The Garden: We’re in It Together
Find a partner,” one of the facilitators said. “When you do, draw an invisible line between the two of you and each take a turn trying to get the other to cross over to your side.”
This was the icebreaker exercise that introduced a forty-hour mediation and conflict-resolution certificate training sponsored by the law school of the university near where I live. I registered for the course in the midst of a career change; a couple of years after leaving an executive job in non-profit management and before a dive ahead into the world of alternative healing and neo-shamanic studies, where I landed as a mediator of an entirely different sort, one who parlayed between the visible and invisible worlds.
The attendees were mostly attorneys expanding their skills to meet the growing demand for non-adversarial, collaborative alternatives to handling personal, business, and community disputes. Others came from human-resource, civil-service, and advocacy backgrounds. Besides the lone ombudsman, I was the odd one out with no affiliation or title. My only real mediation experience was as a kid, being caught in a tug of war by parents who battled more with silence than shouting before they eventually split when I was twelve.
As I looked around for a partner for the icebreaker, my eyes caught the gaze of a friendly guy I’d talked to earlier. He’d recently completed his law degree and was looking to open a family-law practice.
“You go first, Don,” I said, taking a few steps back from the imagined line we had drawn between us.
“Sure thing…Well…so Pat, how about coming over here to my side of the line? You look a little lonely over there.”
I smiled tolerantly at what sounded to me like a lame pickup line.
“Well,” Don said while clearing his throat, “it’s a real great view from over here. I know you can’t see what I see from where you’re standing.” He glanced left and right with an exaggerated look of marvel on his face. “In fact, it’s so wonderful, you really need to see it from my perspective.” Don held out his hand as if to pull me across the imaginary line.
I decided to play the role of devil’s advocate.
“You know, Don, I’m really happy that it all looks good on your side of the line. But I like it over here. I may pay you a visit one day, but right now, I don’t want to give up what I have.”
After a little back and forth, Don recognized I wasn’t ever going to concede and gave up.
Around us, all sorts of negotiations were occurring among our classmates, from the half-comic to the wildly exaggerated. People were breaking the ice and having fun, obviously taking advantage of the permission to act in ways they usually suppressed. One man pulled a wallet out of his suit-jacket pocket and tried to bribe his partner across the line. The various spirits of conflict rose, gleefully liberated, on this makeshift stage in the shadow of a statue of Lady Justice, unleashing the separation stored in the collective DNA of all of the wanna-be mediators in the room.
As I prepared to take my turn at the icebreaker task, I knew I needed to go beyond the various charades of seduction, power struggle, logical appeal, bribe, and threat to find another approach. I looked at Don, put my hand in my pretend back pocket, and wrapped my fingers around something invisible. I dropped into a squat and rubbed the pretend item in a zigzag over the highly polished wood floor. I stood up, placed the mimed object back in my pocket where it came from, and smiled across at Don.
“What was that all about?” he asked with a dumbfounded expression as he tried to maintain his best bridge-builder, fledgling-mediator tone.
“Well,” I replied, after careful pause to select my words, still trying to digest my own response and surprise at what I did, which seemed to rise from a deeper memory stored in the ancient, collective DNA of the room, “we drew an imaginary line together, didn’t we? So, I just took out an imaginary eraser and erased the imaginary line.”
It was an automatic response that came from beyond thought. It was instinctive, like something an animal might do, to rewind and access the point before separation ever began, rather than to cleverly employ habitual approaches that seemed often to repeat history rather than transcend it.
I was reminded that day of the mythic Garden story held precious by Judeo-Christian culture. Eden was the place where self-awareness dawned (along with fear) after eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was the ultimate metaphor that traced how human beings moved from living in harmony with nature in the land of “And” to the land of “Or,” from which the story of separation has radiated ever since. Now it’s sped up to meet us in the garden of 2020, where “we’re in it together” has become the buzz phrase in a year of uncertainty, suffering, protest and imposed change.
At this halfway point of summer, maybe it’s time to dig beneath the layers of human-centric falsehood to expose even a peek of the well hidden paradise. Maybe it’s time that the land of And and Or call us home to our rightful place in the garden, without trading the gifts of distinction, difference and self-apart-from-other awareness.
Time will certainly tell. But maybe, just maybe, as the sun rewinds and days inch shorter again, 20/20 vision will be restored so we can finally reclaim our rightful place in the garden. After all, we’re in it together.
Pat Heavren, MHSA, is a coach, consultant, mediator and educator whose passion is helping others to grow their personal vitality and professional leadership by aligning with the wisdom of the natural world. She is the author of Magic in Plain Sight: When Acceptance is the Healing and is former senior teaching faculty with the Four Winds Society’s International School of Energy Medicine. Pat has led workshops across the US, Canada and Latin America and works worldwide with clients via Zoom from her Woodbridge, CT office.
She can be reached at: www.livingsource.us and 203.444.4424 for appointments.