Posts tagged: change

Thanks For Having The Courage To Be Here

In January of 1980 I met Larry Lewis and he changed my life. At the time, I was a meter reader for Public Service Electric & Gas company in central New Jersey. Dr. Lawrence D. Lewis lived on Mt. Lucas Road, in Princeton, NJ in a house he called “Ivy Stone Manor.” It was a small house made of gray stone.

The Andromeda Galaxy as seen by the Hubble telescope.

My meter reading route started about a mile down the road. It usually took me about an hour to get to his house. While I was working my way there, a John Denver song would be going through my mind. It was called Farewell Andromeda, (Welcome To My Morning). It begins, “Welcome to my morning, Welcome to my day, Yes I’m the one responsible, I made it just this way. I’ll get back to this song a little later in the story.

The image is a picture of the core of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) taken by the Hubble telescope.

A lot of times when I went to Larry’s house he wasn’t home. This particular day, he answered the door and let me in. I went down into the basement to read his electric meter. I’m not exactly sure why, but I had a very strong thought that I wanted to say something to him. It might have been that, at the time, I didn’t know what kind of doctor he was. When I came back upstairs I said to him, “You look different. Did you shave off your beard?” He said that no, he hadn’t had a beard in a very long time. He had a stack of photos nearby and showed me one in which he had a beard. We started chatting. Although I can recall a lot of this as if it was yesterday, I don’t recall the whole conversation. He eventually told me that he was a psychologist and led a workshop called RelationShop.

He started telling me about RelationShop and handed me a pamphlet that I could take with me. I told him that was really interesting because I had just separated from my wife a few days ago. I sat out in his driveway for a few minutes in my gray Plymouth Valiant and read the pamphlet. One of the things it said was: The purpose of RelationShop is to provide the participants with the opportunity to experience the truth about love, sexuality and relationships so that frustration, effort and scarcity in these areas can be supplanted by mastery, spontaneity and fulfillment. I still remember that after 28 years.

I went to a couple of “Prospectives” in the area. They were events that graduates of the workshop put on in their homes so that you could get an idea of what the workshop was like. I signed up at one of them and was scheduled to take the workshop the first weekend of March in New York City. That was one of the first obstacles for me. I didn’t particularly like going to NYC, even though I only lived an hour away. The city was too crowded for me and everyone was in too much of a hurry.

RelationShop took an entire weekend. It started on a Friday night and went into the wee hours of the morning. Then you had to be back at 9:00 AM Saturday morning and it went late into Sunday morning. On Sunday, it would start at 9:00 AM again and it didn’t end until the early morning hours of Monday. There were a few short breaks each day and a longer dinner break in the evening. It was held in a hotel ballroom.

Over the course of the three days,  Larry and his co-leader Dr. Michael F. Valente talked about love, sexuality and relationships and guided the group through various “experiments” to help you to experience what they were talking about. There were probably around 70 people in my “class.” There was discussion and sharing  before and after each experiment. You had to raise your hand to talk and someone would run over and hand you a microphone. People shared some very personal stuff.

At the time, I was pretty terrified to say anything at all in front of a group of strangers. I listened to everything that was said on Friday and Saturday and participated in every experiment, but I never raised my hand and I never asked for the microphone.

At the end of Friday night, people who were assisting at the workshop, helped people like me who didn’t have a place to stay, share a room with other participants. I ended up staying in a very nice apartment with a great view, somewhere on the east side of Manhattan. Saturday was a particularly difficult day in the workshop for me and by the end of the day, I really did not want to be there.

The apartment had a nice balcony that looked out on the street from 10 or 15 floors up. Saturday night after the workshop, I went and sat on the balcony and chain smoked cigarette after cigarette ( I finally quit smoking 7 years ago). I was thinking about just going home the next day and not finishing the workshop on Sunday. I  was trying to figure out how I would explain all of this to Larry the next time I saw him. I did not want to spend another day in the workshop. Finally, the other person that was staying in the apartment
that night came out to the balcony and said that I should probably get some sleep because it was going to be another long day tomorrow. I went to bed still thinking about how I could get out of the final day.

I went back to the workshop Sunday morning. At one point I was speaking to the woman sitting next to me. She thought that I should share it with the group and grabbed me by the arm and raised my hand for a few seconds. Now, I know that Larry and Michael had to see this because they didn’t miss a thing and it was right in front of them. They didn’t call on me though and no one handed me the dreaded microphone.

Sometime after that, the group did another experiment. I think it was called the “Be With” experiment. In it, you just walk around the room and go up to the other members of the group, one at a time, and be with them. You don’t say anything. You just look into the other persons eyes and “be with them.” It might last 10 seconds or a minute. It’s not a staring contest.

I went up to Larry who was standing on the stage and did the experiment. He looked me in the eyes and after a few seconds, held me by the shoulders and said, “Thanks for having the courage to be here.” That is one of the nicest things that anyone has ever said to me.  “Thanks for having the courage to be here.” His timing was perfect because it just lifted me up. He must have known what a difficult time I was having and how hard it was just being in that room.

We did one particularly heavy duty “experiment” late Sunday and there were more discussions and sharing. After that experiment, we were sent on a dinner break. Larry told everyone that the “worst” was over and to make sure to come back after the break. He said that in some previous RelationShops, people had failed to return from the break thinking that they couldn’t take anymore.

I went to dinner. I think the dinner experiment instructions were that you couldn’t ask any questions. When the break was over and I went back to the room, there was some instrumental music quietly playing. I listened to it for a minute and I thought that it was Farewell Andromeda, (Welcome To My Morning), the song that I used to sing to myself while reading meters on the way to Larry’s house. The second verse of the song goes like this:

Welcome to my happiness, you know it makes me smile
And it pleases me to have you here
For just a little while
While we open up some spaces and try to break some chains
And if the truth is told
They will never come again.

I kind of thought that John Denver had been telling me my future. I have always thought that the line should have been, “And if the truth is told, we will never be the same.

When everyone was back in the room and the workshop started again, I felt as if a giant burden had been lifted. I felt giddy, like Scrooge on Christmas morning, after the three spirits had visited! A lot of other people seemed to be in good spirits too. I’m sure part of it was knowing that the weekend was almost over! I actually raised my hand and took the microphone. I asked about the song and no one seemed to know if it was in fact Farewell Andromeda. Someone did volunteer though that it was the first time I had shared all weekend. Larry then explained our relationship and how I had found out about the workshop.

That weekend changed my life. One of the things I realized is that I wasn’t as separate from other people as I thought. Many people share the same feelings that I do about a lot of different things. The words that come to mind are, “once I was different, now I’m the same.” I have a lot more in common with everyone else than I do differences. My son was born in December of the same year. I left my job within two years of the workshop, looking for something more meaningful. I started reading authors like Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer and Jane Roberts.

I went on to become a volunteer assistant at some of the workshops. I repeated the workshop as a participant, to experience what I had missed the first time, when I was afraid and just trying to survive the weekend. I made some interesting new friends and spent a lot of time in New York City.

RelationShop was similar to, but not the same as, Erhard Seminars Training (est), a very popular workshop in the seventies and early eighties. I never experienced est, but I did go to Newark, NJ one night with Larry to hear Werner Erhard speak. John Denver was an est graduate and on their board of directors. His song “Looking For Space” was written about est.

I am so glad that I acted on my impulse to talk to Larry that January day.

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