"Guru to One" by Rebecca Monroe
“Thank you,” he raised his voice to override the applause. “Thank you very much,”
So many faces, some solemn, most smiling, a few wet with tears of realization. It was the last he worked for. They reminded him he was only a conduit and the real work was done through him, not by him.
He waved himself off the stage though the applause hadn’t subsided any. There would be another hour signing autographs – a change made by his new assistant, Marlene. She’d been aghast when he’d told her he normally just signed for whoever was at the door on the way out.
“You don’t reach nearly as many and it’s, rock starish.”
The last reference had bothered him so much he’d agreed to try it her way. Now the idea of sitting for yet another hour sounded exhausting. At least his way he was on the move toward an evening of rest. Her way he was stuck. He would try it. He needed to be open. Then he’d kill the idea. He grinned. Ego was alive and well, thank you.
He paused as Marlene hurried over to him from her makeshift desk behind the stage. She was a bit too heavy – though not fat. Her makeup was more apparent then he cared for. He kept himself in good shape because of the image he wanted to promote. At 6’3, in his mid 50’s, he was physically fit. His face was longer than he liked. He had blue eyes, was going bald and so admired Marlene’s glorious head of auburn hair – past shoulder length, full and shiny. “Brian,” he corrected yet again.
She flashed him a smile of acknowledgment. “I’ve a place set up for you to relax for a moment. There’s juice and some light snacks.”
It was nine p.m. already. He set his jaw, the good feeling he’d had from tonight’s talk fading. “Let’s get started, shall we? I don’t need to relax.”
Her pleasant smile vanished. He read the look on her face because it was one of the reasons he’d hired her. A reference for her had said ‘you have to be careful because she injures easily. She cares about doing her job to the heart.’
“Marlene,” he kept his tone gentle. “This is our second seminar. We have to grow together. I learn from you, you from me and we adjust – that includes guessing wrong once in a while.”
She nodded but her smile didn’t return. “I’ll bring in the first group.”
It was an intense hour over and above the two-hour talk he’d given. Ten minutes with groups ranging anywhere from two to six autographs. Mostly it was people who wanted to meet, the autographs a way to do so. Some had honest questions, some wanted to exhibit how developed ‘they’ were – baggage stories of overcoming.
Marlene shut the door behind the last group. She looked at him for a moment. “Rock star has its advantages?”
He nodded wearily.
“I had Ted clear the area so you can go straight to your car. We won’t do it this way anymore. Thank you for letting me try.”
This time she wasn’t injured. This time she had been wrong, knew it, and moved on. He liked her for that. As he rose, he reminded himself to stay open to her ideas.
* * *
“And so, you, with the power, ARE in charge of your life. And the Power’s only desire is for you to be happy and at peace. Thank you,”
The applause started and he acknowledged it as he moved off stage. Marlene was waiting for him.
“Did you want me to get dinner ordered for you at the motel?”
“No. I want to stay and watch.”
Marlene raised an eyebrow. “I thought we were tired after our talks,”
“We saw how she bubbled at the results and wanted to see for ourselves.” He rubbed a hand over his bald head.
She’d waited a while before presenting a new idea and she incorporated the learning from the old. “Stay hidden then. Otherwise, it will be expected next time.”
Stage design was perfect for staying hidden while watching so it was easy to find a comfortable place to be while Marlene went out onto the stage. “Those of you who have purchased special tickets, please remain seated while the stadium clears.”
Marlene had gotten her idea from a man’s comment during the question and answer sessions. ‘We come here, get all pumped up, go home and fall right back into the same patterns,’
The auditorium cleared of all but about twenty people. The tickets were expensive for the added session. It paid for the actresses and actors and made sure those who stayed were serious. “The rest of you, please move up to the front so you can hear.” The twenty people did, suddenly looking small in the large old fashioned theatre.
“Our players have reviewed your data sheets and are prepared to help you. The more information you included, the better the quality of acting they can do. They will be taking cues from your responses. If at any time you think they have gotten too far from what you want, let us know and we’ll start over.”
Brian thought her a bit bold. The impression Marlene gave was their issues and the desire to help were important enough to be here all night if necessary.
“Who wants to go first?”
There were glances exchanged until one woman finally raised her hand. “I will.” She rose and made her way to the stage. Everything about her said ‘money spent’. Hair a perfect frosted cap of style, nails professional, new-looking suit, matching shoes, gold glittering on wrists, fingers, and ears. She stepped onto the stage, looking expectantly at Marlene.
“You are here to practice a new way of approaching your issue. You don’t have to share what your issue is to the group. This is for you, no one else.”
“Later, maybe,” the woman replied.
An older actor came on stage. He was stout, face soft with a hint of jowls. Gray hair styled, a huge watch twinkling beneath the cuff of his business suit. The woman took a deep breath of preparation and it began.
Brian watched. At first, it did, indeed, seem to center around the money she spent until she made it clear she was very willing to work for her money. The husband didn’t want her to. She thought it was to keep his free housekeeper and errand girl. As they circled, attacked, and retreated, more issues came up – taxes, his schedule, then suddenly she blurted “You don’t have to be afraid of me being independent…” The look of shock on her face opened her mouth, widened her eyes. “You think the only reason I stay is because of security?” The actor stayed silent. It was obvious she didn’t even see him. “You think I think so little of you I only stay for the comfort? You have to keep me needy? My god, no wonder you get so upset.” She came back to herself and turned to Marlene, eyes over bright. “Thank you. I wish he’d come. Of course, he wouldn’t…I think it’ll be all right. Thank you,”
“No instant fixes,” Marlene warned, shifting in her seat.
“I know,” the woman hesitated, “it’s seeing beyond the blame to the real person who does care about me. That’s a huge step up.”
Someone in the remaining group whispered ‘yes’.
Brian felt a shiver circle up his spine. This was ten times better than any talk he gave. He needed to be out there, be a part of this! It was his process, after all. ‘Learn’ an inner voice whispered. It was Marlene’s idea, let her run it. If she deviated from the process, he’d go out. In the meantime, he’d let her continue.
Marlene was inviting the next one onto the stage.
Each participant acted out the issue causing the most grief in their relationship, voices echoing out over the empty seats. Most knew the process, worked hard at using it. A few needed Marlene’s prodding to stay on track. Two were more concerned about proving how right and abused they were than learning. Marlene gently ended the session. One left, smugly satisfied.
The other hesitated, looked at Marlene and said, “But I don’t feel any different, any better.”
Marlene didn’t respond. Though she was smiling, there was a finality about the way she sat. Brian tried to figure out how she was signaling ‘it’s over’.
“I paid good money for this. I’m still mad. I didn’t learn…” a blush rose up the woman’s face, suffusing the hard lines about her mouth, the scowl between her eyes. “I haven’t learned anything,”
Marlene’s smile grew a fraction. “I think you have.”
The woman looked at the actor who had sat down on the floor, weary from the evening. “I need to do it again.”
“All we do is provide a safe setting for you. A place to play. You can do it every day at home. All it takes is willingness.”
“All?” The woman gave a hard laugh. “Thanks. I hear what you aren’t saying.” She left.
She was the last one. For a long moment, Marlene sat still, as if relaxing, letting go was what Brian felt radiating from her. Slowly she turned her head toward the actor. “Thank you.”
The actor rose. “I’m pretty sure I should be thanking you. We fight over this opportunity,” he said. “My wife says I come home much improved.” He flashed a grin. “I’m putting in an advance bid for the next performance.”
Marlene smiled back, “I’ll do my best.”
The actor left and Brian pushed himself out of his chair, stepped around the small wall he’d been seated behind.
“What did you think?” Marlene twisted to look at him.
“It was, fascinating. I’m buzzing, there is so much energy flying around here.”
“I know. I’m exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.”
“This is a good thing you’re onto here.” It sounded brassy and he saw Marlene’s slight withdrawal. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.
“I know. We have a plane to catch tomorrow.”
“Did you want to stop somewhere for dinner?”
Brian was disappointed. He wanted to keep talking. Then he realized the intensity of concentration he’d see her using must have drained her. “I will order your dinner in.”
Marlene hesitated. “That would be lovely, thank you.”
* * *
Marlene’s side of his talks continued to grow. The number who wanted to attend finally bumped against how many could be done after a talk. Nine to eleven in the evening was no longer adequate.
“Why not have a session the next day? “ Brian asked during the morning briefing when she snapped at her assistant, Kim, who’d insisted they increase the number of participants. “Some of these people travel anyway. They might enjoy something to do the next day.”
Marlene sat back in her chair. They were in his motel suite – seated around the small table with coffee in hand, sun streaming in. “I’m sorry, Kim. You mean well, I know.” To Brian she said. “I ride on the power of your talk. It gives me cold shivers to imagine those people walking in, blinking sleep from their eyes and trying to jazz them up enough to be open.”
Truth, though he hadn’t thought of it. He could offer to give a mini talk though the idea was nauseating. He had too little time as it was. “So many people, so little time.”
Marlene shrugged. “I’m happy the idea is a success. However, it needs to stay within the realm of reality. We have a good, overall program and there is no reason to change it.”
Kim’s lips moved to form the word ‘money’.
“You know better. Start grabbing and the next thing you know, you’re selling Walmart help.”
“So, no changes in schedule, no changes in anything?” Marlene poured herself more coffee from the pitcher on the table between them.
“There is another issue,” said Brian, pulling his planner closer.
“What?” Marlene looked too, leaning close.
For some reason, it hit him how her perfume had become such a part of his life, in the car, next to him in the airplane, here in his motel room. He was surprised by his own reaction to it. “Vacation? Downtime? R and R?”
“Oh.” Marlene looked down at her own planner. “I hadn’t thought so far ahead yet.”
Brian kept his voice gentle as he rubbed his head. “It’s been a while.” More than a while. It had been nearly a year. It was getting harder to be enthused about anything.
“When? There’s a week…” she began flipping through pages and the number she turned was frightening.
Brian put his hand on her planner. “I need a break, Marlene. A minimum of ten days. A couple of weeks would be better. Perhaps somewhere warm and sunny with no phones or traffic,”
Now. The need washed over him. Unfortunately, he knew about ticket sales and how hard it was to set up, get commitment.
“I’m an idiot,” Marlene’s jaw tightened. The pages went backward. “We are absolutely locked in for the next two weeks. Then I can re-schedule. Can you make it two more weeks?” Her eyes were too bright. He hadn’t seen the stricken look for quite a while.
“Of course I can. Don’t get upset, please. You had no way of knowing without me telling you.” It was useless. She would beat herself up for not seeing the need. “Marlene, I’m a big boy. It’s up to me to say, which I just did. Not for you to psychically know about,”
She blushed. “Point taken. We’ll get you some rest post-haste though.”
“Not me. Us. I’m buying. Something expensive comes to mind.” Brian rose before he embarrassed himself. He’d worked long and hard alone. It was unusual not only to have help but to have someone who cared.
She chose an island he couldn’t pronounce the name of. He didn’t know how she found it, it was not in the guidebooks because it was privately owned by someone who was very, very rich. They arrived there by boat. White sand beaches, palm trees, a path from the beach to a barely visible house. Gulls circled the boat above and there was the calming rhythm of waves breaking on the beach. Marlene turned to him.
“Carrying your bags aboard was the last bit of work you will be doing for two weeks. If you want to sit in a lawn chair all day, it’s arranged. There is an extensive library along with overnight service if you want something else. TV with all the channels, paths to walk, a pool or the ocean to swim in, exercise room, plush beds,”
“Wow. Who owns this?”
Marlene turned away to leave. “My father,”
On the dock, she stopped and looked at him squarely. “Did. He’s dead now. My brother proved himself capable of going through vast amounts of money in record time. Since he was diagnosed as a sociopath, father decided it was best to leave it all to me, including the management of the business.”
“A very competent businesswoman who has her own full plate. She cut my brother off way before father acknowledged the problems. She knew I already knew and so could take care of myself. While we aren’t close, we do respect each other.”
He was busily absorbing what she was saying, the picture she was building. “You run a business in your spare time? One successful enough to support this island?”
Marlene glanced toward the shore. “Other places support the island. I sold all the homes except this one. It’s always been my favorite. The business mostly runs itself. It was rough for a couple of years – Carl, my brother, was sure I would hand it all over to him so I spent energy on intercepting his manipulations; the ‘guys’ thought they knew better and fought me every step of the way, working with Carl to get around me.”
“How did you stop it?”
“I wasn’t without my own support. I called the district directors to a central meeting along with the CEO and Vice President. Basically,” Marlene shrugged, “I started the meeting with: if I hear one argument, it’s on the spot firing. Then I fired the Director from California and the CEO. They were friends of my brother’s. Security guards escorted them out. To coin a cliché, I told the rest it was my way or the highway. Anyone who dealt with my brother would be fired immediately. Then I showed them the numbers and the effects of their testosterone-based power plays. I didn’t have to prove or justify a thing to them. I gave them one hour for safe ‘discussion’. At the end of the hour, the subject was closed. Period.”
“Did they discuss it?”
Marlene grinned. “Two quit which was fine. The rest agreed to my terms. A district director tested me. I’d made a decision to go with a new product. He kept putting off the addition. A month later, I walked in on his department’s morning meeting, fired him and promoted his assistant.” Marlene smiled. “I could see the light bulbs go on. Being promoted in my company meant, truly, more responsibility. I had a company to run, not a boy’s club to oversee.”
They climbed the steep stairs of the house to the back deck overlooking the ocean.
“And now I have to ask why are you working for me?”
“One, to keep from micromanaging perfectly competent people. Two, it’s easy to forget the pressure of trying to do right by the boss and the business. I use this job as a reminder. I treat my directors better. My attitude filters down to their department heads and so it goes until the employee on the ground benefits from it.” Marlene led the way into the house.
“You don’t lock your doors?”
“I unlocked it remotely before we got here.”
It wasn’t elaborate, as Brian had thought it might be. The deck entrance opened onto a dining room with a table that would seat ten comfortably. The kitchen was to the left – a small bar separating the two rooms. It was large though a little old fashioned, propane stove, clunky microwave, white appliances. To the right was a step down to a living room with huge pictures windows wrapping around the room on two sides. The third wall, opposite the ocean, had a fireplace with overstuffed chairs. There was a couch, table, and chairs facing the ocean view. It was as if the room were decorated as two and someone had pulled the separating wall out.
“It’s sort of funky,” Marlene said, following his gaze, “We could never figure out a way to arrange it to take advantage of both the fire and the ocean.”
Straight ahead was a family room with television stereo and more windows overlooking the yard. Marlene led the way through the living room to carpeted stairs to the left of the family room. They led to another open area upstairs on the yard side with bedrooms on the ocean side.
“Mine is right here.” Marlene motioned to a closed door. “You can have your pick from the rest,”
Brian went down to the one furthest from Marlene’s. He snored. Someone had once said he sounded like the Indy 500 right before the start flag dropped.
The room was inviting, done in tans and blues. King-sized bed, a desk, and chair he tested because motels had no concept of functionality when it came to them. The desk was the right height and the chair comfortable. There was an armchair with table and lamp for evening reading where he could also look out the sliding glass door to the ocean beyond. There was even a small refrigerator perched discreetly in a corner. It would do quite nicely. Brian stepped back into the hallway. Marlene’s door was open and there was a young man outside of it, bags piled about his feet.
Marlene poked her head out. “There?”
“Yes, it’s perfect.”
She nodded to the young man who picked up half the bags and brought them down the hall.
It took him a while to get settled. It always did. The unpacking was interspersed with gazing out the window. He’d opened the sliding glass door so he could hear the surf and he could feel it lulling him, soothing him inside where he’d been tense for too long. When he was finally down to the last bag he paused in reaching for it. It was his laptop and he wasn’t sure he wanted to set it up. He settled for putting the bag by his desk.
Downstairs he found a note on the dining room table.
‘Relax, enjoy. I’ve gone for a walk. There is food in the refrigerator and snacks in the cupboards, if you’re hungry. Books are in the library. Dinner will be at seven.’
It was only three. How long of a walk was she taking? Brian grinned. More likely she was giving him the complete alone time he craved.
With a book from the library, a bag of chips and a bottle of beer from the kitchen, he settled in a lawn chair on the deck in the sun. It had been too long since he’d done nothing. He relaxed into a nap.
When he woke, he was hot and sticky. He changed into his swimming trunks, grabbed a towel from the bathroom that was thick enough to make him hesitate taking it to the beach and did just that.
When he came up the steps, wet and awake, he saw Marlene had returned and was stretched out in a lawn chair of her own in shorts and a tank top. She was more muscular than fat which surprised him. He’d always thought her slightly overweight. Apparently, she worked out. He was suddenly aware his body wasn’t what it once had been. He was in good shape. It was the ‘for his age’ part that made him drape the towel over his shoulders, thankful it was a large one. He quietly resumed his place in his own chair, unsure if Marlene was awake or asleep.
She opened one eye to look at him. “Did you have a good swim?”
“Fantastic. The water was ideal. Did you have a good walk?” "Lovely,” she closed her eye again, her voice drifty, as if on the edge of her own nap.
Brian kept quiet, watching her breathing even out. He picked up the book, eyeing the chips. The bag was closed so it would have to wait. He didn’t want to disturb Marlene.
While he’d made the grand gesture acknowledging she, too, needed a vacation, he hadn’t given it the serious consideration as he had his own. Now, glancing over his book at her he saw the bags under her eyes, the way her fingertips twitched in sleep and realized she probably needed time off worse than he did.
He remembered their discussion about his schedule and felt himself shrink inside. Talk about arrogance. Where else had he grown such self-importance? The problem with having a good message was people wanted to hear it. And the problem with people wanting to hear it is it gave the ego exactly the rein one was teaching not give it.
“Penny for your thoughts.”
Brian glanced up and saw Marlene watching him. “How did you know I wasn’t reading?”
“Your eyes weren’t moving.” She hitched herself up in her lawn chair.
“I was thinking about arrogance; how easy it is to slip into.”
“And, like everything else, once the demon is recognized, it is banished with its tail between its legs.”
“Only until it can find a new way to wiggle back in. Preferably something quite innocent looking.”
Marlene smiled. “Truth. And then it’s recognized again, banished again smaller than it was before.”
“By which time we’re too old and weary to care.” He was surprised at the cynicism in his tone in his voice.
One of Marlene’s eyebrows went up. Then she looked away. Her nose had a dip to it, lips a natural curve upward. She looked elfish in profile. “There are times I have to remind myself to release my grip. I realize I have the learning by the throat and am throttling the spontaneity from it because I’m terrified I’ll forget – slip backwards.”
Brian inhaled hard. Yes. And yes. “Blue in the face, eh?”
“It’s got that tinge. Are you hungry?”
“Starved. Tell me where dinner is and I’ll get it ready.”
“The table should be set by now,” Marlene glanced at her watch. “We only need to haul the stuff from the kitchen.”
“Dinner is fixed?”
“Yes. I have some very good help. And after we’re done eating, I am going to read. I hope you don’t mind.” She rose and he followed.
As she’d said, the table was set at the end closest to the kitchen. At the opposite end, there was a large painting of a forest scene. On one sidewall, spears were crossed over each other. On the other, a large fishing net hung artistically. Dinner was simple, salad, rolls, Borscht soup. The salad was already prepared in bowls and was a meal in itself. By the time Brian had eaten two rolls, a bowl of soup and waded through the salad, he was stuffed.
“Enough?” Marlene asked when he pushed his plate away, hands automatically going to his stomach as he sat back.
“Times two.” Odd they’d not spoken a word all during the meal.
“The house is yours. Help yourself to whatever you need. Leave the stuff on the table though. No work, remember?” She put her napkin on the table. “I’ll see you later.” Then she was gone.
He sat for a moment, realizing he was offended. She’d warned him she needed alone time; somehow he’d not believed her. Finally, he got up and went to the balcony where he’d had his afternoon nap. Before today, he’d felt tired. Now he felt brittle, wanting to make small things important, fight what was only in his mind. His brain knew this however his emotions weren’t listening. They stirred within – a simmer of restless irritation. He looked down and realized he was gripping the rail, knuckles tight. He released the grip.
Suppressed anger? He didn’t believe anger had to be let out to be gotten over. He felt the opposite was true…anger fed itself. Once it was allowed to trot it would take the bit in its teeth and run. At the moment, he felt like it had its head high and sideways, fighting the reins.
Why didn’t matter. He pulled out a straight-backed chair from a corner of the porch and sat down, hands on his knees and began breathing deeply. Slowly his body relaxed. It took a lot longer to get his mind to cooperate. Images of Marlene flitted in and out – bits of dialog, flashes of the way she looked. Why had she chosen him to work for? He guessed because of what he did for a living. She wanted balance and so what better job than one the opposite of what she normally did? Corporate thinking versus spiritual. He took another deep breath, pushing the thoughts aside. Quiet.
Finally, he sank into the peace and blankness he’d been seeking.
* * *
A day passed, then two. He read, meditated, took walks and naps. Marlene was around – he saw evidence of it in the food eaten and items moved but he didn’t see her. It was as if she were deliberately avoiding him. By the second day, it had quit bothering him.
He resisted checking his email. He felt like he had jet lag, lethargy pulling at his limbs, his mind foggy. He’d pushed himself too hard in the last year and it had caught up with him.
The third morning he settled in the porch chair in the sun, book, coffee, and blanket to cover his legs until the air warmed. Marlene came out, grinning at the flicker of irritation he knew crossed his face. She too carried coffee and a book.
“You’ve been hiding,” he said to make up for his unfriendly expression.
“I have. And the fact you wish I’d go back to it shows you are relaxing.” She sat in another chair.
“Save it. I want to use the balcony too. I have no desire to chat.” She opened her book.
Good. He opened his own. It took him a while to get absorbed. It was unusual to find someone with the focus to be able to read in the presence of others. To his ex-wife, Angie, an open book was a magnet to talk. They could sit in silence for hours until he picked up a book and then Angie would turn on her mouth – just long enough to distract him – shutting up once she’d broken his attention.
He’d thought at first he and Angie were made for each other. She’d seemed interested in growing, had read many of the books he had and shown him some new ones. His first clue should have been the disagreement they’d had on whether God was ‘out there’ or inside. Her bright bubbly smile had vanished and she had flashed to a frightening level of anger. He’d backed off, assured her she didn’t have to believe God was inside. She’d persisted, insisting he not believe it either. He’d changed the subject writing off her vehemence to being ex-Catholic.
He’d married her anyway.
It had taken years to figure out she was a happy, bubbly person who always got her own way. Or else.
Funny, their end had come back to what had brought them together – spirituality. Or rather spirituality for him, religion for her. She rejoined the Catholic Church and tried to insist he join too. What she hadn’t expected was his ‘sounds good’ when she’d said she couldn’t be married to a non-Catholic.
Thus ended their relationship and he got to rediscover who he was after twenty years of bubbly oppression. On a bad day, he would wonder what faults of his own he wasn’t admitting to. Most days, he rejoiced he’d escaped.
She was happily re-married to someone whose religion was uncertain.
Perhaps, in the end, she’d gotten what she truly wanted.
“Brian, do you mind? I’m trying to read,” Marlene snapped her book shut, mock glaring at him.
“I haven’t said a word!”
“Your thoughts are slamming around like a ball in a pinball machine.”
“What did you bring her for?”
Good question. He considered it. What was the real reason his mind had dug up his ex-wife? Fakeness. Everything she’d done had been to meet her own agenda. He hadn’t a clue if in a meeting, she’d read the books she’d said. She’d let him do the talking, acted wide-eyed and enthusiastic over points he’d made. He remembered their first days so clearly because he’d relived them numerous times in an attempt to see how he could have been so wrong.
He reined his thoughts in. Why had he started thinking about her now? Fakeness…giving people what they wanted in order to remain number one. Angie had been good at it as she manipulated people to want what she wanted.
He felt as if he’d been doused with ice-cold water.
“The look on your face is not good.”
He raised his eyes to Marlene, remembering his superior attitude at her suggestion they do individual sessions. He also remembered, now, his stab of, fear? Jealousy? He’d squashed it so fast he hadn’t had time to examine it. “I got a glimpse in the mirror and it wasn’t pretty.”
“Something you did wrong in your marriage?”
“No,” he stared out over the tops of the trees to the water beyond. "Something my marriage was trying to show me about myself. I’ll be fake in order to gain status, to hold my position,” he paused. “I was jealous of your idea as if it would reduce what I was doing. No. As if I owned what I was doing,”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“You’d have fired me – with all the politeness and grace a truly advanced person applies to ugly actions,” she smiled to take the sting out of her words.
Rage and denial flared in him. He fought it down because she was right. “I need to quit, don’t I?”
“I don’t have the answer to that. I do know one of the reasons I suggested this place was its removal. Brian, you are the one who recognized the need for rest. You also have gotten to this place by yourself, by being honest. So take it the next step. What do you think you need? If it’s quitting, then quit.”
He thought of all the engagements booked, the people he employed and balked at dumping it all – walking away to what?
A gentle breeze stirred the palms and he heard the distant crash of the waves.
Marlene said. “Before you drop too far off the cliff, do some studying. I have. All the teachers end up where you are right now. It’s part of the process. If they are any good. The sudden realization Ego has slid in, now supported by the multitudes. At first, they only mouth the words: don’t follow me. Then they begin to realize it’s not so easy and the real fight for freedom begins.”
“Who has made it, is the question.”
“I would guess this is where the guru on the mountain top thing got started.”
Brian chuckled. “Probably. I’m hardly in that caliber. I know me. If I don’t keep on top of it and get it ingrained, I’ll blindly fall back into the old habits.”
She had an idea. He saw it flicker across her face.
“I’ve never liked the question and answer period. For one thing, the answers are usually inadequate and the questioner is typically airing an issue they don’t want to put the energy and honesty into resolving,”
Brian held up a hand, running question and answer sessions through his memory, hearing the voices. ‘How can I handle my mother-in-law who insists on fighting with me’. ‘My job is eating me up, I don’t have time for life and I can’t quit because my income supports us.’ Or ‘I never remember to use what I know’.
He nodded. “You’re right. Continue.”
“First, I would like to see us shift our focus to what has worked for people. We are missing opportunities to hear what they have learned. They need a chance to revisit their successes.”
Again he nodded.
“Second, have them sign a contract agreeing to use what they’ve learned and pursue their own answers.” Marlene’s eyes flashed and her voice rose.
“This makes you mad.”
“Lack of effort makes me mad. All show and no go. Soft voices full of words like beautiful and precious from people who will drive a truck over their own mother to meet their Ego needs. Yes. It makes me mad.” She tilted her head. “Brian, I’ve been doing this for a year. Most people who come to us want us to do the work. They have all the answers, heck, many are better read than I am. Yet they sit there and sigh and wisp and then go home all warm and fuzzy for a few hours. Granted, some of it sticks and yes one or two really make changes. Most though don’t want to change. They like having issues.”
He didn’t think he’d ever seen her mad before. “Will anyone even come to a ‘get off your butt’ message?” Everything she said was true and her message excited him about the work, amplifying how routine he’d gotten.
Marlene hitched herself up in her chair, causing it to squeak. “First, we sell tickets for the period of a year. Those who come agree to come for twelve sessions.”
She’d skipped his question and he would guess it was because she’d already answered it in her own mind long ago.
“They are allowed to miss one session. If they miss two, they are out with no refund.”
“There aren’t many in this day and age who can make that kind of commitment.”
“Do you believe in anything you preach at all?”
He tried not to react but it was a struggle. “Marlene, my goal has always been to help as many people as possible. Make myself available to as many as possible. Everyday people – looking to grow.”
“So you think you’re succeeding?”
He thought of the end of a presentation…once in a while, yes, he got a group energized. Usually, though, he felt like an evening’s entertainment. She saw it in his face. He could tell by the way she relaxed as she realized that he wasn’t arguing with her.
“Tell me. If I don’t agree to this, will you keep working for me?”
“For a while, yes,” Marlene’s gaze shifted to the ocean as she bit her lip. “You’ve gotten a glimpse of how frustrated I am. You have a great message and can get people motivated. Everyone in our audience are good people, trying to do better while bills and parties and television have a higher priority.”
“So we set up one session a month for a group of?” He let it hang, not doubting she had the details.
“We set up a session every two weeks with two different groups. For them, the commitment is once a month. For us, it’s twice a month. We can share what we have learned with each group. We will commit to having one session in their area. Twelve people per group. Twenty four people per year. The sessions themselves will not be them just sitting and listening. We’ll open with shared synchronistic, miracle related experiences in the last month. The first session will be identifying an area where they are stuck, it can become their contract. The other eleven sessions are how they fix it. If they have more than one issue they are free to sign up again however I would guess fixing one problem will reflect amazingly on the rest.” She took a deep breath and let it out. “I would also guess after about three sessions, they will quit jobs and get divorces to attend.”
“And you think we’ll get enough people?”
Marlene shrugged. “Does it matter?”
Brian thought about it – pictured people plus them, seated at a table instead of an auditorium. Which would help defray the reduced income his business mind said. Twelve people, alive, present, face to face. He and Marlene there to learn too. “It feels exciting,”
“And once more I ask, do you believe what you talk about?”
He let his face go stern. Enough was enough. “You know I do.”
“Then, if you believe what you preach, why are you asking if enough people will show? Aren’t we here to teach normal isn’t the norm?”
His breath caught. Oh. Yeah.
“Even so, there are safety measures. We’ll do it for one year, record the sessions and sell them. If it doesn’t work, you took a sabbatical. If it does, we end up with twenty-four people who are living it instead of talking about it.”
“Twenty-six.” He corrected. “You and me too. I’ve never been a cliff jumper. It’s one of the things that has slowed me down.”
He spoke carefully because she was one. Funny he’d never seen it before. “Cliff jumpers are those who trust enough to step over the edge. They quit jobs, get divorces, and move to foreign countries with $10.00 in their pocket because they trust their inner guide and it doesn’t allow small steps. I didn’t quit my day job until I was so worn out and had so much money in the bank I felt secure. Cliff jumpers progress faster because they circumvent many of the doubts us security needy people have to put to rest. When you said normal isn’t the norm, it’s true. Cliff jumpers expect it. I’ve always envied their bravery.”
“You think I am?”
Brian nodded. “I know it. It’s what makes you innovative.”
“That makes me better than you?”
He hesitated. “The proper answer is no. My honest answer is yes, I believe it does.”
“Your ex-wife was a cliff jumper?”
“Yes. She was pushing me to go out on my own long before I was ready. And once I was established, she wanted to go world-wide. I didn’t want to. I was already spread too thin and didn’t have time for the self-work I needed. It sort of crumbled from there. She has a consulting business in London now. It’s doing very well. She moved there because she wanted to live there. Everyone thought she was nuts.” He remembered how he’d hoped she’d fail, call him needing help. It still embarrassed him.
“So you married a cliff jumper to learn that.”
“I didn’t learn though, did I?”
“What do you think she was supposed to learn from you?”
He shrugged. “I honestly don’t know.”
“Perseverance? Stick ability? The pure joy of the long term, watching slow, and I emphasize slow, growth and change? Taming the urge to cliff jump which was her easy way?”
“One’s strength is another’s weakness.”
“Precisely. Ask a lion tamer to care for a toddler and they will run for the hills.”
Brian laughed. “True. But I still need to learn to cliff jump.”
Marlene crossed her legs. “And I need to learn to go slower. I think my idea is viable and I would guess once we get it in place and get it working, I’ll start twitching. What I have to learn is stick ability. Why do you think it was so easy for me to do the on the spot firing of my department heads? It wasn’t because I was hard, it was because, to me, losing a job is no big deal. I know it is different for others and sometimes, early in the morning when I’ve just woken, it comes back to haunt me.”
His instinct was to placate her but what she said was right and he knew she wouldn’t appreciate platitudes. “Did any of them have problems after you fired them?”
“You think I checked? No way! That would be facing a different fear.”
Brian grinned. “So we all have our areas. Twelve is too many, by the way. I think we should do six, three couples. Something small enough for us to get to know each other.”
Marlene nodded. “As soon as our vacation is over I’ll start on an agenda and get the marketing people on it. For now, let’s grab something to eat.”
Brian rose and followed her into the house, aware a small part of him resented her control. There was a hint of his ex-wife in the way she decided whether they should start now or wait; eat or not. He pushed it down. He’d obviously built up some control issues over the years.
The rest of the vacation was spent reading, swimming and sleeping in. Every day he could feel the wire-tight tenseness fading, replaced with a relaxed, slower calmness. Ideas began to come to him; the awareness the business of his schedule had been shutting him off from the very source he was preaching about.
He wanted to get away from preaching. He was talking too much. One didn’t learn when one’s mouth was moving. He made a note to set up the new program asking more questions – make it mostly questions rather than telling.
“Not talking is going to be hard for me,” he told Marlene on the plane home. She had her laptop with a variety of windows open. Schedules and a map of the US and a list of items and what looked to be financials.
She nodded without looking at him and clicked a document on her taskbar so it became primary. “So we need to set up the curriculum for the maximum interaction by all…maybe a caveat – you don’t play, you don’t stay?”
Brian frowned, glancing out the window at the pillars of clouds below him. There were a lot of people who learned whether they participated or not, learned better when they didn’t have to. “Perhaps not quite so, strict. We need people to be able to communicate and learn in their own way.”
Marlene drummed her fingers on the laptop for a moment, then the corner of her mouth turned up slightly and she typed rapidly. She turned the laptop so he could see what she’d typed.
'I seem to have gotten too big for my britches. I’m preaching now, instead of listening, telling instead of learning. I’m not allowed to speak in longer than fifteen-minute increments. If I start, stop me.’ - Brian’s Issue #1.
He felt himself grin. “Fifteen minutes is too long. Make it five. I’m going to struggle with this. Let’s not let me get the bit in my teeth.”
“It’s a great kick-off and you’re right. People will use you to avoid dealing with their own stuff. We did it in school to teachers. We still do it as adults.”
She was so quick. “Perfect. What will we do about nonparticipants? We will get some,”
“I’m not sure yet. You have a valid point about overregulation defeating our purpose but to have, say, a husband whose wife does all the talking isn’t going to work. There are a lot of those – or vice versa.”
“Five minutes each. Some silence acceptable?”
“I like it. The first session will be introductions. Then for the next, fill in a number, sessions, everyone has five minutes to speak. We’ll put in the intro that silence is an extraordinary way to communicate and we have things to learn from those who give us space.” She looked at him, brown eyes lit with a passion that had been dying in him from routine.
He felt his heart flip over. Uh oh.
“What?” She frowned suddenly, apparently seeing the change in his face.
“It was something. You got this ‘oh my god’ look on your face.”
He bent over as if to get something out of the bag at his feet. “Assimilating the changes,” he muttered.
“Wow. While you are good at slamming doors, you’re lousy at on-the-fly subject changes.”
Brian straightened up. Marlene resumed fiddling with her laptop. “You would want to know I might be falling in love with you? And what a mess it would make of things?”
Marlene smiled, shook her head and highlighted a word in her document to delete. “Gurus. Always caught so flat-footed when their own lessons grab them by the throat.” She looked up at him. “Of course I want to know, Brian. It’s. Why. I’m. Here.”
She was a cliff jumper, he wasn’t. He had tenacity she didn’t. “I divorced once. I won’t do it again.”
Marlene nodded. “I never married because I wasn’t prepared for the long haul. I have a feeling I’m supposed to find out if I am now.”
“What if it doesn’t work? He felt himself teetering on the edge of the cliff.
She leaned close. “What if it does?
Rebecca Monroe has been published in The MacGuffin, St. Anthony Messenger, The Tishman Review, Bellowing Ark, Avalon Review, Art Times, and The Wisconsin Review, to name a few. Monroe is the author of "Reaching Beyond” published by Bellowing Ark Press.