Mindfulness: the missing facet 'describe', and meeting at relational depth with self & others - practice
Last updated on 8th April 2015
I wrote yesterday on "Mindfulness: the missing facet 'describe', and meeting at relational depth with self & others - theory" . Today I'd like to take this into a practical example.
On Sunday evening seven of us met in what we call "The enquiry group". I've described these get-togethers before in the post "Different kinds of groups, different kinds of friendship" where I wrote that the group "evolved some years ago from an urge I had to meet up socially with other "expert therapists". We spent a fair amount of time over the initial sessions exploring why we might want to meet and how we might spend the time. Eventually we settled on this "enquiry" focus that we have used pretty consistently ever since ... the membership evolves over time as some people drop out and others join. Most of us are therapists, but not all ... The "enquiry process" could be designed for "social intimacy". After checking in as a whole group over a cup of tea, we split into subgroups of 3 to 5 people. Typically we will have come up with a question or area we would like to explore. Subjects we've chosen over the meetings include "Death and dying", "How I feel being here with you guys", and most regularly "How I'm feeling right now is ... " ... I think in the original enquiry method, the suggestion is that the speaker is uninterrupted and the rest of the group just listen silently. After the 10 or so minutes talking (the timing depends on how long we have and how many are in the subgroup), the listeners have maybe 5 minutes to respond. The suggestion is that the responses focus mainly on simply asking questions that might help the speaker reflect more deeply on what they have been saying. Actually we know each other pretty well and we're - well I certainly - am an inveterate "rule breaker" in these kinds of exercises, so often the feedback deviates from this "simply ask questions that could deepen the speaker's reflection" instruction.
It's full of riches. I give clients psychotherapy sessions that run for between 60 to 75 minutes. In the 10 minutes we each had to talk last night, most of us seemed to go as deep emotionally as one might in a really precious psychotherapy session. It's like dropping down a well or over a cliff. I've tried in the past, talking from a more intellectual, "heady" space. It's dissatisfying, at least for me. So in this enquiry process, I very deliberately soak down into my body and my feelings, sharing what emerges - a process of "not knowing" and "finding out". These are at levels five to seven on the well-known "Experiencing scale". This kind of "intimacy" and closeness soaks into my body. It profoundly changes me. I said last night something like "For me, it feels as if we somehow perform some kind of magic ritual, a mystery". An apparent paradox is that this deep, personal, witnessed, inner exploration also links us deeply with each other. It takes courage. It's also helped by our experiences and familiarity with working at emotional levels. Great. Joyful."
And this last Sunday evening we were exploring this territory further. The question we came up with was something like "Why do I do this group ... ?". For the deeper dive I was in a small group of three with my wife and an old friend. We had little time and we did something that often works well - we "went round twice". So for just a few minutes we had a first round giving each of us a chance to explore this question. Then we went straight on round again. As so often happens using this format, the other people's deepening "enquiries" then colour and deepen our own. For me it isn't helpful to make this a particularly intellectual exercise. It's going down "into the well" of held body feelings, images, intuitions. This depth of sharing is deeply intimate. So many images and metaphors. My wife talked about it being a "spiritual practice" ... and it is. Our friend spoke of finding the right words to fit our inner experience as letting a bucket down into the well of our inner feelings and drawing up "water" that is so good to drink and share. The bucket is the ability to put the experiences into language, like poetry, image, painting. This, for me, is the mindfulness facet of Describe stretched and precious and life-affirming. I am typically so efficient, busy, engaged, productive. This type of exploring & sharing helps what I call "going liquid" or "going molten". I had an image of myself galloping down forest tracks, making progress, doing good things in my life. This evening is like reining in the horse. Jumping off the saddle. Bending down to the forest floor and pulling up a handful of moss. Bringing it to my face. Smelling it deeply. Feeling its texture. This is life. Galloping again on the horse. Efficient, busy, loving it. But the smell of the moss, the moisture still on my face, connects me to the "forest of life" so well, the "juiciness of life". Again that forest metaphor, Wendell Berry's "The country of marriage":
Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.