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I Am Ready to Be Supported; I Am Ready to Support You
By Audrey White
June 30, 2010
According to the dictionary application on my MacBook, the word trust means “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” It’s hard to build that firm belief. Especially when the individuals trying to experience trust are involved with decades- or centuries-old conflicts that have destroyed connections and broken trust for generations. Especially when we only have two weeks.
The first-year participants are exploring what it means to truly trust one another, and they started with their bodies. I’ve always found that if I can trust someone with my physical self, trusting them with my words, feelings and stories seems less terrifying.
Falling into trust
The participants are divided into 10-12-person dialogue groups made up of people from each region and faith background. I facilitate one of these groups with my David, a cabin counselor and dialogue group facilitator and a rising junior at Oberlin College in Ohio. In our group meeting Wednesday, we did a series of trust games that required the participants to put aside their fear of falling, a fairly visceral instinct, and give over control of their bodies to one another. The activities each involved falling and catching. The person falling said “I am ready to be supported,” and the person or people catching responded “I am ready to support you.”
It affirmed these words when each participant fell and was caught by his or her team. In the last activity, the group members formed a net with their arms, and one member stood on a picnic table and fell backwards into the net. Ayanda, from South Africa, was apprehensive about taking the fall. But after she was placed safely onto the ground by the group, she was laughing.
To close out the meeting, we did a quick “one-word check-in” to see how everyone was feeling. Words included ‘trusting,’ ‘trusted,’ ‘supporting,’ ‘supported’ and ‘so excited!’
We offered each other a net, and we caught each other. We built trust.
Smoothing out the edges
After dinner, participants made plaster of paris masks to use for a later activity. The mask making process is very intimate, as each participant must find a partner from their cabin group and carefully place wet plaster strips on each other’s faces until they form a hard mask. Each placed strips over their partner’s mouth and sometimes eyes, limiting senses and making it difficult to respond to what was going on around the room. The strips had to be carefully laid down and smoothed out, and the one under the mask has no control. So the partner doing the mask making had a responsibility to the blinded and silenced, to catch the drips from the wet plaster, let them know what was going on in the environment and keep them engaged.
It was difficult to tell who was who when half the group was wearing a white mask. Miko, a U.S. participant, stood out because of his unbelievably curly hair. Some danced or clapped along to the music playing in the background while they waited for their masks to dry. They communicated without words, offering support and energy.
We turned off our eyes and our mouths and opened our ears, and we took care of each other. We gave one another control of our faces, and that takes trust.
Shaking things up
As the last masks came off and we tossed the trash in the bins, Steph, a counselor from Northern Ireland turned up the music and declared a dance off between the four regions. Each home group offered a representative to battle, and Ella (Northern Ireland), Aleia (US), Yazin (Israel/Paletine) and Sinazo (South Africa) showed us all what they were made of.
After a couple more rounds, the groups converged, creating a frenzy of flailing arms and stomping feet and international crumping. People let down their inhibitions, let go of their bodies, became vulnerable and joined the group for a wild and free expression of hip-hop induced joy. As the Black Eyed Peas came through the speakers, the students chanted along, and the boat house echoed with choruses of “Tonight’s gonna be a good, good night!”
We made cut loose and had a great time together, and that takes trust, too.
Through falling, through giving up our senses, and through simply shaking our groove things, we created a network of trust. And when trust is real, the relationships become real. No more are we just people from around the world trying to meet one another. The bonds are strengthening, and now the hard work begins.
All Things Catholic (John Allen)