Some find it easy to connect, socialise, reach out. For others social interaction can feel like a foreign language – a place where we stumble through unfamiliar phrases and don’t fully know how to express what we wish to say. As a teen and in my early 20s I really could not work out how to interact with others in a group. Over time I have learnt how to hold the space as a facilitator, but at times going into an event as just me can bring up this old dynamic of feeling cut off and alone.
I had this experience at the Stretch festival last weekend, three days of workshops and social time in Berlin. I was so grateful to go, after a friend gave me his ticket, and it was an amazing experience. The first day was great, as I explored a shiatsu workshop and learnt a few simple stretches then went into a consolation workshop for connecting to your unique self. It was so powerful to have three men representing three elements of myself: my resources, my barriers and my unique self. As we worked and I looked at the man representing my barriers I heard my mother saying “don’t think you are so special” and I felt how I shut down as a child around my spontaneity. Then as he moved aside I looked at the man representing my unique self and suddenly felt connected agin to that young joyful energy.
In another workshop we explored the father wound and there was real healing as the whole group stood around the five of us who had identified with being abandoned by our father and the group read out a sentence we had written that we would have liked to have heard from him. Just sitting and sharing with those men was so powerful, realising I was not alone in the experience of being abandoned.
Other workshops were more physical, with a Bonobo ape workshop bringing in a lot of play. But at the end of this the two men I had been in a group with had an intimate hug and kiss but when I then tried to hug each of them it was much more perfunctory making me then doubt the connection we had had during the exercise. And then I went into a real place of struggle as I spiralled into a dynamic familiar from school. Looking out at all the men chatting, people going off to have lunch in groups but no-one asking me to join, feeling as if I was behind a pane of glass looking on but not able to connect.
This led into the afternoon and the final sessions. I was feeling that I just wanted to run away, hide, escape. When I was no longer in the persona of teacher I was exposed to all the fear of making connections and of being rejected. But as I sat down before a workshop on ‘Healing Eros’ I was asked by the man I was next to how I was. Rather than pretend I just said: “I feel lonely, confused, I can’t work out how to connect” and his response was to to take me in his arms as I cried and hold me. And that was enough. He reassured me that he too felt that at times, that I was not alone and told me that I could connect. And feeling the warmth of his body and hearing his heart beat I could take a deep breath and feel ok.
We then went into the workshop and I connected into the sense of being ok to be in my own skin, and this led to being able to connect to others in a way that left me feeling nourished. Then in the dance workshop after this I turned to a man and we had a really great flowing playful dance.
Suddenly the voice telling me I could not connect lost its strength. I saw again that this was a belief that I could live from and make true, or I could take a risk, be vulnerable, and reach out to another.
This culminated in the closing sharing circle, where I was able to speak of this feeling of isolation and confusion around making connection and the pain of loneliness and longing for contact. Having 150 men hear me, and witness with a gentle appreciation was so healing. I could be vulnerable, confused, and have no real answer only my rawness and it was ok. They did not laugh, or reject me, they saw me. And afterwards others came to me to say that they too had felt the same – alone, lost, cut off.
This was the power of Stretch – a strange alchemy where we meet ourselves and get a chance to come into a new relationship to our own dynamic and our experience of being part of a group.
Sometimes going to a group event can really bring this old school yard experience to the surface,. The boy who is awkward, cut off, alone. The thing is is to be able to hold this in a way that it is seen rather than allowing it to dictate. “Thoughts are not facts” is the simple refrain in the 8 week mindfulness course I teach. But how often do I allow a thought about myself to become the reality I live? Instead of seeing it for what it is, some propaganda. The voice of my mother echoing down from childhood “don’t think you are so special”. But heard as a piece of old propaganda it looses its power and instead there is a freedom to be here, in this vulnerable, pulsating moment.