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Peer groups, Cumbria spring group: second full day - couple's work, interpersonal challenge, fathers and banquets

The start of the third full day here.  In yesterday's post I wrote about the first full day and today I'll write about our second full day together.  We've had so much rain over the last couple of days, it's a blessing to see the bright early sunlight splashed along the wall outside the window as I sit here writing.  I sneaked away to bed with Catero my wife a bit early yesterday evening.  It had been a long special day and now I'm up this morning feeling fresh.

After breakfast yesterday we began in small "support" groups of four.  The groups had been picked out of a hat, with a little subsequent swapping around as some couples decided they would prefer to be in separate support groups.  There's a very real sense in which these four day residentials are like the weather.  As long as we stay true, honest, open, caring ... it brings up so much "stuff".  So on the first full day, as you'd expect ... with a bunch of dear friends getting together again ... there was lots of celebration ending with the wild, hugely fun, dancing in the evening.  More exuberant, more unselfconscious, more friendly than pretty much anywhere else that I've ever danced.

But yesterday morning, the psychological storm clouds had begun to gather.  It's fine.  Working with what comes up is so much what these groups are about.  In our small support group, someone talked about strains in their marriage.  A sense that there was nowhere else as potentially helpful that they felt they could bring this.  Speaking about it.  Opening it up.  Trying to feel in, to understand.  Good.  And after coffee, the full group and the couple working on these blocks.  Love and commitment and the difficulties that probably every couple faces at times in their marriage.  Of course problems will come up in long term relationships.  The small stuff it's usually best to let go by, with patience and generosity.  But bigger stuff it's typically important to address - see, for example, the sequence of posts that includes "Conflict: not too much, not too little - the importance of assertiveness in close relationships".  Hard.  Just because we have had so many experiences over the years in these groups of difficult, painful knots untying and easing when we work kindly and truly with them, it doesn't mean anyone is likely to approach these kind of turbulent, heart-hurting rapids casually or without anxiety.  The stakes are bloody high when couples and families are involved.  And so heart-warming and healing to go down this tricky, bumpy section of the river together.  So much experience here.  Humility too.  Pretty much all of us here have sometimes been through hard times in our marriages and personally.  Sometimes it's rainy weather.  Not trying to "pull the canoes out onto the bank".  Going down the rapids with courage and open-heartedness.  At times in groups this size with so much psychological knowledge/experience around, "too many cooks can spoil the broth".  However when multiple input works well, it too can be quite extraordinary.  We know each other well.  We're deeply concerned about the struggle in our friends' marriage.  People want to come in with insights, comments, suggestions, interventions.  Like a challenging section of free jazz, how do we play this so the couple don't get caught in the cross-fire of too many suggestions, too many options.  Working with feelings.  Beautiful to see them coming through, out into clearer, calmer water.  Fantastic.  Just this piece of psychological work on its own would make the whole residential worthwhile. 

And an old friend, who I haven't seen a lot for a while, coming up to me afterwards to say he would like to spend some time with me in the "break" after lunch to talk through a distance he was feeling in our relationship.  And sitting together.  Saying as honestly as we can how we're feeling with each other.  And this doesn't always work ... and it did so well here.  So easy when someone challenges me with quite confronting statements to slip up into my head, into defence, into all the many explanations & reasons.  And this is all true and may also be worth touching on, but I find it's often even more helpful to go down inside too, to speak out what feelings are coming up.  And this starts with not knowing for me.  What is it that I'm feeling in my gut, in my body when this person says these things to me.  Going inside to find out.  Having the ability to tease out the confusing mix of inner responses.  To put them into language in a way that stays open, that doesn't do the easy and almost certainly unhelpful hitting back, hitting out.  And of course it's a million times easier when one is talking with someone who has "emotional intelligence", where there is underlying goodwill, where we go into the heat because we want to come through again to something better, where we go into it assuming that "it takes two to tango", that both of us have almost certainly contributed to the difficulty and that both of us have important, potentially helpful things to learn from the exploring and openness. And then walking together afterwards.  Catching up with each other's lives.  Friendship blossoming again. 

And into small group time again ... but a different mix.  Talking about the planet, climate change, transition towns.  And then sitting by the stream in the drizzle with my wife and an old friend catching up with each other.  The second full group of the day.  Fathers.  Talking about fathers and someone especially speaking about their relationship with their long-dead father.  And that then spinning on into speaking about aging, our own aging, death, being with dying parents, our own children's reactions to our aging.  And supper.  These meals all seem to be feasts.  People taking turns to prepare the food.  I'd end up spherical if I was fed such banquets all the time.  Talking again at supper.  I love the way the "in-between" conversations take on such richness in these groups.  The conversations over meals, during walks.  They can be so good too.

And it's getting close to 8.00am now.  Some of us meeting to meditate together and then my morning ritual of dipping into the mill stream.  And this morning it will be in the sunshine, not my experience of holding onto a rock to stop myself being washed downstream in the rain splashed torrent of the last two days.

And see tomorrow's post for a description of our third & last full day here.

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