Last weekend I had a truly lovely, healing experience. Last October my business partner, Morgan, went away for a weekend on Whidbey Island for a program called the Leadership Development Intensive. I thought it was going to be a training where someone was tied to a whipping post, force-fed models, and made to endure surprise group therapy. When she returned she had the most beautiful stories of personal growth and reflection, grounded in tangible action and practical models, without any welts or open sores.
Turns out the weekend was designed by one of the founders of my graduate program and most of what she learned was integral to the education I was finishing up at that time. She encouraged me to pursue it if only because she wanted me to have a transformational learning experience that didn’t reduce me to tears and chocolate eating under the covers. More on this in the future.
This year, she forwarded the email to me announcing the weekend and I emailed the facilitator to say that I was interested, but couldn’t afford it, so could he please keep me on the list for next year? He responded by offering me a scholarship. First sign it was going to be a wonderful experience. At the time I was more skeptical. So my slight skepticism, healing heart, and I were off to the Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island for something that Morgan swore would be good for me.
There is so much I could say about that weekend, but for now I just want to tell a single story about something that happened in the first 20 minutes of being there.
I arrived at the farmhouse that would be our housing and work accommodations on a drizzly Sunday afternoon. The first floor included a decent-sized kitchen that was more for show since all our meals would happen at the main house, and a large living room with a wood-burning fireplace we would crack into in a couple of days. I hauled my rolly bag up the hill, through the growing mud, and found my room, which was literally a closet with a twin bed. But since I wasn’t going to be spending a ton of time there, I was fine with the tight quarters and unloaded my bags.
I came back down to the kitchen to greet and get to know the participants that had arrived. Six of the seven of us were there, all of whom were 15-20 years older than me, 3 other women, and 2 men.
I introduced myself to one of the men who was darker-skinned and looked to be of Indian descent.
“I thought you’d be one of my people,” he said.
“How so?” I replied, thinking I had misheard him.
“Well your name, it’s spelled with an Indian spelling.”
I was shocked. Truly shocked. Because it was and he was literally the first person in my entire life to say that to me. Literally the first person. My mom named me, so she already knew the origin and therefore doesn’t count.
“Wow. No one ever guesses that!” I was having a hard time getting my words out since my heart was floating up into my throat to try and escape my chest.
“Really?” he asked.
“Yes!” I’m surprised I wasn’t starting to spit at this point.
“What do they normally guess?” asked another participant.
“Eastern European or German, but never Indian,” I answered.
“Well,” the man went on to say, “You have rhani in the middle of your name and it means Queen.”
My jaw was on the floor.
“Yes! Yes it does!”
“I know,” he said, cool as a fucking cucumber who was beginning to understand just how big this was for me.
“I don’t normally tell people the whole story,” I said. “When they guess the origin, I usually just agree with them instead of the whole big explanation.”
“So what’s the explanation?” he asks.
I started to get little pinpricks around my eyes, a sure sign tears were trying to come up.
“My grandmother was named Rhani. Her parents chose that name because of its Indian origins. She died when my mom was a teenager, so Mom honored her by putting her name in mine.”
“Wow,” was the general echo around the room. Silence. I looked at the man in hopes that my intellect would catch up with my heart and gut and keep me looking witty and cool despite the fact that English was starting to slip my mind.
“Thank you so much for this,” I said to him after I realized the silence was getting uncomfortable. A knee-jerk response I have when I don’t know what to say is to just thank someone. This was a trick I picked up in graduate school from the counseling kids. “Truly, no one every truly sees me for this. Only my mom really sees me like this and understands the full story I represent.”
This man would go on to be a confidante anda temporary father figure over the next 3 days, as well as a guide for another story on another day.
How lovely is it to be seen in a way only someone like your mom does? Having these sorts of experiences gives me more faith in the truly loveliness of humans. It reminds me that our inherent nature is to be loving and that we want to see each other and be seen in ways that tug on our heart strings and make us feel truly held and loved.
It’s one of the reasons why my most successful projects are with clients who are willing to be vulnerable in a way they usually only are with those who get access to the in the inner layers of their hearts.
But in this instance, I didn’t require a lot of bravery, I just showed up and was immediately seen.
Needless to say, it ended up being a great experience. More news at 11.