Monday, May 19, 2008

It was years ago; lessons learned ...

We were gathered in the chapel at beautiful Asilomar; California State Conference grounds in picturesque Pacific Grove. Don't recall just who the presenter was, but it was one of the theme talks that made up our annual Stebbins Institute week in what we considered our family's August holiday -- always a period of major growth.

It was the expected edgy talk -- reflecting the human potential movement that dominated the Eighties -- important to the re-making of the more humane world that we fully expected to usher in on our watch. The speaker was probably someone who would have passed muster with Esalan Institute or who mirrored practices emanating from Werner Earhart, Fritz Perls, Charlotte Selvers, or Sam Keene.

As we gathered that morning in the historic Julia Morgan-designed fieldstone and wooden chapel, we were greeted at the door by volunteers who provided each with small white cards with instructions to write down our deepest secret fear and toss the cards into the basket. It probably occurred to each of us that to fake it -- to not be fully truthful -- would waste the chance at learning what was there for us to know. The speaker would use these in some imaginative way, we were sure, but just how was an intriguing mystery. This exercise would provide another way to be revelatory; to lay bare some aspect of our fears. We'd been together in many kinds of experiences for many days by now and were wide open to the experiment -- willing to go wherever it would take us.

As the (approx.) 150 of us probed deeply into ourselves for the answers in the quiet, several of the volunteers passed among us gathering up the cards as we thoughfully completed them. They disappeared into a side room to carry out whatever their mission was -- with the complete acquiescence of their audience.

The speaker then spent the next hour giving a forgettable talk about stuff and things relevant to the times while the volunteers went off somewhere nearby to score our answers, or, whatever the next steps in the process might be. As it turned out the lessons were dramatic and have stayed with me all these years.

When they returned with their basket and the tally sheet the goal of the psychological experiment was suddenly clear for all to see. The speaker had been little more than a time-filler. This de-briefing was the exercise.

Of the 150 of us gathered in that chapel at the ocean's edge, there were only 7 secrets expressed once the adjustments for differences in the use of language had been taken into consideration. Seven secrets from that large group of participants. There were gender differences, of course, and those were accounted for in the numbers, but it was actually surprising how many were free from any gender implications.

We were all holding the same secrets!

I've thought of that over this past several days of dramatic new revelations which brought together my newly-discovered granddaughter and her surprised and ecstatic "new" father, my son, Bob.

I've felt no hesitation in sharing the story because it has been clear to me since that day in the chapel that we are but one human family, and that our humanness is expressed in these shared life experiences that only deepens our connections across cyberspace and beyond.

I suppose it is the reason that I've so little fear of invasion of my "so-called" privacy.

I've learned well the lesson that it is in those places where we're most vulnerable that we are most alive... .

Which reminds me of a conversation with the late author, Ken Kesey, (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) -- on the sand dunes -- at one of those conferences long ago when the world was moving at a breakneck pace and the lessons were coming at the speed of light! But never too quickly to not be absorbed, even when there was no sign that it was happening at all... .

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