Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The Group of 9
Covenant Group meets twice a month; 9 of us spend two hours together discussing a topic of interest. Tonight was the final meeting for this calendar year and we celebrated the season with sparkling wine, cheeses, crackers, and chocolate treats in addition to the traditional lighting of the chalice, "checking in", discussing the topic of "Enlightenment", and then briefly "checking out". The flow of these evenings follows a specific format, an agenda perhaps. "Checking in" is the opportunity to share before the meeting anything that is going on in our lives that we we care to offer to the group. The individual sharing might take less than a minute or might go on for several. Here is where I begin to freeze up; having so many potential things to say that by the time it is my turn I am overwhelmed with a combination of self-doubt, shyness, anxiety, and a healthy dose of "who would ever care anyway?". I realize that this is my perception in the moment and bears no relation to reality but nonetheless I feel powerless to resist the urge to clam up and say little to nothing. And then, that state of mind carries over into the topic for the evening as I listen intently to what others are saying, nodding my head, adding a yes/no in affirmation to someone's truth but rarely offering any of my own thoughts. As for "check out", I still come up short and the last two meetings have offered single words or phrases like "namaste" and "success is the quality of the journey". Sounds like b.s. to me as I write this.
Where am I going with this?
I have always been the shy, reserved one....way back to the beginning of time whenever I'm in a group setting. I remember seeing a photograph of myself at age 4 or 5 at a birthday party in Aruba, standing by the side of the garage holding a stuffed animal. I assume (and perhaps remember) that everyone else was running about, playing games and interacting. What in the world was I thinking about as I stood there watching? In high school I was told that my lack of verbal participation in groups made others think I was judging them and made them feel uncomfortable around me. I've always been quiet in class; at St. Stephen's my Spanish teacher did all he could to get me to converse but to no avail; talking in English was hard enough. To this day, I read and understand Spanish fairly well but am mute when it comes to speaking.
How does a person like this go into a field where verbal communication is a fundamental prerequisite for success? Easy. Communication is almost always one-on-on in medicine; occasionally not but almost always. I feel quite confidant, comfortable, and function at a very high level in these settings. But, get me in a group larger than about 5 and I'm going to freeze unless I'm in charge. I'll rise to the occasion in that case and for a brief time become someone else, play-act, and put on a show. That's what happens when I have to give a presentation, a lecture or the like. I've overcome the fear of public speaking but will do almost anything these days to get out of it because I've done it enough already and have put in my time. Forever, I hope.
Old habits die hard and I'm not even sure I want this old way of being to change much. This trait is so embedded in the person that I am that I must ask if struggling to be any other way is worth it. I think not. Which brings me back to Covenant Group....how long can I continue to participate and remain so quiet? It certainly doesn't seem fair to the group and continues to stir up anxieties in me. Yet, I feel invested in continuing; something draws me like a moth to a flame to these wonderful, genuine and nurturing people. Out of their mouths comes poetry. I wish I could speak my poetry but perhaps mine comes out on the page.