Barbara Emrys

Nothing to Prove

I had a dream last night, where I was teaching a two-day workshop to a large group of students. As I walked in the classroom on the first morning, I was surprised to see all the women wearing Indian saris. Some were chanting mantras. They had tons of jewelry on. Sacred symbols hung from their necks; gold rings adorned their fingers and toes. Red dots decorated their foreheads. I couldn’t remember telling anyone to dress up like this; but there they were, in full ‘spiritual’ regalia.

Then I looked at the men in the room. They wore a lot of jewelry, too. Their noses were pierced and their faces were painted. Even more amazingly, they had tattoos all over their bodies. Some had written biblical passages on their chests. Others had inked verses of poetry, song lyrics, slogans– and quotes from the Buddha, Rumi, and the Bible. Uplifting words were stitched on their clothing, like PEACE and JOY and LOVE, accompanied by sacred hearts and crosses.

My students were so distracted by the spectacle they’d created, that I didn’t even try to teach that day. The class buzzed with metaphysical small talk and religious theory. Some students were preaching; others were offering healings. The noise in the room was deafening. Waves of oohs! and aahs! came and went, and the soft thunder of gossip rolled continuously in the background. The entire scene was puzzling to me. I felt real confusion, even while I slept.

And then everything shifted suddenly, which happens in dreams.

Without warning, the scene changed. Now, it was the second morning of the workshop. I was entering the same classroom, but this time the room was quiet. All my students were there, but I heard no gossip, no sermonizing. And everyone looked very different. The women were dressed simply and their faces were clean. The men had no tattoos and there were no symbols printed on their clothes. Curious about the change, I asked them how they felt today (as opposed to the day before). It took a while for anyone to speak.

“I feel hungover, like I drank too much and partied too hard,” said one of the men. There were general sounds of agreement.

“Compared to yesterday,” someone else offered, “it seems like I know nothing…and I’m not sure I need to know.” Everyone was silent for a minute.

“To be honest, I feel much lighter,” said one of the women suddenly. Another mentioned feeling “a little naked and exposed…but in a good way.” That got a few giggles. I let their words sink in, until there was only silence.

A peaceful mood settled over the class, and I thought I heard a shared sigh of relief. This was a group of happy people, with no expectations and nothing to prove. The sun was pouring into the room, and from an open window I could hear birds fussing in a nearby tree. Slowly, the vision faded. I must have slipped into a deeper sleep….

Dreams are a kick. I’ll let this one speak for itself.

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