A Dedication to All Those Wonderful, Selfless Souls Who Organize Events for a Spiritual Community.
Recently I came across a presentation I made in 2014 at the closure of a gathering I organized for ninety-five people. It struck me it was quite amusing so I sent it to a friend. A day or so later a mutual acquaintance she had shared it with wrote to me commenting “it was so true that it brought tears to my eyes. It can be exhausting! I am evaluating what I have the strength to continue doing at this point in my life.” I realized I was not alone in what had seemed a lonely journey. So this is for all of you who embrace the challenge of organizing meetings in a spiritual context.
Organization Skills and Efficiency Will Not be Enough
If I say so myself I am a fine organizer, administrator and financial manager. At first I saw my primary role as managing financial concerns, organizing a venue, accommodation, food, registration and collecting money. I also helped design the program, coordinate speakers, and negotiate terms. I knew I could handle this with ease. What I did not realize was the human side of the event that could drive one to drink.
Fortunately I had a dream that warned me of what would come. I have to deal with a “disorganized jumble of personal possessions and dirty laundry that I do not want to even touch” I realized this represented the human interaction, the aggravation, the frustration, the procrastination, the confusion and all of the stuff that makes up life when you are trying to organize 95 people and get them to pay you. NB never allow anyone to pay by instalments, I did and it was a nightmare!
Spiritual Communities Are Like A Family
At one point I was sharing with the teacher of our community some experiences and he looked calmly at me and said “I think you are being given an opportunity to experience parenting.” The community was my family but what a challenging family it proved to be.
Like many other families most people are eager to please, want to do the right thing, but despite best intentions things don’t always work out. Just like in a family people like to blame someone else. For example “Its not my fault I am late, you should have given us more notice.” “Why didn’t you make the deadline two days later?’
Typologies In The Family
I began to identify a number of different typologies that frequent a spiritual community. Some people fitted into more than one category. Here are some of the types I learned to work with.
This seemed to a high proportion of the group – words like Survey Monkey, PayPal, Google, MailChimp run shivers down their backs. While trying to complete a simple registration form many people were convinced they had failed. So they tried to register again, sometimes bypassing the protocol to avoid this by using a second computer. So now I had to deal with duplicates. Many had to bombard me with their experience adding to my work.
So many people cannot make up their mind, change their mind, disappear – three people registered and I could never contact them again. One canceled, booked, canceled, then wanted money back that they hadn’t paid.
A number of people seemed to think I was their personal travel agent giving me instructions to “wait list me for a single, book me a double plus find me a room in nearest town just in case”
Some people gave me a wrong email address then complained when they did not hear back. Then there were checks with no signature or amount. Then of course the complaints of “I am sure I paid you.”
The Attention, Deficit Disorder.
Sadly I think most people did not have the ability to read to the end of an email. Literally I would get a question back immediately that I just answered in the email or being asked when they needed to pay when a schedule was attached.
The Dysfunctional Couple
There were a few of these! It shows up by both booking, neither booking or in one case the wife booked and her husband cancelled her credit card payment.
The Anxiety Stricken
These need constant reassurance – have I booked? Have a I paid? Am I registered? When I sent out a notice saying by now I should have received your payment the only people I heard from were those who had already paid, checking to make sure.
Waiting For a Sign
Some people seemed paralysed by indecision because they were waiting for the right sign or omen. This was most irritating as it was my reflection in the mirror. I tend to live my life seeking the sign or guidance. It works well until it impacts someone else. I got a glimpse of how infuriating I must be.
Holding The Centre
The dream was a continual source of support reminding me that this was just more dirty laundry. However I needed to find tools to help me stay centered and not overreact. I tried to remember Juan Manuel Ruiz’s simple formula – “don’t take it personally, don’t make assumptions, do your best and be impeccable to your word” and I took a lot of long walks to recite poetry and mantras. In addition I found music a great solace. Becoming centred helped me rephrase my responses to be a little more considerate and less pointed despite being tempted to launch a tirade: “there is one of me and 95 of you, do you really think I have time to answer your inane, stupid, unnecessary questions?”
Coming back For More
I organized four gatherings of my community. It became an act of service and gratitude. They did not get easier in fact became more complex as we expanded and held gatherings in Assisi, and Oaxaca in Mexico. The finale was supposed to be Assisi in 2020 but we had to cancel due to Covid. It was planned to be my swansong as I had decided to retire from these events. Now my final act was the undoing. Yet in hindsight it was all worth while. What will stay with me is the warm sense of appreciation and expressions of gratitude for a job well done. A quote springs to mind from my Christian studies, in Timothy 4v7, St Paul says: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. It feels like a lovely completion.