Lovers and men of intellect cannot mix; How can you mix the broken with the unbroken? Cautious men of intellect shrink back from a dead ant; Lovers, completely carefree, trample down dragons.
Jalal-ud-Din Rumi (Translated by Andrew Harvey from A Year of Rumi)
I don't know their backstories. Those threads of personal history they carried into the classroom with them. Those story arcs that brought them to the shelter. A couple of them live there. The rest, they want to make change happen in their lives. They want the tickets they need to get a new job, build a strong future.
It didn't matter. Their backstory. What mattered is, no matter their age. circumstances, living arrangement, they had let courage draw them into a place of learning. They had overridden fear of change, of stepping outside their comfort zones, by making a bold move.
They range in age from 24 to 66. One woman amongst ten, they sit around an oval table waiting for me to begin.
"So, who's just so excited to learn all about self-esteem you can barely contain your enthusiasm?" I ask.
Ten pair of eyes look at me like I've lost my mind. "I know. I know. You're thinking you have to endure this class in order to get your tickets. You have to do all the 'lifeskills' training courses only because you want to get your forklift driver's certification. Or WHMIS. Or one of the other job-related courseware." I smile. "I mean, really. Who cares about your self-esteem?"
A couple of hands raise up. "When you put it that way, I do," says one man. "Without healthy self-esteem I wouldn't be here. I know I need to improve my job prospects."
And so the three hour session begins.
It is lively. Engaging. Insightful. It's what I love about the class. I learn as I give. I open up to new ideas as the class opens up and shares.
In three hours, it is generally not possible, nor advisable, to dig too deep. Those who frequent the shelter are often broken, bruised and battered, they sport protective defenses as thick as a turtle's shell. Sometimes, though, there's an opportunity to dig into an idea, breaking open to the core of our human condition.
We're three quarters of the way through when I ask the class, "Who here doesn't want to be the most incredible human being you can be?"
"Well, of course we'd all like that. Doesn't everyone want to be their best?"
"You tell me," I rely. "Do you want to be your best? Can you look in the mirror and smile and say, Wow! Aren't I magnificent. Or great. Or incredible. Whatever your word, can you look in the mirror and pronounce it proudly without that little voice leaping up and screaming in your mind, 'Liar! Liar!'"
One man says quietly. "I can say I'm a great dad."
"That's wonderful! Can you also say, "I'm a great human being?"
I watch his body grow still. He shrugs a shoulder. Shakes his head side to side. "No."
"I see a great man when I look at you. I see a man of integrity. Honesty. Caring. I would like to connect on the level of our greatness. Not our mediocrity and to do that, I must believe we both contain the seeds of greatness. We are both born of greatness."
I turn to the class. "Which would you prefer. To believe that when people look at you they see broken down, messed up, confused men and women, or, that they see magnificent human beings, people living up to their higher good, being all they're meant to be?"
The class laughs in unison. A collective shadow laugh. They're nervous. Uncomfortable. "Well, obviously everyone would like to be seen as 'great'," says the great father.
"Absolutely," I reply. "And, to be known as a great father, or great man, I must not only believe that is who I am, I must always focus my attention on doing the right thing, on being 'great'. When I hide out in the shadows of my belief 'I am not great', people see me hiding. They don't see me as being great because I don't let my vibrant colours shimmer in the light of living up to my most incredible self."
"Yeah, but," says a young man who has habitually challenged every concept and idea throughout the class, "isn't that kinda lame. To go around saying, 'I'm great!' Won't people think you're conceited?."
"What if it's not about what you say? What if it's about what you do, how you do it, how you express yourself through living?"
In each of us exists the seed of greatness. The seed of possibility. The seed of potentially living our best lives yet.
We toss and turn, digging up objections, throwing out roots of grandeur to dig into mediocrity, to burrow into living underground, holding the shell of our seeds of possibility tightly around us.
And in our machinations to be 'small', common, everyday, we feed the fear of who we are with our doubt that we can ever be our most amazing selves. We keep telling ourselves, "I'm not... I can't.... I don't..." and lose sight of all we can do when we let go of fear and leap into our spirit song calling us to live it up. Live it wild. Live it passionately in the rapture of now.
Who am I to be great?
"Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?" asks Marianne Williamson in her seminal essay " Our Deepest Fear ". A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3 (Pg. 190-191).
The young man of the habitual objections. He loves music. Plays it every day. Practices like crazy. Is committed to being the best musician he can be. "I can't tell people I'm a musician," he asserts. "I'm not doing anything with my music. I gotta get a job to pay the bills."
"What is a musician to you?" I ask.
He hesitates. He wants to generalize. To fall into broad definitions that sweep the heart away from his love of music. And then, he lets the truth fall out with the effortlessness of a leaf drifting to the ground.
"A musician loves the silence. He creates sound out of it. He hears the silence between the notes and creates pictures out of sound. He's a poet. He lives in every note he plays."
"And are you all those things?" I ask. "Do you feel all those things in the seat of your belly?"
He squirms. "Yes... But..."
"And if you take your but out of it?"
"I'm a musician." And then he quickly adds. "But I gotta make money."
"No matter what you gotta do, nothing can change your spirit's song. Nothing can take away from you your love of the music."
When we claim our spirit's song, we claim all that is magnificent about our human being. When we claim our gifts, we play tribute to the Oneness of our Creator. Yahweh. Jehovah. Great Spirit. God. Buddha. Shiva. Whatever we call it, when we celebrate our gifts, when we acknowledge their presence, and their present, in our lives, we connect to the awesome power of the Universe opening up to the realms of possibility, setting the stage for dreams come true.
We all have gifts. It's each of our responsibility to claim them, celebrate them and share them in ways that sing to our magnificence, that speak to our human condition illuminating the path for all to see a way to their own great selves.