Laughter and Tears at Pendle Hill – a brief recounting of what happens during a Friends Couple Enrichment workshop.
Over the weekend of March 15-17, we (Mike and Marsha) facilitated a Couple Enrichment workshop at Pendle Hill, the Quaker conference and retreat center just outside Philadelphia. Nine couples attended, plus ourselves. They included a couple who were part of a workshop we led over a decade ago at an FGC Summer Gathering and also a dear couple whom we have known for many years.
The old saying among Friends is that we haven’t done away with the clergy, but we have eliminated the laity. We are all ministers and when leading a workshop we own this mantle. We understand that it is the Truth that heals and deepens us, and our job as ministers is to prepare, hold, and name a space where this spirit of the loving God can be heard, received, and followed. In preparation for this workshop, we sent in advance a link to Friends Couple Enrichment’s QuakerSpeak video and the guidelines we follow to create a safe, sacred space.
Our goal in the opening Friday evening session is always to hear everyone’s voice. It is a tendering experience to witness couples sharing a gratitude with one another. During that sharing the silence deepens and we come to know a precious stillness which is the foundation for the work we will do together. We presented the 5 C’s: commitment, without which our enrichment will be sabotaged; compassion for self; courage to step into the unknown; curiosity to know more deeply the gift of relationship; and connection, whether that connection comes through shared stories, words, touch, or acts of service. As Joseph Campbell wrote:
“In marriage you are not sacrificing yourself to the other person. You are sacrificing yourself to the relationship…that’s the problem with getting married. You must ask yourself, ‘Can I open myself to compassion?’ Not to lust, but to compassion.”
On Saturday morning we introduced the spiritual practice of couple dialogue and invited couples to explore the many “rooms” of a relationship, from the daily roles and routines of the kitchen, to the decision-making of the office, to the intimacy of the bedroom. Out of this exploration, each couple chose a matter to explore in the afternoon when we broke into small groups to practice witnessed dialogues. In the safety of these groups, each couple practiced listening deeply to each other and reflecting what they heard in order to show understanding, rather than listening in order to react with defensiveness or fixes. During these dialogues, each couple touched something tender and precious. As a group, we were able to hold and support the compassion and tears that come with being vulnerable with each other.
By Saturday evening the group was ready for something different. We invited light-hearted laughter into the space by starting a “good news/bad news” cooperative story (in which each person adds one sentence to a fantastical story, alternating good news and bad news). This was followed by asking everyone to write down two things they do with their partner that they consider intimate. We then scrunched the pieces of paper into small balls and, with one collective whoop, threw them up into the air. We then had the fun of tracking down two “snowballs” each and reading out the now anonymous intimacies. Nature (especially water) and nudity were common themes. To end the evening, we made Love Pills.
Sunday morning each couple spent time exploring their intentions going forward. To end the workshop, each couple stepped forward and had a brief 4-minute dialogue declaring an intention. This, too, was tender and we were softened by the seriousness with which each couple were prepared to till and tend their relationship. Each relationship is a gift and that jewel needs frequent polishing. We are planning a video conference in a month so the participants of this Pendle Hill workshop can check in with one another and share any more insights that Spirit has led them to.
Marsha and Mike Green