People Who Make Me STOP
While I am privileged to have meaningful yet exhausting work to do, I am finding it harder than ever some days to STOP and just be. Pausing myself to experience the gift of an unexpected moment can make all the difference in a discouraging day, and bring me as close to heaven on earth as I imagine is possible.
Yesterday at a conference for service providers, I was reminded of the importance of making room for the divine interactions - religious people call them "holy encounters"- that can occur when we remember to slow down for them.
A friend, Beth, who runs an agency like mine, told a group of us at a workshop she led that one of the people she supports is extremely difficult to understand. “It takes at least fifteen minutes for me to listen and get what he is trying to say,” she says. “But what a gift his presence is to me. The rest of my world dissolves as I focus on what he is saying. I can’t do anything but relax into the relationship we’ve always had as I basically just listen.”
Her story reminded me of the time I visited a day program in Ukiah, CA and happened to meet a young handsome man in a wheelchair in a room filled with other folks. For whatever reason, I gravitated toward him, and soon we struck up a conversation. Now there I was, nothing more than a friendly stranger. He was very hard to understand, having little control over his body or his language skills. Yet he urgently tried to speak to me. I listed more intently than I probably ever had, trying to make out what he was saying.
His message to me was basically this:
“I was born in 1988. My mother cried when I was born. She visits me, but when my father died she couldn’t see me as much. But she is visiting soon, and she is going to take me home to Ohio. I am tired. When I go out, people aren’t always nice and they make me feel bad. My mother loves me.”
The words came out very, very slowly. I had to recheck, repeat, and get verification on every almost word, but eventually I heard them all. As we spoke, someone came looking for me…had I gotten lost? Just lost in conversation with the young man, and in so doing I had lost track of time.
As I made motions to leave the young man grabbed my hand and said “thank you,” as tears slid down the sides of his back-tilted face. I started tearing up myself when I realized he was moved because he was grateful.
To lose track of time, to get lost inside a moment, is a gift, especially when that moment connects us to something as beautiful as our conversation that day.
At lunch with other providers yesterday I spoke of this at the table. One woman told me about her son, Eli, a healthy, happy little guy (I think she said he is five years old) who is known to occasionally stop in wonder at the mundane. His excitement, often expressed in a single word and pointing finger—maybe accompanied by delighted hops and quivers of joy-- turns ordinary moments into occasions of wonder:
Her words held us all silent at the table for a moment, as we each reflected on joyful encounters with everyday stuff.
Just before he died, Joseph Campbell told Bill Moyers during an interview that we humans seek nothing as much as the “experience of being, of feeling alive.” That’s basically it; this is what binds us and what we crave most, he believed - every one of us, even those who are chasing bonuses, awards, and other recognition. And we are most likely to experience “alive-ness” when we slow ourselves down and allow ourselves to participate in novel encounters. That’s a bit different than intentional novelty-seeking like sky diving and snorkeling. It’s allowing other sentient beings to have an impact on us, especially those people, animals, birds and bugs we might not otherwise stop to hear or listen to fully.
As I see it, there is also a huge bonus besides the obvious personal benefit. Regardless of any gifts or weakness we have, we become mentors and teachers to one another when we make slow listening and thoughtful response a habit. Could there even be an effect upon the world? I think so. As the famed minister, Marianne Williamson explains,
“We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
In the corporate world I came from, this is what we call a classic win-win.