It must have been at least a decade ago when the peaceCENTER director, Ann Helmke, and I went to a conference in Minneapolis. On the trip home, on our way to the airport, we passed an Asian grocery with a big sign, visible from the highway: United Noodles. United Noodles! It cracked us up.
Noodle, of course is slang for your brain. United Noodles sounded to us like a consulting firm, a think tank. All of us putting our heads together. It reminded us of an exercise we sometimes do at recentering, our version of a staff meeting.
Everyone lays on the floor, heads together in the center, feet pointed outwards, staring at the ceiling. We breathe deeply for a few minutes, then start talking. It’s a vulnerable position. Strangely intimate, with our heads together, but also intensely private, as we can’t actually see each other. The conversations that result from what we now call United Noodles are amazing and deep. We know it’s over when someone starts snoring. It’s intense — but relaxed.
Noodling, as a verb, has jazz origins, and means improvisation, as in “just noodling around.” There’s a bit of that going on, too. In United Noodles there isn’t an agenda, or a timekeeper, or someone taking note of action items. That usually happens later.
There’s also a thing called “catfish noodling,” which is a southern term for fishing without bait by sticking your hand into a catfish hole and rummaging around until you grab a fish. (It’s dangerous, and illegal in twelve states . . . ) . There is probably some of that going on in United Noodles as well — plunging into the unknown, hoping you’ll find what your looking for. It can be dangerous but not, as far as we know, illegal.
Compassion requires United Noodles — all of us putting our heads together and thinking in new ways.