I have had the occasion this past year to be in conversation with some younger (than I) adults, and it’s only dawning on me now that there is a pattern in those conversations. Sometimes, they are about teaching and working with students. Sometimes they are about parenting. Sometimes they are about the struggles of the spiritual path as we live and navigate in the world as it is right now.
The pattern that I notice is that if I’m paying attention (important condition!) I have the wonderful opportunity to listen to the concerns, the worries, the fears, the frustrations of the other, and then reflect with them about those kinds of experiences. My stories. Their stories. Our stories.
The pattern includes a really powerful thing. Simultaneously, these sharings allow me the huge benefit of reflecting back on experiences that perhaps I have not visited in a long time (frequently, I am the older one!) and discover that I see them with new eyes now–AND, these sharings allow the other person to say out loud what they have silently been carrying around as a burden. That burden has a pattern, too. The burden is something like: am I okay? Is there something wrong with me? Is this the way it’s supposed to go?
Very often these kinds of conversations end with: “thank you for letting me tell you my story. I feel like I might be okay now.” And then, from me: “thank you for letting me listen to your story and tell you mine. This just confirms for me that–yes, we are okay. We have been through some similar and some different things. We lived! We are okay. These kinds of human sharing are what I point to now in life and say–look at that. That is what grace is. This is shear, marvelous, tender gift. Gratitude can be the only response.
I’ve long noticed in myself the deep need to know that I am okay. I’m pretty sure that this is some sort of deep human need. Depending on when we grew up, how we were raised and all of the various influences on us, we had some support for affirming that we were okay, but most likely not nearly enough. Parents can only take their children so far in the “look, this is how you do this thing” part of living. As adults, we continue to need to know how to navigate new experiences. We still need to know that as we do so, we are okay. That’s been true for me. That’s been true for the people whose stories I am privileged to witness.
The sharing of stories and sincere listening is one powerful act of affirming that all is welcome here. When someone listens to my story and affirms that it is real–I feel my soul relax. I begin to think that I’m going to be okay. All is welcome here.