Sometimes Just Being With Each Other Is Enough

When my friend Dawn lost her daughter in a school shooting, our friend Lisa showed up on her doorstep unannounced.  She came in and just sat with Dawn.  No food, no words, just presence, which is what Dawn needed.

When else is simple, resonant presence enough?

My experimental physician comradery group met for the third time this week.  I am positively beside myself giddy that my MD friends are so willing to give up an hour in the evening to spend on yet another video call.  Research has shown that formal, facilitated physician forums increase our well-being in multiple domains.  Seeing as our group is informal, I have hesitated to impose an agenda.  But being docs whose nature is to ask, “What is the goal of this meeting?” I felt obligated to query us about our objectives.  What is the purpose of these sessions, how will they best serve us all?  Some awkward seconds of silence ensued, heads cocked, brows slightly furrowed.  Then, quite easily, we agreed that just being together, in professional and personal communion, was enough.  Wow, that’s it?  We just want to be in one another’s company?  I felt relieved, and also sad that this is how starved we are for connection.

I confessed my ulterior motive for forming the group:  to begin construction on wide bridges between departmental silos.  I dream that we can not only form thick personal connections, but also make our operations decisions with those connections in mind.  Scheduling protocols in your department impact workflow in mine.  Optimization for me may detract from your efficiency.  In many cases, patients are also negatively affected.  Can we find the win-win more often and easily?  I think so, and like so many things, it takes time and effort to cultivate the necessary relationships.  Maybe it can start with a few of us early adopters, choosing each other’s company once a month.

Yesterday I completed the Aspen Institute First Step Seminar: Transcendent Dialogue in a Polarized World, a three-session workshop on engaging with difference.  Once again I got to participate in a transformative pilot, and OMG it was amazing!!  Check out the workbook that guides one through assessing, constructing, and articulating their Worldview (attendees have permission to share)—phenomenal!   Session titles:

1. Understanding and Articulating Worldview

2. Pushing and Challenging Your Own Worldview

3. Making Commitments

Immediately I found myself surrounded by people from across the country and myriad fields of study and work, all convened in a wholehearted spirit of curiosity, learning, and connection—my tribe!  But by the end of Session 2, I found myself impatient, wishing for more concrete skills acquisition and training.  What method or mantra could I learn, that I could then take and apply to my next encounter with a Trump supporter?  I wanted to role play, OMG!  After sitting with this disquiet, and then discussing with the group, I realized again that simply being with these amazing people could be enough.  We read and interpreted poetry, discussed worldviews and core values.   We defined, debated, and redefined terms that appear benign and banal at first, but can be fundamentally divisive (eg “safety” and “common good”).  We sat together in mutual discerning presence, with respect and openness.  Hearing eight other people’s reflections on “Salmon Courage” by M. NourbeSe Philip flung my mind open in the most exciting way!  I cannot remember the last time I encountered so many diverse perspectives so collegially and lovingly, and I could not get enough. 

Turns out I learn, indirectly perhaps, a ton of applicable skills from these communal encounters, formal and informal alike.  I’ll continue to dissect for myself the aspects of these groups that make them so effective, such as explicit and implicit agreements around conduct and relationship.  I always seek connection when I’m with people, no matter the size of the group.  But maybe I’ve too often thought of it as gravy more than meat and potatoes?  When I approach a structured meeting, I want to take away something tangible to report on—something useful to share, that the non-attendee can also practice.  But maybe I can loosen my grip on that need.  Maybe it’s okay to say, “You just had to be there,” and then invite my friend to come with me next time. 

That is how we grow strong, loving, and productive communities anyway, right?

**Sorry for the weird formatting, friends–I don’t know how to fix it! ;P**

8 thoughts on “Sometimes Just Being With Each Other Is Enough

  1. Excellent! Thanks for sharing the workbook. I just took a quick look and downloaded it. Looking forward to working my way through it. I’ll try to get to the TED Talk later today. Thanks, as always, Cathy, for being a wealth of inspiration.

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  2. Catherine: Nice summary of the feelings during the three Friday event. I was wondering how long into your experience with the Aspen Institute did you work with TRANSCEND approach prior to The First Session?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Karl! Thank you for reading and commenting,and nice to ‘meet’ you in the sessions! 😀 This seminar was my very first experience with the Aspen Institute! And I’m not sure what you mean by the ‘TRANSCEND approach’, is it a formal dialogue method? I can’t find it on Google… I have participated in myriad communication and leadership trainings, and been a moderator for Braver Angels workshops, which have a very similar mission to this seminar and the Better Arguments initiative, from what I can tell. And I’m signed up to do a Better Arguments training soon! Peace!

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      • Catherine: When I found your blog I was in the process of reviewing all the materials emailed to me related to The First Step Seminar: Transcendent Dialogue in a Polarized World…and that meant a second look at “transcendent” (which keeps coming up as metaphysical, otherworldly, or paranormal, among many, many other ethereal meanings). I still thought I was missing something when my second search brought up TRANDSCEND approach or method (https://www.transcend.org/). That led me to think this was the foundation for the seminar rather than celestial, supersensory, or divine. All of that must have been generated during the last hour of the final session. By the way, the “reveal” party made us anticipatory great grandparents of a girl.
        What happened during the last hour that I missed that will enhance my overall experience?

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