Tuesday, July 14, 2015
In my 20’s I spent a couple years on staff at a holistic retreat center. Guests would come for weekend or weeklong workshops on an immense variety of topics: meditation, yoga, drumming, reincarnation, tennis, cooking, dance, writing, poetry, shamanism, painting, singing etc.
One day I walked outside and 100+ couples were spread out across the lawn. It was a striking image of non-verbal communication. As my eyes scanned the scene – some couples were turned towards each other, some turned away, some were touching, some were feet apart, some looked into each other’s eyes, some avoided the other’s sight. But no matter what my assessment, I felt a deep respect for every single one of them. Here before my eyes were people who were doing the work,
“Work is love made visible.” Kahlil Gibran.
“For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. “ Rainer Maria Rilke.
They had all set aside the time, set aside the money, and set aside themselves in an attempt to be there for another, to attempt to be there for a relationship. That day a seed was planted in me which I recently started to water.
I requested an audio book by the leaders of that couple’s workshop – Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt. The foundation of their work is a process called the Imago Dialog. I first attempted it on a jog with my friend. Later I told the sweet man about it and he was open to trying it. It went really well and he said he felt really close to me afterwards (I felt the same). However, today was the first time we actually used it for an issue/frustration. When I asked the sweet man if he was available for a dialog when I came over tonight (first step is to make an appointment), he said he wanted to go for a walk first. So we did, take a short walk. He told me about something he liked in an Elizabeth Gilbert book which she does with her husband. You say to the other person, “Tell me a story about _____,” and they tell you about something in their life related to whatever word you said.
“Maybe we could do that sometime.” He said.
“Let’s try it now.”
So we sat on a bench and he said, “Tell me a story about rain.”
“The first thing that comes to mind is - I don’t know why this is, but usually people don’t go swimming when it’s raining. And though you can get a ticket in Minneapolis for swimming across a lake with a boat, it’s not illegal outside the city. So when I lived with my brother sometimes we would take his kayak to a lake and take turns swimming beside it. One day it was raining, not a downpour, but not a drizzle either. I was swimming and it was immensely beautiful to watch the rain hit the water and bounce back.”
I suppose this isn’t surprising as the memory that popped out as today I participated in the Open Swim in Minneapolis for the second time. A few times a week (it’s only free on Tuesdays though) you can swim across a lake without getting a ticket, and instead actually have lifeguard support. I tried it for the first time last month not sure how I’d do (I easily made it across and back) and today I went again. I did start to think of the other swimmers as torpedoes. There are a LOT of swimmers 95% doing front crawl WAY faster than my breaststroke and, despite their goggles, seemingly oblivious to my slow moving form in front of them.
It’s such a great work-out and so different from other things I do – total body, no impact and you aren’t hot and sweaty afterwards – interesting! When I swim back and forth at a beach I have to decide how long to swim, in this case all that chatter is gone, I swim until I get across. Plus in the way that it is motivational to jog or bike in places where other people are doing those things – it is motivational to have lots of others swimming (without the stress of a race which I’m sure many of them are training for).
After I told the story about swimming in the rain we did the Imago process about a time I reacted to something the sweet man did and I didn’t feel listened to – or rather taken seriously – when I asked him about it. It had to do with camping and bears and food storage. I told him about it and tonight I did feel listened to, and of course it was bigger than this. It had to do with things I see people doing (like feeding ducks) that seem benign but actually are harmful to wildlife. I get upset when people are unaware of the impact of their actions. This realization helped him understand more why it upset me.
In addition, as I drove home I thought about one of the principles of Hendrix and Hunt which is that we attract partners to help us heal our childhood wounds. “Is there a childhood wound this relates to?” I asked myself. I didn’t think of anything at first, but then in an instant, one of my stronger childhood memories came to me. I was at a lake with my father, I think we were camping, and a man was fishing from the dock. He caught a fish, which I guess he didn’t want, because he ripped the hook out and threw it back in. Before he threw it back it languished on the dock a bit. I can still see the eye and it's gills move in an attempt to breathe.
I was dumbfounded by the lack of empathy or respect for the being he had held in his hands. In fact, it planted a seed for my desire to become a vegetarian. It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned people can kill and eat meat in a reverential way. I didn’t see anyone do so for at least 15 years.
I’m not going to call out my five gratitudes today, but I’m sure they’re in here. They include taking the time to write this out (even though it’s way past my bedtime and I just wanted to go to sleep) because I have a commitment to this process. I knew I had something to say, and I have a small audience for it that I greatly appreciate. And also there's that sweet man who is willing to try new things.