shoes, not only dresses on the women but elaborate hats. The attendees are all African-American. I spy a few Bibles. Seems to be an evangelical gathering of some sort.
On the other side there’s a lone table with water pitchers and glasses. Folks are moseying in slowly. Their clothing is more diverse than their skin tone. I spot Indonesian, African, and Japanese prints. In front of me a man with long gray hair in a pony tail is saying something to a companion about “passing through a portal of enhanced energy.” I assume he is making an ironic comment about walking through such a blandly generic doorway, but he goes on to remark that this was the name of a workshop he’d attended in Phoenix recently. Yup, this is my side of the hallway.
I find the friends who invited me and silently promise myself to sit still. (I’m not much for staying put.) Music starts, we sing, and I’m ready to have my consciousness raised.
I’ll give her this, the speaker is interesting. She sets off my “Oh sheesh” meter a few times thanks to her quasi-scientific quantum physics references, but I already agree with what she’s saying. Each of us can be light workers who spread hope, and ultimately greater peace, through our daily words and actions. We participate in group meditations, activating ourselves to take on greater responsibilities for uplifting others. While not new, her message is certainly valuable.
But all that time we’re stuck in a meeting room. I don’t know how anyone can sit that long. I tend to wiggle and my mind wanders when my body is uncomfortable. I wonder how our brethren across the way are faring. When the fidgets get the best of me I excuse myself for a hallway ramble. I notice through open doors on the other side of the hall that those participants are also chair-bound, staring straight ahead with the glazed look that comes from hours of immobility. Likely we are gathered in both conferences for similar purposes—-to enliven our spiritual lives and bring greater harmony to our bit of the planet. And surely the experience is enriching. But both meetings could be so much more if only we weren’t locked into a school-like format.
We humans learn as we make discoveries and face challenges. We learn by translating our experiences into story, song, art, into something created. We learn through the wisdom of our bodies. We don’t learn as fully when passively sitting still and shutting up for long periods of time indoors. Opening conferences (and any educational venture) to more direct involvement lets the lessons sink in deeper, making whatever we’ve learned more easily applied in our real lives.
I’ve worked for years teaching non-violence techniques to teachers and community groups (and I hope making the workshop experience a lively one). A key ingredient is finding common ground with those you perceive as dissimilar to yourself. Connecting with others leads to rich possibilities. The new combinations can be awesome.
Returning to my chair I can’t help but remember an old 80’s advertisement for candy. Chocolate and peanut butter collide and find that together they are more delicious, creating a whole new confection that the world loves.
I imagine the doors to both conference rooms bursting wide open and the participants merging. Meditations combining with prayers. Affirmations mixing with hymns. Our mutual dislike of sitting too long in these chairs turning into a joyous celebration that dances beyond the doors. How much we all have to share with each other.
And yes, maybe I do imagine tasting those strawberries at last.