Stages & Sprinklers
In support groups and CCT meetings, new participants are often stunned when their brilliant thoughts are met with silence. Not disagreement or agreement; and not lack of attention or consideration. Just a lack of response. When your deepest revelations are met with a two-second silence, followed simply by, “Thank you for sharing.” it’s an unsettling realization:
“Ohhhhhhhh! So the value I’m going to bring really is just the value of being. We won’t be ranking ourselves by the value we provide to the group. There are no ‘good’ participants and ‘lesser’ participants. Each of us has the potential to provide an infinite value and the only way to get closer to providing that value is to get closer to ourselves.“
In this space, you not a ballerina performing on a stage; you are a kid dancing in a sprinkler. Expertise and advice and training and proficiency have their place, but every world-class ballerina also needs a space to play in the sprinklers, where their dance is only equally as beautiful as the 3 year old’s beside her, where they each get to marvel at the others’ freedom of movement; accept the other’s praise, and genuinely hope to be more like the other some day.
We won’t start with sharing our stories. New attendees are given a space to process their present journey without any social pressure to expose their past. In fact, we don’t even care if participants have a past – young people and witness protection clients should be able to use this type of setting to explore themselves just as well as any former convict.
Knowing backstories is cool and fun, but is in no way necessary to participating presently, publicly, in self-discovery. The cover charge for the group is “I want to know my present self, better,” not, “here are my past devastations, disappointments, and dreams.”
And then, on an emotional level, we want to go deeper than that anyway. Deeper than your story, your embarrassing moments, or your hidden secrets. Imagine we’ve already shared those. So now we “know” each other. So now what?!
Too often, transparency is just a cheap substitute for vulnerability. It may be transparent to tell your story and mock yourself for all your idiotic decisions without really risking much. “This is who I was and these are the crazy things I did,” can easily be amputated from who you currently are. A crazy past can be forgiven. Admitting to a crazy present is terrifying. Embarrassment lies in the past. Vulnerability exists in the present.
Thanks to the internet, you can read the full Wikipedia on Dwayne Johnson or memorize every inch of Kim Kardashian’s naked body; you can know more about them than their mothers or lovers, but that’s not intimacy. You might have seen all they have to offer with your own eyes without ever seeing the world through their eyes.
So, while sharing our most embarrassing past or hurtful moments can help us get to know each other, we don’t really want to get to know you. We want to get to be you. For the time that you’re speaking, we want to see the world through your eyes, free of the experience, the flaws or the wisdom of our own experience. During the expression of your heart, our answers or insights are the least relevant things.
I Am Spartacus
This is the beauty of a good book or a compelling movie. You don’t get to tell the page or the screen,
- “Mmm hmm – God’s really proud of you for doing that!” or
- “I bet you wish you hadn’t said that,” or even,
- “That must have been really painful for you!”
You only get to sit, actively engaged and passive in your feedback, and experience their world as the main character. The truth is, it’s not painful for them. “They” are photons bouncing off a silver screen. But it is painful for you, the patron sitting in the theater, with tears rolling down your cheeks. You are the one experiencing the pain, because, for 95 minutes, you are the character…with no input on your own life. You’re just along, silently, empathetically, for the ride, as someone else chooses your life, emotions, and outcomes.
This is feeling of participating well in this group. This is what others will do for you, and you for them. They would like to be known and heard as them, not as you. So we ask you to put yourself aside when someone else is letting themselves be known. They get to regularly experience the affirmation that comes from knowing that someone else knows what it’s like to be them…not just be “in their shoes”…but, as much as possible, to be them.
We each have a way of pushing past the difficult…difficult thoughts, emotions, problems, roadblocks.
- Some of us are great at fixing and entertaining,
- Others are caring affirmers and encouragers,
- Still others analyze and rationalize.
These are strengths. And there is a place for those strengths. This group is not the place for those strengths, because we don’t want to push past the difficult. We want to sit with the difficult.
We don’t want to ignore the elephant in the room or hide it. But we don’t want to move it either. We just want to acknowledge it and sit and examine it.
We won’t receive the answers to our problems that seem obvious to others. We will get less feedback from people, and more echoes of our voice off the canyon walls. Sometimes hearing our own voice clarifies all the wisdom we can take in at the moment.
And sometimes responding with, “Thank you for sharing” without the follow up is the most difficult response to give because it doesn’t resolve. Too often, the responses of, “It’s not as bad as it seems,” or “I’m sure it’s going to work out fine,” or even “Everything happens for a reason,” is more for the comfort of the speaker than the afflicted. In this group, you’ll exercise the self-control to let another writhe a little without averting your eyes or hiding it behind platitudes.
You Won’t Be Challenged
…in the power sense or the inspiration sense. Not here. Not by us. Only by yourself, which is more challenge than most people are willing to bear.
In this group, you have the opportunity to be exposed and accepted as you search for your own answers in the presence of others, sometimes finding an answer, but maybe not. Our attempts to understand you may help you clarify your direction and help you make connections, but we will not try to indirectly lead you toward any connections.
“I don’t understand…” or “I’m curious about…” could be empathy.
“Don’t you think that…?” or “You probably thought…” would probably be indirect interference. And while direct interference is only annoying, indirect interference is often patronizing and infuriating. We won’t “help” you with your thoughts. This isn’t a think tank. This is a “be” tank.
If you know that my thoughts are potentially going to square off with someone else’s, you will at least subconsciously filter out the thoughts that are not ready to collide with others. But this is not a place where we only share the things that we want feedback on, or where we only share fully formed ideas, or where we filter out the least coherent thoughts.
You can conclude with, “None of that really makes sense to me, but I guess that’s what came out,” and then not get the interpretation from someone else. We won’t exchange ideas, only share experiences.
- An old, wise monk with a lot of self-awareness could pull that off.
- A jerk who wasn’t paying attention could also pull that off.
- For the average human, this seems to be a difficult skill and requires a conscious effort.
You Might Like It If You…
- Believe that you have a heart that can be nurtured, understood, and trained,
- Are willing (or eager) to be curious about your triggers; physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually,
- Are willing (or eager) to question anything,
- Are willing (or eager) to be wrong,
- Are willing (or eager) to change your mind,
- Are (or desire to be) resilient in the face of opposing ideas, holding your value and identity separately from your beliefs,
- Value self-care as a prerequisite to others-care, and
- Wish to change something, and are willing to try something, even in the face of hopelessness.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
– African Proverb
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
– C.S. Lewis
“You’re going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do and everything you don’t do. You don’t get to choose to not pay a price. You get to choose which poison you’re going to take. That’s it.”
– J. Bernt Peterson