I think I’m being hunted by something. I do what I usually do when I’m nervous. I open a bag of Whole Foods tortilla chips, gluten free of course, and start eating them desperately and unconsciously. (eat them on stage with loud crunch) I hear a twig snap. Was that the crunch of a chip? I think not. I spin my head around and catch a glimpse of white hair… the whiff of strong perfume. Remember my elementary school mentor, Mrs. Gilman, the sweet elderly woman in the 1960’s. Well, 40 years later, in 2006, she came back. She was now a zombie. Well, metaphorically speaking she was a zombie. And she brought friends, a veritable army of new mentors who were in search of me.
To understand how these mentors were searching for me, I want to go back to 1995. Rachel and I went to our first week long summer Unitarian Church camp. There, we met James Ford who was giving talks on Zen Buddhism. Rachel was so inspired by his talks that she sought out his teacher, John Tarrant. John was in turn friends with an author named Stephen Mitchell who in turn was married to a woman named Byron Katie who was traveling the world teaching something called the Work. Rachel came home from one of her meditation retreats with a book that would change my life. Yes, some of you know the book I’m talking about. And Christopher and Rose, are you rolling your eyes? The book was Loving What Is by Byron Katie. As I read the first words of that book, I started having a physical response, a warm feeling in the chest and tears in the eyes. I had had those feelings before when I was falling in love with Elisabeth, Tina and Rachel, but now I was having them for a book. I needed to check this out so I went to a 3 day retreat with Byron Kate at Esalen, a place Elisabeth Targ had introduced me to 20 years earlier.
So picture this. I’m sitting on the grass outside of the building at Esalen, waiting for Katie’s arrival. I have gotten here, not by a series of unfortunate events. I got here by a series of rather miraculous coincidences. They started with the teenage Fabio Junior problem which led to college interest in mysticism which led me to infatuation with Elisabeth Targ which led to marriage to Rachel which led to children which led to the Unitarians which led to Seabeck Church Camp which led to James Ford which lead to John Tarrant which lead to that book by Bryon Katie which led to me sitting on that grass above the Pacific Ocean at Esalen carrying a message to say Hi to Katie from John Tarrant via Rachel.
So, Katie comes walking by and I introduce myself and give her the simple message, “John Tarrant says Hi.” She says thank you and goes inside to conduct the workshop. I’m standing outside. I’m getting that warm feeling in my chest again with tears in the eyes and I’m getting it very strongly. I know in every cell in my body that I have just met an enlightened being, someone who was like those wise masters that I had read in Religion 101 Class at Bowdoin. I have received absolute unconditional love and it’s electric. I know that whatever Katie knows, I want to know it. I go in and start an exploration in the Work which would give me a reason to live and give me a new life I had no idea was even possible.
At the same time as I was getting my mind remodeled by the Work, another mentor found me. That mentor was the Body Electric School and it’s incredible teachers. Even though the Byron Katie material had helped me become comfortable with being divorced and gay, I was still… can you believe it?… still lagging behind. Other guys who had come out in their 40’s dived enthusiastically into the pleasures of their new life. I was not comfortable with the prospect of sleeping with men. This was a dilemma. I mentioned this dilemma to one of my colleagues at the hospital. Yes, I do talk like that to colleagues sometimes, and he said, “Richard, I have heard that the Body Electric School does amazing work helping people to enjoy physical pleasure.” As I was walking out of his office, I thought I heard him mutter, “Dayenu.” But I looked around and he was buried in emails. Hint #1?: Maybe I should try the Body Electric. Nah. Then, a week later, I met someone at Church and I mentioned my lagging-behind-dilemma and he said, “Richard, I have heard that the Body Electric School does amazing work helping people to enjoy physical pleasure.” Dayenu? Hint #2? Maybe I should try the Body Electric School. Nah. Then, a week later, I was at a party chatting with a someone and did my usual “so-what-do-you-do-for-a-living-networking-question” and received a very unusual answer. He said, “ I teach for the Body Electric School and we do amazing work helping people to enjoy physical pleasure. and by the way, Richard, Dayenu.” Hint #3. OK. Enough already ! Done. I signed up for a Body Electric Workshop. Only three hints this time, I was way ahead of my Jewish ancestors. The details of my Body Electric work will have to wait until my second HBO series, Late Night! In the meantime, I can say that I have learned to find the deepest joy and love in my physical body, in large part, thanks to those experiences.
Around the same time, the third mentor showed up, this place, the Center for Spiritual Living. Not surprising really. Religion is, after all, a traditional place to find support in difficult times and I needed all the support I could get. I had attended Unitarian Church since moving to Seattle. I did like it there, but I wanted more than “like.” I wanted Love, ecstatic joy, 100% of the time, regardless of circumstance. It just came to me one day to give the Center For Spiritual Living a try. Here, I saw a lot of ecstatically joyful people. They prayed in a way that gave me chills instead of cynicism. I started taking their classes and I learned how to pray also. God was sidling up beside me at the punch bowl and instead of awkward silence, we were flirting and getting to know each other.
I had always thought of myself as the Searcher, the hunter, as the guy who needed to go out and get what I needed. But it turns out that I was the hunted. That is kind of creepy. But, Mrs. Gilman and her allies were not chasing me to kill me, they were chasing me to give me something. And they weren’t the only ones. I will call my third HBO series, “The Searchers for Richard Snyder.” (a little theme music) Each episode would recount how each person in this room and many outside of it have hunted me to give me exactly what I needed. After 10 lucrative and successful seasons, it will be made clear that one of the biggest Dayenu hints given by the Richard Searchers was the message, Richard “love thyself.”
I had heard that message before. On loving myself, well, I had always avoided really looking inside of myself for love and joy. What was I going to find in there that would be as good as a soulmate or a good powder day? But it is my 50th birthday and with that comes privilege. So, with the help of a little power point, I’m going to do some self-loving work with you all as my witnesses. For those of you who squirm when faced with me at my most narcissistic, I have two words for you, too bad ! Fasten your seat belts, this ride is about to begin.