– Shimshon Meir’s Story
I was raised to be a song and dance man, not a psychologist, but a real actor, stage and screen. My mother owned a dance studio until my teens and I’m an only child and a momma’s boy so I grew up with tap, ballet, jazz and my mother’s real passion: creative and modern dance. But in the end my favorite class was pantomime. There was a woman who had studied under Marcel Marceau and she taught me the tradition. I can still run in place, palm a wall, open an imaginary door or sit on a piece of invisible furniture. And there’s nothing like pulling out a piece of bubble gum from your pocket, opening it up, chewing up the gum (which is putting your tongue into the side of your cheek) and blowing this huge bubble and having it pop all over the side of your face. The most fun of it is peeling it off your face afterward and then slowly squishing it back into a piece of gum, returning it to its wrapper and putting it back in your pocket.
I had somewhat of a hiatus from dance at the age of 10. Why the big break? Because I went over to my friend Billy’s house and I guess through the grapevine he heard that I was doing ballet and he called me a fag, right to my face. I didn’t know what a fag was, but I knew I didn’t want to be one. I quit.
In middle school I dabbled in the clarinet. It was an old wooden piece; my father called it a licorice stick. He turned me on to playing it by pulling it out of the closet, blowing the dust off the case, twisting on a reed and proceeding to play a jazzy version of Deep Purple which he probably hadn’t done in 20 years. He could play that thing.
This was much more exciting than the piano I cried for and completely dropped when I was five. I just wanted to play the darn thing. I graduated to the tenor sax in high school. Marching on the football field with the sax was much more cool.
I studied to become a Shakespearean actor before I even entered high school. I jump-started my musical theater career by taking voice lessons. My teacher taught me how to breathe, and I appreciate him for that. I can still tell a chest breather from a diaphragm breather any day.
As a Senior I already knew what I wanted to do. I was accepted along with one hundred other teens from across the nation to experience a workshop on UCLA’s campus for a week. It was really cool. There were a lot of big names in the TV and film industry and I walked away with one important message: the industry is not looking for theater majors. They want people who are “well-rounded.” They assumed that experiencing many different paths in life builds character.
I had to immediately drop my plans for my major. It dawned on me that what I was interested in all along was in knowing how people tick; this would allow me to “become” anyone. It was thus inevitable that I would shift my study to psychology.
When I was an undergrad I had a mentor, Willard B. Frick, who taught me many things. I remember the day he told everyone to take out a little piece of paper and write down what it is we want more than anything from another person. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but I do remember what he said. We went around the room and everyone read theirs out loud. His was last. He wrote: All I want is to feel understood.
He took me under his wing. He was in his mid- to late-60’s, with big white hair and a Southern accent. He drove a little Triumph, top down with a wooden stick shift. One summer we went for breakfast. We zipped downtown to a restaurant, ordered pancakes and in the span of breakfast at least three of the waitresses approached Willard. For each one he pulled something else out of his briefcase. He had helped one of them renew her driver’s license, another with her taxes. It made an impression on me at the time. I saw the kindness in it, the selfless act, the giving.
He never knew I wanted to become a method actor; he just took to me. He could talk to me. This was a theme that continued into my later studies. I frequently met with my supervisor in graduate school and there were many times that I’d walked away thinking, “Wow! That was a really good session. I really helped her out. She has a lot more clarity now, and she thanked me for it, too!”
I just wanted to be working with people. People used to say, “Well, you don’t know how that person’s thinking or feeling until you’ve stepped into their shoes.” Where I went to graduate school we used to say we opened up our chest and our heart and let the other person in, but I couldn’t relate to that at the time. I just knew I could step into anybody’s shoes; those shoes fit me. I was stepping into people. I was not opening up.
It came out. I had a client. He stayed for 3 hours instead of 50 minutes. We had such a great conversation and I was exhausted, drained, and when I went to my supervisor she said, “Oh, I see what your problem is. You have an issue with boundaries.” And just like the time that Willard said all he wants to feel is understood, it wasn’t just a moment. It just spread out all over my body. I really understood what it meant to not have boundaries. That would be the title of my story: No Boundaries.
It was then that I realized that all the choices I had made in the past were made out of fear, to create structure for myself. They were all gifts to protect me from this inability to stop myself from just spilling everywhere. I still struggle with it, but at least I know what I’m struggling with.
After I graduated and started working with clients, I noticed that sharing what I thought was obvious was usually not at all obvious to other people. I didn’t want to step on their process, on their natural unfolding. At these points in the sessions, with all the effort I was making not to say things, once in a while something would just climb out of me from deep inside the pit of my belly and words would leave my lips and I didn’t know where they came from. I couldn’t claim them. And at the end of the session they would pay me! And I felt so empty. What did I do to deserve this money?
I ran away from psychology. I teach people that if you’re going to run away from something you have to also run towards something. If you can’t make it where you are, how will you make it where you go? I truly ran away and came to the Holy Land.
I ran away and came to learn. I found myself in a synagogue, and I met a person who suggested that I learn with him. We talked a bit and he said to me, “I’ve been trying to save my marriage for 10 years. I have 10 children, but my wife just won’t take her meds. I just need to talk to somebody about the path out of this. I’m not interested in staying with her.” I agreed to meet with him for one hour a week but made him promise not to pay me. Every time we met he brought me a section of the Talmud as a token of his appreciation.
This disrupted my running away. I thought G-d was speaking to me: “Here, this guy needs your help and he’s giving you a whole set of books.” That woke me up.
I finally sat down and spoke with the Rabbi. “This is what is happening in the session: I’m not sharing what pops into my mind and then these words are leaving my lips and in those moments everything goes right for people. I can see the recognition, awareness, clarity and change in those moments. What do you call that?”
And he had an answer. He said, “That’s called ‘help from the heavens.’”
G-d gives us all a task, a goal. And he gives us all the talents and abilities to actualize ourselves in this world. Everyone needs to make a living, to support their family.
So it ends up that following what comes easily and naturally — that is what you’re supposed to be doing!
– Shimshon Meir Frankel can be contacted at www.chedva.org and email@example.com