In my dream I sit patiently as someone – a woman with a deft, artistic touch – paints my face with intricate tribal designs. They are aboriginal, elegant. I feel myself transformed, as if I am preparing for battle. Does one loom? The air crackles, so perhaps.
I accidentally touch my fingers to one side, smearing the effect, and I am dismayed. The painter smiles, unhurried and unfazed, and begins adjusting the design. In the mirror, I see my warrior mask and realize that, while perhaps no longer perfect, it is nonetheless formidable. I am pleased.
There is a buzz in the room, this casual room with chairs and seats and a lounging sofa. I notice a man slip in and sprawl across that sofa, claiming it as his, apparently. Hands behind his head, he talks animatedly to the person seated in a chair beside him. He is Napoleon incarnate – small, clown-like, graying, with no appreciable impact.
I remember this person, and I feel myself bristle as I recognize him. He is the one whose actions effectively pushed me from the community that for 20+ years had been my safe place, my refuge, my container.
Yet even as I bristle, I have to allow a tiny spark of insight to wiggle into view. I made that decision myself.
Yes, I took the path of less angst for me and mine and more healing for all. In essence, I gave him a gift, even though he abdicated his obligation as a shepherd and thus lost the last sliver of respect I held for him.
My choice. That is blindingly clear, and I own it. My choice removed me from my community and set me adrift to minister to myself. Still, that knowledge makes little difference to the staggering flash of anger I feel as I see him there. Is he blissfully ignorant of the way actions begat actions and tumbled down in careless freefall? Or does it eat at him somewhere inside? That, I do not know.
I make my way forward, for I am to speak to this group about listening on deeper levels. I begin at the shallow end of communication and wade deeper into true empathetic connection, giving in to my passion for the subject. The room is alive, crackling.
Then I awake.
I lie there, awash in the feeling of an emergent wisdom. What is it that hovers in the atmosphere around me at this moment in this Baltimore hotel room? I lift my cellphone and flick on the forward camera, half expecting to see a warrior’s painted face. But only my own unadorned one gazes back.
My mind has roamed free this night; even as daylight nears, it is not easily corralled, though I step into my morning tasks anyway. In time I find my hands stilled over my half-packed suitcase, thoughts of a new acquaintance arising – one of my co-learners in yesterday’s final day of a deep immersion into crossing thresholds. A seeker, for sure, but one who seemed unable to give voice to what he seeks.
And like that, it sparks a memory: a cold December after yet another intensive coach training weekend. My instructor, her face so kind and so wise, places her hand upon my forearm and asks, “what are you longing for?” Tears come, for I am at a loss. I cannot answer, for I do not know. I cannot give voice to what I seek.
Today, in this magical time before full dawn, I feel a sudden compulsion to ask that very question of my co-learner. What might break free if I could ask him, as I was asked so very long ago, “what are you longing for?”
Not that it matters, apparently, because it’s becoming obvious that it’s all about me this morning: Today, nearly 10 years later, I realize I can answer that question! With a bit of wonder, I speak into the early morning quiet, “Connection. Community.”
For 10 years it has floated in my subconscious, waiting for me to connect the dots, to figure it out, to respond with my longing. For the moment, I allow that knowledge to wash over me. How many times and how many ways and how many efforts have I made over the ensuing years to foster, to rebuild – in everything I’ve done – that lost connection and community?
A smile teases as I think about how the universe works. My psyche has been preparing me for the day when I could answer that original question with integrity and authenticity. My longing, hovering just out of reach in my subconscious, has been preparing me for the work I am to be about. It’s perhaps ironic that I speak my fire for community and connection while standing alone in a Baltimore hotel room. But perhaps it’s also appropriate.
How rich, this insight that arrives on the heels of a powerful and wise dream. How curious to come into full acknowledgement of how keenly I felt the loss of community and connection so long ago, buried underneath that nebulous anger and resentment toward this person and, yes, toward the community – my community once – he shepherded. How empowering to understand the “why” behind my ever-growing efforts to foster and build, co-create and champion connection and community not only for me but also for others. How freeing to forgive myself for allowing it to dog my psyche, my memories for so long.
Already my new-found awareness is flooding my thoughts and memories, restructuring, letting go, bringing the fresh air of understanding. I laugh out loud in the quiet of the room. I have crossed my next threshold with bold, warrior steps, and the past now kneels as the future rises.
Like the phoenix, I can leave behind the past in the ashes from the fire and move upward. I have my own permission.