Jacqueline Gautier


September 01, 1997
Body and Soul Conference

In April I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the Second Annual Body and Soul Conference co-sponsored by New Age Journal (U.S.) and Hollyhock Holistic Centre (Canada) in Seattle, Washington. Over 1,600 participants gathered from all over the world to learn from a remarkable constellation of leading edge physicians, psychologists, teachers, writers and healers. To guide us into the heart of personal and social healing the international faculty featured such renowned names as Larry Dossey, Jean Houston, Bernie Siegel, Marianne Williamson, Judith Orloff, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks, Brian Weiss, Rachel Naomi Remen and numerous others.

It was a rare and magnificent opportunity to be immersed in a learning community where head, heart, body and soul came together in new and exciting ways. Each day we were introduced to the presenter's latest works to help integrate new ideas and practices in our personal and professional lives. It was a very difficult task to choose from the plethora of concurrent workshops, seminars, dialogues and key-note addresses. Subject titles ranged from "The Conscious Heart: An Experiential Journey", "Prayer and the Practice of Medicine", "The Art of Healing", "Spirit, the Media and the Future of Politics", "Creating Conscious Relationships", to "Intuition and Practice" and "Creativity as a Path of Life."

While continually processing the impact of the Body and Soul Conference on my life, I feel compelled to share one very special experience.

On the fourth and final day I had registered for a full-day intensive with internationally acclaimed spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson on the subject of "Spirit in Action." It was thrilling to be seated in the front row of a packed to capacity auditorium only a few feet away from one of the most dynamic speakers of our time. Her books "A Return to Love", "A Women's Worth", and "Illuminata" have touched me deeply.

As the day progressed Marianne wove together the main themes of her work, namely; the rising tide of spirituality, the new potential for healing on individual and societal levels, and most importantly, the need for commitment in our lives to personal and social action to ensure a more compassionate and inspired future. Her approach was highly interactive, intermingling lecture with solicited reflections from the audience, meditations, guided visualizations and question and answer periods. It was fascinating to note that while she was always treated with respect, participants often challenged her on her philosophies, particularly in the area of politics. The atmosphere was fully charged, vibrant and stimulating. We were there to learn and she never missed a beat.

Mid-way through the afternoon session the lecture turned to the subject of the Healing of America, specifically on the War in Vietnam. She presented her position that there was still much pain and anger about this event and that an atonement and forgiveness was needed to relieve pain still borne by so many. She felt that Maya Ying Lin, the woman of Asian decent who designed the Vietnam War Monument in Washington's Constitution Gardens, where the names of thousands of American soldiers whose lives were lost inaction are engraved on a black granite wall was a perfect visual representation for the "Black Gash of Shame" (Ms. Lin's words) that this event was in history.

I sat quietly listening to these words and the comments of many members of the audience as they described the burden of their pain on the subject. Being one of the few Canadians in a predominantly American group, I felt somewhat disconnected to the discussion. However, I did recall traveling to Vietnam two years ago and distinctly hoping I would not be mistaken for an American. Unwittingly I too had taken on this burden.

Then a most amazing thing occurred. A rather large man whom I guessed to be in his late sixties, dressed in a somewhat out of place navy blue suit and tie stood up and introduced himself. An audible gasp rose in the room. He clarified, for people like myself who did not recognize the name, that he had held a senior position in Nixon's administration. Specifically he had been the leader of the "Plumbers." A covert group of henchmen whose task it was to systematically, using whatever means necessary, "plug the leaks." He had been personally selected by the President to undertake these illegal activities and had unlimited funds to carry them out. During the Watergate Hearings he came forth, pleaded guilty to numerous crimes, was indicted and served a prison term. (In researching his story I have head several accounts of him and his activities in books written after Watergate. So crucial was he to the Nixon administration cover-up that his character, portrayed by an uncanny Hollywood look-alike, merited a part in Oliver Stone's award-winning movie "Nixon.")

He explained at some length, yet in a most humble manner the brainwashing, fear and cultural context which existed at the time that influenced so many like him to live the lie and support such a corrupt administration. In prison he had time to reflect upon his life, his actions and the sad reality he had brought so fully into. He was also introduced to the teachings of Ram Dass (a.k.a. Richard Alpert) widely acclaimed Stanford and Harvard professor, author, Buddhist and social activist. He concluded his story by saying, "I recognize clearly that a healing is necessary in our country and so I stand before you all now and ask for your forgiveness!"

We all sat in stunning silence. even Marianne who had been standing at the podium, sat down, visibly moved. From her chair on the stage she leaned forward into the microphone and asked this brave man to be seated and then requested ten minutes of silence in the room. Many minutes of quiet passed and then a lovely soft voice from the back began singing "God Bless America." Slowly and reverently more people joined in and as they did stood and faced this man. Soon the entire auditorium was on its feet singing to him. Not knowing the words I allowed myself to just feel the energy of forgiveness and like everyone else around me tears were streaming down my face. As the song ended and people resumed their seats a woman approached the microphone at the front of the hall. She stated that she was part Cherokee, a nurse by profession, and had served in the Peace Corps in Vietnam at the end of the war. Her work had been with refugees and victims of torture; she had carried so much hurt in her heart over the years from what she had seen. "In our tribe," she said, "we have a symbol of the two headed snake. It stands for "He who sees both sides, sees the truth." Thank you sir for showing us both sides."

Marianne then got up and also spoke to his act of courage. In sharing his experience it allowed us to release our judgements and move to a place of compassion and forgiveness. In this space one forges a new context where healing can occur.

The honor of witnessing this event continues to provide me with new insights for healing and understanding. Two weeks prior to attending the Body and Soul Conference I had drawn a Mandala which contained a two-headed snake. This was an unfamiliar symbol for which no dictionary could provide a satisfactory explanation. What a blessing that the answer was delivered not from textbook intellectualism, but rather in the context of a spiritual healing. To quote Marianne Williamson:

"The world changes when we change,
The world softens when we soften,
The world loves us when we choose to love the world."

As seen in WHOLifE, Volume 3, Issue 3, September/October 1997

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