Everyone has a story. There’s always a history behind the present moment. How you got to where you currently sit, stand, recline. When it began. What happened before that. And then what happened…
We can recall moments filled with details and colours and sounds. Some of them may be haphazard. Some may have been predetermined and cast into our DNA by our grandparents or their grandparents. If we consider all that, that too is our story.
It seems reasonable that when asked to share your story, there must be something you could say.
But, when I was asked, I discovered something else. What story? What have I done that when examined from a bird’s eye view looks or sounds like a story? I had lived through events, but were they interesting? Did they create a story-line? I didn’t see it.
Escape route 101: I asked my partner to tell me his story. I as interviewer could happily record his beginning, middle and end. “What’s your story?” I asked him. “Tell me what makes you who you are – the events, the encounters that brought you here.”
He answered: “I have no story.”
I tried re-framing the question. His words came out the same. No. No story, here. Now, I know he has a story. He has lived a life of experiences and relationships that could fill books.
So, what makes it hard to look at our lives and pick out the moments that when lined up would ring authentic and truly represent our path. Moments that when put on a page would offer material for a professional edit and a click of the publish button.
I know that, in the past, if an interested other has asked me what brought me to this moment, I’ve had lots to talk about, things that sounded unique and interesting. Why were those times different from being asked to listen to myself, and write?
The difference was plain. Then I had an audience. I could gear what I said to the look of interest (or lack of) in the gaze of my listener/s.
An audience. I could speak to the audience. Just like on stage or in a classroom. Instinctively, I’d find the light in their eyes and be encouraged.
So, I came up with an idea. This idea isn’t new to me, in fact it was my original plan when I first came to Israel. The idea is simple: Puppet Talk. Let a puppet tell the story. Let a puppet narrate and if need be, bring on important characters to be arranged onstage. Let the puppet show the small scenes of real life, in shameless accuracy, complete with blunders and embarrassment. Let the puppet express it all to provide clarity to past events that happened in a tumult of emotion or social upheaval, but which stick out in our minds: those events that we remember as pivotal in our route through life.
Let the puppet do the talking so that you can stand back and watch the story of your life from a comfortable distance.
This is the idea.
When I ask myself leading questions like:
What made you come to Israel?
What made you stay?
I think back and offer a phrase or a sentence. ‘It was the smell of orange blossoms.’
“I didn’t feel so short here.”
Yet was it truly so simple? Had I left a life in Canada for a new life in a strange land, just because of the fragrance of orange blossoms? Or that other people were short and I felt physically at home? Or the joy in meeting artists, musicians, philosophers at every corner? In the supermarket, in the office of the real estate agent, or with the vegetable vendor who traded us big green Granny Smith apples for the luscious guava from our tree. Those apples were juiced, warmed and served with cinnamon during a cold winter when we didn’t have money for heat.
There are questions that can be answered with a sniff of cinnamon or orange blossoms. Words hardly do them justice. So, why use puppets? Because the puppet can provide the distance and the voice for an emotion that might be difficult to express. The puppet seldom cries, but often shows empathy. Puppets can deal with life’s absurdities and still radiate patience and understanding.
Puppet talk. An idea that needs pursuing. What is my story? Let’s see!
My friend, C, used to tell me that in her bedside nightstand, she keeps a little kit. Inside there’s a good book she’s dying to read, suntan lotion, a bathing suit, flip flops and a towel.
She keeps the kit for that one moment when there’s no choice; when there’s no hesitation. That moment is when she’ll grab her kit and head out to the beach. For a day or two. If she has her charge card in her wallet, the required stay is open-ended.
That little bedside ‘get out of jail free’ option has been my vicarious secret for many years. When I would exercise that option was an inside joke, within the firm belief that I was still doing some good where I was and that the sun and the beach could live without me for a while.
Something’s shifted. I’m looking at my own escape plan. A retreat. A permanent retreat in Ein Dor with Tovana, in Plum Village with the Tibetan Buddhists. In my room with my meditation application. In my puppet workshop shed with my contact cement, paint and foam rubber.
Making a dignified run for it. Away from work. Away from teaching. Away from the bureaucracy that surrounds everything I do. The receipts, the accounts, the checking in and out. The computer programs, the bells that tell me when I can rest, walk, eat, pee.
An elegant tip of the hat as I blow a silent kiss to a machine that cranks out papers to sign while I am trying to connect my inner chi to the chi of countless pupils or teachers who are unaware of the changes of chi, or the empathy that is there for the taking.
The photo of the monastery on a hilltop. The snapshot of a pristine cell with bed and window. A place to meditate. Silent small meals. Early rising, early retiring. Others who also search for something inside that longs to grow in a separate daily routine.
A shift from a clock. A shift into a real flow of time.
This world that begins with a bedside kit – to grab and to go. My kit: a collection of books. My skin cream, my water bottle, some fruit and vegetables for the way.
Then it gets tricky. My phone. My charger. I need to be in touch. My partner. I love him. My children? My grand-child? This kit isn’t large enough.
Do I take the train or a bus? Do I need a ride to the station?
Maybe just my bike. I’ll get as far as I get and then breathe.
A break from classes. No class relax last Monday, this coming Monday and perhaps only half a session the Monday after that.
I’ve had time to step back, pick up some books for my own practice, and note down a few observations.
Here’s my list of Spring Cleaning of the Mind Post-its
Wish students well and then step back. Contact should be positive and easy.This is no time to keep a tight leash.
Wish myself well and repeat often – Lovingkindness meditation. More than ever, self-kindness is a well-needed nutrient
Clean my space and throw out what I don’t need and check the inventory of what I’ve so diligently collected
Allow new connections to form. Get a step away from old traditional routines emphasizing others, allow for the chance to vibrate to a new beat. Top suggestion – open the book Search Inside Yourself and let Meng provide some inspiration.
Do something I love. Do it. Sing, make puppets, practice.
Investigate location of sense of humour and encourage it to reappear. This is a challenging one. Where has my humour gone? On-going search
Do not take everything personally. Not everything is an assassin hit. Not everything is intentionally pointed at my sore spot. Probably not anything. Listen and detach.
Do not take, but notice and appreciate. It is not necessary to own a moment or a comment. Appreciate it as it appears.
Drink water, walk and listen to body. The physical form needs attention. My own schedule, no need to postpone food or rest because of an externally imposed agenda. Listen to what I need.
Old habits? Are they still around? Notice. Who said that the thing I once worked on to conquer forever is truly gone. When I least expect it, that thing might just be leading me into past paths.
11. Meditate. A lot. Whenever and however. Investigate new guided meditations from new voices. Find the sounds that inspire me to focus.
Read. Eat. Walk. Hug. Drink. Laugh! Smell the blossome. Listen to the birds. Move on. Offer what can be given. Do not hold back.
Spring is the time for affirming what it is I’m doing on this planet. My time.