Turning Strangers Into Friends

picture by Dan Luke

picture by Dan Luke

Pam Luke presented this testimonial as part of the August 4th 2013 “How to Listen” service at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula.

As an introvert, an INTJ in the Myers-Briggs typology, talking about my feelings has never been an easy thing to do.  Discussions about issues are a lot of fun; revealing part of yourself to someone who starts out as a stranger, not so much.

You’ve heard the story about the Unitarian Universalist who dies and finds herself standing on a cloud between two signs.  One sign reads “This way to Heaven.”  The other says, “This way to a discussion about Heaven.”  We all know which way she goes.  The INTJ version of this story is about the UU who dies and finds herself on a steep, stony path that leads into a dark fiery pit.  There are two signs: one reads, “This way to Hell,” the other, “This way to a discussion of your feelings about going to Hell.”  My introverted, INTJ self would have to think about it.

Nevertheless, for the past few years, I have been voluntarily showing up every other week to spend an hour and a half talking about my feelings.  I learned a lot about the other people in my Fellowship Circles.  (I’ve been in two, one led by Jim and the other facilitated by Jeannine — thank you, Jim and Jeannine!)  The deep listening we practice — no interruptions, no thinking about what you are going to say when it’s your turn, total focus on the human being next to or across the circle from you, on what she or he is saying, this moment — this kind of listening turns strangers into friends.

It’s the kind of listening that happens between people who know each other well and care about each other.  We all know it doesn’t happen enough in real life.  This kind of listening also teaches you about yourself — you realize just how judgmental you actually are.  You learn that your initial reaction to any statement is just that, a reaction, and you try to let go of it.  This is as close as I’ve ever come to meditation, which I am not good at.  It’s also amazing to hear what comes out of your own mouth when it is your turn to speak.  The process of deep listening somehow short-circuits the hot-wired connection between your critical mind and your tongue.  You express emotions, tell stories that only your family has heard, cry some, laugh a lot.

I am grateful to the women and men who have participated in Fellowship Circles with me for teaching me things I didn’t know about myself.  Of course, learning about myself is not always an experience I look forward to.  Showing up at Fellowship Circle every other week can be a struggle.  You’re short on time, you don’t feel like talking to anybody — why are you doing this?  By the time Fellowship Circle is over you remember: you want to see your friends.

New Fellowship Circles are starting soon — you can find out more and sign up now!

About acmillard

Andrew serves as minister to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula in Newport News, Virginia.
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