ok — this is highly personal, and i didn’t expect to share it publicly. but i decided to post it, primarily because i wanted to get it down in words and stick it somewhere; and, also, because i try to have this blog be honest about personal stuff. it’s ridiculously long for a single post, but i’m not going to break it up.
Exploring my limitations and boundaries
Our exec team, lead by our consultant, did an exercise this past week on our retreat meant to explore the good and potentially-not-so-good aspects of our personalities. It was fascinating to watch each person go through the exercise (which took about 30 – 45 minutes each). We had six pieces of paper on the ground that we stood on while processing the different aspects of the experience, which gave it an other-worldly physicality. Really, the whole thing, in the words of one of the others, became very trance-like.
(sidenote: that word I just used – trance – I was pleasantly surprised to hear the apostle peter say he was in a trance while praying, more than once, while I listened to the book of acts, via “the bible experience.” I say this because the anti-contemplative peeps seem to be very convinced that prayer should always be a extremely alert cognitive experience. They complain that prayer disciples like the jesus prayer, and other meditative prayers, are dangerously eastern, and not Christian, because they lead one into a trance. But there’s good ol’ Peter saying he was in a trance whilst praying. Love it. End sidenote.)
I don’t know how to import a chart, so I’m not sure how to explain how the squares were laid out, but I’ll take a crack at it:
Two parallel rows of three (six in all). One row was the “want to be” row, and the other was the “don’t want to be” row. The first square in each row was an “am” state (current), the second in each row a “could become”, and the third, an “am not”. We stepped into the first square and considered who we are in our core. Characteristics, traits, personality, identity. What’s always been there are always will be, in a good way. We also considered what a movement or a symbol might be for each of these ‘states’. After stepping out of that, we stepped into “potential” – what (good, great) potential could be there when we grow into our best? Next was “limitation”. The idea here was to explore the limitation of that greatness – where would we surpass our abilities and gifts, and what would it look like on the other side of that.
Then we circled around and came through the “don’t want to be” states, one at a time, in the reverse order: “boundary” (if the “limitation” state was about surpassing our abilities, the boundary state was about what we will not do, where we will not go); “weakness/defect” (this was the opposite, or dark side, of the “potential” state – what’s the worst that could be, given my personality, strengths, gifts?); and, finally, “shadow” (which was opposite “core” – the dark side or negative expression of our strengths, who am I but don’t want to be but will always be with me?).
I had a powerful experience – really, very vision-like. the whole thing became a prayer, and i felt like God was revealing stuff i was really supposed to pay attention to. And I wanted to capture it in words, to the best of my ability…
When I stepped into the “core” square, and closed my eyes, and prayerfully opened myself up, I instantly had a picture in my head: I was furiously painting, bent over a giant canvas that was on the floor. The painting was Jackson Pollack-y in style, but was somehow a very new direction. Paint was flying all over the place. My concentration was very focused, but I was having a great time. Mark (our consultant) asked me if there was a physical motion attached, and I did a squatting, spraying paint-with-my-flailing-arms kind of motion.
I had a heightened sensation of my chest muscles during this, and felt strong.
Next, I stepped into the “potential” state. There was no expectation to build on what I had described in the previous square. But as soon as I stepped onto the paper, I had another very clear image (vision?) in my head. It was as if I was watching a slide show, as the first image of me painting slid to the left, and the new image slid in from the right. I almost chuckled, because it felt like I was watching slides from someone’s vacation.
In the new image, I was still painting in the exact same manner and motion; but now I was on a stage in a large amphitheater – like the Hollywood bowl. There were no seats; but where the seats would normally be were hundreds of people creating similar paintings, using the same motion. I had some kind of connection with them (I’m not sure exactly how it worked), and my painting wasn’t a performance, but was more like coaching. Together, there was a sense that we were creating a new school of art – not a physical school, but a new category of art.
It’s hard to describe what I was feeling in my body at this point. Since I was intentionally focusing on this image, it was a bit overwhelming. It was extremely vivid – both in a visual sense, and in my understanding of what was going on. and the physical sense was quite strong also. In other words, the image felt ‘inescapable’ – like I would have been completely dishonest if I had described anything slightly different.
But then, when I stepped off the “potential” and onto the “limitations” square and Mark prompted me with questions about moving beyond my potential, the slide slid to the left again, and a new image slid in from the right. I was on the same stage, in the same amphitheater, but it was otherwise empty. I sensed instant desperation. I was furiously doing the same motion, trying to create the same painting, but trying – really – to re-create the previous state. There was a terrible sense that, if I tried hard enough, or got the motion right, I could somehow recapture what had been, the glory of what had once been. I pictured (more than experienced) that my head was dripping wet with desperate sweat, and I was exhausted.
I was relieved to step off that square, but things really went downhill from there! I was amazed at how narrative this experience was, and had a sense that I was catching a glimpse of something god wanted me to see.
Mark and I came around to the other side (the “don’t want to be” side), and I stepped onto the “boundary” square. Given what I’d just experienced, mark asked me what I would not do. the slides slid (the whole ‘slides’ moving to the left was such a strong part of this – there was a clear linearity to the experience), and I saw myself stop the desperate motions on the stage in the amphitheater. I was breathing heavily (in the image – whether or not I was in real-time, I do not know), and my head was still sweaty. But I had a clear sense that stopping was a victory. I had drawn a line in the sand, so to speak. The phrase that came to mind was, “I will not not stop.” In other words, I will not get to a point where I am not wiling to stop, where I merely go on and on and on in desperation, trying to re-create some previous wonderful state. Mark asked me what motion might be connected to this, and I saw myself slashing the canvas, with a knife, or a large razor. I was angry, but sensing I was free of the tension and desperation. I was free of what was obviously pathetic. The second half of the motion was a stepping away from the now-shredded canvas, and off the stage.
I stepped off the “boundary” square, and onto the “weakness/defect” square. Mark reminded me that this ‘state’ was the opposite of the “potential” state – it’s what I have the potential to become if the worst of me was given space. The slides slid left. And it was instantly awful. I mean: terrible. I started crying almost immediately (not in the image, but in real time). I was back in the amphitheater, back on the stage, and the amphitheater was full again with people painting. But as I looked at my painting, I saw that the dribbles and splashes actually said “me” in a hidden kind of way. And the paintings of all the people said “me”, but they meant me, not them. I was manipulating them all, and they didn’t know it. It was all about me. And it was so overwhelmingly horrible, and I was crying, and I could hardly speak, and I wanted so very badly to step off the stupid square of paper because it was all so vivid, and it was even hurting my body.
Finally, mark asked me to step backward. I stood for a long time, trying to regain my breath and relax my muscles. i was so repulsed by what I could become.
One more square, but I was numb. I stepped onto “shadow” (the opposite of “core”, the first square). I felt nothing. And I ‘saw’ nothing. my mind was blank. I was still numb from the previous square. So we stood in silence.
I asked God if there was anything more I was supposed to see here, or if I should just consider the exercise finished. And the slides slid left. The narrative was broken, though. No more art, no more amphitheater. Only me, standing at the mouth of a dirty alley, with a folding tv tray in front of me, trying to call faceless people over while I shuffled three cards around in a pathetic three-card monty to get praise and affirmation. The only connection I could sense to the previous state was at the ‘level of crime’. The previous state, from this perspective, seemed like highly organized crime – it was a slick production; and this state I was a pathetic, loser, lo-brow hustler.
After a few minutes to breathe, mark walked me more quickly back through all six stages, bringing along all the motions and symbols (and strengths) through the others. Stepping through the “weakness/defect” square was momentarily horrible – I can hardly believe how tactile that was. But then I was done.
Wow. We debriefed it for a few minutes, as we’d done with the other participants. But, mostly, I felt like I’d had a profound experience with god that was meant for my edification and warning.