Sunday, May 15, 2016
In The Stone Soup story, a group of hungry gypsies place a pot of water over a roaring fire in the middle of a village square. As villagers pass by with interest in the undertaking, the travelers ask for a single contribution to make the “soup” tastier. When everyone in the village has added a carrot, a celery stalk, an onion, a marrow bone, some peas, garlic and so on, there is, finally, a savory soup, a “stone’s throw” from mere boiling water and a pebble.
This is the melting pot, the cauldron, the collective village happiness, the assembly. In the United States, the right of assembly is a First Amendment Right: groups of peaceful citizens can come together in a public forum to advance their cause. In the story the cause is the most fundamental: feed primal hunger. Everyone contributes. Everyone eats from the common pot, the collective good.
Scientific discoveries, movements in art, architecture and fashion, cultural norms and social etiquette all evolve from the assembly, over time, of multiple contributions. Wholes, whether of people in workplaces and families, or of ideas, are greater than the sum of their parts, because of the complex and various ways in which parts interact and co-influence each other within assemblages. Synergistic and evolving, living systems exist within other meta- systems, and attach to other “galaxies.”
On Mother’s Day my family and my family of origin assembled at my house to break bread together, to share news and upcoming events, to laugh and hug and enjoy the new babies in the family–those actively moving parts who were happily integrated into this matrix of love and devotion. Although I could barely stand at the end of the evening, having marinated, sliced, diced, stirred, poured, heated, chilled, served, washed, and dried the entire day, I felt incredibly happy and deeply satisfied.
As human beings we are constantly assembling and disassembling; then reassembling. Even caring is something requiring assembly. Sometimes instructions are needed. The Thursday before Mother’s Day I cared for my 11 month old granddaughter. We laughed and smiled and clapped and danced and walked around and ate and went for a walk and tapped on toys and explored each others’ faces and hugged and I rocked her and she slept. I watched how our attunement resulted from an assembly of rhythms, pressures, temperatures, expressions, interpersonal distances; a complex dance that can change from moment to moment. One moment we gazed into each others’ eyes and she put her forehead to mine; I cradled her tired head on my shoulder, rocking in comfort-time. Each response and counter response an expressive piece of caring. This level of attunement seems rare on an adult-to-adult level because it requires masterful presence, focus, effort, flexibility, observation, and endurance, as well as the capacity to put someone else’s needs before one’s own (while not losing sight of one’s own needs entirely).
Each response to another is a piece of caring. Taken together, the expressive details amount to lovely nurturing. We can use language simply to say we care about someone. While this may provide a heartwarming moment, it, like ‘I love you,’ is fairly generic. Without specific actions, including verbalizations, the credibility of such a blanket statement may wane over time, in the absence of particular expressions that reveal a high emotional IQ about the person for whom such caring is intended. As a metaphor, the garden of a relationship thrives when given enough sun, shade for a respite, water, enriched soil picked clean of weeds, and so on. Simply throwing a bunch of seeds out the front door and expecting the garden to develop and thrive on its own will not work.
Pieces of ourselves assemble to form a whole. One of my clients, Molly, recently returned from a rehabilitative experience with a new and more workable narrative about herself and the compulsive behaviors about which she had so harshly berated herself in the past. To access a part of herself that could understand and forgive formed a crucial part of her further healing, as well as the development of healthier coping mechanisms.
We all have younger selves, and each of our subparts understood our lives and the contexts in which we lived them, from different perspectives. The perceptions of your adolescent self, or that of your child self, have cognitive, experiential and emotional limitations that do not have to continue into young and middle adulthood. Yet sometimes those earlier perspectives entrench us in unhelpful beliefs about ourselves and others that do not get replaced until we bring the light of our current reflections upon them. For example, understanding one’s addiction from a disease model perspective as opposed to a paradigm of poor moral character can relieve one of guilt and shame, and thus provide the empowerment needed to seek beneficial treatments.
Whether we assemble a village soup or the multiple stories within ourselves, we thrive when we engage in the creative enterprise of exercising and utilizing the many parts and perspectives on any situation. Little seems absolutely impossible when we act in resourceful ways as part of a group, a work team, a community, or as our own “whole.” The multiple lines of synergistic communication between parts makes the whole far greater than a mere sum of parts.
Guest Saddle: In what group or assembly do you feel the best, the most productive, the most part of a whole bigger than yourself? What assembly puts wind in your sails? And what parts of yourself need greater nurturing and understanding from you so they can grow and thrive and feel honored for their contributions?