Polly Greeks: Becoming an angel

Polly’s natural capacity for empathy makes her an Angel.

Words: Polly Greeks

Gold has been glinting in conversations, literally and metaphorically. Watching the weathered economy creak laboriously on choppy seas and with a central bank digital currency glimpsed on a technocratic, cashless horizon, various friends and family have been turning nest eggs into ingots (or shavings thereof) for attempted security in unsteady times.

My great-great-grandfather had the same idea with his wealth six decades ago. His garden was his treasury, accommodating a stash of nuggets reputedly buried beneath a clandestine “X”. Worse luck for his relatives and the shrubbery, the old codger died without revealing the location, resulting in a lot of livid, luckless digging (although someone eventually got jammy in the compost).

There are other ways to find gold. A women’s circle might seem an unlikely depository of wealth to those measuring prosperity by the moola; however, after five years of monthly gatherings, my friends and I feel very rich indeed for the deepening intimacy and friendship that’s arisen.

One of the critical components of our particular circle involves participants sharing what’s emotionally alive in them. Whoever speaks is uninterrupted. Instead, we collectively hold a space where people can empty as much of themselves as they choose. Masks come off. Women mourn, rage, confide, question and celebrate, and each is held in silent support.

We’re not there to fix one another; instead, we are to witness and be witnessed. Sharing too little is only according to yourself; it’s okay to say nothing, although unspoken words can leave the taste of regret in your mouth.

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Shadow sides and ugly wounds are permitted to speak in our circle. It’s a relief to drop any veneer and be cumbersomely, beautifully, imperfectly real with a group of women doing likewise. Stepping from life’s theatre of roleplay, we come together to find the creative red thread of our undiluted selves, buried as it so often is, beneath obligations, expectations and the needs of others. Together, we’ve explored ourselves as cyclical beings, recognising inner seasons and the monthly energetic swing from emergence, expansion and fruitfulness to harvest, contraction and sowing. Yet the real gold always comes from the sense of connection. Don’t we all yearn to feel heard, seen and accepted?

The universality of this need has been further highlighted since I trained to become an Empathy Angel. A mental health charity, Empathy Angels is an organisation providing free hour-long Zoom sessions for people needing an empathic, objective space to discuss challenging relationships or situations, seek clarity on issues, explore feelings of stuck-ness, mourn, vocalise longings or privately rejoice in good tidings.

EA isn’t a counselling service designed to solve people’s problems. I have been taught to shine my attention on a client for the whole hour of their Zoom session, listening deeply with no agenda other than to follow wherever they lead and helping them clarify feelings and requirements, sometimes enveloped by amorphous clouds of emotions.

Occasionally, a client’s reason for calling comes out in a tangled yarn. Together, we seek out the thread because the heart of the issue lies somewhere in there. The most satisfying conversations I’ve shared as an Angel have seen empathy recipients tune into feelings that lead them to what matters at the bottom of everything they’re experiencing. The treasure is connection with themselves. It’s an extraordinary privilege to witness people being courageously vulnerable enough to stay with their difficult feelings and explore them, taking responsibility when needed and enduring the discomfort of feeling stretched before breathing into the subsequent space that follows.

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It’s funny how wealth gets measured. When I think of the long-dead relative striking gold in my great-great-grandfather’s compost pile, he’s somehow impoverished, coated in eggshells and tealeaves, clutching his booty and snarling like Gollum at any suggestion he shares what he’s found. Meanwhile, communities that hold their members with empathic presence are an extraordinary asset indeed.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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