Last week, for me, saw four intensive days in seminar with the iconic Tony Robbins and his “Unleash the Power Within” doctrine. If you’re not familiar, look him up on YouTube. There are hundreds of lectures, TED Talks, etc, on the man. If you ARE familiar, I’ve found, you’re either behind him with a sense of devotion that just about any other motivational speaker out there would be hard pressed to rival, or you’ve concluded that he’s a modern day Jim Jones. I find almost no one who has a tepid reaction to him.
Yes, I did the firewalk. No, I was not injured. Yes, it gave me a high like nothing else, for what it was designed to symbolize; the power to accomplish anything, even the seemingly impossible, a subject-matter I am painfully intimate with. I had a personal stake in doing this. And it delivered.
And finally, yes, we’re talking about the same UPWDallas2016 that blitzkrieged the news on the firewalk night. “Hundreds burned in failed Tony Robbins Firewalk!” As someone who was there, I can vouch for the real thing being nowhere near as dramatic or perilous as the coverage made it out to be, because, of course, “if it bleeds it leads.”
Dallas is a city I’ve barely been to, in all of my many trips to Texas. It’s usually been a case of flying in or out of DFW and picking up connections to other destinations. So in preparing to come to this city for the Robbins conference, on my menu of intentions was to visit Dealey Plaza, the site of the assassination of JFK. I really have a thing for visiting these kinds of historical landmarks, and this one especially has been on my list to visit, because our nation changed radically after (perhaps even as a result of) the assassination that day in 1963.
We only had the last day in town, after the seminar was over, to check it out thoroughly, though we did actually run across it by accident on the first night of the seminar. The friend I was traveling with, and I, had decided to walk a few blocks away from the Convention Center to get our Uber, since eight thousand other people were all trying to get back to their hotels too. And at a certain point, a few blocks into our midnight walk (the night of the firewalk, so we were already on a kind of high), my friend suddenly stopped in his tracks, looked around, as if he was lost, and then said “I think this is it.” “What?” “Yeah,” he continued, ignoring me. He then proceeded to stroll across a grassy knoll (I’m still not catching on), and pointed to an X in the street. “This is where Kennedy was shot.”
It was a quiet night. Clear sky. Bright moon. I was already open-veined and euphoric, because I’d walked on hot coals tonight, baby! And I had not burned my feet, because I had applied the fierce focus and intention taught us earlier that evening. And it was not a parlor trick; the coals were freaking hot. And so, when everything finally came into dawning for me, and I saw the corner street signs of Houston and Elm, and the picket fence where the fourth bullet had allegedly come from, and the building formerly known as the Texas Book Depository, I stood there, having just experienced something rather larger-than-life, and cried a little, just to myself, at this other larger-than-life historical ground zero. It was an eerie and haunting thing to stumble upon by accident at midnight. We spent a bit of time there, as one does, then called for our Uber. And then proceeded to end every night of the conference with the same agenda.
So, by the time we got to our last day in town, and had the seminar firmly behind us, and had a cousin of mine who lives in town escorting us for the day, to go experience this thing in the daylight, do the museum, and be official tourists, we had already experienced it the way everyone should, I’ve now concluded. The midnight visit had been a sacred, internal moment that had allowed me to feel that bit of history in an intimate and private way, and to have an emotional reaction to it. In the light of day, it was an entirely different experience. All the opportunists were out in droves, selling their bogus copies of “the actual newspaper headline from The Dallas Morning News!” and their angle on what really happened that day. Every wild theory was flying out of the mouths of the carnival barkers, creating a cacophony of chatter that was almost musical.
And then a most interesting thing happened. One such barker that I was standing near, and trying to listen to, as he explained to a huddle of tourists about the fatal shot, couldn’t’ve been more than 50 years old, and yet was saying things like, “and that’s when we all hit the deck, and then ran across here behind the picket fence…” He then pointed to a blurred figure, in a crowd of other blurred figures, in an old, dog-eared photograph he was holding, with the doomed presidential motorcade in the foreground, and said, “that’s me.” Even though blurred, the figure he was pointing to was clearly an adult, someone who was not an infant, which, at a stretch, is the only way this guy could’ve potentially been present at this 53-year-old moment in history. So yeah, we were dealing with crazy, I concluded, and he officially lost my interest in listening any longer.
From a distance, however, I continued to stare at him do his thing. I sort of couldn’t take my eyes away, because I was suddenly reminded of the most profound thing that I had learned from Tony Robbins during his game-changing seminar intensive. That all of our problems, struggles, dysfunctions, etc., exist and linger because they serve a need. And as long as they continue to provide a benefit, they will not be repaired. There is something that they fulfill. I remembered that one stopping me dead in my tracks on, I want to say, Day 2 of this thing. And so, as I stared at this man, who was more likely mentally ill than a simple con man, I was suddenly softened from the earlier eye-rolling, head-shaking, dismissive stance I’d taken against him, and wondered what need his story was fulfilling for him. A sense of significance in a world that had rendered him insignificant? Combating a crippling loneliness by surrounding himself with people who could potentially find awe in his story, and him? Whatever the benefit was, it certainly wasn’t a financial one, since everyone around him had him nailed, and no one was buying his story, or his wares. Yet they were continuing to hang on his every word, because crazy is entertaining. And it was at that moment that I realized I would probably never look at any other situation again, neither another’s nor my own, without asking that question: What need does this serve?
That changes the whole playing field, doesn’t it?
There is a plethora, a right worthy grocery list, to be honest, of struggles and hiccups that my own personal growth seems to be bombarded with these days. Much of which I’ve chalked up to a case of what I do, or don’t, deserve. Or I chalk up a certain behavior, which is nonetheless frustrating for me, to being a hardwiring.
For example, one sentence I’ve claimed for years as part of my story: I’ve spent my life not being picked. Or at least believing, always, in that outcome (which pretty much means it’s guaranteed). Case in point: My boyfriend in 8th grade literally moved on from me to someone else without a word my way. How I found out was when his “new thing” and I were racing against each other in a track meet. The girl had actually been my friend, and the boyfriend and I had not had a single conflict, so while I get kids just moving on from each other thoughtlessly, I never understood the venal nature of the moment. He stood at the starting line where she and I were poised to run the 50-yard dash, and he muttered, but for everyone to hear, “Beat her, Albertine! Beat her good!” Albertine didn’t win that race that day. I did. But it gave me no pleasure in the victory, because I was also the one beaten. I didn’t understand my breed, and I didn’t get what I had done so heinous to have deserved such malevolence. Today I can see clearly how that one incident has been so indelibly stamped on me that I have always tended to enter into an agreement with isolation and outsidership.
I’ve just thought of it as a hardwiring, a simple case of, “This is who I am. I don’t fit into circles and clubs.” But here’s the danger in that; chalking anything up to a hardwiring presupposes that there’s nothing that can be done about it. It takes the power (if it’s a plight we’re actually interested in fixing) right out of our hands.
And if I have taken nothing else away from this seminar, I have taken with me a new understanding that any emotional baggage we have only sticks around, and is given momentum, because there is a need it serves. That one just blew my head right open. Done. Brains on the dashboard. Blood and guts everywhere. Absolutely nothing I’ve ever learned in my years’ long pursuit of self-examination has made more sense than that.
And so, rather than tossing off my penchants for outsidership, for example, as a hardwiring I can do nothing about, I need to figure out what the role of outsider in my life has been serving all this time.
One thing I know for sure is that it’s been a bit of a badge of honor. I do love my solitude, and marching to my own drummer, and I have a natural penchant toward inward-turning and contemplation. So, what it’s feeding is pretty obvious. But it’s also a dubious badge, as there is always an overtone of loneliness and missed opportunity that is a part of the outsider landscape. So, maybe it also feeds a kind of “poor me” comfort? I’m not sure yet, but there is so much to play with here. So much to discover, to answer for myself, so many lids to pry open, so that maybe I actually stand a chance of delivering myself from some of these frustrations, and finally give myself the permission to pursue just exactly what I want in this life.
As for Crazy Grassy Knoll Man, he will likely remain who he is, though we never know who or what comes along to change our state, and our stake. But my attitude toward him (once I got past the stun of him cursing me out for not buying any of his wares) became more compassionate and empathetic to the battles that must be his, the battles we all experience to varying degrees of crazy. And to know that there is an answer, somewhere, somehow, for every one of us. I just want to be that little sprite whispering into Crazy Grassy Knoll Man’s ear, “I see you. You are seen.”
This was merely one of fifty hours worth of ideas that were drilled into our heads by Tony Robbins during his four days of exhaustive saturation. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on what this seminar did for me. And honestly, I’m not sure I’m meant to share any more of the experience than this one example, because it was such a deeply intimate odyssey for me, one of identifying belief systems, and transforming them. It was so intimate, in fact, that when my friend and I couldn’t get a seat together on Day One, we ended up not doing any part of the seminar together, as it was nice not having to be self-conscious around each other. And that was easy enough to accomplish, in a sea of eight thousand people. We just met up on dinner breaks and when it was over each day. We didn’t even witness each others’ firewalk. Instead, upon completion of the walk, I cheered for my triumph with the people around me, who were all doing the same, a communal pep rally. New bonds got formed. In fact, my firewalk partner and I decided to remain friends. The experience was intimate and expansive at the same time.
I’ve been changed by this four-day event, that’s for sure. To what degree will be discovered in the days to come, as I venture forth to apply these tools and get out of my own way. But I don’t think I truly got hit with that feeling of difference until my revelatory moment on the corner of Elm Street and Houston, the same corner that was John F. Kennedy’s last. A setting ripe with ghosts and guile. And maybe even a little grace.
Dedicated to my dear friend Ross Wright,
who gave me the gift of this experience,
went through it with me,
and who roots for me always.
Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.