Recently I was thinking about a discussion that took place a couple of weeks ago at a gathering for a group of women I’m part of. This group began as an empty nest group, right around the time I was returning to my job after the leave of absence I took to go to France. My mom had died while we were away, and I couldn’t really bring myself to be with a group right then. I thought I wanted to be alone, so my friends left me alone… only I didn’t really want to be alone, only I didn’t know that yet. I didn’t know what I wanted. So I went to one of the group gatherings in October around the 6 month anniversary of my mom’s death, and between that and sharing my story with a grief counselor (who knew nothing of it), and sharing with the group these deep dark feelings I had been having of being overcome with grief and being away and feeling forgotten… and being held in the sacred space by them… it was not only cathartic for me, but I realized it allowed others to open up with their deep dark feelings that they had been too afraid to share with others in the group… they asked to have a second turn and shared what they hadn’t the first time around and reveled in the held space that a safe group offers…
So the group, while it began as an empty nest support group, morphed into a parental loss support group, a caring for aging parents support group, a menopausal support group, a nearing retirement/recently retired support group…. a women’s support group. And some of these women I’ve known for years outside of this group and they are in my circle of friends; some might run with me, some might walk with me, some I’ve known since my daycare days 20 years ago… other women I knew peripherally, while still others I had never met before this group. And we’ve continued to meet once every two months (it started out as once a month), and we all do what we can to gather together and share this sacred space…
What do I mean by this sacred space? In this group, when someone is holding the smooth stone we pass around at every gathering, it is their turn to speak. No one else is allowed to say anything; no comments, no advice, no commentary, no jokes… all the rest of us are allowed to do is actively listen and hold this space for them. We can smile, nod, laugh, or cry – all non-verbals – and we cannot say anything until it’s our turn. In our society today, there is so little time when this actually occurs any more. In this group – perhaps in other groups as well, I don’t know – this is the sacred space I’m referring to. It allows people to share in a safe space with no judgment – or commentary – from others.
So the last time we met we did an art project with the prompt of comparing our lives to a compost bucket. All the things we put into it and all the things we get out of it in return, in a different shape of what we put in. And one woman shared what a literal person she is; another one shared what a logical person she is and how good it felt for her to allow herself to draw and create; to use her right brain instead of her left. The creative space allowed her to think about a lecture she was preparing and how she wanted to pare it down from what she originally had; the group space helped her to see that more space in her lecture is needed; that it doesn’t need to be crammed full of info. Others shared very abstract drawings that were all beautiful and all so different and unique. One woman shared a sketch of seeds that represented her children (sorry, kids! I didn’t even think of you when I was drawing my picture); another’s art represented her mother and herself; still another had a map of the world with roots in every contintent. And when it was my turn, I shared about being logical AND literal… and how if I’d known that we were going to be creating (visual) art I may not have shown up! I came for the easel and sharing of WORDS; not big pieces of paper we had to DRAW on!! Music I can do (and feel mostly good about); art, not so much.
I shared with them Brené Brown’s finding on whole-hearted people, about the importance of play, and how it was so unfamiliar to her that she didn’t even know what to call it! (she referred to it as “messing around”) That our society puts so much emphasis on being productive all the time that play gets us out of our comfort zone, which is really a good thing, in spite of the fact that it scares so many of us. It opens the space for creativity and wonder. We don’t have to be artists to be creative.
I shared the magic of our compost container, the ones we have outside to dump the contents of the compost bucket into, that no matter how much we add to them (there are two), they still only remain half-full. And they’ve been like that for years! Mark has probably emptied them once or twice, and they have this beautiful rich soil in them, but for the most part, we just keep adding to them. And they never fill up. And this is amazing to me! So my drawing was a series of lines of different colors, representing the different layers of all that I’ve put into the magic compost pile over the years. Some have blended together, yet it’s still only about half full. And then in the space toward the top I drew a heart with many layers of colors in it, signifying all of the layers in the compost pile over the years coming together… honestly, the reason I drew a heart is because it’s one thing I CAN draw! We put in all these layers of food items and out of that comes this rich soil (when anything comes out of it at all, that is), full of heart. I so envy those who can draw! Yet while I don’t think of myself as a visually creative person, I loved the exercise. It made me, and I think others, want to draw more.
The logical person said that the only thing that’s constant is change, and I responded to her that it reminded me of when we had our first child, I called it “redefining normal,” because our normal prior to that was life without kids; from that day forward it was life with kids, with the biggest change (in my opinion) from zero to one. And then we started to talk about how life is really just a series of transitions… what IS normal, then? We redefined normal when our first child was born… then we redefined normal when our second was born… and when our third was born and I graduated from college… and then when Mark’s dad died… and then a year later when my dad died… and then Mark defended his thesis… and then when we packed up the truck and moved halfway across the country… and then when we were living without family nearby… and then when our fourth child was born (I didn’t want her to feel left out)… and then and then and on and on and on. What, of each of those, was normal? We are constantly redefining normal. And isn’t it interesting that we talk about transitions as the place in between, when really, that is the constant that is happening all the time. Is there, then, really transitions?
Or is it simply a series of redefining normal?