I went to a Detox Judgmentbook launch event, featuring author and spiritualist Gabrielle Bernstein. I didn’t quite know what to expect or why I even bought the ticket. It popped up on my Facebook feed and without hesitation, I reserved one seat for myself. I was more curious than anything about how an event like this might look. Or feel. I was fairly sure that this was going to be too basic for me. After all, I already know that judging yourself and others is not a healthy practice; that it lacks the positivity and proactive kindness I espouse in my life. I wasn’t sure what enlightenment she could add to my knowledge base on this topic. Regardless of the large dose of skepticism that came with my interest, I went to the event and even got there early – even waiting in line to get a good seat. The event was in an auditorium in New York City. I was a few rows back from the stage, in the center and directly in front of the chair and table, from which Gabby was obviously going to sit and speak. Music was pumping. It was a strange mix that only made sense as a playlist because of the amped up, energetic vibe. The crowd was mostly women with a spattering of supportive men. One man had on a T-shirt that said, “I’m with her,” with an arrow pointing to the woman on his right. Probably left over from a women’s march, I judged. Then almost on-time, the lights briefly dimmed, the volume was raised and Gabby came out dancing, clapping and gesturing to her packed audience of about 700 people. There was a standing ovation with seat-swaying, cheers and a lot of hooting. Hands were in the air. Heads were nodding up and down. I joined the crowd. For some reason, I thought it would be more like a literary reading or a TED Talk where the audience applauds politely while the author or speaker saunters on stage to the waiting chair, microphone and bottle of water. I was kind of hooked from the start. Gabby spoke for an hour. Telling stories from her life and going through the 6-step process that results in your personal judgment detox if you do it right. She calls everyone “girl,” calls herself “crazy,” and constantly addresses her audience with rhetorical phrases like, “ you know what I mean, right?” She is very funny. After an hour of the Gabby show on stage, it’s time for the Q&A part of the night. Two microphones are set up on each aisle at the front of the stage and audience members who want to talk to Gabby line up. At this point I’m thinking that it’s a bit more energetic than I imagined but nothing more and was happy my ticket came with a copy of her book so the evening wasn’t a total non-event. Then a young woman walked up to the microphone and told Gabby she felt worthless. She spoke through tears about her lack of self-esteem and how she was afraid she was going to pass these feelings down to her young daughter. The woman behind her in line stepped toward her and gave her a big hug from behind. I asked the women in front of me if I could have a tissue. The entire audience was sobbing. The next woman said her mother hated her. The next woman said she had no friends. The next woman did not feel supported by those she loved. One woman said her husband cheated on her and she needed help to forgive him and asked Gabby what she could do to find forgiveness in her and not hate his guts for this betrayal. One woman was mistreated by her mother-in-law. After almost an hour of crying, hugging and encouraging advice from Gabby, the last woman of the evening approach the microphone. She said, “ today my husband told me he was done with me. My friend brought me here. I’ve never heard of you before and I don’t really have a question for you. I just need to talk to someone and be in a supportive community.” Woman after woman got out of their seats and formed a giant group hug, enveloping the woman at the microphone. I needed more tissues. The woman ahead of me gave me a handful. Hour three of the evening was spent in the lobby where Gabby was signing books. I was emotionally drained and left through the side door to head home. The evening took me by surprise. These women who came to see Gabby were amazing. I know Gabrielle Bernstein is an award-winning, world renowned best selling author and teacher but her power to inspire an audience with love, kindness, compassion and true community is more powerful than any words that can be written on a page. I want to be like Gabby, I thought. I want to be like my version of her – where the problems we face everyday are met with humor, joy and passion; where personal sadness is met with positive energy as the healing force. This was not a sympathy-fest. It was a celebration of “go-girl” self-empowerment led by spirit junkie energy.
I never expected a breakthrough for me to come in the form of uncontrollable sobbing and a need to re-evaluate my own compassion and feelings toward others from attending a promotional event by a motivational speaker on a book tour. But it did, like it or not. I would have preferred this moment occur on a retreat in India, or a mountain top overlooking the Grand Canyon while meditating, but it happened in a non-descript NYC auditorium surrounded by 699 strangers. And like most awakenings, it happens when you least expect. So next time you make a snap judgment without the benefit of your own experience; without empathy; or without knowledge of the situation at hand, you might miss your own enlightening moment of love and light. It’s important to try new things that cross your path. They’ve come to you for a reason. Be brave. Be open. Be inquisitive. And remember, curiosity doesn’t always kill the cat.