A friend was telling me about her book group and the deep level of sharing that happens among the participants. She established this group with the idea of getting people to reflect on their life experiences around contemporary issues, and she selects books that foster personal reflection.

As she spoke, I remembered a weekend retreat I attended years ago. The brochure promised an opportunity to reflect on contemplation and action. When I walked into the big, open room with fifty chairs hugging the walls, I was skeptical that anything of depth would happen in a circle that large.

After opening with prayer, the presenter asked us to think of a time when we felt most fully alive. He gave us a few minutes to reflect and then we were to share with this group of fifty. I scrolled through memories of happy moments, seeking something safe to disclose to these strangers.

Then the presenter began. He told us of his struggles with depression and how a hospitalization had helped him accept his mental health issues and then begin to heal. He talked about how destructive it had been for him to live in denial and how healing it had been to become more open and honest about his depression.

The bar for self-disclosure had been set. The man sitting to the left of the presenter went next. “I guess I can’t talk about how happy I am when I am fishing,” he joked. My sentiments exactly. I had been deciding whether to share how happy I am when I bake bread and it turns out beautifully or how alive I feel when walking alongside the river.

But the presenter had given me, had given all of us, permission to go deeper, to root around in the depths of our beings and shine a light on something buried there, something we rarely, if ever, talked about.

So, one after another, the people sitting in the chairs lining the walls of this large space began to pull memories from deep places. They told stories of childhood abuse and bad decisions as teens. They talked of being hurt and of hurting others. They spoke of how unburdened they had felt once they admitted their brokenness and accepted their vulnerability, how naming their shame had been healing.

The circle seemed to shrink as my compassion grew.

Then it was my turn. I don’t remember the exact words I spoke, but I do remember that I did not have to give much thought to what I would say. I knew my shame, the events of my young life that had wounded me and shaped me. And I knew the freedom that came from talking about them, of bringing that which was buried deep inside out into the light.

I was grateful for the opportunity to reflect and for permission to talk about things that don’t often come up in everyday conversation.


4 thoughts on “Permission

  1. annemarielom

    Thank you, again, Madeline, for sharing a significant experience. We are often able to share with strangers more easily than with family/friends. It so depends on those ready to listen and receive our stories.

  2. Madeline Bialecki Post author

    I agree, Anne Marie. I think my patterns in relationships can be a block to deeper sharing if those patterns were established at a surface level of sharing. I have consciously tried to reshape old patterns which can be both challenging and fun.

  3. JustinSchaefer6688

    Thanks for this great post Madeline. It is so true how when we are courageous to be vulnerable, we create a space for others to open up and share what is deep within themselves. A deacon friend of mine back home called it the “magic mirror” effect. Opposed to the old adage, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”, the magic mirror effect instead says, “I’ll show you mine first, so that you can show me yours”.

  4. Madeline Bialecki Post author

    Justin, thanks for the magic mirror; I love it. Sharing can be scary and many of us need the invitation–the other sharing first–to have the courage to respond. It took me a long time to be able to share what is deep within, even with many invitations and lots of permission. For me, one of the advantages of living a long life is that it has taken me a long time to understand and believe.


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