I haven’t been writing very much because I’ve been on the road. But I wanted to share an interesting experience I had the other day.
I was supposed to fly from Medford, Oregon, to San Francisco to speak at an event at 6:30 in Oakland. My flight was supposed to leave at 2:00 and arrive at three-something – plenty of time. Well, you know what happened. First it was delayed. Then when the first passengers began to enter the jetway for boarding, the pilot walks out and says, “I can’t let anyone on this plane, the air conditioning isn’t working.” More delay while maintenance comes to fix the AC, but I had a feeling that this flight wasn’t going to happen. Sure enough, 45 minutes later it was canceled.
And, the later flight to San Francisco was canceled too.
And, nearly all other flights to other cities out of this tiny airport were fully booked.
At that moment I felt a twinge of emotion followed maybe a quarter-second later by a story. The emotion was a kind of self-pitying smallness and impotence and resignation, and the story was something like, “It isn’t going to work, it is impossible, I’ll miss my event, all those people will show up for nothing, but it’s OK I guess, it won’t be my fault, after all there is nothing I can do about it.”
Wait a minute, I could rent a car and drive down. I asked someone else in the line (at the gate counter for re-booking) how far a drive it is to Oakland. Six hours. Well, I’d be late, but maybe they can push the event back, notify everyone (it was a small gathering, fifty people). But it will cost at least $350, they said.
I called Judith to sound it out. I could drive and get there maybe by 9. Is pushing it back feasible? She hesitated. I sensed her concern for my well-being (an expensive six-hour drive on jet lag) and I said, “I think we should go for it!” “Really?” “Fuck yeah!” That’s what I said, loudly, as I walked toward the car rental counter. (I hope people don’t unsubscribe because of an obscenity in this post. That happened last time.) The words burst out of me at the moment I realized the universe was asking me, “Are you really dedicated to your work? Is $350 dollars and a six-hour drive going to stop you?’ It suddenly seemed absurd that I would even hesitate.
I went to one rental company. “We don’t rent one-way.” I went to another. “All our cars are booked.”
Other travelers were looking for other rental companies in town, making phone calls. Same deal. It was a Frieday afternoon.
The same twinge offered itself, and the same story invited me into it: impossibility, futility, and it’s okay because there is nothing I can do about it.
I didn’t like the way that felt. I gave the feeling a few seconds of attention and turned back to my goal, which I now had no realistic plan for achieving. But somehow. I felt extremely calm as I walked toward the ticket counter and got on the phone. It was the same feeling of calm I get when one of my children is injured. It is a state of calm focus and precision. I also felt curious. Where is this going to lead?
Maybe there is someone driving by the airport on their way to San Francisco who can give me a ride.
I called my colleague Marie Goodwin and told her the situation. I asked her to call the camp in Oregon at which I’d been leading workshops for the prior three days and tell them the situation.
Half an hour later I was in the car on my way to Oakland.
Here are the lucky things that had to align for this to happen:
1. Marie had to pick up her phone, which she doesn’t always do.
2. Someone had to answer the phone at the camp. This is a private camp, there is no staff and no one to answer the phone unless someone happens to be right by it.
3. Someone had to be leaving the gathering two days early, at exactly that time, and had to be going to the Bay Area.
4. That person had to receive the message in an area with very spotty cell phone reception.
I arrived at around nine and the event was fabulous – all the better, I think, because of the delay. The people who came were people who really wanted to be there. The energy level was high.
It sure seemed, as this was happening, that a mysterious causative principle was at work; that my state of calm, focused relentlessness somehow shifted the universe so that the ride could materialize. On the other hand, I am well aware that people like to take personal credit for their good fortune (ascribing bad fortune to chance), and implying that the less fortunate are less worthy. I cannot accept that sort of spiritual elitism.<
What other story can account for my experience and satisfy my craving for meaning? Yes yes, I am aware that human beings tend to project meaning onto random data – this, along with the selective memory of unlikely events – provides a universal and unfalsifiable explanation of all synchronicities.
Here is an alternative to spiritual elitism on the one hand, or meaning-projection on the other. Yes, events were influenced by my state of being and the story of self and world I was inhabiting. BUT – I cannot take credit for choosing to be in that state. My choice was a symptom, an effect, of something else – a field that is gathering on this planet, part of the totality of circumstances bearing upon me. What really stands out is that the place I’d just left was a wonderful experience where I was deeply supported, met, and received, that filled me with the message “your work is important.” More important than $350 and a bit of fatigue. I was held in the state of positivitiy and unstoppability that bent reality into its image.
Trying to achieve such a state through an act of will risks a disempowering failure in which one thinks that one’s weak will is to blame. It motivates one to try harder to do the impossible. Better and more accurate it is to accept that state as a gift.
It is a gift that we cannot force, cannot extract from the universe. But it is a gift we can pass on to others. That’s what happens when we appreciate and celebrate – authentically – their service to a more beautiful world. (If it isn’t authentic, but rather an attempt to make them feel good, it will have the opposite of its intended effect.) We hold each other in rising to a higher level of dauntless service.