Holding The Centre (while all about you are losing theirs)

November 25, 2013

One of the gifts that emerged from organizing a retreat for 95 members of my Spiritual Community was the opportunity to prepare a workshop on how I stayed centred and balanced during what turned out to be a challenging eighteen months.

The title was Holding the Center – Exploring the Inner World of Soul and How It Helps Us Stay In Balance. This Session explored the role of dreams, symbols, poetry, oracles and spiritual practices to support us in sustaining our Center when “all about us are losing theirs”. We examined what pulls us off Centre and to experience the gifts that Soulful reflection can bring.

This was a new experience for me. It had begun during a pilgrimage in Bhutan at the end of March 2012 when Atum O’Kane, the leader of our spiritual community, asked myself and my friend Nancy if we would be willing to organize the next international Gathering of the Spiritual Guidance community that he had planned October 2013.

It was not an easy decision as we both knew it would be a lot of work; I had previously underwritten the financial risk of the event in 2011 while Nancy had managed it. We utilized my DecisionClarity model to make the decision resulting in our agreement to take it on. I would again underwrite the cost but I would also manage registration and payment.

My first step was to attempt to limit my liability. I decided to so this by securing a minimal $100 deposit then set up an easy payment plan of three ensuing payments. The process began with a simple registration form that I created on Survey Monkey to collect the information I would need. Thus I became the architect of a monster that threatened at times to totally overwhelm me.

In the days following I had a vivid dream that I knew was connected to this event. I am waiting for a bus that has been arranged by Atum (my spiritual teacher) that is full of pilgrims coming to some event. He has asked me to meet the bus to unload some unspecified items. When the yellow school bus arrives, I climb aboard and begin to search for whatever it is I am supposed to remove. Meanwhile an efficient looking man with a clipboard is unloading boxes. All that seems to be left is a luggage rack filled with a disorganized jumble of personal possessions reminiscent of dirty laundry that I do not want to even touch. Atum is nowhere to be seen and I stand confused and puzzled as the efficient man makes the last check on his clipboard. “Is that stuff Atum’s?” I asked pointing to the personal effects. “You are heading in the right direction”, he nodded and got off the bus. At this point people in the bus began began to hug me and depart. I found myself standing alone on the sidewalk with the boxes. I began to carry each one down to the hotel I had stayed at in Assisi.

I knew immediately the dream was about the event. The meaning became clear while sharing with my dream partner. The man with the clip board represents the organizer within me that can manage this type of operation with ease, the rest of the dream reminds me that dealing with people will involve me in their personalities, foibles, uncertainties, anxieties, fears, expectations and other “dirty laundry.” I could not figure out the Assisi piece so I let it go never realizing just how significant it would prove to be.

The dream helped me let go of my naive assumption that things would go smoothly. I assumed that people would register, I would request money, they would pay me and that would be it. The truth was far different. People would disappear, they would be demanding, and they had copious questions and demands. There was one of me and eventually 95 of them. It would have been easy to be abrupt and inconsiderate but memory of the dream helped me return to centre, reminding me to be sympathetic and accommodating.

Strange things occurred. Responses like “Its not my fault I am late, you should have given us more notice.” and “Oh is it next year, then I will cancel, that is too far ahead.” I shared with Atum some of the stories and he likened it to parenting a family. I could not prevent the response, “this is one dysfunctional family”. He suggested I do a presentation at the end of the event on my dream and how it had helped me hold to hold the centre. This inspired me to keep a record of the “dirty laundry”and the psychological profile of “my family”. Here are they are:

The Technophobe – a high proportion of the family – words like Survey Monkey, PayPal, Google run shivers down their back and they become overwhelmed. One person complained extensively about the registration system on Survey Monkey and that I should not have used it because it didn’t work. Later I found her registration had gone through perfectly – twice!

The Scatterbrained: they cannot make up their mind, they change their mind, they disappear – three people registered and I have never been able to contact them again. Another booked, canceled, and then dithered for months finally asking me to let him know when there was only one room left. One registered in May 2012, never paid or replied to anything I sent then e-mailed the day the gathering started to ask if she could attend.

The Self Entitled: These people seemed to expect my world to revolve around them, they never paused or hesitated before firing off a an e-mail for an answer that they already had and some made outrageous requests such as  “Wait list me for a single, book me a double but also find me a room in nearest town in case I decide to do that.”

The Dyslexic: Some people cannot read or write. A few registered with the wrong e-mail address, even spelt their names wrong and one wrote me a cheque and was exceedingly indignant after I sent it back to him – until I pointed out he made it payable to “Seven hundred and twenty.”

Attention Deficit Disorder: It is amazing how few people actually read to the end of an email. Literally I would get a reply back immediately asking the question that I just answered. The dream helped me control my desire to shout back “Get a Grip! Do you really think I have time to answer all your redundant questions?”

Communication Challenged Couples: Almost immediately one woman registered for her husband and heself then he cancelled her credit card preventing payment. Then another couple each registered for the other and paid me for two people. It appeared that communication was not always a strong point in this community.

I developed what I thought was a kind, considerate strategy to remind people who had not paid by sending out a newsletter saying, “by now you should have completed payment.” Unfortunately the only people I heard from were those who had paid and needed reassurance. I never heard from a single person who had not paid! Next time I think a Wall of Shame may be a better idea.

The dream was a continual source of support reminding me that this was just more dirty laundry. It helped me remember remembering Juan Manuel Ruiz’s simple formula – “don’t take it personally, don’t make assumptions, do your best and be impeccable to your word”. I also took a lot of long walks to recite poetry and mantras.  I did my best often rephrasing my responses to be considerate and gracious. I must have done quite well as one woman came up to me and said, “Oh I did enjoy getting those nice e-mails from you. Now I am not sure if you meant it.”

At the retreat Atum announced that he wished to hold the next International Gathering in Assisi. At the time I had no interest in doing this job again particularly as the organizer would really need to speak Italian. Then a woman approached me to say she felt called to help as she was fluent in Italian. It seemed an amazing synchronicity and I heard myself asking her if she wanted to be my partner.

Afterwards I wondered if I was crazy. Did I really need to take on something of this magnitude? Was I just reacting from the joy of the appreciation showered upon me? Atum wisely told me not decide for a few weeks however it was the next day while sharing my experience of the weekend with a friend that the final scene of the dream from over eighteen months ago,  “I began to carry the boxes down the hill to the hotel I had stayed at in Assisi.” It seemed like a prophecy; it was certainly an amazing synchronicity; it was surely a “Call”.

James Hollis, at a recent seminar in Vancouver on his new book Hauntings, suggested that one of the best ways to attend to the soul’s call is to follow the energy. The joy, the dream, the synchronicity and the success have created the energy for me to do it again.