lewis mehl-madrona: talking circles

on the third day of the on being gathering, i got to experience a session on narrative medicine with lewis mehl-madrona. he is a physician and indigenous wisdom teacher and the sweetest guy. he taught a session called “speaking in order to listen, listening in order to speak” and it was just great.

my three takeaways from the session:

we modify people’s stories when we react

paraphrased quote:

“we modify what people say by our reactions. when we don’t react, what often comes through is deeper and more authentic because people are just left with themselves and their own thoughts about what they want to share.”

this reminds me of a moment during the december offering of my personal storytelling for social change workshop where a participant shared that they absolutely modify their storytelling based on audience reaction. and this was the first time they recognized that they did that. it was really interesting to me, not because i think that that is a bad way to tell stories, but it just totally changes who has the power. during the storytelling, if you modify your story based on the audience, you give the audience the power. and, in some cases, i can totally imagine why that might be strategic or even the whole point of the storytelling activity. i think was lewis is getting at is that if the story is about yourself and in a healing process for you, giving away your power is not helpful.

the activity of the talking circle

lewis gifted us, the audience, with the practice of the talking circle. i’m excited to use it once. i probably need to look up more specifics on how to use it for real, but the idea is simple.

  1. bring people together (minimum 4),
  2. have a single topic or not,
  3. bring a talking stick or object,
  4. pass the object around the circle with each person taking their time to talk. everyone else just listens and doesn’t react.
  5. continue until everyone is talked out.

this simple activity can help so so so much. bearing witness, speaking your truth, etc. etc. so dope.

the group problem solving talking circle

this is a story lewis told that was super powerful. i’m gonna shorthand significantly because i’m over time, but here’s what happened. lewis created a talking circle for someone who was struggling with alcohol addiction (i think) that included basically every important person in this person’s life. they set up a giant talking circle (45 people i think) in the lobby of a clinic. and they had a talking circle using the following 3 questions:

  1. what’s going on?
  2. what do you think the solution is?
  3. what are you willing to do?

in the end, the person’s addiction was solved. but the solution came from community action, not just individual will.

i think i know someone for whom i want to do this with right now…

ps - lewis does something called narrative medicine and like… i need to dig into that sphere asap. it’s something i’ve already stated i’m interested in and have been for a while… so it’s just time to do it… but even as i write this, i know there are so many books… ugh!

words / writing / post-processing
~500 / 15 min / 6min