Each month, I meet with a few friends of varying backgrounds for breakfast. On my calendar it simply says, “The Boys.” One played football for Bear Bryant (Alabama, for those non-football fans); one was born near one of my favorite places (Cambridge, England) and brought with him an amazing sense of humor heavily tinged with a tenderness of heart; and another is seldom seen without his black Stetson cowboy hat and is part of a bluegrass band that among other gigs, provides entertainment for those people that our culture would just as soon forget about - the local elders. It’s the kind of group that they make movies about. (“The Bucket List”, “Going in Style”, “Grumpy (and Grumpier) Old Men”). A biker, a builder, an author/banjo player, and me, (however they might describe me.)
We’ve stumbled upon a format that allows for each of us to check in and share what has happened of significance since we last met. An angioplasty, a last ride on a beloved motorcycle, a face-to-face (close enough to smell the breath of) encounter with a mountain lion, latest travels, trials, and tribulations. We cry some and laugh a lot. I am always humbled by, touched by and grateful for the stories and intimacies shared.
As it came time for me to share my “story” this morning, I had no idea where to start. Since I last met with them a month ago, I had been to my beloved Black Hills of South Dakota; Boulder, Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; Cambridge, England; Boquete, Panama, and spent a week with my daughter and her girls. Each of those experiences were beyond wonderful and exciting and fulfilling. I had time to share only one.
I chose to share something special of the time I spent with my family. Specifically, a special moment with my two granddaughters. It came at the urging of my daughter who had participated in an Ultimate Listening workshop that I had just finished in Panama. During that workshop, she asked if it was possible to teach what she (and 16 other people were learning) to children. I didn’t have an immediate answer to that. Then, I remembered that Fred Rogers, the subject of the incredible documentary, “Won’t You be My Neighbor”, and “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” fame had done the same thing I was doing with the adults there, with children, for decades. So, yes, it could be done.
So, what was I doing with adults in Panama that Fred had been doing with kids? Teaching them that there is a part of them that is “OK”, and always has been. Teaching them how to get back in touch with that part of them. How to honor that inner voice, their soul.
So, heading off with my granddaughters, with watercolors in hand, we went to the “Dragon Park”. We sat down at a picnic table, and I asked them to draw a tree (I drew one also). I asked them to not forget to draw the roots of the tree (until I mentioned it, they had).
I told them that I was going to teach them what I teach the adults who I am privileged to work with. I told them that we, as human beings are like a tree. We have different parts, just like the tree does. I explained the canopy part of the tree is like the part of them that seeks connection with others, in a spiritual sense, through the church that they attend and the religion that they are a part of. The “Who are we; Where did we come from; Why are we here; Where are we going, collectively, as human beings.”
I explained to them that the trunk of the tree is the “on stage” parts of them. Their egos. The “What they do” parts; the roles they play. Who they want others to think they are. An image that they project. What people are talking about when they say “So, what do you want to do when you grow up?”
And then I explained that the roots represented their souls. The “who” they REALLY are, their “backstage”, selves. I explained that this is where their artist, dancer, poet, ‘thinker’, ‘wonder-er’ self resides. It’s also where our selfishness, and envy and other such characters reside. I told them that in our culture we are taught to not pay too much attention to that part. In fact, we are taught to deny it, hide it, try to control it, drug it, dull it, anything but turn towards it and find out what is going on, what it might be trying to tell us. If our culture cared much about his part, if we respected it, we would ask children, “How do you want to be when you grow up?” I have never heard a child asked, “What kind of person do you want to be when you grow up?” If we thought the answer to that question was at least equally important to a child’s ultimate well-being, we would ask, but we don’t. I have only heard, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” As in what kind of job or profession (which is the ego part of ourselves).
I told them that we are taught to judge it. (One of them told me last year that they didn’t want to play a game, because they “couldn’t draw”; her artist self had already been crushed and snuffed out). We are taught to hate it; we are taught to be at war with it. I encouraged them to listen to that part, honor that part. Make peace with that part. I reminded them that without healthy ‘roots’, the tree will not thrive. If the trunk and the canopy outgrow the roots, the tree will eventually fall over.
Then I said, “Now, let’s draw whatever we want”. And then we were done. I had no idea if anything I had said made any sense at all to them, although they did ask questions as we drew.
When we got home, we went our separate ways. Later that day, the oldest was sitting in an easy chair across the room, when she called out “Mom, I have re-discovered my passion!” “What’s that”, Mom asked. “I love to draw”, she said, as she brought us one the most remarkable pictures that I have ever seen come from hands of someone that age. It was from the same hands of the one last year who said, “I don’t want to play, because I can’t draw.”
So, on this day, at this time, perhaps I channeled a bit of Fred. The message? “You are ok, all the parts of you, and always have been.” The rest of the week was filled with “soul” and “ego” and “spiritual” parts. Thank you, Mr. Rogers.
I have added a piece to Fred’s message, which is, “War is not the answer, it never has been, externally or internally.” ESPECIALLY, internally, which I believe leads to the external. Which, I believe, represents the source of chaos of our current political situation....but I digress.
Of all the wonderful things I had experienced since we last met, this is the one I wanted to share with the boys. It was the most important one. If I can be a part of a process that encourages my grandchildren to love their very souls, I’m all over that.
Sometimes “the boys” ask, “will we be reading about this in your next blog?” The answer is usually “Yes”.
Here is a poem that I read at the beginning of each of the workshops I lead that speaks, I believe, of our souls, our roots, our unique self:
We need not fear those things inside us, we need to fear leaving them untended
We are born as a garden, it is our birthright, unique in all of time
Its special beauty is acknowledged by all at our birth; it grows only more beautiful with tender nurturing, weeding, grooming and attention
Left alone however, untended this soul garden is taken over by non-native life
Like Kudzu, though beautiful in its own right, this foreign life slowly chokes life from its original host
Unless we were lucky, we were not taught how to tend this garden
It’s not even a garden we were ever told of or ever knew
Except for those moments that came to us when the is veil lifted by our dreams and visions and calling into the world of nightmares, voices, the unexpected
And even then, if we dared mention what we experienced, “it’s nothing we were told, go on about your life.”
As we get older the weeds get bigger, slowly strangling us to death
Some of us who are the lucky ones are introduced to our garden, so long neglected
And as we go and gently look closely, beginning to touch the plants, we recognize there are no mistaken, non-essential forms of life. Just different. Each plant is now a part of us. Each one unique and vital
A trim here, a thinning there, transplants from here to over there
One day our garden, our long-lost treasure, becomes our very own safest place.
It is from this garden that we feed those we love, and from this garden that we will travel on into that place beyond