First…if you don’t know me…I and others have likened me to Camp Counselor Hippy Chick Girl whose mission in life is to get everyone on the bus to sing together…to be and live into a big bold love…that not only moves lives, but shifts systems. I knew from the moment I started spending time on Capitol Hill that I was different. With heart tattoos on each wrist, one facing me and the other facing out, I felt different. I dressed different. I smiled way too much and I laughed far too easily. I wore Red Boots, made eye contact and would somehow get even the most political of folks to eventually talk about where joy finds them. I was hopeful, optimistic and inspired by the energy in DC.
I was already warm when I walked in for our first meeting. Summer in DC is hot. Capitol Hill was, after all, built on a swamp. Scheduled to occur in the Congressional Member’s office, my colleague and I arrived early. We were totally stoked. The Congressional Member had agreed to come on board a new program I was founding, that would engage our elected officials in heart driven/compassionate dialogue AND activity with children. We were thrilled to be going over details with his staff in preparation for our “kick off” scheduled for September.
When we arrived, three staffers suggested we move on over to the Capitol cafeteria. The walk over was several minutes and I tried to engage in dialogue with the member’s staff, but it just wasn’t happening. My gut started to fill me in that something wasn’t going quite as we had hoped.
We finally arrived at the cafeteria, sat at a table, the three of them on their side of the table and myself and my colleague over “here.”
Before I could even utter a thank you so much for agreeing to participate or thank you so much for meeting with us, the team leader began. “I don’t know what you think you are doing, but what you provided for us in your last document exchange and what we originally signed up for appear to me to be two completely different programs.”
I’m blindsided…trying to grasp what’s suddenly going on. The words coming out of his mouth are so foreign to what I expected that I’m now relying on other indicators to intuit what’s actually happening. I notice that the veins on his neck are beginning to really bulge and I think I see sweat rolling down the sides of his face. His fists appear clenched and his face is very, very tight. His press secretary is uncomfortably texting or checking email and the other person, is opening a notebook, flipping pages and looking for a pen.
The whole situation was feeling a lot like that yucky weird taste you get in your mouth when you take a big ole’ swig of what you think is milk and it turns out to be orange juice.
“If my boss signs up for this, he will be literally laughed out of the next election.” His tone is, as I’m perceiving it, now moving into that panicked pitch that would suggest an internal meltdown of some sort. “We thought this was going to be some kind of simple little running program where my boss would run through the neighborhood with a group of kids. All this other stuff about bringing people together around a common goal, heart-driven and compassionate leadership…isn’t what we signed up for.”
And this is where my world shifted several degrees on its axis. I stopped hearing him. I knew, in theory, this project was going up against the political status quo, but now I was experiencing it firsthand. I wasn’t sure I was equipped to handle this. This is too scary and not the empowered moment I had pictured.
I literally went into the fight or flight response mechanism our bodies are so beautifully equipped to engage when we are faced with danger…I wasn’t sure whether I was seriously going to lose control of all my bodily functions, vomit, faint or have a heart attack. I don’t think I had ever been in a meeting such as this.
Once I had regained control of my body and decided not to fight I then interestingly made a very conscious decision to flee. Now this isn’t as it would appear. I didn’t get up from the table and run away. I , instead, decided that cuddling up in a hammock with George Clooney, in a small bungalow on the coast of Costa Rica was a far better location than where I was…so…I went there for a few minutes. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I think at some point, a small smile may have crossed these lips o’ mine.
Occasionally small snippets of what the staffer was sharing with me would come floating in…like small wisps of tropical breeze…stuff like “kum-ba-yah”, “can’t build Rome in a day”, “did you really think this would work?”…you know, stuff like that.
Eventually he finished. I honestly cannot tell you whether it was three minutes, five minutes or ten, but when he was done, he was done.
I returned from that glorious vacation in Costa Rica and did what any rested, relaxed person would do. I started to breathe. Now I want you guys to realize that breathing in DC doesn’t happen very often. I think people in DC pant, hold their breath and or talk, but it isn’t often that they really breathe.
And after two to three breaths and the blood had redistributed itself evenly throughout my body again and fainting or throwing up was no longer an option, I actually spoke.
“Wow. I am so surprised by this, that I literally do not have a response [or at least one that doesn’t throw me into the same fearful arena he and every other DC politician frustratingly find themselves in, I’m thinking.] I’m not sure what to say or whether I am even present, so if you will allow me a moment or two, I’m going to take some deep breaths.”
As I reflect on this whole exchange, it is at this point where I find myself almost hysterically laughing. I began what yogi’s call their Ujjayi Breath.
(To totally complete your visual of this whole thing check out the Ujjayi Tutorial on the internet. )
(I think at some point the staffer attempted to speak and I think I gently reminded him that I was breathing and needed a few more seconds. And if I’m totally honest, I’m not sure that everything I’m reporting is completely factual. I was in a state of trying to interpret incoming foreign data and so much of what was coming in is my perception rather than absolute truth…ironically we often confuse our perception with our truth. Anyway, I digress.)
Once I finished up my ten deep breaths, from that point on, there was a softening in our exchange…and while I can’t recall word for word what he shared I can recall that at some point he said, “You just don’t know what it’s like.”
And I remember feeling almost sorry for this man…wondering who he could talk to about feeling, as I had in our encounter, compromised, unheard and frightened. And so I said, “You are right. I don’t know what it’s like. Help me understand.”
The real conversation began…heartful, as open as it could be and eventually genuine.
I share all of this for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s just downright funny. As my good friend and Red Booter Trish Rohr shared, “It could be a freakin’ Saturday Night Live Skit.” I think she is right.
But secondly, and I think more importantly, what I learned is that we are all, at some point in our lives, confronted with our own humanity…those precious and private moments… when we can choose to complain, judge and blame or choose to take action… dig deep, do what is right and what is good and what is love. It is in those moments when the leader in all of us lives.
Yes, it is in the tiny sliver of a second where change begins, dreams manifest and movements become.