Nov 16, 2017
There’s a quote I keep in my office from Douglas Steere, the Quaker, and I read it before every meeting I have, especially with directees. He writes, “To ‘listen’ another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another” (On Listening to One Another). The first time I ever read this line in school for spiritual direction, I copied it by hand and sent it to my best friend with a note that said, “This is what you do for me; you listen me.”
I hope you all have friends like that, someone who listens you.
When I was living in Alaska, I worked for a think tank called Commonwealth North. (In case you’re wondering, I was a note-taker, not a thinker.) The year I worked with them, they were meeting to discuss the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. A series of experts in anthropology, sociology, economics, public policy, wildlife preservation, and the like met with the group each week to discuss the impact of this legislation, which in part, meant that Alaska would never have reservations like the rest of the lower 48. It’s an interesting system and not without its own serious problems. But I’ll never forget one sociologist who visited our group to speak about some of the common practices of the various Native American cultures in Alaska.
He told us that in some indigenous populations, when one of the tribe suffered a particular trauma, the whole tribe would be gathered together in a circle, and the person who had suffered the trauma was invited to share his or her experience with the first person in the circle. When they were finished, they moved on to the next, and then the next, and the next, just as long as it took. They went around the circle telling their story—until they were finished, until they were listened through the trauma.
In my mind’s eye I pictured each one in the circle being given a tiny share of the trauma-teller’s suffering, no more burdensome than a rose petal. And by spreading it out, carrying it together as a tribal community, it eventually dissipated altogether.