Thursday, April 19, 2007
Showing Up, Part 2
Notes on Action in the World
By Rabia Roberts
(click here for part 1)
And how do I show up? With my questions and commitment to listening. Each year I experience greater humility in the face of all I do not know. I do not try to "fix" those I encounter or persuade them to be different. I listen. Sometimes that is all I have to offer - simply a person willing to bear witness to someone else's reality. In the early years of my work with Elias in the tribal lands of northern Thailand and Burma we asked a village elder, "What can we do for you?" I was expecting a request for money or medical supplies. The village elder replied, "We want our story heard." Throughout our travels we have found that powerful healing is evoked in simply listening to a person's story. Without engaging them from a preconceived position something magical happens when people feel truly heard. A bridge is built and one is no longer a private person concerned only with taking care of me and mine, or maintaining a point of view.
It became clear to us that what we had to give that might be of benefit for these tribal peoples was the ability to bring others to listen to them. For nine years we led "Interfaith Solidarity Walks" into the region bringing westerners and Asians to listen and learn from the Pagayaw (Karen) people. Today these Solidarity Walks still go on, led by a coalition of tribal young people and urban Thai activists. From the hundreds of gatherings and conversations that have occurred because of the Walks, many beneficial projects have been initiated and the tribal people themselves have developed increasing capacity to consider issues together and articulate their deepest concerns.
We had no idea how our lives could serve this situation when we made our first encounter. It would have been easy to think we weren't prepared to respond to an unknown situation, especially since we hadn't created a plan ahead of time. This is what we are taught at school and at work - be prepared! Have a plan and know how you can execute it. What I am suggesting here flies in the face of that advice. It suggests that problems can be solved creatively when we show up to them in an alert state of "un-knowing". This approach requires faith, not only in ourselves but in the world as well.
Each situation has its own information embedded within the relationships that comprise it. If we are patient and curious the natural "intelligence" of the situation will reveal what is needed to heal those relationships. To be sensitive to this intelligence requires that we slow down and learn to hold the focus without needing to drive an agenda. We may need to wait for hours, weeks, or months for the moment when right action is clear. And we may not know for some time what success will look like when the action is complete.