Thinking about words and silence
Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to join my fellow Expanding Inward co-conspirators in facilitating our latest three-day retreat. We were joined by 30 caring, open and brave souls to explore the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. If you’re not familiar with this very old, very tragic Greek myth, let’s just say that it doesn’t end well for Orpheus. You know, it takes a special sort of person to see a story of this sort and say, “You know what? I’d like to travel to an unfamiliar city, meet a lot of people I’ve never seen before, and spend three days exploring loss and grief.” I cannot express how fortunate we are that those special people exist, because otherwise it would have been a very lonely event.
Since I got home on Sunday night, I’ve been thinking about what made the weekend so special for me. There was a lot to recommend it, to be honest. The people were wonderful, the retreat center, which was a new venue for us, exceeded my expectations, and my teammates did some truly astounding work. I am truly awed by the experience. But even more than any of that, for me, this was a weekend where I saw a group of people come together in community and embrace a value that is particularly important to me.
Elsewhere on our website, we talk about the difference between comfort and safety. Simply put, we believe that while safety is paramount to crafting a successful, growthful experience together, comfort can sometimes get in the way of that. Speaking for myself, I can’t think of a time when pursuing comfort at all costs led me to growth. Or, to perhaps put it better, I can’t think of a single moment when I both grew and felt comfortable at the same time. Not one.
(I should point out, I feel, that I really, really like comfort. There are times when comfort really is important to me, and I don’t apologize for that. At the same time, I don’t think most of us travel to an unfamiliar place and meet a bunch of new people for the sake of comfort.)
There’s one point of the event that stands out for me. After an afternoon session using different modalities such as divination, scrying, trance, meditation and physical excavation to explore both loss and love, we offered an opportunity for anyone to step into the center of our weekend community and share part of their story. This is one of those places, I think, where that comfort versus safety concept is put to the test. At first, I found myself hoping that someone would step in and speak, and was relieved when someone did, followed by another, and another. Some people spoke at length, others simply captured the essence of a loss that was present for them, but it was clear that however much was said, the words were meaningful, the experience was meaningful. For those who stepped in and spoke, it was a heroic, holy act. I was so glad to see it happen.
Now, not everyone stepped into that public, vulnerable space, and honestly I was glad to see that, too. Because the trick here is that we believe that each person knows best where their true boundaries are. Each person knows far better for themselves than we ever could when something we ask them to do crosses the line between “discomfort” and “unsafe.” If it felt too much, or if the words wouldn’t come, or hell, if the experience being offered wasn’t what was needed, then remaining silent and supporting the process for others, witnessing them, was the heroic act.
In her last blog entry, Laurie talked about her intention in both trance and deathwork: “May space be made for what is needed.” I don’t feel like I get particularly close to that beautifully selfless intention in most parts (maybe any parts) of my life. But there are moments when I get to experience the spirit of it, when a group of friends and strangers come together to witness and be witnessed, to speak and to be silent, to take what they need and to support one another. In those moments, I realize just how lucky I am.
This post was written by Jason Frey