Last evening we spent a magical evening in my sister’s Sukkah. This week marks the Jewish harvest festival where it is tradition to share our joy and bounty by inviting strangers to dine with us in impermanent tents or booths, which are decorated with fruits and vines from the season’s bounty. Because the tradition is that only one wall may be used, it is often necessary to lean in to engage one another in conversation. It occurs to me that the same is true in mediation. There, the physical “leaning in” can have several beneficial effects. First, by leaning in, you can gently push up against and ultimately penetrate those fictitious walls that have been erected around the person in conflict, literally, breaking down barriers which may have caused or contributed to the conflict at the beginning. Second, you model a sense of equality, rather than authority. For example, an employer may choose to stand, or push his chair back from his desk when confronting an employee, and a Judge usually sits on a podium, elevated from those whom he or she is “Judging”. Third, by sitting across from the disputant, you can echo and demonstrate your empathy in your face and body language, so that they can feel truly heard and understood. The result can be magical, just like dining in my sister’s Sukkah.
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