Updated: Jul 18, 2020
*This story was originally published in "Chew on This: Fifty-Two Inspirational Points to Ponder", a book of inspirational short stories by Gary Brock and Kelly Tuck, and is available for purchase here!
*Words of wisdom for inspirational thought are at the end of the story!
WHO ARE YOU?
The weekend retreat led by Guru Garysheema was packed. The guru’s promise claimed that by Sunday morning, during the final hours of the retreat, all in attendance would have a completely new perspective regarding the age-old concept of what it meant to discover “who you are.”
For a number of years, I’d been searching to discover the secret answer to the eternal question everyone grappled with at some point in their lifetime: why am I here? which ultimately led to, who am I? The retreat topic caught my eye and caused me to ponder thoughtfully on the message the guru would cover. If I could determine who I really was, maybe I could finally quench my thirst to discover my own life’s purpose.
I scraped together enough money to pay the five hundred dollar registration fee, actually “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul,” praying the entire time I was not about to waste hard earned money on the latest New Age gobbledy-gook.
Every seat in the large conference hall was filled. Soft murmurs created a light buzz, somewhat heightening the awareness of our common search for truth. I took my seat and skimmed over the complimentary program distributed by the welcome staff in front of the building. There was only an itinerary and meditation practices to “prepare the mind for the message.” Soon, the lights flickered on and off to signal the seminar was about to begin. As the buzz faded away, all of a sudden, walking deliberately from the back of the conference room, strode Guru Garysheema down the center aisle to the stage before us.
The guru appeared to be in his seventies but was actually approaching one hundred. Although his build was slight, he was very sturdy in stature. It was hard to tell what his ethnicity was, and, although I was leaning toward Middle Eastern, it really didn’t matter. What did matter was the very obvious difference in his demeanor from the rest of us in the room. This was a man who was very comfortable with himself as well as in his own skin. Of course, I surmised, if you’re approaching one hundred I would think you should be comfortable in your own skin.
A loud but respectful clapping rippled through the auditorium as the guru climbed the stairs to sit on the raised stage. “Thank you,” he said, silencing the applause before adding quietly. “Come to center... Center yourself.”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath in. After several long seconds, the members of the audience did the same. A deep breath out from the stage signaled the end of the brief meditation. “Good,” he said, “let us begin.”
The guru gave a brief overview of what could be expected over the weekend and then, to everyone’s amazement, announced, “Your registration fee will be returned to you at the conclusion of the conference.”
“Did I just hear that correctly?” I leaned over to whisper to the lady beside me. “Did he say our registration fee will be returned to us?”
“Yes,” she whispered without breaking her gaze from the stage.
“Wow.” That meant the conference was free.
Guru Garysheema explained, “I have no need for money, but I do know that many times if there is no commitment, in this case measured by monetary exchange, there is no impetus for learning. If each of you were willing to spend five hundred dollars to listen to me speak, you are all most certainly committed to learning. Since I now know you are committed, I am giving your money back to you. Think of it as ‘Christmas in April.’”
The guru continued with his overview, beginning with his life’s history, and spending the next couple of hours discussing various lessons he had learned over the past century, which included exercise, nutrition, vocations, relationships, travel, and observations. A pin drop could’ve been heard in the silence of the immense auditorium, partly because he spoke softly, but mostly because what he had to share was enlightening.
Guru Garysheema clapped his hands together. “I hope each of you has a restful night’s sleep. We will start fresh tomorrow morning at 9:00 sharp. Good night, my friends.” With that, he stood slowly from his seated position and strode off the back exit of the stage.
I slept well that night, although it did take a little while longer than I had hoped to fall asleep. My thoughts were alive with questions as to what I would discover over the course of the weekend.
Saturday morning began just like Friday night; the conference hall was full of buzz and excitement as the lights flickered on and off for Guru Garysheema’s entrance. Just like the evening before, the participants respectfully applauded the guru as he made his way to the stage.
“Good morning,” he began after we had once again centered ourselves, “I hope your night was restful. We will now begin.” He paused before asking thoughtfully, “Who are you?”
The room was silent. The guru waited patiently for at least a full minute before asking once more, “Who are you?”
I noticed everyone was glancing around quickly, just like me, not sure if they should speak or if the question was rhetorical and simply a guide for our focus. We were all waiting for some form of verbal direction.
“Everyone,” the guru said softly, “please stand up... Look to the person to your right, look to the person to your left, look at the person in front of you, look at the person behind you. Stretch your hands to the ceiling while raising up on your toes... Good. Now, please be seated.”
“We are all here for the same purpose,” he began his explanation. “There is no right or wrong answer on the path to understanding. It is a path to be traveled upon. An ancient Chinese proverb reads, ‘the journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step,’ so please, speak as you feel led and take those steps. All of you, deep breath in...” The sound of synchronized intake of air was powerful. “And release.” All confusion seemed to be blown from the room during the exhale as our purpose for the day’s seminar was redefined.
He continued, “Now, who are you?”
Answers to the question were called out all over the room. Teacher, attorney, welder, nurse – it went on and on until the guru finally nodded. “Very good to all of you who shared, but that is what you are, your profession. That is what you do to make a living, that is not who you are. So, who are you?”
Once again answers flooded the auditorium from all across the room. Mother, father, brother, sister, daughter, son... The guru nodded once again. “Hmm, all very good responses... But, that is who you are in relation to someone else... I want to know who you are. Who are you?”
An easy going guy, an encourager, an over achiever, a hustler, a doormat, artistic... Guru Garysheema nodded and replied, “Yes, but that describes aspects of your personality, and, to some degree, informs me of what other people say about you, but does not tell me who you are; it tells me something about you. So, who are you?”
American, Black, Chinese, Latino, German, Australian... Guru Garysheema smiled. “Good answer, but no, that is your ethnicity. Let’s try again, who are you?”
Male, female, man, woman... The guru nodded his head slightly and said, “Absolutely, but that is your gender.” He stood up slowly and clapped his hands together. “Let’s break into small groups. Don’t be shy, just get with one or two around you and discuss among yourselves who you think you are. Remember ‘seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.’”
For the entire next hour, the auditorium was pulsating with lively conversation. All kinds of hypotheses and educated guesses could be heard throughout the groups. It was obvious everyone was intent on solving the ever-persistent question of “who are you?” It had morphed from a mere three words into an intricate riddle.
My group couldn’t seem to get past the descriptions that we all used to define ourselves. We thought we were making progress when all of a sudden someone would pipe up and say, “But that describes part of you. It’s not an explanation of who you are.” Everyone was intrigued as to where Guru Garysheema was leading us. The conference soon broke for lunch and we were asked to return at 2:00.
It took me several minutes to find an open seat when I returned to the auditorium. It seemed as though everyone had the same idea that I had: eat lunch as quickly as possible to find a great seat and take a few minutes to meditate on the question posed by the guru. I ended up finding a seat towards the back of the room, sitting down with about two minutes to spare.
The Saturday afternoon session began just as the others with a flicker of the house lights, the guru walking to the stage, and a few moments to become centered. “Please, everyone,” he began, “reach under your seat and bring out what you find.”
I reached under my seat in heightened curiosity. There had to be some item, a relic perhaps, used in ancient spiritual rituals. This would surely hold the secret! My fingers wrapped around something soft and springy. As I pulled the object up and inspected it with confusion, I noticed everyone around me was holding the same common household item: a small loofah sponge.
After many quizzical glances were thrown around the room, Guru Garysheema asked, “What do you have in your hand?”
“A sponge,” we all replied.
The guru nodded. “Now, everyone, I want you to come on stage, row by row starting with the front, and dip your sponge into this large ceramic vat. Then squeeze it out in the ceramic vat directly beside it. I will demonstrate.” He took an identical sponge and demonstrated what he just explained to us in what seemed like one fluid motion. “Please begin.”
Row by row we walked up to the stage and dipped our sponges into the vat, then squeezed out the sponge into the vat beside it. I went through the motions slowly and carefully, gazing once at the guru, who nodded in encouragement as I went through the task. Once we had all completed the exercise and returned to our seats, the guru spoke softly. “Very good. What did you squeeze out of your sponge?”
The guru nodded his head. “Let us complete the exercise again, just as before, only start with the back row first and work row by row to the front.” As the back row began to come up front, the Guru poured a liquid from a cruet into the vat. Row by row we walked up to the stage and dipped our sponges into the vat, then squeezed it into the vat beside it. I went through the motions once again, noting the difference in color and smell that the liquid in the first vat contained.
Once we had all completed the exercise and returned to our seats, the guru spoke softly, “Very good. What did you squeeze out of your sponge?”
The guru smiled and nodded his head. “Let us complete the exercise again, just like last time, but this time we will start with the first row and then the last row, and then the second row, and then the next to the last row, and on and on.”
As the first row stood up and started to make their way to the stage, the guru poured a liquid from a different bottle into the vat. Row by row, we walked up to the stage and dipped our sponges into the vat, then squeezed out the sponges into the vat beside it. I went through the motions once again, noting the difference in color and smell that the liquid in the first vat contained.
Once we had all completed the exercise and returned to our seats, the guru spoke softly, “Very good. Now, what did you squeeze out of your sponge?”
“Purple vinegar!” someone called out to specify from the other side of the room, prompting a few chuckles from the audience.
Guru Garysheema smiled and nodded his head. “Our seminar is complete for today. Please, everyone, tonight, think about our morning questions and our afternoon exercises – ponder on the question ‘who are you?’ Tomorrow we will answer the question that all seek the answer to. Have a good evening, and I hope everyone sleeps well. We will begin tomorrow morning promptly at 9:00.”
Having tossed and turned all night in an attempt to solve the riddle the guru had posed, the Sunday morning session came too early. As I sat down in the auditorium, I noticed several others with bleary eyes, puffy from lack of a restful sleep. The session began just like all of the other sessions. The crowd buzzed with anticipation, soon the lights flickered, Guru Garysheema strode to the stage, and we took a brief moment to center ourselves. He bowed as he continued to stand before us, making no movement to sit down as he had during the previous sessions.
He began softly, “I hope everyone slept well. Did everyone meditate on our sessions from yesterday?”
“Yes,” rang clear through the auditorium.
“Then tell me, my friends...who are you?
A grin pulled at my lips. I knew the answer to this question, and apparently everyone else did too. “A sponge,” we all responded. “We are sponges.”
The guru beamed and clapped his hands together softly. “Friends, you have learned so much. You have taken 999 steps on your journey of 1,000 miles, but you still have one more step.”
He sat down. “My friends, you are not sponges, but...your eyes, your ears, your mouth, your skin transmits everything to your brain. Your brain is a sponge – it soaks up everything around you. So, keeping this in mind, I ask you one more time... Who are you?”
The room was silent as everyone soaked in the revelation Guru Garysheema spoke. My mind was racing as I suddenly felt more awake than I have ever felt in my life. I raised my hand slowly and the guru motioned for me to speak. As my face stretched into a wide smile, I opened my mouth and said...
* * * * * * *
We are what we continuously fill ourselves with.
* * * * * * *
*Chew On This: Fifty-Two Inspirational Points to Ponder is available for purchase here!