In March of 2001 I participated in a community performance project at Colorado State University, called “No Roles Barred,” with the David Dorfman Dance company. It involved about 30 individuals, from all walks of life – both dancers and pedestrians. As part of the piece, we were to come up with a character that represented an aspect of our personality. The character I remember most was created by the director of the dance program - The Hat Lady was her name, a woman of too many roles who wore about half a dozen different shaped and sized hats at one time and had to tip toe down the stage so they didn’t topple off her head. I, on the other hand, became the Referee Task Master, complete with a black and white collared polyester shirt, a whistle, and a large cloth scroll that unrolled to reveal the words “TO DO” at the top. Sometimes when we distill ourselves down into a caricature it’s funny and simplistic, but also spot on.
I also remember some of the discussions we had a group as we went through the process of constructing the piece. At one rehearsal a participant’s confession struck me and I’ll never forget what she said. She said that as she was contemplating her character, looking at herself from the outside in, she had encountered this deep sense of dread that she’d find herself to be unappealing and un-interesting – that what she would find inside was a monster. I wonder how many of us have had moments of feeling this way.
This past weekend I participated in a meditation workshop in Berkeley. It provoked and inspired much thought and reflection. In one of the several talks that the teacher gave, he spoke of those people in our lives who really “see” us and that in meditating we can try to do that for ourselves – to really see our core self and observe her and all her chaotic thoughts and story lines without judgment. And as for chaos, there is plenty. The exercise of really examining oneself, like the woman I mentioned above discovered, can make you confront your inner monsters, which is not such a pleasant experience. At times this weekend I found myself going over all those reasons why I’m not doing or being enough of something while simultaneously feeling the negative emotions associated with those thoughts. But this really is just a story and it’s fictitious. If you’re able to sit with yourself for long enough and allow all that mental noise to sift out, I think it is possible to have moments where you settle into a sense of acceptance for exactly who you are and where you are right here and right now. And the monsters fade away, or transform to light, even if only for the briefest of moments.
It’s at these moments of self criticism and discontent that I also think of a quote by Marianne Williamson which turns the idea of what we’re afraid of and why on its head. It begins: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us." So maybe the monster in us that we’re afraid to face is not a monster after all, but really that light, or a friend who, if we just sit with long enough and learn to trust, will guide us toward our basic goodness.