Monday, October 27, 2014

public/private speaking

I have given a lot of talks in my professional life. I've wasted more hours than I like to think about fiddling around with powerpoint. I would say I am fairly comfortable behind the podium. Today, though - today was wildly different.

I am a United Way ambassador for our department. That means that I, along with two colleagues, are trying to drum up donations for our annual United Way campaign. Today we had our kickoff meeting. This means a small group of rather unwilling staff members, sitting in a smallish auditorium. My boss talked for a bit, and then I was to talk about "Why I Give".

I showed a little animation I created. It was just a few slides to show how hard it is to make an impact with small individual giving, but how a group like the United Way can marshal resources and donation at a level that has significant impact.

And then I got personal, off-script. And lost my shit. Like, in tears leaking down my cheeks, lost it. I was trying to talk about giving back. About being a "have" that used to be a "have not". And how thin the margin is between making it and not making it.

It turns out I have no problem speaking about just about anything. Unless it is personal, and something I deeply care about. Then, apparently, I am a quivering sobbing mass of emotion.

A few years ago, I would have been horribly embarrassed. And mad at myself, for blowing it. I felt a little raw, the way you do after you cry. But I also felt okay about it. I'm human, and imperfect and just like everybody else.

What happened afterward was even more eye-opening. I got notes saying I had inspired people to give. A friend said I was brave. A co-worker I don't know well stopped by to hug me, and then to share her own story and cry. It was very moving and very powerful.

And not at all a typical day at the office.

Monday, October 06, 2014

feet of clay

I've been thinking the last few days about the idea of "feet of clay". The adopted son of the founder of Shambhala has been in the news. Ashoka Mukpo is an NBC journalist, recently transported home for treatment of Ebola. He seems like a decent person, working very hard to bring some attention to an often ignored part of the world.

His adopted father was Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of Shambhala Buddhism. He's the "feet of clay" I have been ruminating about this week. He is such a contradiction for me. He was a wise man, an excellent dharma teacher, with a beautiful vision for the realization of an enlightened society. His teachings form the basis for the buddhist training I have been pursuing the last couple of years. He was also a deeply flawed human being. He reputedly died from his alcoholism. He drank to excess, he smoked, he had affairs with his students, he abused his power as a spiritual leader.

This is the foundation on which I have built my path. I am old enough to realize that few people are wholly good, or wholly bad.  And I know the teachings to be sound, even if the teacher was not all that I would wish for. But part of me is embarrassed by the connection. I have turned it around and looked at it, and I think it is this -- I worry that his actions reflect badly on Shambhala, and that because this is my practice, it somehow reflects back on me. I hate to feel foolish. I hate to feel "duped". And on some level, this week, that is what I felt.

Oddly, I also felt more of a connection to the man than I did before. I have always preferred sinners to saints -- they are more human, more real to me. I cannot aspire to sainthood, but I can be a sinner who sticks to the path as much as I am able. I can be flawed, I can be damaged, and still not be disqualified from enlightenment. This is powerful, and freeing.

I don't know if the man was a terrible example, or a perfect one.