Wright, N. (2020), Coaching and Life, 18 November.
‘What are we not talking about?’ The question intrigued me. I was taking part in an 'Experiments in Gestalt' workshop when, at the start, the tutor invited us to sit directly opposite another participant. Nobody knew anyone else in the room so we quickly glanced around, tried to make eye contact with someone, felt a sense of relief when a person smiled back, then got into pairs. The tutor posed a question: "What was it about that person that made you choose them?" A fellow participant looked puzzled and responded, "It was random." The tutor looked thoughtful, then asked, "Are you sure?"
Next, the tutor gave us 10 minutes each to introduce ourselves to the person sitting opposite. At the end of the 20 minutes, we were asked to reflect back to the other person, "This is what I notice we are talking about…" And then, one stage further, "This is what I notice we are not talking about." The tutor then invited us to feed back into the group, the content of our conversations. It sounded quite curious, intriguing. So the tutor now invited us to take a risk…the greatest risk we could muster ourselves to take…and to convey back to the other person, "This is what I notice about you."
It was a breathtaking moment yet, after a slight-hesitant pause, people began to speak: e.g. "Your voice feels soothing." "Your values matter deeply to you." "You have the most amazing curves!" We were astonished at what we said to one-another, at what happened between us. It was as if we had found the courage to speak the felt-unspeakable, to acknowledge the unacknowledged, to reveal something real. As we then shared in the group what had just happened, I remember thinking I had rarely felt such intimacy and closeness in a group…and we had only been together for 2 hours.
I have often thought, since, about the power of personal and cultural filters; how we suppress, hide or silence those inner voices or feelings that somehow feel too inappropriate, risky or dangerous to express. As a consequence, we all too easily dance around relationships and issues, avoid genuine human contact, feel deep spiritual-existential alienation, collude with inauthenticity, lose out on radical breakthroughs; and chastise those who dare to cross the lines. How often do we step out of our safety zones, challenge conventional patterns and norms and engage in true transformation?