Did you ever have anyone think so highly of you that you avoided them at all costs? There is nothing more dangerous and destabilizing to a low self-image than repeated contact with someone who sees you as wonderful, capable, and worthy.
When I first met my buddy Stephen I was like a small puppy with big paws, confined by a short leash of my own holding. He played a significant role in helping me grow into my paws and encouraged, almost demanded, that I unleash myself.
One night there was a festive gathering in the Course in Miracles community where I was living. Late in the evening I took out my guitar and invited some folks to come into the center of a circle and receive healing songs. When people thanked me deeply, I expertly deflected their gratitude with platitudes like, “It wasn’t me doing it. The universe was using me as a vessel.” While that may have been partially true, it was also my way of not owning my light.
Two days later I got a letter from Stephen, who had been present in that healing circle and wanted to share his impressions. He wrote:
Scott, I believe that your spontaneous custom-made songs are one of the most significant tools for transformation I have ever come across. The combination of music with personal affirmations goes deep into the subconscious to deprogram and reprogram. I believe that as your sensitivity grows, you’ll be able to bring forth the perfect notes, words, rhythm and frequency to initiate healing from very deep levels. I see you being invited to gatherings worldwide to share your gifts. I see everyone as having their own song. I see this as happening right now. May I respectfully suggest that, to facilitate the process, you see yourself on a divine mission. Value your work, Scott, and more importantly, value yourself. As you see yourself worthy of receiving love, reward and appreciation, so will your work be more highly valued and sought after. You receive the reward you believe you deserve. Have you sung a song to yourself today, dear brother? My love is with you.
The nerve of this guy! How dare he believe in me that much! Me, a high-strung Jewish boy from Brooklyn, on a divine mission? Ha! One of us was wrong about me, and for a time I was convinced that it was him. I would see Stephen around at various happenings and always chose to steer clear. When I couldn’t avoid him he would look into my eyes with a penetrating gaze, and I imagined his x-ray vision was seeing through my I’m cool and competent persona to all the guilty secrets and fears I harbored behind the scenes. When one is as devoted to self-judgment as I was, it is hard, if not impossible, to imagine anyone not judging you, and harder still to let in their love.
Eventually I realized that Stephen was offering me kindness, not judgment, and I was avoiding him because I was too busy hanging out with my inner critic. The critic and I were having an exclusive relationship, you see, with no room for an outsider coming in and threatening our bond. I was rejecting Stephen because I was rejecting myself, and I was getting tired of it.
I began to call him on the phone and ask his advice on different topics. Sometimes his wisdom made me squirm. I remember once when I was attracted to a friend of his. “How should I approach Valerie, Stephen?” I asked, wanting him to offer some me tips on winning her over. His reply took me about seven years to understand, and another seven to put into practice.
“Scott, my experience is that the more people think that the guidelines for creating romantic relationships are something vastly different from how friendships develop, the more their sexual relationships will be filled with suffering and drama.”
Ouch! I was not ready to consider that. I wanted support in wooing the princess, not in releasing my fantasy world.
I hung in there, calling him on a regular basis to show my interest in developing a friendship. One day we were both at the same conference. He asked to have some time with me. We walked outside and talked as we strolled through a beautiful garden. Never one to beat around the bush, he asked, “Scott, you’ve been reaching out a lot to me these days. I’m happy for that, but also a bit confused. In the past you stayed at a distance. I’m curious what the change is about for you.”
I looked into his eyes that invited, almost demanded, honesty, with myself as well as with him. “Stephen, you have always thought more highly of me than I have of myself, and that’s been too intimidating for me to deal with. But now I’m learning to love myself, and I’m realizing that I would be very lucky to have you as a friend.”
We began sharing adventures.
Stephen was always pushing me out of the nest, forcing me to flap my butterfly wings before my mind had a chance to whip out my caterpillar ID card. When my eyes wanted to focus on the ground he would point towards the sky.
One of his ideas was to go to California together and drive up the coast on a concert tour, taking in the sights. Stephen had been there many times before, and had many friends and connections.
He offered to plan it all out, setting up the concerts and the places we would stay. I put all my creativity into coming up with excuses for why I couldn’t do it, resisting a California adventure as if my life depended on clinging to the east coast.
It was springtime, 1989. Network Chiropractic, a group that had hired me a number of times to perform at their workshops, asked me to sing at an event of theirs in Sedona, Arizona.
I told Stephen, and he immediately went into one of his inspirational seizures. “California, Scott! You can fly there from Arizona and meet up with me in San Diego. We’ll drive up the coast doing concerts. It’s now or never! Seize the day! Carpe Diem!!” Stephen addressed all my concerns, and even signed me up on his credit card so I could rent a car. (I had been plastic-free until then.)
I fell in love with California – the beauty, the energy, and the people. When I wanted to hide and play it small, Stephen would nudge me out of my cave. One Sunday morning we visited a Unity Church in Santa Cruz. The service was about to begin, and as we entered he said, “Scott, go find the music director and tell him what you do and that you’d be happy to share a song with the congregation.” “That’s ridiculous, Stephen. This is a huge church. They plan their music program many months in advance!”
My personal trainer in self-promotion was not swayed by my fear, even though it was cleverly disguised as reason. “Scott, it can’t hurt to put yourself out. He might take your card for another time. And who knows? Maybe today’s performer didn’t show up!”
I went to find the music director, who happened to be scrambling around trying to find a substitute for the morning’s singer, who had just called in sick! When I told him I was available he looked at me as if I were an angel that just beamed down to answer his prayers. I sold a bunch of tapes after the service, and, drawing on the enthusiastic response of the congregation, put together a concert for the following evening in someone’s home.
Time and time again, Stephen lit a fire under my behind and got my feet moving towards my dreams.
As time passed I noticed a delightful change in our relationship. I had placed Stephen on a pedestal. He was, for a few crucial years, serving as the cables that jump-started my heart’s engine.
As my belief in myself grew, I felt more of an equality with Stephen, a brotherhood.. Gradually I grew out of my tendency to look up to him, and began to look up with him.
Eventually the man who had been my mentor, my motivational coach and my self-esteem teacher, became my friend.
There is a scene in the movie The Color Purple that is Stephen all the way. Celie, played by Whoopie Goldberg, had a habit of hiding her smile with her hands. Her new friend, Shug, took her to a mirror. “Miss Celie!” she said with authority, “You have a beautiful smile!” Celie gazed at herself and began to smile. Her hands went up reflexively to cover her face in shame. Shug took her hands firmly, forced them away from her face, and with tough love caused her to witness herself smile. In that instant Celie caught a glimpse of her own beauty, which multiplied as she got out of her own way and let her radiance shine. That was her turning point. Celie eventually found the strength to say goodbye to her abusive husband and start a new life.
Stephen, you have done the same service for me. You have led me to the mirror and restrained my hands long enough for me to behold my beauty. Your consistent love and support were my guiding lights when I was fumbling in the dark, reaching for a new life.
You helped me create a significant relationship with someone I had been attracted to, but didn’t know quite how to approach:
Me! And for that I am forever grateful.
Here is Stephen and I in my NYC apartment in 1988.
26Bonnie M. Raniewicz, Joe Benham and 24 others