“Watch the thought and its way with care, and let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings.” – Buddha
Hello, SOTGC community,
I recently wrote about conscious communication and active listening [LINK]. In this piece, I explore the possibilities that we all possess for connection, meaning, and revelation is we share our life stories with complete strangers.
What Is Active Listening?
First, a refresher on how to listen actively:
1. Listen without interrupting, anticipating your turn to speak, or projecting your expectations and preconceived ideas.
2. Allowing the speaker to simply speak, without the movie version of what he or she says playing in your head, with all of its embellishments and judgments.
3. Welcome and support the speaker’s vulnerability; by just listening, you surrender your own and connect.
The 3-Minute Life Story Game
Engage a friend, family member, or perfect stranger in this simple exercise. Ask him or her to tell you their life story in three minutes or less, total stream of consciousness. Actively listen to their response; resist the urge to comment, question, judge, or otherwise interact (nod, murmur, etc.). Try not to look the person in the eye – just listen. You will be amazed at what happens!
Participating in the Game
I first participated in this exercise in July 2014 while at a day-long yoga immersion training in Chicago. Randomly paired with a slight, smiling woman that I did not know, we settled onto the floor, sitting side by side but facing away from each other. Monica sat so close to me that her knee and thigh connected with mine. I instinctively shifted away, and she pressed right back into me.
Staring at the wall in front of me, I took a deep, ragged breath and began my three-minute life story. Her leg felt warm and comforting. I relaxed as I began to prattle. Alabama, Girl Scouts, marriage, Illinois, law school, divorce, remarriage. Gripping stuff. Monica nodded occasionally and started moving her hands up and down – I realized that she was wiping her eyes, that she was silently crying.
Why? Was Monica upset about something? Was she ill? My three minutes concluded and I immediately turned to look at her face. Monica smiled, wiped away another tear, and wrapped her arms around me. “Thank you. Thank you for sharing.” I was surprised when tears sprang to my own eyes and I returned her hug. I consider myself outgoing and open, but this level of instant intimacy and familiarity was a revelation for me.
We had no time to discuss – it was Monica’s turn to tell me her three-minute life story. Once again we faced away from each other, reconnected knee to hip, and she began.
The Opportunity for Revelation
Monica was born on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Her mother, a young island native, gave her up for adoption. Monica’s father was a white European of unknown name or exact origin. When Monica was two years old, a lady from Philadelphia came to visit her, and this lady eventually adopted her.
Monica’s adoptive mother raised her and an adopted brother on her own. She told Monica that she was adopted around age ten and repeatedly encouraged Monica to find her birth mother. Monica did not pursue the search because she did not want to address and accept the pain of rejection. Years later, after Monica started her own family, doctors inquired about family health history. Monica managed to locate her birth mother, but was unable to speak to or meet her; she died in the spring of 2014. Monica now struggles with the mixed feelings of guilt, shame, remorse, and relief.
As Monica spoke, I pictured her life story so sharply in my mind’s eye, following her from St. Thomas to Philadelphia to Chicago. Now I was wiping my eyes, silently weeping. Our arms wrapped around each other again: Monica’s teardrops on my bare shoulder; our united leg trembling; two women who had never before met, would probably never meet again, but inexorably bound by sharing, by listening, by our three minutes.
Have you ever shared your life story with a complete stranger? What did you learn about yourself? Share your thoughts and comments in the section below.