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Sitting legs crossed on my white meditation cushion in the middle of a 17,500 square-foot temple sitting atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, it is the third day of a meditation retreat.
It’s mostly a silent retreat, but this hour, each day, is dedicated to sharing poetry. I have chosen to share a work that is not my own, but song lyrics from “The River of Dreams” by musical artist Billy Joel.
The previous two opportunities to share slipped me by. I had completely forgotten to bring the paper with printed lyrics with me. Perhaps that had been my ego’s way of getting me out of this self-imposed obligation. On this day, I had sternly reminded myself to bring that damn piece of paper so that I didn’t miss another opportunity to engage in this simple act outside of my comfort zone.
The assistant announced that whoever wants to share can come to the microphone. I hesitated. My heart pounded through my chest, and a tug of pressure starting in the bottom of my gut pulled like a taught piano string against a point just above my right eye in my forehead. Nausea arose, and I began to shiver and sweat at the same time. Someone began to share their own work of art. Such a brave act, I thought to myself. My heart pounded faster.
All of this in anticipation of what? Of being one of approximately 15 people today to share words into a microphone? One of 60 over the course of the entire retreat? Sharing to a room of deeply present, kind, non-judgmental (or at least non-attached to their judgments) people? Sharing lyrics that are not even my own to a group of people who have their eyes closed and have no idea who is sharing each poem, just sitting with presence, listening deeply? I know that is who they are because up until this moment, I had been one of them. There couldn’t be a better audience with which to share my voice.
So what was I so afraid of? My mind conjures up an image of standing at the microphone and fainting the moment I hear my own voice reverberating through the speakers.
I stood up the moment there was a pause between readers. Somehow my legs carried me to the end of the line of poetry readers. There was no way I would let my fear keep me from this simple act. There were three people ahead of me in line. I didn’t hear a word of what they read, as I repeated lines from “The River of Dreams” in my own head with different intonations, testing them out for effect, hoping I could capture the profundity of the song with my nervous voice.
Finally, it was my turn. I began to share. “In the middle of the night,” I said with a voice that ironed out the melodic tones of this gospel song flat and passionless. “I go walking in my sleep,” I continued with the same precise flatness. The words continued to circulate from the page of paper through my lips as if drawn by the microphone itself. I glanced down at my right thigh in pink leggings to witness it shaking.
“I’m not sure about life after this, God knows I’ve never been a spiritual man.” Suddenly, for just a moment, a bit of melody and a deeper tone rolls from the back of my throat. My lips finished the song lyrics again as flat as they began, and my shaky legs walked me away from the microphone and back to my safe white meditation cushion.
I don’t think I touched a soul. No one judged me. No one but me remembers that I shared that day.
Upon reflecting on this absurd amount of emotion for such a minor act, it occurred to me: I had been afraid that I might break out into song “Laa la la la la la Oh oh oh ooh oh oh Ah Aaah ah” between the verses.
I was afraid that the passion that lives inside of me might come through without my permission. I was afraid that the version of me, who only comes out when nobody else is around, the me that sings at the top of her lungs, rolling swiftly from the high notes to the low ones, sometimes on key, sometimes off, swinging her hips and snapping her fingers, might show herself.
I was afraid the real me would come out, and then, only then, could the real me be rejected.