[Note: A new “From Francesca’s Inbox” is coming tomorrow morning!]
A while back, Francesca and Plumcake each blogged about avoiding loneliness. Among other things, Francesca mentioned a course she has taken called “Understanding Yourself and Others.” Commenter avi wrote:
I would like to know more about the “Understanding Yourself and Others” events. To my surprise, I might be ready for something like that. But from the outside, it seems a little cultish. Would you tell us more about it?
Finally Francesca has had a moment to compose her thoughts about this wonderful experience. She prefaces by emphasizing that this is her own experience and she does not represent anyone else.
Francesca first heard of it from a friend who is a member of the clergy. He is a serious, thoughtful, no-nonsense man, so when he told me about how much he had gained from it — as well as his parents, his sister, and his wife — I was intrigued. I trust his judgement — and his parents are among the smarter, more grounded people I know– so I went into the course with a very open mind, ready to learn something. This is important because in the course they do some corny (cultish-seeming) things sometimes, but because someone I believed in believes in the course, I was open to “going with the flow.”
Before the course, one fills out a long form, including one’s goals for the experience. For example, one’s goal might be to develop more self-confidence, to come to terms with a particular family member or trauma, to become a better listener, to figure out what one wants to do with one’s career, etc. Up to 22 students may register (plus 2 “reviewers” who are retaking the class after a time, to work on themselves more with different goals), so there is lots of personal attention.
It’s 2 1/2 days of learning to be completely honest with others (scary!) and with oneself (even scarier!) in a loving, helpful way. The instructors are warm and funny but also will call you out on your, eh, issues when appropriate! There are lots of whole-group exercises, and some times when individual or small groups (for example, several people who have similar relationship issues they are working on) will be the focus. It is intense and a little draining and feels fantastic — like a good emotional workout.
Once one has finished, one can return (for free) as a “course assistant,” basically there to act as a support to the students. I have found that being a course assistant is at least as interesting and helpful as being a student, since I can watch and listen –learning so much about human nature — and then apply what I can to myself without any pressure. Francesca has gone back to assist four times! One leaves with a happy, glowing feeling.
Does the feeling last? No. It dissipates after a while. But the tools one learns do last, if one uses them. There is no magic pill that can make anyone feel confident all the time, or reconciled with a family member all the time, etc. But the course has helped Francesca reframe and embrace her “issues,” and deal with them with some optimism and self-acceptance and a sense of humor. She gets along better with her parents, she sets boundaries for herself better, she accepts her fatness better, she takes insults less personally. (This was all a process over a few years of returning to the course a few times and other helpful things like therapy.)
Yes, people who first come back from a UYO weekend, flush with the emotional high, do sometimes sound as if they’ve encountered some sort of cult, much to the annoyance of friends and family members! (Francesca must point out, though, that the aim of the course is to help one connect with others, and never isolates one from one’s family. Also, returning to “assist” is free, so no one is being milked for funds. You don’t have to keep spending money in order to be part of the program.)
On the other hand, loved ones are usually pleased (if a bit confused) to see one feeling good. Francesca knows many couples for whom this course saved their marriage, or brought it to a new level, even if only one member of the couple took the course.
Anyhow, that is Francesca’s two cents! More information is here!