Open Your Soul and See What Happens

Imageteens.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/blog/Friends%20Alcohol_Optimized.jpg

When I suggested our college-age YMCA cabin group do the activity “I’m from a place” I knew I was suggesting they open their souls to each other and trust that the group would support them.  That was how “I’m from a place” worked.  In this activity, the group stands up and spreads around the room—our room being about 15×15—and the group is quiet.  Then one person steps to the side and says, “I’m from a place….” And fills in the rest of the sentence for them.  It doesn’t have to be detailed, it can even be general, but it should be personal.

Things like…

I’m from a place where my parents don’t understand what is important to me.

Or

I’m from a place where I’m not sure where to go with my life right now.

Or

I’m from a place where it is hard to tell who my real friends are. 

Or

I’m from a place where I feel loved and supported most of the time.

Since these are college-age participants, their comments often are about finding their place in the world, what kind of decisions to make etc.  And, when someone in the group steps to the side and says their statement, then everyone who identifies or connects with that statement comes to stand near them and put their hand on their shoulder (or on the shoulder of someone who already has their hand on that person.)  Then, once everyone who has moved is done and there is a few moments of support, the next person steps to the side and says their “I’m from a place…”

This goes on for maybe 30 minutes with a group of 12.  Usually everyone goes about 2, maybe 3 times.  It is quiet.  It is thoughtful.  It is supportive.  It is intense.

And the feeling in the room as people quietly say something that is true for them, is powerful.

As the facilitator of the activity, I usually go first.  It sets the tone and gives them an idea of how it works.  It also gives the permission so to speak, to go to the place where they share the thing they struggle to say.  I don’t do this with all groups.  Not all groups get to the place where this activity is the right choice for them.  This is also one of those activities where I ask the group if they are interested in doing an something that really puts it out there. I tell them, “This is a beautiful activity and it is powerful, but if you aren’t in the mood and want to keep it light, are feeling distracted etc., it is totally cool to do something different.”

This particular group was on board.

So we started.  Simple.  Deep.  Honest.  Even when their I come from… was vague, it always hinted enough that individuals could interpret it as they wished.

Such as, “I come from a place where I’m really struggling right now.”

We don’t know why or how that person is struggling.  We don’t know if we are struggling in the same way.  But the reality is that it doesn’t matter.  If you are struggling and I am struggling, then we come from the same place.

We got the activity started and before you know it people gathered around, hands on shoulders, a hand or two on backs and other people standing nearby.  In a few moments, the whole group was connected.  Silent, but connected.

After a few moments—which we called “Giving the sharing its time” someone new stepped away.  And on it went from there.

My anxiety climbed after about 10 minutes when I thought about sharing my “I come from…” with the group.  I wanted to be able to say how what had made this last year so painful—so heartbreaking—but couldn’t find the words.  Everything seemed inadequate, or too specific.  I wanted to speak a truth for me—one that captured the profound loss without saying the details.

Also, as the leader of the group, I didn’t want it to be about me too much. I could be a part of the group to a certain extent, but not so much that the spotlight stayed on me.  The only people who had a sense of what my last year had been like were my co-leader and one of the participants who I had know for 4 years.  As I scrolled through possible phrases, they all seemed to miss what I was trying to say.

I come from a place of deep hurt.

I come from a place where this last year I feel like I no longer remember who I am.

I come from a place of deep, deep anger at the events that have happened.

None of them worked.

When I finally knew what to say I almost panicked at the thought of speaking such pain aloud.  To say this in a group of strangers would be one thing, but 2 of the people (my co-leader and “R”—the participant) would know what I meant.

I stood to the side and said, “I come from a place where I have lost one of the most important things in my life this year.”

Gradually, one by one, they came over to me.  The comforting pressure and warmth of hands rested on my shoulders.  Gathering friends—strangers only 2 days ago—moved beside me and behind me.  Then R walked in front of me and faced me.  She went against the norm of the activity, stood a foot away from me—closer than you stand if you are going to have a conversation, more like a hug—and she looked up at me until she had my eyes.   Reaching out, she took both of my hands—another unchartered territory in the activity—and she held both my hands.

She knew what I was referring to when I said I had lost significant things and people.  She knew exactly.  Standing behind me, or next to someone else was not enough.  R knew the pain I was referring to.  She had seen it play out.  Even though she was 16 years younger than I was (a 19 to my 35,) she stood with me in that moment.  I was unaware of the others once she did that.

Rarely have I felt so exposed, so vulnerable and so supported at the same time.

She didn’t say anything.  She just smiled at me and squeezed my hands.

Image

hebronhouse.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/arms-around-each-other.jpg

 

Who do you hate (and love?)

This New York Times’ article caught my attention this evening.  A good question indeed and I read on.  I love a deep question and I was already knee-deep in a pit of pondering about this one.

Who do I hate (and love?)

Then, ½ a second later, I realized it was an article about March Madness—which lost me and my oh-so-attentive interest—but not before I’d read the opening, which asked…

Which teams do you delight in their losses and which team’s wins fill you with happiness?

But I needed my version of that idea.  When I think of the people I love, who do I love and whom do I hate? not love?

Who did I delight in their joys and who failures did I enjoy not mind as much?

This is tough to be honest about.  Imagehttp://www.findyourtattoo.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Love-and-Hate-Tattoo.jpg

I don’t think I have people I hate, not love—and we’re talking about people I actually know here, not just historical people or people in the news.  I mean we can all get behind hating say, Hitler, right?—there are people  who I don’t always love when they have everything go their way.  The group is small, but it is there.

How does one get into such an esteemed club, you may wonder?

a)    take take take and never or rarely return energy given by others

b)   make everything always about them

c)    treat people I love badly

d)   treat people I love—including me—badly.

e)    Any combination of the above choices.

Now to be clear, it isn’t that I want anything bad to happen—most of the time—but sometimes, it is nice to watch them struggle a little or a lot.  Usually I don’t mind this because it feels like a karma is coming back to bite them in the butt a little.  A little karmic retribution.  Buddhists sometimes refer to this as paying your karmic debt.

For example, I often hope that they will have someone do to them what they did to me—whatever that is—so that they can find out how much it sucks.  So they can have that moment—the moment of enlightenment when they think, “MY GOSH I CAN’T BELIEVE I WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR CAUSING THIS AMOUNT OF PAIN.”

Then there might be groveling on their part.  Humble, gracious benevolence on my part.  Aren’t you lucky I’m nice enough to allow you to be forgiven on my part?

Weirdly it never really works out like this.

Usually, the person who has to deal, is me.  The person who needs to move on is me.  No karmic thunder bolts.  No Ah-ha! moments.   No retribution.  In fact, often my vice-like grip on the reality of being hurt or wronged is the cause of even more suffering on my part.

This is suffering that comes from wanting something to be something other than what it actually is.

Which is why I’m so grateful for the other part of this article?  Who do you love?

That group is bigger.  Robust.  Entertaining.  Compassionate.  Intelligent.  Talented.  Thoughtful.  Intuitive.  Insightful.  Warm.  This group is the “A  game” of the people I love group.  If they were in March Madness, these people would be “top seeds”—whatever that means—it would mean they knew what they were doing.  It would mean if you fill in brackets to win the pool at work, your money should be on these people.

So who exactly do I love?

Here’s a basic checklist.  You might find it helpful.

  • People who show up—really show up—when things are ugly or hard.
  • People who, when they tease me, I feel loved and known.
  • People who will share their dinner and—dare I say it?—dessert with me.
  • People with passion.  I don’t even know if I care what your passion is anymore.  But have some passion.  Star Trek, geology, photography, writing, working with people, music, whatever.  Please geek out about something.
  • People who answer questions I ask because they know that—no matter how scary it is—it is better to have people know who you really are.
  • People who like Coke Slurpees.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it—like a good house—has good bones.  It is a good place to start.  It makes me grateful that my who do you love list is pages and pages longer than the hate list.  That gives me hope.

What is on your checklist?