Autobiography of a 21st Century Yogi
closing my eyes…removing my hands from the keyboard to rest them on my lap…breathing deeply…breathing slowly…now breathing into my heart center…
I find myself sitting in my second grade classroom. The girl to my right holds a folded piece of paper and glances furtively between the paper note, to me, and to the girl sitting to my left. She mouths the question “will you?” as her hand hovers in the space between our desks. A flash of heat flushes through my face. My eyes flit between the teacher, Mrs. Page, and the folded paper. My mind entertains the possibilities: I pass the note between the girls and Mrs. Page doesn’t notice and the girls thank me and maybe I even become popular; I pass the note and Mrs. Page sees me, I get singled out in front of the class and receives who knows what kind of shameful and embarrassing punishment causing the whole class to laugh at me; or I decline passing the note to avoid any unwanted attention and the girls hold it against me—telling our classmates that I was too scared to pass the note and bringing further embarrassment and shame. My arm darts out to pluck the note from her outstretched hand.
Mrs. Page’s voice rings accusingly through the air. Every head turns towards me in a frightening display of synchronicity and with an array of facial expressions. Some of my classmates wear looks of amusement; many with looks of confusion and the ones nearest me look concerned. My friend Tyler holds is forehead in empathy. He too is a shy one. The very air in the classroom tenses and I can feel in my very bones the vibrations from Mrs. Page’s heavy footsteps as she approaches my desk, her right arm stretches towards me as she aims her index finger at my face. My breathing becomes fast and shallow and my face impossibly hot. I’m sure my shoulders hunch forward while my butt slides forward in my chair in an attempt to become as small as possible. Anything to make it harder for people to see me—to see whatever punishment I would receive for the crime of note passing.
“Give me that note.”
I hand it over and stare at my desk and work to ignore the feeling of so many pairs of eyes boring into my body. The worse was happening. So much attention. And of the worse kind. It wasn’t even my note! What does the note say! Am I going to be in trouble for that? What is Mrs. Page going to say? What will my mom say? Have I let her down? The unknowns were terrifying. Why were they terrifying?
Of her three kids, my mother says I was the quiet one. Hardly said a word to anyone till I was three years old and then I spoke whole sentences. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say, on the contrary, I remember my mind moving at starlight speeds as it considered my expansive environment. So fast was the racing of my thoughts that I developed a stutter in early childhood. My mouth couldn’t keep up with my thoughts and my thoughts didn’t want to slow down. I’d speak half of a sentence before my brain jumped to the next thought, leaving my tongue to stutter out wherever my brain left it. Once this happened it was nearly hopeless to pick up where I left off. In the beginning, I didn’t think this was strange or out of the ordinary. It simply was. I tried to slow my thoughts down but I struggled to and often the thoughts moved faster. The stutter became more than just a mild challenge when I began speaking to more adults, often relatives, and realized that they felt embarrassed for me, and what was once innocent now wore the cloth of shame. Their emotion gave me an emotion to cling to. It was a cue—I feel embarrassed for your stutter, don’t you? Later, classmates would laugh or snicker, perhaps because of greater social cueing but also because I felt embarrassed (because of the way adults reacted, I began to react the same). Circles.
The opposite of hope, fear is merely a harmful perception of a given moment which means that fears do not exist unless we perceive them to be
My childhood self reacted to the stuttering by rationalizing I ought to shy from conversations with anyone. If I didn’t speak, then I couldn’t stutter. I could stay in my thoughts and be Safe from potential embarrassment and Safe from those feelings that I did not fully comprehend. My mind gave into a fear of attention, because attention might require me to speak and I might stutter.
Once, my mom sent me to a speech therapist, so concerned was she for my stutter, and likely concerned for how shy I had become, but the speech therapist did not help, if anything, the visits gave my mind more ammunition to use as it rationalized why conversing was a gamble.
So I was certainly concerned that I may stutter during any explanation of my sinister note passing.
“Mr.Perryman, you do know that there is no note passing in my class?” She asks rhetorically. The entire class hanging on her southern drawl.
“Yes. Mrs. Page.”
“Do you know what happens when kids get caught passing notes?”
“No.” I replied hesitatingly
“No. Mrs. Page” A few snickers echo through the classroom. My body shifts into full flight mode. Sweat beads in my armpits, behind my knees, and anywhere else skin touches skin.
“You know all those black kids you see around town?” Mrs. Page asks, now gently, feigning genuine concern with my answer. The change of tone startles me but the question brings confusion. Have I seen black kids? Sure, but I don’t really know any. Sometimes I’ve played with them at the Freedom Playground (a public park). But there aren’t any in my class. Never have been. What do black kids have to do with passing notes? This was completely unknown to me. The classroom was now dead quiet.
“Yes. Mrs Page?” What else could I say?
“Have you seen how they all have big noses? Each one of those kids was in my class and they all misbehaved. When kids misbehave in my class, I reach over and grab them by the nose, like this, (she sticks her index and middle fingers deep into her nostrils and yanks upward with dramatic flourish, her elbow high above her head) and I lift them into the air and toss them right out of my class (her hand and arm now making a flinging motion, dripping with condescension, toward the classroom door. Now you don’t want that to happen to you, do you? I promise you it is quite painful and you’ll have that big nose for the rest of your life.”
“N-n-o Mrs. Page.” Again, what else was there to say? A feeling of shame floods my limbs. Confusion too. Yet, she pays no mind to the emotions spinning me around and returns to teaching as if she was merely remarking on the weather.
Heavy moment for a seven year old.
Granted, I did not understand the gravity of her threat nor the culture beneath it. In second grade, I did not know what racism was. She might have as well been speaking a foreign language. But her tone, that resonated deep. My mother always told me we are all the same and we can do anything we want to do. I cannot even remember the first time I saw a non-Caucasian so it must not have been a big deal. Yet, something clicked deep inside of me. Though my mind did not understand the weight of her words, my heart told me her words carried a separation that was meant to inflict pain.
it was my first conscious encounter with authority-figure cruelty and it left me feeling inferior.
This begs another important point:
Your tone carries feeling.
P.S. It’s how we most readily communicate with animals, like our dog friends.
My child-self did not understand the swirling emotions deep within my chest and it left me feeling inferior. Perhaps because she seemed so sure of herself, and I was so confused, that it caused me to feel less than. My mind instructed me to resent her and I quickly obliged.
After school, in the car ride home, my heart begged me to tell my mom what happened. But my mind pleaded no. What will mom say? She might blame me! What if Mrs. Page punishes me because I told my mom? That feeling of wrongness permeated my being, screaming to be let out, but in the end my mind won out. I kept my mouth shut. Of course my mother could tell I was struggling with something but, when she asked me how school was, I lied and mumbled “it was ok,” before clamming back up.
Eventually, I figured out what racism and bigotry are. Perhaps Mrs. Page never meant any harm by her comment classroom threat, perhaps she never thought it to be a threat, but then what does that say about our culture? That a grade school teacher would use racism to scare a child into fitting her perception of classroom behavior? Afterwards, she never asked how I felt, so I must assume she thought the whole ordeal was a non-event.
But why this memory is important and how this memory has most influenced my life, is the affect it has had on my personal empathy for my ancestors, family, and friends, because once I learned the cultural implications of her threat I compared all instances of racist speech and intent to the feeling of inferiority I felt in that classroom. For nearly my whole life I have judged my ancestors, friends, and family, for even the tiniest hint of bigotry and racism. There was no mercy.
Often I took it further. If I thought you were picking on someone, because they were dorky, fat, or shy, I resented you. I doubt anyone ever guessed this was going on inside my head. Unfortunately for me, my mood darkened every time I filed away one of these mental judgments, because a thought carries energy--a thought will always carry energy--just like electric current, and the energy created by a thought affects both the creator and the receiver. So every time I mentally judged someone for perceived bigotry, not only did I shoot them with a burst of low-vibration energy, but I shot myself as well. This black energy built up like so much crud. To top it off, because I feared sharing that 2nd grade memory, I never gave the memory a fair chance to teach me it’s truth and the wall of resistance I erected to shut it deep inside went a step further and extended that wall of resistance between my mind and my heart.
our minds do this to us. our mind wants to be in charge.
But we have to remember that we are not our mind. Our mind exists for our benefit. It is akin to a tool. We use the tool, but the tool ought not to use us. This wall of resistance was the first one my mind erected but, and perhaps because “what’s one when you can have two,” it would not be the last. These walls like to band together, like interlocking puzzle pieces of a great Berlin-esque wall.
walls of resistance always create separation between our heart and mind and our-self and others.
This wall reduced the communication between my heart and my mind, and because these two unique organs are complementary and part of a holistic organ system, any disruption creates havoc over harmony. Soon after, I began to resent anyone I perceived to be acting with negative intent, regardless of whether or not that individual was aware of how their actions were being received. These judgments naturally made me want to separate myself from my peers. I did not want to join conversations because I didn’t want to be disappointed when people made fun of someone. I wanted to like everyone and I wanted to be friendly but I could not understand why my peers spent most of their time belittling each other. Seriously, it seemed all the “popular” kids wanted to do was pick on each other and share jokes about the kids they deemed weren’t “popular.” Books and pages became my conversation. I eagerly read stories of light versus dark, especially science fiction novels that featured a good hero versus all the bad. Heck, my Star Wars book collection grew to over seventy books between fifth and twelfth grade.
it is curious how these Dominos touch, fall, and string together.
High school was spent in books and online computer games where I could escape into perceived anonymity and avoid the possibility of attention. But now this habit of avoidance had become a cycle unto itself. By avoiding social gatherings, I became fearful of them, and stuck my head deeper into my books and games. I began to think that no one talked about anything worth talking about, that all my peers’ conversation were silly and dumb. It became easier to rationalize why I kept to myself—I was just different and that was that.
But wait, you ask, do I really believe that Mrs. Page is responsible for my behavior? No. I believe my resistance to fully experience the event’s emotion is responsible for my behavior. There was a lesson to be learned, but I was afraid to learn it. Perhaps it wasn’t the Best time to learn it?
There is one more memory around this period of my life which bears mention because my inability to reconcile the event’s emotions affected me for years and was of a similar feel. It was the first time I kissed a girl.
My brother Richie and sister Kayla, and me would often have a babysitter for a few hours in the afternoon when our mom had obligations with the various community service organizations she volunteered for. One of the girls would bring her younger sister, who happened to be in my class. This was either first or second grade. One day her sister, my brother, and me were playing with lego’s, building little lego cities, when we decided to play-act Mario Brothers. At one point we realized that someone had to kiss the princess, and since I was Mario, it was agreed it should be me. I remember planting one quick peck on her lips and going right back to fighting imaginary monsters with my brother. Completely oblivious to her perception of the moment. The next day at recess, several of my classmates came over and started laughing at me. Accusing me of kissing a girl, something about getting cooties, and expressing general disbelief that I would do such a thing. It was the first time any of my peers made fun of me. My face turned hot and I felt hurt inside. They felt this and upped their antagonism. Why were my classmates pointing fingers and laughing at me? She’s a girl, not a monster. It was just a play-kiss! I felt inferior. I felt they were erecting a wall between us, that they were separating me from them. Unaware she was nearby and watching, I jumped to deny that I kissed her. My thoughts told me to do anything to get them to stop shaming me. But I felt worse once I heard the sound of crying behind me. She was standing just a few feet away. My denial created a separation between her and me.
Was this what friends did? I thought long and hard about this and before long my thoughts convinced me that I should be wary of initiating any conversation or friendship with any girl. This conclusion did not feel good, but who was I to argue with my own thoughts? For the next few years I feared being friends with a girl would lead to negative attention from my peers.
This began to change in middle school. There was a girl, Paloma, who, on Valentines Day, always gave me a big fancy Valentine card whereas everyone else got a smaller paper note. She was the prettiest girl my class. So I started giving her a fancy card. I even began talking to her. My mom was thrilled. I began to feel freer than I ever felt since before first grade. There was a problem though. My friend Jose also liked her.
Jose and I were best friends. We met in third grade and became quick friends. We both loved playing soccer. Jose was one of two kids I befriended at St. Peters who house’s I regularly slept over at. We’d ride bicycles around his neighborhood and swim around the lake and jump of off our friend’s two story dockhouse smack into the lily pads. It was epic.
Eventually, I suspect this girl told her friends that she liked me and the word got around. When he heard this, for the first time in our friendship, he began picking on me; Calling me names, laughing and cracking jokes at my expenses, often from a distance but close enough that I could hear and always within a group of our classmates. It hurt me deeply. Nowadays, I can only laugh at the whole situation, but back then…I pretended not to like the girl anymore and avoided talking with her. I sensed that she was hurt and confused but I’d do anything to avoid being picked on. Anything to avoid feeling inferior. One day, I saw her and him holding hands at the playground. I felt like the world was upside down. Negative thinking powered up. What was the point of having friends anyway? Most everyone seemed to want to be cruel to everyone else. As far as I was concerned, I was down to one good friend whom I trusted. School seemed pretty awful. Around this time I developed the habit of always having a Star Wars book handy, one that I could read in the few minutes before class started while everyone else chatted at their desks till the teacher commenced class.
I went the whole first year of high school without allowing myself a close friend. Not because I didn’t want one, but because I was scared of developing relationships. When I learned that most of the high school kids went to each other’s houses on the weekend and threw parties, drank beers, and smoked weed…I suggested to my brother that we play computer games with our grandpa, at his house, every Friday night. This morphed into Friday night, all day Saturday, Saturday night, and sometimes Sunday. When Richie, my brother, got a car and started visiting friends’ houses during the weekdays, I resented him. I resented that he wasn’t scared to make friends. For the first time ever, we started getting into real arguments and fights. All because of my fear.
There was another dynamic occurring. The endless number of cliques and subgroups within these schools created a culture of exclusion. My fear of joining a subgroup because they seemed popular was matched only by my fear of joining an unpopular subgroup. Sometimes I wonder how Humans have managed to survive this long.
The next key moment of my Growth came when I befriended Rob. Rob was a year above me, and seemed like me, in that he didn’t really fit in with most kids. We became friends because one day I was too afraid to sit at the lunch tables inside the main hall where my classmates usually sat and I noticed his picnic table, outside by the oak trees, had an empty seat. I was a little afraid to sit down but I felt pulled to sit down. I even walked a few rounds around the outside seating area before admitting to myself that that was where I had to sit. So over I went and without a word, I sat down and began eating. I was hella nervous but totally committed. He and his two friends were talking about a computer game they played. It was called Starcraft, and I played it too. Are you talking about Starcraft, I asked? The ice was broken and we became friends. We all had something in common. My friendship with Rob is the longest lasting friendship of my life, if you don’t count my siblings.
That friendship with Rob gave me the confidence I needed to be willing to make friends again and in my junior year of high school, I allowed myself to be friends with two guys in my own grade. Things were looking great. I even looked forward to school, because I had friends there.
Then later in my Junior year, one of the kids from my elementary school, one of the few who never picked on me for being a loner, chose to laugh and call me names because I was reading a book in the few minutes before class started. We were sitting at a group table which meant there were now five people laughing at me. I lost it. I jumped out of my chair and began punching him in the arm, rapidly and crying my eyes out, until the teacher came over and pulled me away. You can imagine the whispers this sent floating along the school hallways. I dove deeper into my sci-fi novels. Meanwhile, Rob started coming over to my grandpa’s for our weekend computer game marathons. I didn’t make any new friends during my senior year of high school.
And as for girls--It would take until my second year of university for me to kiss another girl—about eleven years after the Mario and Princess Peach kiss.
My point is that fear is always around somewhere. Bad memories are bound to be around. But you can’t let fear hang around because fear is energy and all energy attracts. It only takes a brief action to reach out and stop the Dominos from falling over.
better to face your fear and turn it into hope
I got a bit ahead of myself there but I wanted you to see the progression. I’ll try not to jump around too much.