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
Lindsay Braman’s example can open your mind about what sorts of both joy and utility you can create, simply by letting your own gifts out of the closet and using them in your work, in recognizing that, if a therapist/doodler can connect two passions, so can you.
When you’re in pain, it’s hard to think of anything else. But even in the midst of being laid up with a bad back or during that excruciating moment after surgery when you realize that, no, it isn’t that the operation was a breeze, it’s just that you had really good painkillers, there are almost always parts of you that do feel well: they’re just a bit harder to access. Even when everything is going smoothly.
What the lorgnette is to glasses, THE HUMAN JOURNEY is to listening. Not only do we help families listen to each other at a moments of intense change due to serious illness, end of life, bereavement, or other major life transition, but we help family members perceive that they are being heard.
We’re ready for ya. All handy in its front pocket, THE HUMAN JOURNEY® has all the ways to meet family members right where they are. We have a way to meet people who don’t want to talk about feelings. We have a way to meet people who would rather express something silently, with a facial expression, a gesture, or a stance, than with telling or sharing.
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.