It was a rather dreary Friday afternoon in mid-March. Spring had arrived days before by the date on the calendar, but New Hampshire doesn’t follow the rules of the seasons. Patches of old snow still piled in heaps, even in the city, and a cold rain was falling from an ashen sky.
When I arrived at my destination, I found a tired building. The gymnasium, where the conference was being held, was equally dreary as the outdoors. Perhaps more so. The floor, scuffed and dusty, looked as though it hadn’t felt the threads of a mop in months. Films of unswept debris lined its edges and I hesitated before I released the weight of my heavy bag and winter coat. I didn’t belong here.
I felt it immediately. I was conspicuously out of place. The over-dressed outsider with a bag filled with treasures that I would soon discover were only treasured by me. I had, it seemed, set out on this day to play the role of The Fool. My face lifted to an unseen sun as I
skipped fumbled to find a place in the circle I had asked approximately 45 Montessori school teachers to create.
A fool-hearty mistake, it would seem, as I had severed their zone of comfort before I had even begun. We don’t always like to feel open and exposed. Equal, you might say, to one another. The teacher is used to leading. Standing above and before the pupil. I had created a circle on purpose. I didn’t want an end or a beginning. I didn’t want to break the illusion of unity. I didn’t want to appear as their leader for the afternoon, but their equal.
They had, though, expected to be taught. Lectured by me as I stood on a podium before their lines of chairs. Here they might hid in their expected roles, as I donned the mask of teacher. Instead, I continued to play the role of The Fool, determined to open before this tired group now circled around me, my bag of treasures.
The carefully typed words started navigating in a clockwise rotation, and I watched as the turquoise and white organza wrapped crystals, tea, and chocolate offerings were reluctantly selected from the basket that held them. What care I had taken, I thought, to gather and wrap these unwanted gifts.
What a fool I had been to think they might be eagerly received.
I have learned, for the most part, to let go of expectations. What we may dream up in our mind as a wondrous play of events rarely plays out in reality the same way as our imaginings. Instead, we seem to get what we need, more than what we want, in that moment of arrival.
I had thought, or rather hoped, that my approach to talking about mindfulness might be eagerly received, or at least curiously welcomed by a group of professionals who were tasked with the role of instructing young developing minds. What I found instead was a room mostly filled (there were the few semi-eager minds) with tired minds inside equally tired bodies who just wanted to go home and call it a full day.
It’s likely whatever I had chosen to offer them that afternoon would have been tepidly, at best received. Unless it had been a check for a million dollars, for the air in the room held the feel of being over-tired and under-paid, as teachers often are.
Yet, I had committed to being there for two hours to talk about Mindfulness with the intention that my audience might discover tools to use in their own lives and to incorporate into their classrooms with the young minds they were tasked with nurturing. The mindful journey, though, appeared to be mostly my own.
As I stepped out of the circle and into its center to fully don that role of The Fool and demonstrate Donna Eden’s Daily Energy Routine, I felt the full glare of the invisible sun shining on me. In the shadows of the circle, figures elbowed each other and snickered. Was I in eighth grade? It sure felt a lot like I was. The same adolescent insecurity was being mirrored back to me.
Look at me, playing the role of the fool. Look how vulnerable I am being. I may appear different from you, but I am just like you. I know your number. I’ve walked in your shoes. That pain you are trying to mask with mockery, was once mine too.
We cannot expect those who most resist the new to gaze in wonder or in awe through the door we try to open for them. We cannot expect them to walk through it and see what is on the other side. We must all become The Fool in our own time, stepping off the well-worn path and out to the cliff of the unknown. We might show them the cliff, but we should not push them off.
How wrong I had been to think a group of Montessori teachers might find what I had to offer engaging or enticing. Whereas my yoga students will most often eagerly embrace the new and yet to be discovered, not all of them do. I had walked on that afternoon into a room mostly filled with people who had no intention of learning something new or different that day. Their intention, instead, appeared to be to get through the Friday of required workshop hours as quickly and effortlessly as possible so that they could begin their weekend. Fair enough. That’s okay. I can accept that. There were the few. The one or two, who lingered after to get another glimpse through the strange window I had tried to open. Offering their own stories of emotions trapped in their bodies, and techniques they had tried to feel better and live more mindfully in this challenging life we are all tasked to live.
I’m okay with going home having realized I perhaps learned more that day than they had. There is always a lesson for us when we choose to learn what it has to offer. If I want to try to bridge the road of comfort and help others find a new way that may be more mindful than the one they have walked longed walked with rote footsteps, I will need to explore some new paths of my own. I certainly have my work cut out for me. We all do. These are not easy times. What I saw in that room was not up-lifting. Bodies and minds disconnected and filled with pain and fear. I saw Trump’s America in a place I had least expected it and it left me a bit jarred and unsettled.