Posted by: ritagone | February 4, 2015

The Wonder of Shared Stories

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Most of us get to tell little snippets about ourselves during our days or weeks, as we move through our schedules and interactions with people. Maybe over lunch with a friend or new acquaintance, perhaps in a teaching situation, or sharing with a child or grandchild, we fill in our “biography” for them, so we are constantly talking about ourselves, but in short sentences or paragraphs, not chapters or whole books.

To verify that I’m right, think about this: when’s the last time you talked about yourself and told your personal history for any length of time, say, over half an hour, talking constantly, perhaps even uninterrupted? I’ll wager you can’t remember an occurrence of this in your recent past.

So when the Senior Leadership Team that I’m on in Christian Associates had a mini-retreat last week in Santa Barbara, and Dudley, our fearless, thoughtful, pastoral President, assigned us the task of doing just this – talking about ourselves – for about an hour to an hour and a half, it was a fascinating exercise. Those who were listening – the other four members of the team – were allowed to interrupt graciously now and then with a pertinent question, and fortunately when a question was asked, it didn’t seem to harm the flow of anyone’s storyline.

I realized quite a few things from this particular piece of our two and a half day mini-retreat: first of all, you have to feel safe with the people listening in order to be transparent and share on a meaningful level. Otherwise what comes out of your mouth is pretty much drivel. And what came out of our mouths and hearts last week was by no means drivel. It was fascinating and illuminating and shed incredibly significant light on each person as he or she talked. Because we all felt very safe indeed with one another.

Secondly, we all five automatically and unconsciously started our time with our stories by relating our parents’ histories. Understandably, you can’t tell your own story – especially when you have enough time allotted to you — without going back and telling the background story of your father and mother. In fact, the weight of each person’s story fell much more heavily on parental information than current information about spouse and children. I found this very interesting and informative for a whole array of reasons, which of course might be the subject matter of another blog another time.

Thirdly, it came to me in an epiphany (I love that word and don’t get to use it often enough, probably because I don’t have epiphanies often enough!) that this is something that we, as I said, do rarely, which is too bad, because it is a cathartic and amazingly productive experience. It was very cleansing and healing, and the emotion of it was worth savoring. I’m still thinking about some of the pieces of my story that I shared, and they are bringing back other pieces that I haven’t thought about for decades, and it’s a wonderful feeling to just sit back and remember something from my childhood that was unlocked because I was allowed to talk for a length of time last week. For example, I was remembering just yesterday how I would come home from school when I was in the 6th grade, the last year of elementary school, change into my play clothes, and spend several hours in the unpaved street with the neighbor kids playing baseball. I was good at it. The boys who lived on the block weren’t just being patronizing; I was a female 12 year-old rock star when it came to both fielding (at first base, usually, because I’m left-handed) and batting (having been taught batting skills by an overly zealous baseball fanatic father). It made me smile to bring those memories to the surface, memories I hadn’t toyed with and savored for many decades. But you talk about yourself for over an hour and you’d be surprised what your mind suddenly dredges up for days afterwards!!

And fourth and last, what an amazing bonding experience for the five of us it was. We all expressed the fact that we felt a new level of intimacy and transparency with one another. These statements to each person were not made lightly. There were a few tears shed, much hugging and words of affection.

What I discovered also upon returning home was that it was easy to talk about the exterior events of the two and a half days away with the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) on this mini-retreat. I could share what we talked about in broad strokes, describe the camaraderie that occurred, all the markings of a great time together. But the interior life of what happened is impossible to capture for someone else unless you were there. “You had to be there” has new meaning now.

If you have occasion to do this type of exercise, this shared telling of your story in great length with other people, I encourage you to do so. With the right people, in the right setting, under the right circumstances, you will come away a more open person, and you will never again be the same.

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Responses

  1. Enjoyed reading and hearing again about your amazing experience at SLT.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >


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