Gathering

We are called to be strong companions and clear mirrors to one another, to seek those who reflect with compassion and a keen eye how we are doing, whether we seem centered or off course … we need the nourishing company of others to create the circle needed for growth, freedom and healing.

Wayne Muller

SAM_0068

I have been reflecting lately on community. Over the years I have found myself struggling with the complexity of relational circles. I am not naturally gregarious, and my profound introversion (combined with a high sensitivity to sensory input) often made social gatherings and interactions challenging. It was sometimes like walking into a room full of people who were all playing a game, and who invited me to join in. Only I didn’t know the rules, or how the game worked, or even sometimes what the point was. I spent most of the time trying to figure out what to say and how to say it right, all the while hoping that no-one could see how scared I was. As much as I valued people and cherished family and friends, I was frequently anxious and fearful both around those I knew and those I was meeting for the first time. Solitude has always come naturally to me. It is like surfacing and taking a breath after being underwater for a long time. I love being alone; in truth it is the only time I feel completely relaxed and at home in the world.

Much of my adult life has involved trying to understand why relationship and community has been so difficult for me. Years of reading, praying, thinking and digging beneath the surface of my thoughts and emotions have yielded some interesting answers. All of this work has been of immense value in moving me towards an enjoyment of people that I couldn’t have imagined not so long ago. I’m glad I persevered. Looking back I see that I had to keep going, moving into community and relationship even when I didn’t feel like it, pushing myself through the boundaries of my fear and confusion. I still have difficult days, when being social feels heavy and anxiety takes hold. And I am learning too that it’s alright to move away sometimes, to create the space I need to rest. Without this I reach a point of inner exhaustion that usually results in a kind of mental and emotional shutdown. That’s when I know I’ve overdone it, and failed to set the necessary boundaries.

Just a word to all the extroverts out there. Please don’t make assumptions about us more introverted types. We love people; we value deeply our relationships and friendship circles. We are no less committed to the communities of which we’re a part. Allow us the time and space to connect in ways that have integrity for us. We have gifts to bring and perspectives to share. And just because we’re sometimes less outwardly expressive of our emotions, does not mean that we feel things any less powerfully.

We clasp the hands of those that go before us,

And the hands of those who come after us.

We enter the little circle of each other’s arms

And the larger circle of lovers,

Whose hands are joined in a dance,

And the larger circle of all creatures,

Passing in and out of life,

Who move also in a dance,

To a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it

Except in fragments

Wendell berry

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4 thoughts on “Gathering

  1. I think I am one of those rare paradoxes: an exhibitionistic introvert. My loud and expressive manner contrasts with the self who prefers solitude. On the occasion when I am silent in company, people are sure to ask me what’s wrong. Actually, those are the moments when I am content to just be. I can 100% relate to the anxiety felt in bigger groups, as well as the sensory overload experience. I will typically have a headache after a visit with anyone, even when I’ve had tons of fun with people I love profoundly. Anyone else have similar experiences?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I often have headaches after social events, and sometimes stomach cramps too, and as you say, that can happen even when I’ve enjoyed the interaction. I guess for me there’s always a level of tension and it shows up in my body afterwards.

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  2. A poignantly personal piece. and I have always loved this Wendell Berry poem. my partner an introvert describes me as a well socialised extrovert! i think that comes from being a shy extrovert – yes that is possible- and so my shyness acts as a countervailing force for my extroversion. i think there are many conversations that need to be had about all the textures of introversion and extroversion for instance where does confidence and self esteem, experience, skills, personal purpose and meaning intersect with our intro or extroversion.
    and how do we learn to dance into and with our bodies moment by moment so that they stay open and fluid to the messages from our world – that is part of my longing.

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