It may seem that I have gone quiet, and perhaps that is appropriate because I have, in many ways, done just that. For the most part, nobody has noticed. Most people seem to be happy to talk about themselves. Be a good listener, and they will rarely notice that the flip side of this is reticence.
But reticence comes at all volumes. It was when I became aware of my simultaneous ability to be both gregarious and private that I realised I was an introvert. The two are not incompatible and one should not be fooled into thinking that just because a person is able to talk and joke and carry on a conversation, that one will ever get to know the person unless one actually asks them about themselves in a way that opens up a non judgemental and safe space for revelation and doesn’t just address curiosity. It may seem counterintuitive, but one can go for years in a friendship and assume one knows a person. What one doesn’t know is what is not being said.
Whenever I get withdrawn even as I must go about life, I observe just how little time most people spend listening and taking an interest in the person in front of them. All it takes is a simple but odd question like: what was your favourite childhood toy or what kind of vegetables did you eat as a child? Suddenly the person might start sharing more stories of how they grew up and what they treasured or abhorred as a child.
I really don’t know if I am talking about the art of relationship or storytelling, but I guess that is because the two are intertwined, for me. We bond through our stories, we learn nuances and flavours of our loved ones by encouraging and listening to their tales. When they go silent, it may be that they are processing complex situations. But it may also simply be that they feel their stories are not valued and to tell them would be worse than pointless.
If one wants to know someone, one must engage with them, and love them. One fares better at this by creating space, not shortcuting the experience. One wouldn’t ask Shakespeare to cut to the chase and reveal that Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt and Mercutio die and that both the Capulets and Montagues end up cursed. What does that tell us of the journey? And oh, how much poetry and drama would we miss? Meaningful stories take time. And that is surely worth the patience.
Our culture, our lineage, our spiritual mythology is contained in and conveyed through stories. Why don’t we treat our conversations as sacred acts and make them safe spaces for community? I am working on it, and if it seems I am quiet, rest assured, a meaningful story is in development.
I am grateful that I had a few occasions to learn more about my Father and about his childhood when I visited him for Christmas. I sometimes forget that old people were once children and teenagers and young people. How they lived can teach us a lot about them and about ourselves. I am glad I got even just a small detail from his childhood.
I am grateful for all my years of study as an actor and as a writer of character. That skill allows me to withdraw from life whilst sitting in the middle of it and to really observe details. I think I had forgotten the art of this and am grateful that although I find withdrawal necessary right now, it is also able to teach me things about individuals and people, in general.
I am grateful for some great conversations I have had in my life with Pat O, TCBC, Plin, Addila, Keith Maillard, Harvey M, Sara G, my Mother and others. Those moments, however long they last, are transcendent and – at least for me – take me beyond communion with another and into a sense of Oneness, beyond time. Storytelling is a kind of magic and those transcendent moments release a little positive magic to light our lives.
I was listening to some inspiring stories in TED talks this week and wondering how one manages to become a TED speaker and a TED fellow. Within a few hours, I learned that an artist I admire, My Dog Sighs, has been asked to give a TED talk.
I was elated for him and I feel delighted that I can share in his experience. Through him, and the stories he will tell, we will all be offered a bit of his magic. It was a joy to hear of this honour conferred upon him!
I have had moments of Oneness with my Dad when he shared his stories, but my overwhelming sense of oneness comes from being withdrawn and observing both myself and others. I am at one with my thoughts and feelings right now.
My service has been in planning out a focus on service in 2016 here. Stay tuned. I hope we will share some wonderful stories together, this year.
For what are you grateful?