Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Letting Go of Tuesday

Morning, everybody.

I have a feeling we have a fair number of people here who work at home, which means we long ago let go of Tuesday, and Wednesday, and all the other days. And holidays. And weekends. It's why (I tell myself) I never know the date or day. It's why Memorial Day and Labor Day sneak up on me, and I'm always surprised when the restaurants are closed. Of course, it also means we let go of health insurance, pensions, and paid vacations, but hey, we trust the universe to provide, right?

Letting go is exhilerating and terrifying sometimes. Or, always.

Years ago, I read about a technique for letting go that is similar, but not identical to one I've seen therapists use. I wish I could remember where I saw it so that I could credit it to somebody, because it's a miracle-working wonder, in my opinion. It's intended for use in difficult relationships, or difficult moments in good relationships, but I think today I'll experiment with applying it to my writing.

Here's how it works:

Let's say you're faced with a person who's upset about something. Doesn't matter what, just something or somebody. The ordinary response might be to tense up a bit. Start worrying about how to react, or to help. Maybe get defensive. Maybe judge the person for being in that fix, or state of mind. Maybe leap in to give advice. Whatever.

The technique says, do this:

Faced with this person, breathe.

Then, silently, and ONLY for you to know, draw a circle around the two of you, a circle where you declare silently to this person that he/she is safe with you. Safe to be who they are. Safe to say whatever they need to say. Safe to feel what they feel. And within this circle, for this finite period of time, you will make it safe for them by doing several quiet things: shutting up, listening without interruption, suspending all judgment, letting them talk. And talk. And talk, if they need to. Imagine how wonderful that must feel, to get to be with a person who makes you feel absolutely safe for a few minutes. Not many people ever get to experience that with anybody, because people can be so quick to judge, criticize, condemn, adviseand correct, defend and attack. But to feel yourself unwinding, unspooling, uncoiling, relaxing in the presence of somebody who just looks at you with acceptance and doesn't try to make you think what you don't think, or say something else than what you really want to say, or do something else, or be something else, and who doesn't even try to get the last word when it's over. . .

Well, whew!

That's it. That's the whole technique. The difference between it and some similar techniques is, I think, the idea of drawing the circle--which is helpful because it "contains" the interaction and makes you feel safe, too--and the overt, silently stated idea of wanting to make another person feel "safe." I've seen it work amazing wonders. Like the time a child came to me in tears--I can't even remember why--and I sat down right then and there on the steps with him and drew my invisible, quiet circle and listened with love. At first, he was just distraught. Gradually, as the minutes passed, his upset changed to something calmer, and then finally to laughter. It was the most amazing, wonderful thing I'd ever seen, watching this child repair himself within this circle of safety.

I passed the technique onto a friend of mine some time later, because she was facing a lunch with a woman who had a remarkable talent for making other people feel defensive the moment she opened her mouth. My friend was dreading it, and trying to figure out a way to get out of it. I saw her the afternoon after that lunch, and when she walked in, she was goggle-eyed with wonder. She said they sat down at their table in the cafe, she drew her invisible circle, made her silent promise to this annoying woman that she was safe there, and then shut up. She breathed, she relaxed, she listened with patience and compassion, she didn't judge, and if she felt impulses to get defensive, she breathed through them and remembered that her only job was to make sure the woman was safe with her. Long before the end of their lunch, my friend was enjoying the woman's company!

I'm telling you, it works miracles.

So I think I'll experiment with doing that with my writing today. I mean, why not? Why not draw an invisible circle around ourselves and our work and tell it we won't judge it, or get mad at it, or denigrate it. It will be safe with us, for a little while. And then I'll see what happens, see if my work responds to kindness, as people do.

The creek's gone down, everything's wet and green, there's more coffee upstairs, and I can't wait to get to work on my novel.

Thanks for being here. See you in the comments. :)


Family Man said...

Good morning Nancy.

Not knowing it, I've probably used that technique before. I've always thought it was from being a very easy going person.

This did bring to mind of when I was a kid. I would spend time at my Grandparents and after dinner we would all go on the front porch to the rockers and porch swing. We might talk for awhile, but I do remember those times when nothing was said for long periods. It felt good knowing nothing was expected of you, even conservation, and safe being in that circle on the porch.

Hope you have a good letting go day today.

Nancy P said...

Oh, family man, that's a lovely memory, and I think I've been there, too-- when the adults were still for a little while, and the porch swing creaked, and the lightning bugs flickered, and the child who was me felt such a deep place of safety and peace.

"It felt good knowing nothing was expected of you. . ."

That's another key element, isn't it? A hard gift to give, it seems.

Happy day to you, too, fm.

FARfetched said...

"Why not draw an invisible circle around ourselves and our work and tell it we won't judge it, or get mad at it, or denigrate it. It will be safe with us, for a little while."

Sounds a little easier on the ol' bod than booze or other forms of self-medication, anyway!

FM's anecdote reminds me of some of the times I've been up at Dad's place (going to be there all next week). We'll sit on the deck, watching the sun go down over the lake, not saying much of anything — but every once in a while, we'll look at each other, grin, and clink our beer bottles. Sometimes, words are overkill.

After noting last night that my creativity has been on the fritz this week, I seem to have found my way back into the near future overnight: I woke up knowing how to proceed. Perhaps identifying the source — the changes wrought by The Boy not being around — was enough to kick the chocks out from under the wheels. Now to see if I can get the WORK work done today...

BTW, I work at home at least one day a week, two if I can swing it.

Nancy P said...

"I woke up knowing how to proceed."

Seven of my favorite words in the whole world. :)

Go, far. (tee hee)

olivia said...

Morning kansas, FM and FAR ... we keep running into each other ... ;~)

I wish I worked at home ...

Thanks for sharing this kansas ... I've never heard of the drawing a circle either, but know that really listening is hard to do sometimes especially when one feels they have to defend themselves. Very thought provoking blog you've started ... providing us w/ all sorts of interesting goodies for mental stimuation ... :)

PS ... FAR, I'd love to see photos of the lake!

Catharine said...

Wow. I need to learn this circle technique. Really bad.

Thanks for sharing it!

(back to lurking)

Man Eegee said...

I'm loving this - each day is a new surprise. It's....it's....Christmas in July! ;)

I have a scribbled out journal entry outlining my encounter with a ghost at a grocery store one day. She wasn't floating or iridescent, but rather a shell of a human being who was living life in auto-pilot.

My intuitive side picked up on it, so I struck up a conversation with her while waiting in line. Afterwards, she thanked me because it was the first time anyone had reached out to her in a long time. She was a recent transplant to the area and was without anyone to offer a circle. I know I sometimes feel that way, so try to make each conversation, fleeting encounter at the store or even old friendships threads of moments full of the Real™. It makes the journey more exciting :)

Kelly McCullough said...

Funnily enough I had an experience very like this yesterday. Dr.Mc's mother is visiting so we've been going to the old family haunts and touchstones. Yesterday was the graveyard where Dr.Mc's grandparents, aunt, and brother are buried. There we bumped into a man neither Dr.Mc or mom had seen in years. He was grieving for his recently deceased wife and just needed to talk, stream of consciousness stuff that we just stood and listened to for quite a while. I think we helped, though how much is something only he can say.

On another note entirely I'm trying to do some serious letting go this weekend. The draft of the most recent book is off with first readers and I'm trying neither to think about it nor start the next book at least for a week or so. It's harder than it should be.

Nancy P said...

The comments are so wonderful today. Man E, your "ghost" story sounds like the start of a short story, and you told it so evocatively.

Kelly, funny thing, that you'd just have had such an experience. And, oh, do I sympathize with you on your wait to hear from your first readers. Naturally, you hope they love it just as it is and have nothing to suggest. :)

I was amazed how long it took me to remember to use the technique in my writing today. I kept working, stopping, realizing I hadn't done it, going back, forgetting again. . .

Until finally I wrote "Circle, circle, circle!" at the top of a page, and that did it. And whoa! Did one character ever take off--her clothes! lol. It's just right, though. She knew what she was doing. God, she must have been so frustrated with me, keeping her all buttoned up like that. :)

Nancy P said...

Hey, I got to use my Distance Between Cities link! I'm doing a library gig in Louisburg, Ks. tonight.

It's 31 miles. :)

Catharine said...

I used to work with a girl who'd raise her arms over her head and chant bubble, bubble. But I think she was keeping people OUT not keeping them SAFE.

I'm wondering if your circle/breathing technique would help me with mister's mother?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

I think this works in cyber space, too.

I'm working through a publishing hurdle..and as the discussion swirls around me, me with very little power...just reading about the technique made me feel as if I were in someone's circle and that this would all work out. Whoever thought of it----via Nancy? Thank you. Perfect timing.

So that means invisible circles transcend space and time. I guess that's no surprise.

Nanette said...

So true:

And within this circle, for this finite period of time, you will make it safe for them by doing several quiet things: shutting up, listening without interruption, suspending all judgment, letting them talk. And talk. And talk, if they need to. Imagine how wonderful that must feel, to get to be with a person who makes you feel absolutely safe for a few minutes. Not many people ever get to experience that with anybody

Actually, I love the whole post (and series) but it wouldn't do to quote it all because...well.. you've already said it :).

I'm a fairly good listener, being naturally quiet, but also having learned over the years that, quite often, people don't want you to fix things for them - which was a difficult lesson for me, because I am a fixer - they just want someone to listen to them.

I love the idea of putting the circle around your work and writing. I'll definitely need to try that, it sounds like it, done right, could lead to many new and imaginative things.

Nancy P said...

Back from my gig. Lovely people, good turnout, sold books, life is good tonight.

Katiebird. . .you may want to start with an easier case than Mister's Mother. :) But really, no kidding. That would be like taking your first riding lesson on a wild horse.

Try somebody easier like, I don't know, Donald Rumsfeld.

Nancy P said...

Oh, Hank,I love that story, and yeah, I think it travels, but I'm not sure I knew that until you told us this. So thanks.

Btw, would you say hi to Hallie for me? And the next time you see Kate Mattes, tell her an old friend says howdy. Funny that I'd see a photo of her on your blog, because I tried to e her last week--just to say hi after YEARS--and it bounced.

Nancy P said...

Nanette, if I ever have anything to say, I hope you're listening, cause I suspect you're a champ at that.

About the circle around work? It sure worked amusingly well for me today. If I can effing remember to do it, I'll be able to report back all week.

I'm so happy you like this series. Thanks, kiddo.

Richard said...

Way back when I was a police instructor, my lesson on crisis intervention directed the officer to say 3 things:
Your safe now.
You did nothing wrong.
I'm here to help you.
Done in any order, they so the same thing that you descibe. To my amazement, the police chief got a letter from a victim of attempted rape who cited these things said to her as so wonderfully effective in helping her.
Good lesson.
Mary Alice at Mystery Lovers

Nancy P said...

Wow, Mary Alice, that's amazing and affirming. I'm going to write those three things down somewhere so I can use them as need be.

I hope you saw my exclamation pointed delight at seeing you show up in an earlier post.

For everybody else's info, Mary Alice is the proprietor, with her dear husband Richard, of the wonderful Mystery Lover's Bookshop in Oakmont, PA. They do mail order, too. :)

GreenMinute said...

You're safe now.
You did nothing wrong.
I'm here to help you.

This is inspiringly effective. But, curses, just as effective in opposition: You are not safe; you did something wrong; there is no one here to help you.

I wonder if I can start a character under these circusmtances and keep her there for a few hundred pages....

I also wonder, pervesely, whether Nancy's circle of comfort and trust can be applied by someone evil, under the same cicumstances. The circle is a rope, slowing drawn into a noose. Isn't this the way it worked in that movie Notes on a Scandal?

I don't know what's worng with me today, perverting all these comfort strategies. Must be Wednesday or something. It just seems fantastically effective, ficton wise, to have an evil person using needed comfort to kill. Keyword: needed.

Wouldn't a desperate need for comfort be at least as effective as the same character being attacked in the shower?