I'm so excited to announce our brand-new series, "Friends on Friendships"! Join us over the next 5 weeks as we learn together how to forge transformative, healing, and life-giving friendships.
We are kicking things off with an incredible conversation with Dr. Curt Thompson, Amy Cella, and Pepper Sweeney, who are real life friends and hosts of The Being Known Podcast. We laughed so much this episode, and at least 2 of us also cried 🙈 . You don't want to miss all the gems about friendship throughout this conversation.
Here’s what we cover:
1. Why friendship is risky
2. The most important ingredient for safe friendships
3. The physics of “taking your friends with you” (even when they can't be with you.)
4. Laughter as intimacy
5. Why 3 is most definitely not a crowd
6. Glimmers vs. Triggers
Check out Curt’s brand new book The Deepest Place, available for preorder.
Do you have questions for Dr. Alison? Leave them here.
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While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
Check out Curt’s brand new book The Deepest Place, available for preorder now.
Learn more about Confessional Communities here
The Soul of Desire by Curt Thompson, MD
The Center for Being Known Website
“Hence we picture lovers face to face but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.” –C.S. Lewis
More on IFS by Richard Schwartz, PhD
Being Known Podcast on Youtube
Related Podcast Episodes:
Episode 20: Making Peace with Yourself (& Facing Your Fear of Disappointing Other People)
Episode 27: 7 Ways We Manage Perceptions Instead of Forging Real Connections
The Best of You Podcast:
With Dr. Alison Cook with Guests Curt Thompson, Pepper Sweeney and Amy Cella
Episode 58: Friends on Friendships
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Alison: Hey, everyone. I'm, Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started as we learn, together, how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
Hey, everyone, and welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You podcast. Where we are starting a brand new series I am so excited about. The series is called Friends on Friendship. We're going to take a deep dive into all the different nuances of friendship. I've invited some of my own friends on, some new ones, some, really, old ones that I've had for a really long time.
We're going to talk about how to make friends. We're going to talk about how to learn when a person is trustworthy. We're going to talk about what to do when you need to move away from a friendship. So we're going to cover a whole lot in this series. It's a great way to kick off the summer, and I'm so excited to have Curt Thompson, along with his friends Pepper Sweeney and Amy Cella on the podcast today.
Curt Thompson is a psychiatrist and interpersonal neurobiologist. You know him as the author of The Soul of Shame, The Soul of Desire, and he has a brand new book coming out this August called The Deepest Place. I had an opportunity to preview the book. It's a powerful look at suffering and hope you can preorder it now. It's such a great book, super excited about that.
He also hosts The Being Known podcast with Pepper and Amy, and I had a chance to get to be a fly on the wall. When I was at a conference that Curt puts on each year, and see their friendship in action, and it's what gave me this idea. To not only just talk to Curt about friendship, but to invite him on with his friends, so that they could talk, together, about what it's like to work together, to create together, to share joy together, to share struggles together.
So I'm just so excited they're here to kick off this series. In this episode, there is a moment where I'm surprised by the fact that I get moved to tears a little bit, and I name it to them and I can't figure out what's happening. And as I thought about it, a few days after we recorded, I realized that I was having what we call a glimmer.
Glimmer is a nervous system response that's the opposite of a trigger. When you think about yourself being triggered by someone, it's usually negative. It usually activates you in a negative way. Well, a glimmer is my version of going to an art museum.
Some people go to an art museum or they go out into nature, and they see beauty, and it prompts them to just see the glory of God. "Wow, God, how did you make that beautiful tree? Or that whale?" I went whale watching, recently, and I was just amazed by how did God create these whales? Or you go to an art museum and you see a beautiful piece of art or something that just prompts you to be transported into a place of wonder, a place of beauty. A place of awe, and it can take us to an experience of just joy in being part of God's creation that is just so magnificent.
As I thought back over it, I think, in that moment in the episode, I was just having a glimmer. Just the joy, and the playfulness, and the levity that was spilling out of their connections to each other was spilling over onto me. It was just really beautiful and a really lovely moment, and I was grateful to have this opportunity to share that with them.
So, without further ado, I am just so excited to bring you my conversation with Curt, Pepper, and Amy to kick off this new series, Friends on Friendship.[00:05:17] < Music >
So we're starting this new series on friendship, and I was thinking about friendship and I thought to myself, "I don't want to teach about friendship; I want to try to show it." And I thought about you, Curt, because while you may not use the word friendship to describe what you're doing, I really think a lot of what you're doing is about creating intentional friendship. I think you call it Confessional Communities, you call it connection, you call it being seen, being known. Everything you do is this idea of being known, and isn't that what friendship, at its heart, is about.
And, so, I couldn't think of anybody better to have on but you. And then I got a chance, back in October, when I got to come to your conference held through The Center for Being Known, where I was a speaker, to not only learn from you but to witness you with some of your friends. And it honestly moved me, personally, to see the three of you behind the scenes, finding so much joy in this work that you do together. That almost moved me more than reading about a treatise on why friendship is important, as helpful as that is.
And, so, I thought to myself, "I want to have the three of you on to talk about that." I want you to touch, Curt, on this idea of Confessional Communities because I love it. Actually, next week, I'm going to have someone on who has benefited from an Intentional Confessional Community that you helped her to set up. You are really going out in the world, trying to get people to be more intentional about bringing people around them in ways that really God wants us to.
So I'm going to stop now. But that's my prelude to why I wanted not only you, Curt, but Pepper and Amy, who I don't know as well, I'm excited to get to know. But most of all, just having observed and witnessed and been a silent, quiet, witness of this friendship that you have really ministered to me. It changed me. It inspired me to go out and try to do more of that.
So with that in mind, tell me a little bit, Curt, let's start with you, about what you think about friendship. Why you think it's so important? What inspires you to be so passionate about helping others set up these communities, where they are known deeply by other humans?
Curt: Well, I'll see if I can do this in 30 seconds.
Pepper: Because he can't say anything in 30 seconds. [Crosstalk 00:07:56] Let's just start by saying that this episode is going to be a little longer than you're used to, because Curt has a lot of words.
Amy: He's very generous with his words, most people say that.
Pepper: He is, we talked about having quotes of Curt's on T-shirts and selling them, but then we realized that every shirt had to be an extra-large because there'd be too many words.
Pepper: Just way too many. Extra, extra large.
Curt: Oh, then you went to the trouble to say yes, and we'd also have to print them on the inside of the T-shirt [Crosstalk 00:08:25].
Alison: This is exactly what I meant about showing versus telling friendship.
Curt: Yes, is that what they're showing? I'm trying to catch up to the train, I think, I don't quite get it. Week after week, I got to put up with this, and then they call it friendship.
Alison: I love it.
Curt: Well, here is the thing, in the spirit of what you are longing for this episode to be. I would offer that a way to respond to your question would be for Pepper to talk about how this friendship got started. Because I think in describing that, he's going to offer a reflection and an answer to your question. How's that sound?
Alison: I love it.
Pepper: Well, so we met while all working on a project with Nicole Johnson, who had put together this unique retreat experience called Seasons Weekend. The weekend was full of artistic endeavors. It was full of just beauty, and the whole purpose of those weekends was for us to guide this group of people through this experience.
And as a team, we came together and we would be together for five days. And in those five days, that were very intense, we would work with the people that we were working with until, relatively, late. And, then, our team would stay up until the wee hours of the morning getting to know each other better, and building those friendships there.
So in the beginning, it was a very unique way for friendships to start. Because it was almost like four times a year we were going away to camp, and we were all together, breaking bread, at every meal, together, for five days. Staying up to the wee hours every night, and we very quickly developed. Because of the unique nature of this, it was a little bit to our advantage in that we knew we only had a certain amount of time together, so we need to be vulnerable with each other if we were going to do it.
And, so, that happened pretty quickly where, all of a sudden, we were sharing things with each other that you wouldn't, necessarily, share with people at such an early time. So our friendship, it was escalated really quick and went deep really quick. It wasn't just a wide friendship; it was a very deep friendship that started in that way. But, then, it was also unique in that we weren't really living our lives together. Except for those four times a year, where we were coming together five days a year.
And, so, that, also, almost makes it a utopian friendship because there's not a lot of ruptures that are happening. That you have to repair, what you do in everyday, normal, friendships. And, so, yes, it was a unique beginning. And, then, also, this podcast that we're doing together, that we've been now doing together for a couple of years. Just the element of us having something that we are coming together for, with a purpose, that forces us to be together, in this project, has helped carry that relationship on. That's how it all got started and how it's continued.
Alison: I love that. What you just said reminds me of how C.S. Lewis talks about friendship in The Four Loves as different from lovers, in that lovers face each other, in a way. I think what he means by that is they're working out their relationship. That's part of being in a romantic relationship.
Whereas friends are facing forward, they're working toward a purpose outside of themselves, or enjoying a hobby, or enjoying an activity, or enjoying a work, or enjoying creating something together. Not that lovers can't do that, too, but that's just what that reminded me of is that you started in this context, your friendship started in this context, about being part of something bigger than yourself.
Pepper: Yes, for sure.
Curt: I think, though, I appreciate your reflection on Lewis's work. In some respects, I wouldn't want to think of those two different kinds of loves in binary terms. Because, I think, that they are, and Pepper, as you mentioned, part of what it means to turn toward each other, even as friends, includes our sharing parts of our stories that felt risky.
There have been plenty of moments when the three of us have, with each of us, revealed things about ourselves that we don't like about ourselves. And that we are worried that "When the other hears this part of my story, I can't predict what they're going to do." And, so, it feels risky.
And, so, it is the signature element, I think, of this notion of being vulnerable. And, of course, even though, as Pepper said, we haven't had ruptures to repair in the same way that we might have if we were living together. The act of repairing a rupture is, yet, still one that requires great vulnerability. And it is this common ground of vulnerability that I would say that we share, in which I feel this deep sense of being known.
It's not only that we have a common project that we're creating. That act of creativity is certainly part of it. But like we often talk about, in the Genesis account, the end of chapter two, where to create beauty and goodness in the world most durably, it requires nakedness, it requires vulnerability, it requires our willingness to say, "Here is the place where I don't feel like I'm doing very well."
I mean, just this morning, it was not a major thing, but in our new series, I was not feeling up to the task of something with one of the elements, and there is a certain part of me that feels bad. That I'm like, "I'm not going to be able to bring my best self to the table. What are Pepper and Amy going to think?"
We have enough capital, I think, now, in our relationship that I know that I need to just say, "Here's where I am; I don't feel like I'm where I really want to be and it feels bad, confusing." All those kinds of things, and I think it's practicing those little things. Being committed to practicing not letting any stone that has to do with our relationship be left unturned.
Pepper: Yes, I just wanted to add, one thing that I've experienced through this friendship is although we haven't experienced a lot of ruptures. Having the relationship with these two, with Amy and Curt, has really aided and helped me to be able to go and face ruptures and amend ruptures in relationships with people that I do have every single day. But it's because of the relationship that I have with these guys that and things that I've learned from them and within our relationship, that have helped my other relationships greatly.
Amy: Well, and I would add to that, that not only have the tools that we've learned with the three of us, or that I've learned with the two of you. But, then, knowing that you guys are in the room with me, when I go to make amends or repair ruptures. Then I feel much more equipped and confident that it's going to be okay, no matter how it goes.
Curt: Right, totally.
Alison: You don't mean literally in the room? You mean knowing that you have this foundation of health and strength, gives you the confidence.
Amy: Yes, they're with me in my mind.
Alison: The voice is in your head.
Curt: So you raise an important question, Alison, when you say we're not literally in the room. And, yet, we would say, when we do this work in the confessional communities, if you want to step out onto the base of physics, if you will, I would say, like, "No, I actually do take them in my brain, in my embedded neural networks." The memory of Pepper and Amy being with me, literally, has the effect of allowing my body to be at ease.
And, so, I can imagine them. I practice imagining, "Pepper is sitting on my left, Amy is sitting on my right, and I'm going to have this conversation that, otherwise, it would be very different conversation, for me, if I was feeling like I'm having to do this by myself." And, so, you're right, they're not literally in the room. And, yet, if we take the material world in quantum mechanics seriously, I don't know.
Alison: That makes so much sense to me, and I want to circle back to this meeting where you went deep, and that you don't, necessarily, have the day-to-day. So in my experience, in my life, I have two childhood friends and my sister, who I've, literally, known since I was born.
We were best friends the first 18 years of our lives, same ages. Our families grew up together, whatever, we kind of lost touch. We've started intentionally coming back together. We try to come back together a couple of times a year, and what you said resonates. We don't have the typical rupture repair because we live all over the country from each other. We have very different lives, day-to-day lives.
But that history, that is literally in our DNA, when we started being intentional about spending time together again, in person, regularly, I understand exactly what you're saying. It creates some foundational health, confidence, courage, creativity, all the good things that we want. Even when I'm not talking to them on a daily basis, and those are some of the most important friendships.
Now, I thought that was attributed to the fact, the longevity. When we get together I'm, literally, going back into my five-year-old self with this person that shares that memory with me, which is just so astonishing, to me, the power of that.
But what I'm hearing you say is, in this concentrated environment in which you got to know each other. Where you went really deep and into the layers and layers of who you were. Quickly, you were able to create that very significant shared experiences that are a seed bed going forward, and that's just powerful for folks. I think that's good for people to hear that you can create these friendships at any time.
Curt: I would also say it mattered. I think, part of what made it possible for our relationships to be as rich as they are, is that there were multiple ways in which we were interfacing with each other, on these weekends. There was depth of sharing that was vulnerable. There was creativity. There was cognitive work, Pepper was producing it, and Pepper was directing the weekend. There is a program that has to be timed and so forth, and I know that he had to work hard because he was working with me. And, so, I'm well aware of how hard the work was for him.
Amy would come and she's a contractor. She comes and she comes with her tools, and she built things every weekend.
And, so, there was the creativity aspect of this that required, that demanded, effort. Each of us had to be present for the attendees in ways that we had to be giving, we had to be empathic, and we had to be pouring out. There was so much humor, oh, my gosh.
Pepper: So much laughter.
Alison: Oh, my gosh, I mean, the first weekend Pepper and I meet, there's this iconic story of us. We were going up to Nicole's hotel executive suite to have a meeting, wasn't it? Is that what we were doing?
Curt: And later in the evening, I can't get down the hallway because Pepper has said two or three things, I'm leaning up against the wall, I can't get down the hall. I'm a grown man, I can't get down the hallway because I'm-
Pepper: Literally, he slid down the wall onto the floor, he was laughing so hard. Which made me laugh so hard, and that was really early in our relationship. I mean, laughter, I don't know Curt, if you want to talk about this, laughter is such a connector. It's such a universal thing that can connect us. I'd love to hear what you have to say about that.
Curt: Well, we say if you go to see a stand-up routine and you're in a room that is pretty intimate. If you're in a room of 200 people, but it's all pretty packed in, vulnerability is just awash in the room. The comic has to be vulnerable. The moment I start to laugh at something...
I was on a college campus not that long ago. In which, as I was speaking to the students, there were moments when I thought I was speaking to cardboard cutouts. And I'm like, "Wow, I must be generationally, myself, out of this community."
Later, I spoke with some of the leadership, some of the other students, who were saying, "Oh, my gosh." They were just so dialed in. So I'm like, "Wow, please explain." And they said in this particular setting, in this particular university, it would be common that if you were to respond to a speaker or to a professor, as if you were moved by them, as if you were being touched. As if it would matter to you, as if what they had to say was valuable, you would be at risk for other people around you scorning you.
I'm like, "Okay, that's a new thing." I wasn't aware that that's a thing but, apparently, that's a thing. But what it speaks to is how risky it is to be vulnerable, even when you are allowing yourself to be receptive to anything that's coming toward you that moves you, and this is what comedians do, they move us.
They say the things that nobody else in the crowd will say, and pretty much that's Pepper and Amy. They say the things, in the crowd, that nobody else will want to say. But anyway, that whole sense of vulnerability with humor is another way that it creates flexibility for us to be more deeply connected.
Alison: And we're laughing also at ourselves, often, with the comedian. Which, again, as we started off this episode, immediately, that's why I called it. That's, to me, a mark of friendship, being able to hold yourself lightly, laughing at oneself, which is such a key ingredient.
Curt: And because it's such an antithesis to the shame, that we often respond with when we imagine ourselves. It's like, "Oh, no, this is actually joyful." People are like, "We are enjoying each other in the middle of our vulnerabilities, and our mistakes, and our brokenness, and so forth."
Alison: I love that.
Curt: Early on, in our podcast, one person wrote a comment on a social post or something saying they wish that I wouldn't tease Curt so much. And, yet, this is what it really is. I mean, we're bringing out the best in one another. I mean, we're able to laugh at these things. It's not anybody trying to one up anybody, or there's no place at all in there that's manipulative, or mean, or anything like that, it's all love.
Curt: Yes, especially when we talk about Amy.
Pepper: Well, let's not go that far.
Alison: Amy, what's your experience been like coming in with these two guys and this friendship?
Amy: Careful, yes, it's been fabulous. I mean, Nicole Johnson, I've worked with her for almost 22 years, and Pep has worked with her longer. So I've known Pep for 22 years. So we have that and then we come together and meet Curt, and it's fabulous. I mean, and this sounds trite, but they bring out the best in me. They are a safe place and when I say I take them into the rooms with me, they go with me, and they make me a better person. And, then, from that place, I can create beauty because they are part of that foundation. So it's been amazing.[00:24:35] < Music >
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Alison: So, Amy, I resonate with what you're saying because, literally, right now, in this moment, the minute your face has popped onto the screen, and I know Kurt a little bit. I don't know Pepper and Amy hardly at all, I feel it right now, I feel joy. I feel a little bit of moisture at the back of my eyes, just connection. I, immediately, am not looking at my script, I could care less. I just want to be with you guys. I want to have a conversation. I feel alive, and you guys are making me think of my dearly beloved friends with whom I have that left. My mind is going, "Oh, yes, I know."
"Yes, me, too, I get that. There's just love. What is this ingredient? And this is what I felt when I was with you guys in D.C., that seems so intuitive. My nervous system, my body says, "Oh, yes, this is so life-giving. This brings out the best in all of us." But you don't find it all the time. How do we put words on this for folks? This feeling of connection, of realness? And I'm trying to think of what it feels like. It feels like I can just be myself, as you're saying, safety. How do we cultivate this?
How do we bring this more into being? Maybe what I'm noticing is the safety and connection between the three of you spills over, and I'm experiencing it now with you, which is just beautiful.
Amy: I mean, the first thing that came to my mind was being intentional about time spent. In that first gathering, with Seasons Weekend, we didn't know each other, so we weren't really being intentional about iy. But then following that, we were intentional about spending time together.
Pepper: Yes, Alison, when you talked about intentionally getting together with your sister and your longtime friend, it is. I think the data shows that most people change their friends every seven years because of life's situations. And, so, if you aren't intentional, and like this podcast that we do together, we're very intentional about it. There's work that we have to do between the recordings and we're connected with each other then.
Before we start recording, we're sharing our lives with each other for sometimes an hour before we even start recording. We're very intentional about staying connected and continuing to be vulnerable with each other. And, I think, maybe, what you are feeling is that sense of the three of us have created a safe space. For me, I experience from Amy and Curt, I know their hearts. I know that I am safe with them. And, so, that's, maybe, what you're feeling as well. Just that we all know that we're safe with each other, so you've come into this.
Alison: It's really, literally, what I'm hearing you say is that your work that you do together, literally, is an overflow of your friendship. And, so, you just gave me some examples. So prior to recording, you are coming together and not just getting right to work. You're connecting to each other as humans, is that right?
Pepper: Absolutely right.
Curt: Yes, I mean, I know plenty of people, people who I know, who once a year go for a three-day golf trip, they're intentional. It doesn't look anything like this. There are plenty of communities that gather, intentionally, for a whole range of reasons.
I think that in some respects, Alison, what we try to do is, not to overplay this hand, but we talk about attachment. And what is attachment? When a parent is with their newborn, the parent is with intention being with the newborn, with joy. The whole notion, we are doing this with joy. But we are also going to, with intention, be vulnerable. It's not just the intention itself, it's the intention toward what.
We talk about the first wound of the Bible happens on the second page. Where Adam is put into general anesthesia and he wakes up with a chest wound. And he's like, "What the heck?" But what's the intention of the wound? The wound is beauty and goodness. It's poetry and song that he responds, he's not paying so much attention to that wound. The very next page of the Bible, you have the second wound that begins with the conversation between the snake and the woman.
Both of these acts are intentional. God's act with Adam, the snake's act with the woman. But the outcomes are very different. The intended outcomes are very different. And I think that the nature of that Season's weekend, itself, required of us.
We weren't going to be able to do that work if we, ourselves, were not going to be vulnerable with each other. And I think that when we are practicing that, over time, we continue to strengthen our comfort and confidence with each other. We can use the word safe or safety, and that's comfort and confidence at being our full naked selves. Our full, vulnerable selves, and the more we do it, the more confident we become. The more we do it, and so forth.
And when Jesus in, John 12 says, "Look, the world's going to know your mine the way you love one another." That's how the world's going to know your mine, not by going out and preaching. It's going to know because of the way you love one another, and this is what it means for us to love one another. We're going to be vulnerable with each other, on purpose. And then people come around this and they walk in the room and they're like, "Wait, what's happening here?" If that makes sense.
Curt: And, so, I think, it requires people to willingly be committed to vulnerability in that way.
Alison: I appreciate what you're saying; it's intentionality is one piece of the equation. But just as you said, you can be intentional with your drinking buddies every Friday night and escape everything.
And, so, it's the combination of intentionality and substance/vulnerability, and it strikes me, listening to you, that each of you as individuals has done some of that work internally. So you've become a safe person for yourself with God, and I don't know which one is the chicken or egg, I always go back and forth on this. And, then, which allows you that capacity to do that with another and or being with each other has opened up the capacity for internal safety.
And all of that becomes this virtuous cycle, as opposed to a vicious cycle, of this just levity and light. All these qualities of the self, what Dick Schwartz calls the qualities of self-energy, calm, curiosity, creativity, courage, connection, confidence. But I'm sensing it from the relationship, the dynamic among the three of you, which is so interesting.
Curt: Totally. Again, not that we can't say enough about Trinitarian theology, but there's a sense in which even when you have two people in the room. There are elements of human relational dynamism that are not complete. To have a third person in the room changes things significantly, and we could talk forever and a day about that.
But I think the fact that there are three of us, at the very least, the fact that we're not all dudes. I can't say enough for how much it means to me that I can have a deep relationship with a woman who's not my wife, but who gets me and who would go to the wall for me. I get experience of that with other men.
Alison: Yes, it's powerful.
Curt: And I've got two people here who would do that for me.
Amy: And it's one thing, I know that I would go to the wall for Curt and Pep, but then for Curt and Pep to know that. Does that make sense? The power of that?
Alison: Yes, it's true, and they receive it, and absorb it, and allow it to change them, which is vulnerability. It's powerful, it's really beautiful, thank you for sharing that. So here's a question, as I'm listening, there's so much of an obsession about personality type, and qualities, and all these things. And I'm sitting here listening, going, "Is the key ingredient vulnerability, over and above what qualities or what personality?" In terms of creating this safety. Isn't it so much deeper than compatibility fit? I'm just sensing something so much more substantive.
Pepper: So for 15 years, I met a gentleman, who was sort of a spiritual mentor, for me, at 6 o'clock in the morning, at Du-Par's Restaurant in Studio City, California. And to get to that place of vulnerability it takes time, it takes effort, and, for me, it has been the key to the deeper friendships. I mean, what Curt is teaching on The Being Known podcast; the interesting thing about it is we're living it at the same time.
And, so, I'm gaining so much from doing this podcast, with these two, and it started with the vulnerability. That's where it started for us, for me, with the two of them. Because that's what, for me, takes the level of depth of the relationship to a place where you can be open to learning, and hearing, and believing in one another.
Curt: Okay, can I pile onto that, though, and say something additional because, I think, the vulnerability is important.
Pepper: So I just want to say that I always feel so safe that I can say anything I want because Curt will make it make sense. That's how safe I feel in our podcast. I can say anything, I can talk about anything, and Curt will turn it into, "Well, you know in Leviticus..." I think this is what you're trying to say. So, right now, Kurt's going to give you the exegesis on what I just said. The hermeneutics of Pepper Sweeney.
Alison: We all need a Curt.
Pepper: Yes, go ahead, Curt.
Curt: Can I just say, Curt does not need all of this. You might all need a Curt; Curt doesn't need all of this. I don't need any of this. So this is about vulnerability. Look, it was not my idea to do the podcast.
Curt: Oh, thanks for emphasizing that Pep, great-
Pepper: So it wasn't mine either.
Curt: I mean, what were we? We were two years into Seasons Weekend. At some point, Amy says, and I don't remember the time frame of this, Amy says, "I think you should think about doing a podcast."
Amy: And he said, "What's a podcast?"
He said, "Sure, I don't know what that means, but sure." That didn't quite go like that.
Curt: But close, it was close to that.
Amy: It was close.
Curt: So I basically said, "I don't listen to them; I don't have time." I got all these excuses, "I can't do this." But, on occasion, she would keep coming, "I think you need to think about doing this." And, at some point, she also wove in this idea, because in the course of conversation, I'm like, "I can't invite..." In a podcast you would invite guests.
I'm like, "I don't have time for that. I can't do that."
And she said, "Well, what if it wasn't just you talking? What if you had a conversation partner? Someone like maybe, Pepper Sweeney." And, so, I wasn't ready to do it because I had other projects that were going on. And then I completed the manuscript of The Soul Desire and felt like I was just a big exhale. And it was so odd how I finished that manuscript, and suddenly, and it's just the oddest thing how it's just a matter of timing.
Suddenly everything just like the penny dropped, and I felt like, "Let's go do this." I have no idea what we're going to do. I wasn't confident, I was not, in that moment, confident in me doing a podcast. I was confident in Amy's and Pepper's confidence in whatever it is that they're thinking about.
Pepper: Curt often talks about the fact that we can't imagine our futures until someone else imagines them for us. So often people come into your life and they'll say, "I see this in you."
Curt: Totally. So what we are doing, it is Amy calling me forward in a specific place where I feel extraordinarily vulnerable. Like, "I don't know what the heck I'm doing." No. So, I think, that's another part of the vulnerability. It's a matter of not just we reveal parts of us that are unsteady, and broken, and imperfect. But it's also a matter of our being willing to respond to someone else touching a part of us that is vulnerable and saying, "Hey, I want to come into that room in your house. And I want you, and me, and Pepper to go someplace with that."
And you're like, "How can anybody go someplace with that? It's a mess in that room."
And they're like, "Oh, we're not just here to be with you. We're here to do something beautiful with the very thing that you think just needs to be kept hidden."
Alison: Yes, calling each other into more and more being, really, calling each other out more and more. That's the virtuous cycle of friendship, is more and more and more goodness. More and more of who you really are and the gifts you bring only can come out through the crucible, the context of friendship, that's beautiful.
This really should be the Amy and Pepper podcast, that's what it should be called. It should be called the Amy and Pepper podcast.
Pepper: It'd be a lot shorter.
Curt: But they knew they could push my vulnerability so far, but not too far. They knew that I was, probably, going to have The Being Known podcast was the name, and all the things, there is-
Amy: He'll catch up with us.
Alison: Yes, Curt, this may be projection, and so if it is just completely discard it. I think so much of the work that you and I are both trained to do you're a therapist. You work individually with people. You're a speaker, a writer, I relate to all those categories. They're all very solitary endeavors in many ways. And, so, I'm curious what that was like for you, inviting, you've alluded to it, and maybe that for you wasn't, maybe, you wouldn't have looked at them as solitary endeavors. So that could be projection from my part. But how do you invite people into your processes?
Curt: Well, I think, I've learned this and I'm still learning the reality of this. That because we are rhythmic people, to be human is to be rhythmic. One of the ways that we're rhythmic is this continual movement back and forth between life and work, in solitude, and life and work in community. Just like exhaling and inhaling. Just like the pulse of your heartbeat.
And I would say that the work that we do best as therapists, when we are doing our individual work, in solitude, with another patient, for instance. If you're writing you're in your office and you're banging away at the computer. But that's only going to flourish to the degree that I'm, then, taking that and then being back in community in some way, shape, or form.
And, so, the best of the work as a writer, a speaker, a therapist, is made possible because you're in rhythmic connection with the community. So living and working in the practice that I have, the best time of my week, at the practice, is every Wednesday, from 11:45 to 01:00, when our staff meets together. It's the best part of my week, of the practice. Because I can take what's happening in that room and know that I'm not by myself with what's going to come, in all the other moments with patients.
And, so, it feels like, then, this becomes one more of those communities. Our podcast becomes one more of those communities in which I'm being nourished, and we each find nourishment, and we each provide nourishment for each other.
Curt: That enables me, then, to go back, to go do the speaking thing that I'm going to do the next day, or the individual therapy work that you're going to do the next week. So that's how I would reflect on that.
Alison: I love that.[00:44:10] < Music >
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Alison: I love that idea of the rhythms, of aloneness and togetherness, of solitary and connected. And just thinking here, as we have just a few more minutes, how do you, in practical ways, create those rhythms in your life? Curt, you just gave us a glimpse. This podcast group is one for you guys, and I love the idea that this isn't just, I heard you very clearly say you're being nourished. You're pouring out through this podcast. You're helping a lot of people, but you're also being nourished by it because of this trio, and that that's possible in workspaces.
That's possible in our families. That's possible in lots of different contexts, where we're both it's not binary of "I give out here, I receive here."
There are ways to create rhythms, I really love that. So I'm curious, Amy and Pepper, do you have thoughts on that, in your own lives, how you incorporate rhythms of togetherness and apartness?
Pepper: Well, I will say using this podcast as an example. So we meet normally on Fridays, pretty much every week, and we have a nice chunk of time blocked out, in the mornings, and that has become a major rhythm for me. Where that really helps me carry on through the week, and then I know that that's coming again.
I work a lot, so I'm either on the road touring with shows, or I'm sitting in this little room, by myself, in front of a computer. Which is 90% of my work is done by myself. I have Zoom calls all day, all that kind of thing. I have other friendships and things here, locally, but I've relied on this podcast as a major rhythm in my life. And, as a matter of fact, when we go on hiatus, we'll start texting each other, "Okay, it's been too long."
"This is driving me crazy, we got to get back together." So, yes, this has been definitely a rhythm for me, that has fed into me and helped me to be a better person, I think.
Alison: Are you surprised by that, Pepper, how significant this has become? Did you anticipate that?
Pepper: Very surprised by it, actually. I just said to Curt this morning, I think, if I remember we started this, I thought, "Well, if we can get maybe 400 people to listen to this podcast, that's going to be a major win, and Curt's work is going to get out there to more people, and it's great to be in front of a room of 400 people. We just hit a million and eight downloads this week, and it's a huge surprise to me. But I do think, also, I wouldn't have done this podcast. I wouldn't put this much effort, and time, and work, and energy, into something if I wasn't going to get something out of it.
Pepper: And what I'm getting out of it is these relationships, is the learnings. Like I said, doing this podcast makes me a better person, on so many levels. It just makes me a better friend, a better husband, a better dad, a better son, all the things, it really is something. I think, I anticipated some of that, but not to the extent and the importance that it's become in my life.
Alison: It's beautiful. What about you, Amy? Are you surprised by the depth and the degree of how much this has shaped you? And if not... That's a loaded question, well, no, actually it doesn't really-
Curt: She's not surprised at how much she's shaped Pepper and me, she's not surprised of that at all-
Amy: I mean, I am surprised at the impact it's had on me. It's both yes and no because it really is an extension of our relationship. And, so, I would be more surprised if it didn't impact me. Because I would be like, "Why suddenly did the impact stop?"
Amy: But what it has taught me, too, is that, I'll use the word endeavors, the different endeavors I have in my life. I have a group; I get together with a group that's just about projects we're working on. And, so, walking away from that group knowing they know what I'm working on, and they are supportive, and caring about that. I wouldn't have known how to do that group if it weren't for the podcast, I don't think. Because it is an assimilation, if that makes sense. So now I bring what we have in the podcast to areas of my life, it has infiltrated my life.
Alison: Interesting, so it's spread over.
Curt: That's what we are, we are infiltrators, great.
Amy: That's a different podcast.
Alison: Yes, that makes a lot of sense and not just, structurally, the DNA, of it, who you are, now, what you bring to these other pockets, as Curt says, outposts of safety and connection, has fundamentally changed. I do want to compliment you guys because I do know a lot of stories of folks, who were good friends that pivoted into working together and the friendship fell apart, that does happen.
And, so, the fact that, that's why I'm asking, it's not so much are you surprised. Because, you're right, it makes sense, you knew the power of these connections. But I would also say there's clearly, and this is where the individual work, I think, is also a component. There's the absence of ego, for lack of a better word.
The fact that all three of you are really committed to your own work, as you come together. That's allowing this to thrive in new ways, as you've brought in a creative partnership. I mean, I want to give you guys some credit for that. I don't think that would, magically, happen just with anybody, any group of friends, that said, "Let's embark on a pretty sophisticated project together."
Curt: Yes, I mean, I can't say enough about the role that is played by my awareness of and confidence in the fact that Pepper and Amy are both doing their work, and I'm trying to catch up. But it really does make a difference. It does make a difference, when you're aware that everybody, we're trying to do our work, and we know that we do it imperfectly, but we're still trying to do it.
Amy: For sure. Well, and Alison, you said, and this is what you were saying about when you said, I don't know which came first the chicken or the egg, this work it's almost simultaneously. I would do a little bit of work and then I would be aware, "Oh, there's a little bit more of work to do, but I can do it because this safety is building." So it goes hand in hand. Does that make sense?
Alison: Yes, it's a dance. We do our own work, internally, and God puts His finger on certain areas. But if we just live that in a vacuum,
it's when we go back into those safe spaces that that work gets tended and cultivated. And, also, sometimes, God uses the group to put the finger on things that we need to notice and then go back into our quiet personal time, and say, "Oh, God, I need to deal that with you. Do I need to deal with that in the group? Do I need to deal with that internally?"
I mean, that's another practical thing, we're running out of time. But I think about that a lot in friendships is when we talk about vulnerability. We don't always have to tell our friends every single thing we think or feel, especially, as it relates to some of the negative stuff, that we all deal with from time to time.
For me, as I've understood this dance of friendship, I was always somebody who I knew how to be receptive. So if you think about the therapist/client or spiritual director/spiritual directee model, I knew how to be the person receiving care.
I also know how to be the person giving care. What has been more challenging for me, and really I've only tackled, I'd say, in the last few years, is this dance of interdependence. Of sometimes I'm the one holding space for you, sometimes, I'm the one needing you to see me, and that is really hard and really painful. I can do it if that's your job, and that's your role, and I pay you to do that.
But in the context of friendship, that's hard, and I've been learning about that, and that's when you talk about vulnerability. One of the things that as I've grown and learned about that, it's I don't have to tell friends, these safe spaces, all the things I'm rumbling with inside my soul for it to be vulnerable. But I do need to know that I could, if that makes sense. It's kind of a paradox.
Curt: Sure, sure love that and affirm what you're saying, that just makes a ton of sense. I also think that the fact that there are, again, this is not to be completely prescriptive. But the fact that there are three of us in this work and not just two of us, makes a huge difference. I think, because when any one of us needs something hard to say to one of the others, it's helpful to have a third party in the room. That my brain can borrow your brain so that I can talk to the other person's brain. I think it makes a difference in all kinds of ways.
Alison: That's a really good word, it's a really practical word for folks. That there's an intensity to one-on-one, that it's not all bad or good. Again, it's not a binary, but there's something about the group, the collective. I do want you to touch on, Curt, before we close a little bit about your vision for Confessional Communities. We'll get into more of a practical example of that in another episode, but can you just tell us a little bit about that?
Curt: Yes, listeners can read about it in The Soul Desire, where currently, we are beginning the recording of a miniseries on Confessional Communities. There are also two really helpful resource outlets for this, The Center for Being Known, the nonprofit that you came to speak for, The Connections Conference. We just launched our second cohort of 18 Confessional Communities, there are almost 200 people that are involved in those.
Where we do online training and then support for that. And, then, our practice is doing two and a half day intensives, where you come and you're up to your neck in the actual work.
We're going to be doing that beginning this fall, committing that to training therapists, who get clinicians who want to do that in their own practices.
And it is a way for us to combine what we know about what the biblical narrative calls us to with neuroscience, with group psychotherapy practices, that enables us to move toward formation. And we believe that our minds, our hearts, our souls, our brains, our bodies are more effectively formed in the context of a community.
It becomes a crucible in which the shame and the fear that I walk around with is provided a container into which it can come. And as you, so artfully, like to talk about, the different parts of us can come to be seen, soothed, safe, made to be secure, to, then, go from that space, over time, to create beauty and goodness in the world. In the other domains of life where it's been difficult for us to do that, and we take those members with us. And if I can take three or four members with me to do a hard thing, I'm much better able to do it if I have to do it by myself.
So, like Pepper was saying earlier, it takes time. God could have made the world in a day, it took six. I mean, The Ark of the biblical narrative could have taken a lot shorter, but it's taking time. He appears to be taking an amount of time that I'm not always happy with, especially, not least in my own life. But these Confessional Communities can create space in which we are, literally, loving each other as God has loved us, and such that the world will look at that community and know that we are the disciples of Jesus.
Alison: I love that. And, so, if people go to that website, we'll link to it in the show notes, you're helping people figure out the structure of that, the how of that. How to set that up, which is so important? It's just such a need for folks to have these spaces. Again, to circle back to it's not just the time, it's the quality of that time, how that time is being used. And, so, you're creating, you're helping equip people to do that on their own.
Curt: That's right.
Alison: That's beautiful. Thank you, guys, so much. I could just shoot the breeze with you all day long. When I was with you, I talk about this sometimes, holy envy, and when I feel holy envy, it's I see something in other people.
I'm like, "Oh, that's good, I need more of that." And I have, literally, since October, done because I have friends with this level of depth. "Oh, my gosh, I need to intentionally build some things around that." So thank you. Thank you for inspiring that. Thank you for what you do with the podcast. Tell us where to find the podcast, I think, it's just such a great gift. Where can people find it?
Amy: Anywhere they listen, Being Known Podcast, they can search for it and find it.
Alison: And you've got some fun outtake videos on YouTube, too?
Pepper: There's plenty of outtakes.
Amy: Every episode have plenty of outtakes and every episode has a gag reel.
Alison: I love it. Thank you guys so much; I just appreciate all of you. I appreciate the work that you do. I appreciate you sharing this friendship trio, this trinitarian friendship with us today, as a living example, sort of a parable, almost, of what this all means in real life. So thank you.
Curt: Thanks, Alison, it's been great to be with you.
Amy: Thank you, Alison.
Alison: Hope to see you again soon.
Curt: Right on.
Alison: Bye.[00:13:25] < Outro >
Alison: Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of The Best of You. It would mean so much if you'd take a moment to subscribe. You can go to Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts and click the Plus or Follow button. That will ensure you don't miss an episode, and it helps get the word out to others. While you're there, I'd love it if you'd leave your five-star review. I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.
John 13:35 – "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
The Being Known Podcast
Center for Being Known
Curt Thompson Books
The Soul of Shame
The Soul of Desire
The Deepest Place
14th June 2023