Integrating Transformative Experiences like MEA.
Philosopher Albert Borgmann talks about the experience of being fully alive in the world as moments when: (1) There is no place I would rather be. (2) There is no one I would rather be with. (3) There is nothing I would rather be doing. (4) And this I will remember well
For many of us MEA is the experience of being fully alive. When we are on the MEA campus, we have the experience that there is no place we’d rather be, no one we’d rather be with, and nothing else we’d rather be doing. I’m grateful that Chip, Christine, Jeff, Tony, and the rest of the staff create, and keep recreating that for us.
It’s the fourth idea that I’ve become really interested in: remembering it well. We want to hold onto the magic: the relationships, the lessons about life, and our insights into ourselves, but sic transit gloria mundi, glory fades. Our memories fade, as they must, to make way for new experiences. We can’t hold onto the feeling of transformative experiences forever, but we can take the lessons with us. As a Franciscan spiritual director, my interest is really in what happens after. After big openings, are we changed? Or do we revert back to the same habits, ways of thinking, and choices we made before? How do we bring back what we learned about ourselves and integrate it into our regular lives?
I’ve been to MEA three times and, aside from the tips they give on the last day, here are two suggestions:
1. Hold onto (some) of the relationships you made. To keep the memory alive, you need to stay in touch with people who witnessed you when you were bright and fully alive. Continuing cohort Zoom calls and personal relationships that evolve are more important than the MEA experience itself. Personally, I prefer one-on-one relationships over group Zoom calls. I’m committed to one or two friendships that I’ve made at each of my MEA workshops and being in touch with those people reminds me of the commitments I made at MEA. (Hello Terces, Leslie, Doug!). MEA is an amazing experience, but the relationships are the real gold.
2. Keep your commitments visible to yourself in your daily life. In the MEA “Soul of Money” workshop, my hero Lynne Twist asked us to “take a stand” with our lives. I made a commitment that “I want to help people participate in grace.” Lynne’s whole life is about commitments: “I live what I call a committed life, where my commitments wake me up in the morning, they tell me what to wear, where to go, who to meet with, the highest commitments that I have. I don’t have to make decisions, I just need to follow and be true to what I’m committed to. And it makes life so much more true, so much more fulfilling, it actually makes it easier, in a way. But it also gives it such passion and life and vitality.” What is your commitment after your MEA workshop? How can you keep it visible to yourself in your daily life?
Our memories aren’t static. They are a dialogue between our present and our past. As we continue living, we change, and so too do our relationship to our memories. Remembering is an act of “re-membering,” of putting ourselves back together. As the story of myself changes, the present meaning of my MEA experiences change. The act of re-membering is an act of self-definition and continual meaning making.
Remembering something well is a gift of grace. Going back to a treasured memory, as we grow and change, we can recognize (seeing again, differently) its treasure again and know the place for the first time. As we, as the Jesuit Pierre Telhard de Chardin says, trust in the slow work of God, we can let change happen to us.
Douglas Tsoi is a spiritual director and personal finance teacher. He is gratefully a three-time MEA alum.