Last night we gathered for the August 2015 Third Friday “Age of Active Wisdom” conversation at the Olympia Center. This monthly conversation, which began in 2012, is hosted by Senior Services of South Sound, of which I am a member (Age: 62, FYI) and for whom I occasionally consult.
My co-hosts and I were surprised to see 10 new faces last night. It turns out that the local newspaper, the Olympian, had advertised our gathering for several days this week. The mention in the newspaper was brief and accurate – “a conversation about the Age of Active Wisdom” – but I was thinking the new folks were probably expecting a presentation or talk of some kind. And that’s not what we do at Third Friday.
We begin in Circle (in a lovely room with two walls of windows looking out on Percival Landing and Budd Inlet, with the Olympic Mountains in the distance), so right off the new arrivals could see that something was going to be different. After we were settled I welcomed everyone and, with so many first-timers in the room, took time to explain the origin of the Third Friday Conversation, its connection to Mary Catherine Bateson’s book “Composing a Further Life,” our usual structure (Circle and small groups), and the conversational etiquette we practice. Our “etiquette” is mostly derived from the spirit of the World Cafe Guidelines; we also urge “leanness of expression.” In Circle, we invited a check-in: please tell us your name, how you are doing today, and one thing that brought you joy since we last met. Of course, each participant had experienced something joyful in the preceding month; I was uplifted seeing each face brightened by a recent memory of joy. Since my turn was near the end, I could have used this Circle experience as my check-in, as it was joyful for me, but instead I shared that last week I felt great joy teaching the summer Youth Crew at GRuB how to make excellent dill pickles.
After the check-in we were ready to begin the evening’s conversation. This month our starting point was a familiar poem or quote from Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic:
“Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”
Our practice at Third Friday is to self-sort into groups of 3 or 4 for the first conversation, reconvene in Circle for a brief harvest of insights, re-sort into new groups for the second conversation, and then come together in Circle for the comprehensive harvest and closing check-out. We offered two questions to guide the two 15 minute small-group conversations:
“What is the invitation that Rumi extends to us, and what would it mean to accept?”
“What comes up for you, thinking about a world “too full to talk about?”
There were numerous insights and noticings offered during the harvests. I was particularly struck by the observation of one participant, following an extended silence, who noted that this particular poem seemed to invite silence, to allow it during a conversation, and no one seemed to feel anxious about filling the silence. I think most of us found this remarkable and true, because no one felt compelled to comment further. We kept the silence for a few moments longer, luxuriating in our awareness and shared presence.