It pains me a little to think about the summer I spent in the Well of Souls. I mean that I feel embarrassed about the months I immersed myself in the self-help industry. In my late teens and early twenties, I was what some might describe as "troubled." I had been moving my life closer to the edge than most, including myself, were comfortable. I was very hung up on my high school girlfriend and was having a very hard time letting her go. I had begun a semi-professional drinking career that left me showing up initially as the life of the party and later the thing that would not heave. My friends had grown tired of my antics and it began to appear as though I was headed to a career in managing our local Arby's.
So, when it was suggested to me by this young lady upon whom my life was hanging that I should try this weekend experience to try and get my head together, it seemed that I had little to lose. It would be good to take a week off of binge drinking and scraping up the three hundred dollars wasn't going to be impossible, thanks to all those late nights slinging America's Roast Beef, Yes Sir!
I drove over to the center, which should have been a clue for me, since the "center" was an office in a strip mall, signed my name and wrote a check. I was reassured by the folks at the center that I would look back on that moment as the one in which I finally began taking care of myself and stopped worrying about what everyone else thought. I appreciated the nudge, but since my primary reason for being there in the first place was because of what other people thought of me, I pushed that suggestion to the back of my mind.
This was late in the est-era, and I had heard plenty of wild talk about what might or could be happening to me over the course of three days. When I arrived at the center on Friday evening to begin my seminar, I was introduced to Skip and Liz. They would be leading the room full of angsty and confounded individuals who had two things in common: getting their heads together and an extra three hundred dollars. We were up late that first night, digging into everyone's fears and woes. We got up early the next morning and hit it again. Hard. By noon on Saturday, we were given our task: memorize a poem to be recited in front of the group. No big deal, until we learned that we were expected to give a dramatic rendering of this piece, and as we rehearsed we were asked to consider exactly how each word pertained to us and our individual circumstances. As the day wore on, we were asked for volunteers to present, and the first brave few who raised their hands were immediately knocked off their pegs for their lack of sincerity. My instinct to be among the first to run the gauntlet was tested. Would I have the right stuff when it came to my turn?
We ran late on Saturday night, and the walls of the strip mall office began to close in. All of us were tired, except for the apparently indefatigable Skip and Liz. We pushed each other and ourselves. Then, after a break, it was my turn. I was exhausted but the adrenaline combined with the sensory deprivation of the past twenty-four hours gave me the strength to push through my moment:
I know people who love to be the victim. They're either sad, and anxious, or always blaming others. Want to know what keeps them stuck? (the crowd cried "What?") They're so afraid of using their own personal power, that they don't make things happen! So will you use your personal power?
Then it was over. I had passed the line. I had rung the bell. I had conquered whatever demons I had brought with me. I was a champion.
The next day brought the rest of the group their own catharses. We all cheered as whatever had been holding them back was stripped away. Or the appearance of same. That evening, we had our promotion exercise. Our invited guests were brought in to witness our transformation. And shortly after that, we were asked if we knew anyone else who might benefit from such an experience. This is the part where I feel I let the rest of the planet down: I became one of their recruiters. I never got a purple shirt, but I did hang out at gatherings the center held to bring in new candidates. I used the new lingo I had acquired from my own time in the Well, and asked those "tough questions" of strangers and friends alike. I coerced my very good friend and Arby's co-worker into scraping together his three hundred dollars and giving it a go. By the most amusing coincidence, his group included the woman who would eventually become my mother-in-law. It was only after his graduation that I began to reflect on just exactly what I had done. I knew what he was getting paid for wiping down tables and serving up roast beef sandwiches. I knew that he could have used those three hundred dollars. He was on a payment plan. He was on a budget.
He eventually became my roommate, and as we picked up our partying ways as I went back to pining for the girl I had hoped would see the new me, I realized I was still all those things that I had been when I went into the center. And more. I knew this poem.