We can hold each other’s stories more tightly—and our own, less
We get caught up in the stories of who we think we are, what we’ve achieved (or not), and what qualities we think we possess.
During my grad-school years in New York City, I enjoyed overhearing over lunch what would become familiar patterns of one-on-one lunch conversations all
“Look, I’m not the kind of person who is quick to
anger, but …” began one woman as she launched, post-pastrami, into a tale of how her daughter’s religious-school director had provoked her beyond recognition.
“Who does that?” eked out another through gritted teeth, throwing her hands up in the air and into the arms of a scurrying waitperson, defining herself by the kind of
behavior she would never, but never, perform herself. Her companion rolled his eyes as the two of them in ready coordination scooted their curry dishes around
each other on the table to help the other sample them.
In both of these cases, the speaker conveyed a sense
that, in order to construct a self, she or he has to position before a friend a fairly rigid version of themselves, like the sculptural costumes of the modern dance company Pilobolus, a kind of personality into which to step and stand,
get sewn in, and only then be recognized.
Our work, in becoming more human and more mature, is to hold our own stories—including such stories of our “selves”—more lightly, allowing for more flexibility in our responsiveness. Our stories and experiences still exist but, paradoxically, we both have and transcend them in
order to become less bound to a single concept of who we are.
Spiritual teachers such as Byron Katie (and many
others) advocate questioning the truth of the stories we tell ourselves. Katie even instructs students of her method to turn a story into its opposite and to gauge its truth, which may be as great as, or even greater than, the original story.
What helps with the process of lightening up is
listening to another’s deep story. Just as helping others can lift our own moods, listening well to others can be an experience of releasing our hold on our senses of self. If we can hold the reality that someone else is living with
and lighten up on the tightness of the grip we place on our own, we stand the chance of developing compassion. Our heart is truly light enough to be able to “go out to” them. And, when we are being truly empathetic, the sense of ourselves and others belonging to each other in quiet equivalence grows.
Maybe try an aspect of this idea out for yourself. You could determine not how you want to “be” next time the occasion calls on you to listen well to help a family member or friend, but what you want to provide or do. Do you want to provide a “safe space” for them to share whatever they need to? Do you want to listen for what they are feeling but haven’t said yet and ask gentle and appropriate questions? Do you want to reflect back to them what you think you’ve heard?
None of these strategies has anything to do with
putting forward “the kind of person you are,” like my pastrami-saturated eavesdroppee. Yet you will likely find that you feel more centered, more solid outside the bounds of personality and story. And your bond with the other will feel that much deeper.
Our work with the two-hour, facilitated experience
called THE HUMAN JOURNEY® situates members of a group or family right within their history and their stories, and then, with a graduated method of listening, interaction, and the cultivation of a sense of the group as being larger than any individual, brings participants to that point of lightness with themselves and substance with each other. It’s proven useful for families deepening their sense of belonging in hard times and is now in practice in the healthcare
So, Who’s the Father?
So, Who’s the Father?” isn’t exactly what a person who’s expecting wants to hear. It can feel like an accusation, like an invasion of privacy, or like a completely irrelevant question, depending on one’s method of conception, key relationships, or plan for childrearing. Even in days when there were fewer methods for conceiving a child or for avenues for getting one to adulthood, Emily Post might have advised just to stick with a hearty congratulations.
Ostranenie: A Fantastic Russian Word
Learn to pronounce ostranenie and impress your friends with your accent as well as with this cool word.
And what a concept … to learn to re-see, as if with new eyes, those things our eyes think they know so well, they no longer see them at all.
To find wonder again and again in the way our sister-in-law calls company in for dinner without the least hint of anxiety, exhaustion, or sense of the extraordinary event.
To learn anew about the people we think we know best.
The Creature Comforts Checklist
This is it our “Creature Comforts Checklist.” It’s an odd name, we know.
We called it that, recognizing that grief is a very physical thing and that sometimes what grievers most need (aside from not being asked if they need anything) is not to talk but to be. Just a creature.
When you’re grieving, you miss the physical presence of the person you lost …
Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”
You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating.The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather and
How Can Something Be Neither Good Nor Bad?
It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy
Becoming the Witness
I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning