There's a fairly common workshop exercise designed to shine light on the idea that we do not travel this life path alone.
I've always referred to it as an affiliation circle.
After discerning the exercise's appropriateness, given the dynamics of the group, I have them stand in one large circle.
Starting off jovial and light, I'll ask, "How many have had coffee this morning?" Those who have are asked to step into the center of the circle, acknowledge their counterparts through eye contact then step back into the circumference of the original circle.
Next, it might be a question like, "How many have traveled more than 100 miles to be here?" Again, those who have, step into the middle of the larger circle, acknowledge with eye contact the others who have also stepped in, then they move back into the original circle.
I'll begin exploring deeper, more personal and emotional terrain.
How many of you are working more than one job to make ends meet?
How many of you are experiencing a foreclosure, the dissolution of a marriage or significant relationship?
How many of you have family members who are battling some form of addiction? How many of you are currently involved in a recovery program?
We explore even deeper.
How many of you were raised in a hostile environment - suffered sexual abuse, incest, rape?
Each time, willing participants who have or are experiencing these things, step into the circle, acknowledge the others who have bravely entered with them and then step back into the original circle.
Inevitably someone will ask, "What's the point? Why bring all of this up?"
As I mentioned in the beginning, the point is to bust the myth that we are alone in our circumstances, alone in our sorrows, and alone in our personal shame. We all travel this life path together and there are many who share our story.
Yet, I feel there's an even greater, deeper reasoning behind the exercise and that is to understand that our personal pain....
When we subscribe to the belief that the story of our pain is somehow "special" - somehow so far removed from anyone else's experience, so beyond anyone else's ability to understand, then we completely cut ourselves off from experiencing the freedom from that pain - freedom we say we want, freedom that many pay good money to therapist, psychiatrist and counselors to learn how to achieve.
Making our pain special is much like living our life in waist deep quicksand - never fully sinking yet never fully moving.
My own background began in poverty. My father died when I was seven and I was beaten, screamed at and manipulated by a rage-aholic mother. I was barely average in the world of academia and failed miserably in my early attempts to find my place in the world. My discoveries and desire for love and intimacy were first fueled with shame for being a homosexual, followed by relationship after relationship where I was going to "help" my partner discover how great life could be - really nothing more than ego at play so I could avoid reconciling my own shit. Nearly all ended badly and my physical and emotional heart could well be described as a broken mosaic of shimmering mistakes.
And here's what I have learned regarding all of that - GET IN LINE. Get in line. There is nothing about my story that makes it special - absolutely nothing.
Thankfully, I never stopped my own personal search for a deeper understanding for why I am here and what it is I am to do. I'm grateful and humbled that over time, I woke up to the simple awareness that by holding on to the "specialness" of my pain - my story, that nothing would ever change.
By creating our own brand of specialness around the tragic divorce, the betrayal and abandonment, the demonizing of another person or institution, the loss of whomever, the lay-off, the failed business, the dysfunctional parent, the burned down house, the disease - then specialness becomes the ring master with the bull whip and we are nothing more than the controlled animal inside the ring.
We become more invested in honoring our labels of tragedy than we do in moving forward and getting on with the business of living.
None of this is about discrediting our journey and what we have gone through to get where we are today. But our current lives are served by either looking ahead and using the collective wisdom from our journey to make wiser decisions or either looking back and continually beating the dead horse of our past.
Just today I read a post by someone who ranted at the President for visiting New Orleans on the anniversary of Katrina. Their complaint was that the area of Mississippi where they had lived and lost everything was not given the attention that New Orleans was given. They wanted him to "get in his fancy helicopter and come talk to those along the Coast who lost everything but their lives." Somewhere in there were the words "screw New Orleans..."
Apparently, their loss is somehow more special than the countless lives that actually did die, the thousands of displaced people in the Superdome and the stories from women who endured being raped while there and not having any where else to go.
What I found even sadder than the original post were those who responded in agreement.
Keeping our pain engulfed in the energy of special seems to also carry the potent, toxic ability to erase all sense of oneness.
Believe me, I know it isn't easy. Making our past pain special is seductive. We can argue that most everyone we know does it. And it takes hardly any effort to recruit others to support us in keeping the aura of special polished and shiny.
For me, releasing my pain from the label of special, became the symbolic release of my bloody-knuckled grip on the fence of familiarity. It doesn't mean I don't run back to that fence from time to time but I'm now more aware than ever of the verdant field of freedom that awaits me when I do display the courage to let it go.