I was a participant in a workshop a while back, led by the man who is credited with bringing a concept called Mindfulness Meditation to America and popularizing it. As I understand it, in order to sell the idea, he asked doctors in the hospital to refer the patients that they had decided they could no longer help, to his meditation program. He achieved some pretty remarkable results and the rest is history. Now, mindfulness meditation is a mainstream idea. His name is Jon Kabat-Zinn.
On the last day of the workshop, we were asked to prepare a list of questions to ask him. We broke into small groups and were told that each group would be permitted to ask him one question from all of our combined lists.
One by one, each of the groups chose a representative to present their question. That representative was asked to go to the front of the room and share their question in front of the entire group. Quite honestly, I don’t remember whether he answered them or not, but I do remember the very last person and the very last question.
A man came to the front and said that his group didn’t have any questions about Mindfulness Meditation, but after a week of somewhat Spartan living conditions, they did want to ask the question they were sure everyone in the workshop wanted the answer to, and that was “where can someone go to ‘get laid’”. Some of the audience laughed. About 2/3rds didn’t.
I sat there in shock. The week, with all of the meditation and yoga practice, had felt like somewhat of a spiritual experience to me, and I am sure for many others. The question seemed totally out of context. Totally in bad taste.
The gentleman, with a grin on his face, started to walk away, but Mr. Kabat-Zinn asked him to stay up front, he wanted to ask a question in return. The man looked a little frightened, but agreed to do so. So Mr. Kabat Zinn said, “Please tell me where that question came from”. Regardless of the answer that the gentleman came up with, Mr. Kabat-Zinn, quietly and respectfully, simply repeated the same statement “Tell me where that question came from”. The gentleman’s group tried to come to their representative’s rescue. The general gist of their answers was that they were just kidding, trying to ‘lighten things up”, after such a “heavy” week. Regardless of their answers, for about 20 minutes, Mr. Kabat-Zinn, made no comments, but simply kept inquiring as to “where that question came from”.
Finally, Mr. Kabat-Zinn said that he had heard enough. He turned to the audience and said “We have all been affected by what has happened here. We will all stay here in this room until everyone who wants or needs to say something about this has an opportunity to speak to the entire community.” Though it was dinner time by that point, we all stayed in the room. For more than two hours.
One of the points that I took away from that experience was much more than learning about Mindfulness Meditation. It was that if I wanted to learn how to behave better, I needed to keep putting myself in front of people who knew how to handle situations like this, respectfully and appropriately. Neither pretending it didn’t happen, nor scapegoating or vilifying the offender. Until that moment, I had never had that experience.