I wanted to give a brief but comprehensive update about how the box truck temple played out. I don’t think I can execute on either of those qualifications, though, so you’ll have to settle for rambling and patchy.
I have to admit to being SUPER gung-ho…right up until I met Annie at the truck. As I approached the parking spot on Avenue A and 9th Street, I was struck by the realization that this is a really weird thing to be doing.
I only met Annie for the first time on Christmas Day. We were in our pajamas at Charles Hope and Grace Piper‘s house in Brooklyn, and I knew as soon as I met her that this was someone to watch. She seemed only to have done interesting things in her young life, and you’d die to place a bet on her being a superstar someday soon. So when she asked me to join her in the box truck temple exercise, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Plus, the idea of making people think about their concept of spirituality and whether or not it is necessarily tied to religion really appealed to me. I shy away from being specific about my own beliefs, because I don’t think they matter to anyone but me and a handful of loved ones. I don’t like the term “religious,” because the baggage is far too great. I have always been wary of those who use the term to describe themselves. But the fact is that, compared to Annie and others participating in this project, I would probably be considered “religious”. I don’t want to attempt to articulate my views on spirituality, because I’m not that eloquent and am not willing to discuss them online. I’ll just say that I don’t think you have to believe in a higher power to be spiritual.
Anyway, this was all going through my head as I walked up to the truck and it dawned on me that we were going to seem like total freaks to a lot of people. Annie was resplendent in flowing blue and silver, looking like what she is: the kind of girl you’d meet at Burning Man. I was dressed casually, but was way too cheerful for a Saturday morning. There was already a documentary filmmaker setting up to shoot us. All I could think was, How can we do this and not look like cult members? I didn’t see a way.
Thus began my slight discomfort with the whole thing. But I told myself to stick with that feeling; it would be good for me.
What happened next was strange and sort of lovely.
I took the job of handing out the intentions. These were intentions that people had been emailing and tweeting to Annie for the past two weeks, which she and others then wrote onto pieces of paper. They ranged from “I intend to look at my phone less” to “I intend to stay sober” to “I intend to be nice to my mother” to “I intend to do something that scares me shitless at least once a day”. They were in a wooden bowl, and I would offer them to any passersby who didn’t look as if they were studiously avoiding eye contact. People could take an intention and write down one of their own, if they wanted, either on paper to go into the bowl or on the wooden slabs that Annie had nailed to the truck’s inner wall.
Lots of people – LOTS of people – were too busy staring at their phones to notice us. (“That’s so me,” I thought.) Some people were too busy talking on the phone to stop and see what we were about. (“That’s so me,” I thought.) Some people did not want to be engaged in any way, and scowled as they passed. (“That’s so me,” I thought.)
Some people just got it, stopping to take an intention, ask what we were doing, leave an intention, or even write on the wall. A few went into the back of the truck to meditate. Some hung out with us for a half hour or more. (“That is NOT me,” I thought.)
I identified with every person who rejected what we were doing, and I felt no real judgement of them. The truth is, most of the time that I’m out walking in the world, I don’t want to stop to talk to anyone. I know how that feels because I feel it 90% of the time. I also know that, if you’re going through something particularly trying, you’re often just not in the mood for anything positive in your face.
Plus, I think we totally looked like cult members.
My favorites were the children who stopped. I explained to the tweens and small kids what an intention was (“It’s like a fortune from a fortune cookie – but sorry, no cookies”) and their faces lit up. A boy of about 11 pulled the intention that “I intend to be a positive force in the lives of those around me.” I asked him, “How can you do that?” He replied, after thinking only a few seconds, “Not lie.” (Yeah, sometimes it’s really more simple than an adult would make it.)
There were tense moments. At one point, a jolly African-American woman stopped to investigate what we were doing, and loved her intention so much that she decided she wanted to write one on our wall. Her intention: to praise Jesus Christ more. I had no problem with that, and would have had no problem with intentions from other religions being displayed (just before this woman, a Muslim man wearing an Allah necklace stopped to tell us how wonderful our project was). But for Annie, who was so much about making this about everything but religion, it wasn’t so easy. “That’s hard,” she admitted, looking at the words the woman had written prominently across one of the boards. There was no missing them. I briefly tried to talk Annie out of her discomfort, but corrected myself and shut up. She’s allowed to feel however she wants to feel about it. Not my job to judge or fix.
At the end of my shift, I decided I’d sit in the back of the truck and write more intentions with which to replenish the dwindling supply in the bowl. When Annie had initially put out the call for intentions, I couldn’t think of any. Now, they came easily. I must have scrawled 50 different intentions in 15 minutes.
What saddened me, mostly because I also identified with it, was the suspicion with which many people treated us. Once I told them that we weren’t charging money for this experience, they would stop and join us. Ditto when I’d clarify, “We’re not Scientologists!” I totally get their dubiousness, because I share it.
Several people asked what organization we were from. (“No organization. Just a bunch of people, some of us friends, doing something different,” I’d reply.) I got the feeling – and this was interesting to me from a work perspective – that they wanted to know what brand we were with. If we’d had a known logo behind us, I suspect that some of the fear would have subsided. Just a guess.
The whole experience was a great lesson in judgment and ego. I was able to suspend judgment of people – even the ones who grasped for more than one intention – and go with the flow, a real rarity for me. I was even able to avoid judging the enthusiastic ones who were more into it than I was. And by staying in my discomfort and doing what I’d committed to do anyway, I diminished my ego a little. (I even forgot that I was mic’d up and was being filmed the entire time. Scary!)
Bottom line: I’m grateful for the chance to take part in something so weird, and thank the incredible Annie for the opportunity. She can annihilate my ego anytime.