April 2013 Newsletter: Rockin’ the training at Point Reyes Station

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Hello friends,

We begin by expressing our sadness and solidarity with the people of Boston, who have experienced another terrorist act of violence. We pray for them, and all of us on the planet, in this time of dire beauty. We dedicate our work to the continued blossoming of compassion worldwide.

In 1993, when Wind and I first conceived what would become the Daughters Sisters Project, our strongest motivating intention was to seed teen talking circles as far and wide as possible, because every teen needs a safe space to tell the truth, experience deep listening, feel out-loud, have each other’s backs, and know they matter.

Last week, I traveled to Point Reyes, Calif. to lead nine adults, mixed gender, between the ages of 20-something and 60 in a three-day TTC Facilitator’s Training. They’d invited me down as a group because it was easier than having them all fly up to one of our trainings on Bainbridge. They were a diverse group of ingenious and heart-centered youth advocates  – some wanted more ideas and tools to deepen their existing circles, some wanted to start teen talking circles for the first time, and some didn’t know why they were drawn to attend. They were teachers, administrators, artists, parents, wilderness education leaders, environmentalists — from the California Global Youth Summit, Marin Independent High School, Tomales Bay Youth Center, Bolinas Stinson Youth Foundation, Lasting Adventures and other youth serving orgs.

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For me the experience was powerful. To be with so many people from the same community, committed to talking circles was such an honor. Plus, having three young men in the training was special enough (not many men do the ttc facilitator’s training), but these young men blew  the doors of my heart wide open! They are the kind of male role models teen teens really need. Everyone shared deep truths about their own teen years, easily accessing their authenticity, compassion, and emotions. I left Marin on Monday knowing that what each one experienced in the training would impact their relationships with teens, I took away with me more to share with the next training group from the wisdom and experience of these amazing people.

Sending blossoms of blessings in this beautiful new Spring, linda

Over the past few days, Lilly and I spoke with a couple participants to hear their reaction to the training. Below, Ariana Aparicio, College Access Advisor at Tomales High School, and Alex Warner, wilderness guide and early childhood teacher filled us in.

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Linda Wolf: Hi, Alex. What did you think of the training this past weekend?

Alex: It was powerful. We had a good facilitator. It was super productive,  and the people I would consider stakeholders in the community attended it which made for a good circle, a powerful circle. Having already facilitated a lot of circles, I got more ideas and tools to deepen the circles that I’m already doing. I learned more tools and ideas and ways to be in circle with other adults. I think that the most impactful part was to revisit my teen years, and then to have an opportunity to talk to myself [as a teen] was pretty amazing.I guide wilderness trips for teens in the summers, and I work with second graders during the year doing counsel, and also even younger kids, five, six, seven years old, and we have opportunity to be in circle with them too.

ArianaLilly: Hi Ariana, thanks for talking to me this morning! How was your experience of the training this past weekend?

Ariana: I didn’t know what to expect before I went… Now that I did it, I understand. It was one of the best three days I have spent. I felt truly     privileged to have been part of that group, included in this opportunity…at the end I was like, “Wow, I didn’t realize I needed this” –a comfortable safe space where you were listened to, without judgment. I’d like to provide a circle for the teens in my community.

Lilly: Could you tell me about your community?

Ariana:  My community is a small rural town in west Marin, about 400 people… Half the population is Latino, and half predominantly white. We have a youth center, but nothing where students or teens feel like they can go and just talk. After college, I went back to my old high school, Tomales  High School, to help students prepare for college. I’ll use what I’ve learned in our training in my work with them. There is a need for teen talking circles here.

Lilly: I’m assuming you didn’t have a teen talking circle growing up. Could you describe the need for that, your needs as a teen that weren’t being met?

Ariana: I grew up in a community where I was trying to receive resources from the school, support from certain people that I thought I could rely on because they were also Latino and would understand my situation. When I didn’t receive their support I felt rejected, ignored, and pushed aside. I felt like I wasn’t deserving of their help, and felt humiliated at times because I didn’t understand why I was treated like that. But then I used that negligence from the adults in my life to push forward and seek help from others. I’m still looking back and wondering why, why it had to be like that. But it’s like a blessing, because I learned to be independent. I learned to be my own advocate. I found my voice. I learned to question authority, and learned that I mattered too. I learned that my points of view should be addressed. I learned to empower myself. Now I want to provide that support for teens at the high school level. Leaving the training, I felt truly humbled and honored to have shared this experience with the members in the group, and Linda herself.

For info about our June TTC Facilitator’s Training, check this link: TTC June

Linda Wolf

March 2013 Newsletter: One Girl’s Story

Claire & Lilly

To hear Lilly read this piece, click the photo of Claire and Lily

In honor of our 20th year doing Girl’s Group on Bainbridge Island, each month we will feature a true story. This one is by Lilly Schneider. Lilly was sixteen when she started group. She graduated university, travelled around the world and is back on Bainbridge for the moment and working in the TTC office as my assistant. On her first day, today, I asked her to write about her time as a teen girl in Girl’s Group, for our reedited handbook. But, after reading this through my tears and belly laughs, I had to put it out immediately. What a beautiful writer, gorgeous person and I love Lilly so much. Thank you, Lil.

Here’s Lilly’s story…

I was 16 when my mom died. A month later my friend Claire told me about Group and invited me. She told me who would be there. A girl I was afraid of, this bigmouthed theatre girl I’d heard my friends call a bitch. A girl I thought had weird eyes, I’d heard my friends call her a slut. A pixie blonde so pretty I couldn’t imagine we’d have anything to say to each other, me being so frizzy and fidgety and fat and all. All older.  A younger girl I’d seen in a long tapestry coat in the hallway, and who did she think she was anyway, looking all cool like that? I had fear, jealousy, hate in the hallways for all of them. I thought of myself as a nice person back then, too.

It was a period of extreme stress for me. I kept bashing up against the wall that said my mom was never coming back and I kept looking for a way around that wall like a stupid little fly against a window. I focused much of my stress into planning my college applications, which was the most important thing in the world. My classmates, many of whom I had known—Claire included—since childhood, I now found ridiculous because they hadn’t gone through what I was going through. I had no real respect for anyone my age, suddenly zero patience for the chattering, crush-crazy girls who had been my sleepover set and who had saved me in middle school when I had had no friends; I respected adults, who had sometimes already lost their parents, and who seemed always to have wise things to say. I had barely any fingernails left from gnawing, and the skin around them was tattered and dead. My house was cold always and my father, brother and I, though friends, were all alone, islanded, castaways in the storm of grief, even as we sat over dinner together. Dinner was brought every night that year by people from the community, and dessert too, usually brownies. I’d eat a whole paper plate of them in one standing at the kitchen counter. The families who knew us made our favorite things, dishes we’d all enjoyed together, pesto, salmon, and kid stuff—pasta and chicken nuggets and meatloaf. Families I’d never met before gave us walnutty casseroles and strange vinegary salads. Love was coming to us in food form. Automatically, we swallowed. But the food arrived in the afternoons, was sitting on our cold woodstove when I got home from school, or was delivered quickly by bosomy ladies I didn’t know (they’d explain we’d met when I was five or something) and who hugged me desperately and seemed to want to drop the food and get out of there, back to their own happy homes. I hated that they could just waltz home to their own families. They had an escape from the bad place. They only came to peek in the doorway, and they didn’t bash into the wall all the time, the wall that made school, home and everywhere in between almost intolerable—most waking life intolerable. People said I was strong, but I simply went through the motions of living because the alternative, as I pictured it, was lying facedown in a mud puddle all day.

I remember the first thing that I said in Group: well, hi, my name is Lilly and uh I’m 16, I’m 16 and I’m on the newspaper with Claire and I like reading, writing, collecting big earrings at thrift stores, and uh my mom died so yeah. When? Oh, last month.  Everyone gasped at that. I remember peering out sort of vaguely at their clear shock and horror being totally unable to relate to it. It was as if I’d been slowly turning purple over the eight years my mom was sick and now that I was doomed to be purple permanently I was faced with some people who didn’t even know people came in purple at all. How could they not realize I was purple? They were green, that’s why. Everyone my age was ignorant and green, and also skinnier than me.

The part of Group that changed my life wasn’t the part where I talked. I’ve always been good at talking, communicating, finding people to listen, making people laugh. That year I saw a therapist, who mostly listened to me babble hyperspeed about college deadlines, and I had tea and coffee with my mother’s friends, who made sure to be there for me. The part that changed everything, quickly, for me, was listening to these girls talk.

They had feelings and they had fears. They were scared of other girls too. One who I thought was mean didn’t know anyone was afraid of her. One who I thought was boring was not. One who I thought was obnoxious was hilarious. One who I thought was snotty was down to earth. One who I thought was stupid was sensitive. Claire who I thought was always in one mood was often in a different mood. And everyone was worried about their bodies, and no one would break the circle. It was as simple as that. We had agreed to create a safe space together, and so we did—us, just girls who didn’t even know each other before. As an adult nurtured by Group I am able to create these spaces temporarily but at the time I literally did not believe such an environment was possible. It was absurd to me, and miraculous. I learned every person was a person just like me. Now it seems obvious, but not then: then, this was a revolution. Circle asked for active compassionate listening, and I learned to give it. I had never had the opportunity to practice it before. High school was no place for it—or was it?

EPSON DSC picture            The equality I learned about in Group began to seep into the whole canvas of high school I’d painted for myself. I realized that if I had been so wrong about all these girls, I was probably wrong about everyone. Everyone I saw in school must also have feelings and fears and their own story, their own humanness. During a time when no one demanded anything of poor motherless me, a time when I was spoiled with pity and blessed with whole casserole dishes of compassion, I began to work on respecting other people, a lifelong project. Deep respect for others is essential for peace—world peace, and also personal peace. I’d wasted enough energy fearing, hating, manipulating and being manipulated. There was another way to be. Kind.

Living with active compassion, it turned out, was such a better way to live.  Writing people off cuts their connections to you; respecting them opens the channels. This has been one of the greatest gifts of my life: the gift of other people. I think in high school many people squint out at a crowd which holds only a few desirable or possible companions. For some, most unfortunately, this continues into adulthood. We draw lines to protect or maybe even just amuse ourselves, lines that do not really exist, and then we are unable to cross those lines, and then we suffer from loneliness, from staleness, from pettiness, from not enough pokes in the ribs and rolls in the hay and dances with the devil who’s not no devil really. I’d drawn lines, surface-level ones tied to appearance, reputation, popularity, GPA. The big line I drew was losing my mom, and group smudged it.

Body image was also a big thing. The girls in group suffered insecurity over their noses, thighs, bellies, butts, breasts—so needlessly, it seemed to me, when they were so gorgeous. Over time I began to realize the needlessness of my own suffering, misery that made me so sick with myself some nights that I couldn’t sleep and lay burning in the darkness with a desperate furious wish to wake up twenty pounds lighter. With the beauty of my Circle goddesses in mind I made daily choices to love and respect my body, to feed it healthfully and appreciate the way it let me breathe, express myself and play. I began to see myself as beautiful. I began to allow myself to let boys see me that way too.

Lilly Schneider

Linda and I ran into each other at a burrito place when I was 19 or 20, and she grabbed my hands and inspected them. “You have nails!” she said. “Cuticles! Tips!” When she knew me, I hadn’t had any of that. I’d  been biting into my own skin, hurting myself. I’m 24 now, and my nails are long and strong. My guiding belief, which I’ve come to suspect I share with my mother, is that everyone is as much a person as anyone else, and deserving of equal love and respect. It is my greatest satisfaction to give that love and respect to anyone, everyone, and feel it spinning back to me in endless reams of light. I delight in crossing those lines we draw, in showing other people that it’s possible, even pleasurable, and important; I am attuned to responding to others who can help me cross the lines I draw and I focus on erasing those lines so that, as often in daily life as possible, I can stay on the level we all lived on in Circle.

To know who we really are…

To know who we really are…

To fully know who we truly are as human beings, we must own our own inner wilderness.

So often, we fear the untamed parts of ourselves, or simply avoid peering around in the darkness of as yet unrecognized or rejected aspects of ourselves…Myths and fairy tales reveal this side of ourselves in the person of the “wild man” or the “Wolf woman,” the furred criatura.” Yet, to be a full human being requires that we embrace all of our humanness, including that which is not “civilized,” and heal the split personality to include all of who we are in essence. As much a part of nature as trees, and birds and all Gaia, herself. Ahhh Nature.

In Circle we cultivate and encourage the development of an expanded perception of who we are. We embrace the idea of interconnectedness with all living beings, and each other. We practice taking radical responsibility for our experience, our perceptions and the way our lives unfold. We look for the gifts in all experiences. We reach deep within and expose the raw wilderness of inside ourselves, that which we might otherwise hide from. We bring it to the light and accept it with love – that is the only way people can change what they want to change in themselves. With love.

In this post, in support of our upcoming dinner on November 18th with presentations from 7 of our youth serving partners, we highlight the Wilderness Awareness School, which is one of our favorite organizations.

The Wilderness Awareness School offers young people opportunities to feel the natural world that is so quickly disappearing; the world where our senses are freed to experience life, together with others, in communion with nature. The core values of WAS are peacemaking, vitality, nature mentoring, and community. In a time when more and more young people feel their only connection to others through screens, this is a balm for the soul and a chance to knit together both sides of their humanity, the wild and the disciplined, and be the full human beings they were born to be.

Come learn more about Wilderness Awareness School at the hottest party of the season; go to www.teentalkingcircles.org/awaken and sign up to come.

Good Times and Bald Times

Our Executive Director Linda Wolf and our lead facilitator Genevieve Smeeth led eight Teen Talking Circles this year for Seattle Children’s Hospital. What an amazing experience! These circles were filmed by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Below is the first video, Meet the Circle.  All the videos can be found at the Good Times and Bald Times Youtube channel.

Watch the video, leave a comment, and pass it on to friends and family. This is phenomenal work! And these young adults have a powerful message.