Sixteen years ago, I worked as a counselor for a nonprofit that was run by the consensus process. When I first started there, I was so excited. I envisioned a place where everyone’s voice was heard and counted equally, a highly evolved and cooperative utopia. The reality, however, was more challenging. Everyone’s voice was certainly heard, but often for long, drawn out meetings. Minor decisions had to be debated and postponed week after week until an agreement could be reached. As we know, opinions don’t change easily. Sharing new ideas doesn’t mean other people will be receptive to them. And if everybody’s talking, who is there to listen?
I learned a lot from participating in the consensus process, and while I still deeply respect the model, I realized I don’t have the inner patience for it. Hearing too many opinions drains my compassion. My favorite way of being in community is more nonverbal. Some years before that nonprofit job, during a work exchange at a yoga retreat center, I had my first experience of group sharing without cross-talk. Being together in silence, owning our experiences, and sharing without the interference of others’ judgments was a relief and a revelation. Not only did we leave those meetings more centered and connected, making clear choices came easier too.
It’s tricky, interacting with other people these days. It’s hard not to get pulled into a downward spiral of how terrible everything is and what should or shouldn’t be happening. Sure, it can be interesting to hear what you think about it all, but what I really want to know is, what is giving you strength each day? How are you keeping your heart open? In today’s world, where so little is actually known or understood, opinions feel even less compelling to me. I wonder more what changes are growing in you.
As a dear friend said to me yesterday, it’s compost time. If triggering information and opinions are going to keep coming in, all that heavy mental-emotional energy needs to be regularly let out. I’ve been hearing people say that everyone is going to need therapy when this is all over, as if mental health is something we can put on hold to deal with on some future, easier day. Mental health is not a matter of keeping it all together until the outside world improves. Let’s please not hold our breaths like that. There’s another way, one that has been around much longer than modern psychology or colonialist times. We can ritually call in, feel, and release the strong and messy feelings on purpose. When we do this letting go together in a protected and loving container, the relief is exponential. We can find both our own hearts and each other again.
I’ve been studying different holistic helping modalities for many years now, and I still find profound worth in the most simple practice of being quiet together in community, listening to each other and witnessing without offering opinions. As many of you know, we do this type of sharing at the end of the women’s release & empower groups. When we went online this spring, I was heartened to see that we really can do this community self-healing work virtually. It’s not passively receiving information staring at yet another screen in a webinar; it’s being together at home, actively letting stuck energies move through the mind, body, and heart without advice or judgments getting in the way. To make this community practice more accessible and available throughout the changing times we’re in, an online Release & Empower community is opening August 1st, with a FREE introductory workshop the week before. Especially if you’ve been doing a lot of emotional caregiving professionally or at home, check it out, and invite a friend you’d like to be with in authentic community.
I don’t know what’s going on around here. What I do know is that even when I tire of opinions, I still care about other people’s experiences. I still love when we can be ourselves together. No matter what is lost, no matter what comes next, I am grateful to be moving through these changes with you.
Wishing you treat yourself to whatever deeply frees your spirit,
PS-If you’d like to learn more about the expressive writing practice we do in Release & Empower and receive some extra support with your self-care at home, check out this new mini practice book just released last month for pandemic times: When You’re Having a Hard Time: The Little Book That Listens. It’s a little heart’s guidance for emotional strength and resilience.
PPS-The release & empower workshop is designed for helping professionals and other emotional caregivers who have been holding it together for others a lot lately. It’s powerful work and requires a certain level of social support and self-care grounding to integrate. If you’re really struggling with mental health right now and feel at the verge of a breakdown, this workshop will not be sufficient nor appropriate. If you don’t know where to turn, try a 24/7 free crisis hotline that can connect you with good and local support, or you can use this textline for help with coronavirus-related anxiety and grief. Help is available, and I encourage you to receive it when you need it!
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