Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part X

Continuing my trend of seeking the get the best seats possible, I arrived early for Sonia Choquette's 90-minute workshop, so early, in fact, that I opened the door to the room and was suprised to see just one person inside: Sonja at the front of the room doing some stretches as magic time approached. I'd been highly energized by the keynote address she's given the previous summer and looked forward to experiencing it again. She was a surprise late addition to the weekend's teachers and fitted perfectly into a slot where they weren't any authors I'd been particularly interested in.

I was first in line as a number of people stood next to me, waiting to get their book signed by Gregg Braden. After a few minutes, I got a bit nervous as no one was getting behind me. Feeling I'd had the wrong door (I was at the one they let us in the day before), I headed to the other side where a couple dozen people were in queue. Oh, well, I thought. I'd still be able to sit in the front half of the room. As I talked to a lady behind me and said I was from Minnesota, she noted that my voice had a touch of an Alaskan accent to it. I said, "You betcha" and she smiled. The lady in front of me hadn't been to the conference before, so I told her a bit about the ins and outs of it. When she said she was from the Chicago area, I replied that her face gave the impression that this was the case. The reason I felt that was she looked a great deal like a friend I knew in college who was from a Chicago suburb.

We were let in a few minutes later and I opted to sit next to her on the aisle of the 5th row. Extra seats were brought in as dozens had heard about Choquette's workshop the day before and wished to change who they had been scheduled to see for Sonia. A pleasant vibe was felt immediately as a number of upbeat tracks were played by Shamrock; he's the one who had set the ballroom on fire the previous June dancing like a junebug. I made a number of silly comments about him to my classmate, things like, "When Shamrock gives someone his height, does he include the two-inch bulge of hair just above his crown chakra?"

Sonia came out to much applause a little after 1:30 in a beautiful multi-colored summer dress.

I didn't even think during the entire time that she sounded like Mary Steenbergen, something that was heavily on my mind the year before. To get everyone loosened up, she once again had us stand up, turn to the right, and give the person in front of us a shoulder massage. A minute later, we were instructed to give karate-chop hits on their shoulders. All this while we shook our hips vigorously. Next we turned around and did the person on our left.

As we got underway, she said that laughter was incredibly important when it came to getting in touch with your spirit, exactly what Tamura had told us an hour before. She then showed a couple other things we could do like saying, "Mwwwaaa" and gently hitting ourselves in the chest and saying, "Haaaaaaaaa". I wound up being glad I didn't wind up in the front as Sonia called two people up to the stage who were sitting there. The first lady who I'd met at Neale's workshop the day before looked like a deer caught in the headlights as Choquette asked her to sing a song for the crowd. She did a nice job, but it wasn't really soulful. Sonia gave her a minute and asked her to put her heart into it. She responded by singing Janet Jackson's "Together Again". Such a difference in how her face looked, in how her eyes appeared afterward. Of course, I would be petrified to do such a thing, but was plenty safe where I was sitting.

We were told to do an exercise with the person next to us in which we told the other the things we loved. And we had to keep saying what we loved til we couldn't think of any more. This was harder than I anticipated and I had problems coming up with more than four at a time. Next, we were told to tell the other what we were afraid of. I started by saying, "Carny people" and "rottweilers" and got the laugh that I expected. I then said that I'd thought of those two before and would now go into the real deal, being afraid of not having others to love, gaining weight, becoming disabled.

Sonia asked a lady in the front row what she was afraid of, but the answers she was getting didn't seem to be from spirit, from outside of her mind, so she had her come on stage where she was exposed for all to hear. She teared up a bit as she ran through the things that she was fearful of.

After doing some explaining of the five spirit types that exist, she told the microphone runner, "What about the handsome man in orange?"

*gulp* She asked me for ways to know that one was in touch with spirit. I did good at first, but then stumbled when she asked the part of the body that keeps you in touch with your soul. She had said something about the solar plexus earlier, so that's what I said, but chided myself when I realized that the hips are where she actually said it was at. I made a quick mention of "18 inches", the amount of space between the heart and the head and got a laugh from it, but I was grasping for straws a by that point.

I thought, "Oh, shit" as she asked me to come up front. She instructed me to wave to the crowd where I was greeted by a deluge of waves. In the crowd, I spotted a number of people that I'd become familiar with over the past couple of days, including the two who had already been called up, all with smiles on their faces and wishing me well.

Sonia asked that I tell the crowd of more than 100, mostly women, ways that we could get in touch with our spirit. I started with the old standard of just being, not thinking, and then started moving my hips swiftly from side to side while speaking. I didn't move my hips once during the fast songs that played while on the dance floor during my wedding reception, but hell if I was going to do it half-assed and have Sonja ask me to do it with more vigor. So I shook it fast as I ripped off a few more tips, things like saying, "Mwaaa", hitting yourself gently on the chest saying, "Aaahhh", giving people massages, karate chops, and saying that making people laugh is also a good way to get in touch.

I was more than a little dazed as I got a round of applause and Sonia said, "I like you" as I headed back to my seat. I was incredibly calm and relaxed as I sat down, the fear I'd had a moment earlier gone. I'm not sure how I was able to do this in front of all those people. I just know that I was feeling very comfortable in my body and no negativity whatsoever. I'd like to have actually seen a recording of what I did, but the memory will have to suffice (though I do now have an audio recording of the workshop as a keepsake).

I was complimented the rest of the afternoon by about a half-dozen people who'd seen my performance including one lady who'd said that I was "terrific". I also ran into the young lady who'd sang onstage and touched her hand as I said that she sounded great. We'd both been through the gauntlet, but lived to tell the tale.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part IX

I'm more than a little ashamed to admit that in the early morning hours on Sunday, I had my arms around the body pillow that the Westin had provided for its guests. It's hard to deny the appeal of having one's arms around something. It's what they're for, after all; my Bible tells me so.

I woke up nice and early for my last day at Celebrate Your Life. While brushing my teeth, I felt a loose particle on the upper right side, so spit it out. It hit the sink and went straight down the drain; kinda like Obama these days. Once I finished brushing, I felt something missing from that same area and shuddered as I realized that what I'd spit out was actually a filling. I wasn't going to be the man today that I was just a few hours before.

Knowing there was nothing I could do about it that day and feeling no pain, I headed downstairs to see Neale for the last time that weekend. I was happy to see no one waiting yet, so was assured a good seat. A forty-something who came up behind me was in the mood to chat, so I told her how I came upon Neale and asked how she did the same.

As it grew closer to Go Time, the Wisconsin native wondered why we hadn't been seated yet. I told her that the room had to be specially prepared as Neale liked to open each workshop by doing five minutes of stand-up. She totally bought it as I laughed.

I got my usual front aisle seat and readied myself for more wisdom from on high. Below is a pic of Neale gesticulating for all to see (I can be seen in front wearing an orange shirt. Wearing orange means one's serious about their spirituality and is, in most cases, on the right path. Monks are a prime example of this):

The subject that morning was on the Mechanics of the Mind and the System of the Soul. At one point, he pointed in my direction and said, "This guy's probably thinking, 'I didn't know this was going to be a college psychology course'". He talked of how, many times, we assume something is true when it really isn't. For example, there were a couple girls from the year before who I felt were blowing me off, but it turned out that they weren't; I was able to catch up with them later that day. It was a bit humbling to know that I was just as likely to fall victim to the "apparent truth" conundrum as those of a less spiritual bent.

Being in the front allows for much more interaction with Neale. He talked of how various behaviors don't work as well in different contexts. Being sensuous at home is a fine thing (unless the mother-in-law is visiting, of course), but doing it in a restaurant might lead to a slapped face. Neale demonstrated this by leaning forward and acting as if he was going to strike me. I playfully backed up a bit as he did so.

It's much easier to really listen when one is sitting close as well. In one instance, Neale asked the group what the mind helps us to do. Remembering the definition he'd given us an hour before, I didn't hesitate to say, "It helps us to survive". Neale replied with, "Somebody's paying attention!" I gave a thumbs-up. I admit, it's great being a teacher's pet.

As the seminar ended, I headed off to see Michael Tamura again. I took one last look at Neale signing books before continuing down the hall. One of the biggest laughs I got was when one of the older ladies who'd cut to the front of the line at Neale's all-day two days before, went outside to have a smoke. The wind was strong as her every effort to light a cigarette failed. I physically stopped to see how things turned out. This exact same scenario happened there a few years before; it may have even been the same lady. She wound up going behind a column and getting it lit there. The show being over, I continued on.

There weren't many seats open in the first few rows of Tamura's 'shop, so I opted for the sixth or seventh row next to a nice-looking lady from Minneapolis. She asked where my significant other was. I said that she'd been to this conference in '08 and that it saved money if, while I went to this, she saw her sister who lives just a few miles down the road and who she rarely sees. This answer didn't completely satisfy her. She was surprised to hear that I planned to drive the six hours home that night. I said that I'd done it thrice before and that it was cheaper than flying. I did understand the appeal, however, of taking a plane from Bloomington straight on through to Chi-Town.

Tamura was introduced a few minutes later and got to work on educating us. Below is a pic of the three of us:

He had the lady next to me laughing, not least when he said, "Do you know how you become an advanced student of mine? By attending more than one of my workshops".

As he looked across the room, he said that all of us have had multiple lives, both as women and men. A number of traits I have make me all but certain that I've experienced womanhood. He described a "platoon" of souls waiting to be incarnated, excited at the opportunity to experience physical life. Many cry that they didn't pick their parents when, in actuality, according to Tamura, they did.

Typically, parents are chosen that will most help the soul in experiencing spiritual growth, so if you have difficult parents, ultimately, it was to your highest benefit. What value is there, after all, in having a mom and dad who are perfect? Tamura said that he sometimes helps these souls find parents. When questioned about possibilities, he'll say, "I know a couple suckers". He was joking, of course, but can you imagine giving birth to a soul who was once, say, Genghis Khan's brother?

One of the best points made is that saints weren't always saints. They all had to go through trials and tribulations in which they hurt others. Even Jesus wasn't without sin. The audience was rapt as Tamura said that he was Mongolian in a prior lifetime. He had a lot of power and misused it by causing people that weren't in his tribe to be hurt. At that time, he believed in separation, that his people were superior to others. It took awhile, but he was eventually able to see that none of us is more deserving of life and love than any other.

Once the workshop ended, I headed to the large room where a small boxed lunch was served. As I headed to a table to eat with the 'Sconnie native, I touched the shoulder of one of the ladies I'd been sitting with in the evenings.

One of the reasons people seem to like to talk to me is because of how readily I can bring up pop cultural references that pertain to the period of time that the other is talking about. For example, the lady at lunch said she read some spiritual works as a teen in the 70's. The first thing I asked was if she'd read Jonathan Livingston Seagull. A minute later, I brought up the Seth material. I asked what kind of music she liked back then, giving examples like the Eagles, James Taylor, and Fleetwood Mac.

The last time I got a haircut, from a woman who'd I worked with at another job, she said that my memory of details is amazing, that I'm like an encyclopedia. With the advent of Google, I suppose this is less compelling than it once was, but it still makes me a curiosity at dinner parties.

Once I finished lunch, I headed to the lobby for a few minutes' walk before the next seminar. I saw Tamura walking my way and said hi to him. He replied in kind as I was now just minutes from what would be the most memorable workshop I'd experience that weekend, certainly the most adrenaline-inducing.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part VIII

I next headed to the room where Michael Tamura, the man who had so tickled me the prior summer, was scheduled to speak. Imagine going somewhere and knowing that, without question, you are going to laugh. Many times I go to comedies at the movie theatre and am let down when they don't make me laugh or not as hard as I was hoping. The true belly laugh is something that is hard to come by, so when it comes, you really have to appreciate it.

I was surprised to see open seats in the front row and hustled up there. The room seemed bigger and more airy then the others. The Spanish lady from Neale's 'shop (the one I just left) sat next to me. A few minutes later, the Spanish lady from lunch asked if the seat on the opposite side was open. I answered in the affirmative.

I next proceeded to tell the ladies what they were in for: a happy man who exudes positivity, so much so that he has a tendency to laugh at his own jokes: sometimes he's the only one. As he was being introduced by his wife, he was making faces and rolling his eyes a bit as if to say, "Hey, I'm not all that".

He started with an account of the time he had some type of attack and the ambulance was rushing him to the hospital. Tamura then said, "It didn't look like I was gonna make it...and I didn't." He described leaving his body and seeing his wife driving in an SUV behind the ambulance. She, being a clairvoyant, saw his spirit in the sky and Tamura said she shook her fist at him as if to say, "Get your ass back into that ambulance!"

He said all this with a smile on his face and the story may have been the occasion on which I laughed the hardest that weekend. From time to time, I would look at the others around me, most with a serious look on their face, unsure of what to make of this man.

Lots of wisdom was shared during those 90 minutes, but the lightheartedness made it so much more enjoyable. It's amazing how the way certain words are spoken can translate into convulsions in the ribs, but it is, without question, one of life's greatest pleasures.

He teased that one of the things expected of those who took one of his advanced classes was being able to hold one's breath for four hours. We closed with a meditation that had me smiling, not least when he directed us to "Look at the ceiling...even though it's not very interesting".

I looked forward to seeing him again the following day, though that workshop would take a more serious turn.

After relaxing for the next hour in my room, I headed downstairs to see Marianne Williamson. She was going to be discussing her new book which was about weight loss. Being at a normal weight, I had no interest in the subject, but felt I could get up and leave if it became intolerable.

I wound up finding the older ladies I'd sat with the night before and was happy that I'd get to sit on the aisle again; I was in about the ninth row. When Marianne came out, a lady behind me took the words right out of my mouth when she said, "She's so tiny!" I thought, at first, that she was referring to her weight which I somewhat doubted was in the triple digits, but came to see that she may have been referring to her petiteness with regards to heights as well.

Being a bit bored at the beginning, I shared a few wisecracks with the lady next to me. At one point, I leaned in to her and said (referring to Williamson): "Do you think she's wearing a girdle?"

I noticed an older man sitting one row in front of me across the aisle. Wearing glasses, he had a can that looked like Gandalf's stick and held a crystal in his hand. He stared at it for quite some time, more fascinated by it that what was being said. I gather that he purchased it from one of the dozens of vendors that were selling their goods at the conference. I've no use for crystals myself. If everything that occurs is for my highest good, what point would there be in owning such a thing? If it gives others comfort, however, well, good for them.

Thankfully, Williamson moved on to things that I had more of an interest in. She shared a piece of wisdom that has stayed with me since I first heard it in the early 90's. The line is, "My safety lies in my defenselessness." Many times when I stressed, those six words soothed me and told me that things would go better if I just let things be instead of fighting against them. I was reminded me of another line from one of her books: "The sky is always blue, even when a gray cloud passes by."

There was one bit I disagreed with, however. At one point, she said, "If you fight yourself, you're gonna lose." I instantly thought, "Well, wouldn't that mean, that a part of yourself won?"

Near the end, she took audience questions and I loved it when she was standing just a few feet in front of me. Below is a pic from that moment; I can be seen on the left wearing a light blue shirt with a bit of a bald spot. The crystal-watcher can be seen on the right wearing green pants.

Hearing this woman speak so eloquently right in front of me is why I come to these conferences and Williamson was the first self-help New Age-type author I ever read.

I skedaddled out of there pretty quick once Marianne finished up. Having signed my copy of one of her books last year, I wanted to hit Popeye's one more time before leaving town the next day. I made it about twenty minutes before they closed. They were out of corn on the cob, but the chicken more than made up for it.

I returned to the hotel with the beverage I'd bought at the restaurant. I held the cup up high to my right shoulder with the Popeye's logo facing out so that those who walked past me would not escape knowing where I'd just ate. As I got off the elevator, a man looked directly at the cup and then at me, receiving the message I'd been trying to send.

I walked through the bar to see if there was anyone around that I knew before heading upstairs for my last night at Celebrate Your Life. Little did I know that the following afternoon, just like on Friday, I would be called up to the front for a demonstration, only this time, it would be in front of a much larger audience.