Tea Break Read
A serialised short story
By Allan Hunter
Getting back to school can seem like a relief and a let down at the same time. I’m pleased to get back to my friends and not having to answer to anyone for anything much. But I do miss my private space, and I miss that it’s quiet when I want it to be. And I miss my cats.
We’re back to class and Malcolm asks us in a general way about our break. Everyone says it was “good” and he recognizes that we’re not ready to say anything yet, so he reminds us about the course. And he says a few things that are really interesting. He says that for the first half of the semester we’ve been looking at parts of ourselves we might not even be fully aware of, the Unconscious parts, and that they determine most of what we wind up doing and who we become – if we’re not prepared to look at them. He says it’s a bit like living near a train station, and seeing everyone get on the train and go to work. So we grow up and we think we have to get on the same train, and we do, and we never look at the other possibilities. He says that he doesn’t particularly care whether we get on the train or not, that’s up to us, What he does care about is that when we do get on it (if we do) we know we’re making a choice. And if we decide we won’t get on it then we have to know where that decision comes from. If you’re compliant then you do what everyone does. If you’re reactive you do the exact opposite just to be different. But then you can also choose what you feel is true to you. And what’s true to you is likely to be what your Unconscious is telling you.
So, the better you know your Unconscious the better decisions you’ll make and the happier you’ll wind up being.
I’ve never encountered a prof who cared about whether we were happy. I mean, yes, they want us to like them and their courses and so on so they can get good end of term evaluations, but they don’t really care that much about whether we wind up happy, ten years down the road. But I really think he wants us to know who we are, inside, so we can be happy in a deep, fulfilled kind of way, in whatever way that works for us. No matter what we do. If it comes from the authentic version of who we are (that’s his phrase) then it will be empowered and joyful. We can, he says, change the world through our example. One person at a time.
I’m kind of blown away by that.
I don’t think most of the class got it. They all sat there like corpses dusted off for a museum showing. Or perhaps they did. You can never tell.
So then he starts with another exercise. This one is kind of funny. He asks us to write fortune cookie fortunes for people we know. Mom, dad (HAH!!) people we know, people we have friction with. Then he asks us to think of what we’d like to find in cereal packages – those stupid toys we used to love when we were about 6, and then what we’d put in if we ran the company, and finally, if money were no object.
I write these fortunes, and it tears me up a bit.
For Me: It will be OK.
For Mom: You are my strength
For Dad: Wake up!
For my brother: You’ll do fine if you stop trying to be better than everyone.
For a special person: I think we’re going to know each other for a long time
For a person of conflict: You shitheads don’t get it. Karma will get you.
Cereal package, what I’d like to get: Motivational quotes in a book
Cereal, if I ran the company: motivational quotes, in a book or on bracelets
Cerea if expense was no object Joy, in ready to open packets
So we all share, and it was pretty interesting.
Malcolm told us that what we want to receive as a fortune is often the message we’re waiting to get from someone, like “it’ll all work out” – but that actually if someone said that to us, a stranger, we probably wouldn’t believe it. We probably wouldn’t believe it if it came from our Moms or Dads either. So what’s really happening here is we’re sending that message to ourselves, from our Unconscious to our Conscious selves. We are reassuring ourselves.
I thought that was really interesting.
Then he said that the other fortunes were likely to be things that we wanted to say to people in our lives, but felt they couldn’t hear. Or more accurately, these were things we felt they couldn’t hear from us, because of who we are to them. And that felt dead on. I’d love to say all those things to all those people, but I know they’d just smile and say “yeah, fine, great” and forget it. Even that one I had for Jessica “I think we’re going to know each other for a long time” – that’s something I can’t say just yet. But I can feel it.
Then Malcolm said: you all gave good advice to the people in your lives. Good. Now, do you take your own advice?
I had to put my head down there. Because I don’t take my own advice. I can dish it out just fine. But actually I don’t live what I preach. I do try to be better than everyone else – it’s not just my brother. I’m pretty much like him now I think about it, which is why he annoys me so much. I can see what he’s doing! I understand it. But I can’t get through to him that he doesn’t need to put that shit. And I don’t seem to be that good at getting through to me, either.
So then we came to the cereal package bit, which I thought was a bit lame. And there were all kinds of responses. Some people put forgiveness for student loans in their packets for when we had no expense limit. I thought that was cool. Others put in a million dollars. Only one other person put in something abstract, and that was Jessica – she put in peace and love and compassion.
I thought that was amazing.
No one knew what to make of this part so Malcolm took over and he said that this part of the exercise talked about our luck. The Free Gift in the cereal might indicate what we felt our luck would be like (because we all think we have our own personal luck). Did we have big expectations or not? Did we think we were going to get what we needed in life? I guess my motivational quotes are something I’ll need in life, to keep me focused, so I felt good about that.
Then the gift we’d give to others showed us how generous we were likely to be to the greater world. Are we kind?
Then – finally – the gift that we’d give if money were no object was one that could reflect how we felt people should be treated. And that started a good discussion because those who gave a million bucks realized that money is fine, but often it causes more trouble than we think, so it was a potentially difficult gift. Those who gave peace and love were looking at a more spiritual level for their fulfillment. And then he said this: The extent to which we are prepared to be generous with others tends to mirror the extent that we are generous to ourselves. And then he asked: are you generous to yourselves?
I think my head exploded, again.
When I got back to my room I immediately started to write about it. You see, my books of motivational quotes are exactly the way I operate. I like it when people take charge of their own lives and use the resources that are at hand (like quotes that inspire) but I won’t just hand them money and walk away. That’s kind of distant, isn’t it? Here, take five bucks and go away. That’s not really very caring. But I’m caring and yet hands off. I’m not telling them they have to come to a prayer meeting with me, or the Mormon temple, or whatever. I’m saying: here’s something. Use it if you want. It’s your life. Take charge.
Because, you see, that’s exactly the way I live and the way I need to live. I need to take charge and use the resources I’ve got. That’s what I’m telling myself.
It’s like I kicked myself in the butt with this one.
Shit. This is one hell of a course.
I’m still kind of shook up about that Jabberwock. I haven’t forgotten it, but while I was away on break it got shoved to the back of my mind and then today it came back, and it really came back to me.
Malcolm said that we construct our lives around stories. We tell ourselves stories about things and some of them are good stories, and some of them aren’t. We tell ourselves stories about what we can say and who we can say it to – and they might not even be true. We tell ourselves that something is “just my luck” when in reality it’s more likely to be our way of interpreting a situation that can keep us stuck. If you don’t think you’ve got any luck then you’ll probably take no risks your entire life, and what a waste that would be.
And that got me thinking about my narrow escape from that shitty party. I could see myself as weak, as a victim who’ll always get cornered. Or I could see myself as a person who made a mistake but had the wits to fight my way out. Which is true? Both. Which do I believe? I like the second one more. If I believe I’m always going to be a victim I’ll probably wind up that way, because that’s what I’ll be expecting, so I’ll have a way of making it happen, putting myself in danger, Unconsciously. That’s the creepy thing. Part of me that I don’t understand will try to make things happen because it’s what I “expect’, even if it’s going to hurt me!! SHIT!!
So if I expect that men are only out for one thing, to hurt and exploit women and be assholes like my dad…..then That’s what I’ll find in life. I may see other possibilities but I may not be able to believe in them. So the nice guys get sent away with a curse and a shove.
And I do this to myself.
Really? Do I do that? I suppose I do. Really, I think I might do that sometimes.
I know there was more to the class because people talked. Some people didn’t get it, but I wasn’t listening to them. I had too much of my own mind to listen to.
I think the last thing I wrote (for this exercise) might be the thing that’ll help me today. I wrote that I put packets of Joy in everyone’s cereal box. Real Joy. That tells me that I want people to be full of Joy and that I think I am, too, except I need to be reminded about Joy. Because that’s where I used to be, before. That’s who I was. I’d find joy in all kinds of places and it was so great to be that person. I think I lost it after that party. Sometimes I think that those guys saw I was full of joy and life and that’s why they wanted to try to rape me, to drag me down to their own sorry level. It wasn’t like I was running around like a ray of sunshine or anything, but people used to say that there was some good energy around me. I think it got frightened out of me.
He is a full professor of Literature at Curry College, a counselor, and his doctoral degree in literature is from Oxford University. British by birth, he traveled extensively in Europe, India, Africa, and India before settling in Boston, Massachusetts.
Three of his books seek to show readers how to use writing as a therapeutic and life-enhancing tool. They are all based in workshops he has taught for over thirty years (The Sanity Manual, Life Passages, and Write Your Memoir). In each case the emphasis is on using writing and story to reach a place a deeper understanding and peace. His other books have explored the way six specific archetypes recur in the 3000 years of the western world’s great literature; Stories We Need to Know, The Six Archetypes of Love, and Princes, Frogs and Ugly Sisters: The Grimm Brothers’ Healing Tales. He concludes that these archetypes are ways for us to contact the deep structures of the psyche.
His tenth book, The Path of Synchronicity, asks us to consider what it is the universe seems to nudge us to do, rather than what we think will make us famous or wealthy. As such times we move into the flow of synchronicity.
He followed this with Spiritual Hunger in which he asks us to consider how we can feed our inner need for relevance in a mass culture, and how we can choose healthy possibilities rather than those sold to us by large corporations.
His most recent work is Gratitude and Beyond – an exploration of how gratitude is just the beginning to the journey of self-discovery. Following a brush with death I describe how I learned, the hard way, lessons I needed to know so that I could live more harmoniously in the world.