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Peer groups, Cumbria spring group – third morning: emotional closeness, green issues, & dancing

Third morning.  It's after 7.00am.  Yesterday I wrote on "Authenticity & feedback".  The group seems to be "speeding up" now.  That's partly because I've got less time this morning.  Fairly typically at home, I try to have my light off by 10.15pm and get up by 5.15am.  Last night we were dancing till about midnight.  Brilliant.  Such great fun, but not a big encouragement to be up only a few hours later.  And partly the group feels it's speeding up because, like being away on a few days holiday, experiences start to blur together.  And partly I feel it's because the river of emotion and openness is running more strongly.  As happens so often, many of us - me included - seem more fluid, more easily touched by strong feeling, more easily "triggered" by the depth of what others express.

So how did yesterday go?  In our small morning support group, someone I don't know that well talked a good deal about their childhood, their life, their joys and struggles.  Deeply.  As I looked at her, I found the thought just floating up "We're becoming friends".  Sharing our vulnerability, our deeper feelings and thoughts often seems such an important part of getting closer to others.  Self-concealment can be a costly strategy for individual health - see, for example, the "Self-concealment scale" & "related references" - and too much caution around self-disclosure can also be costly for deepening interpersonal relationships too.  Butler & colleagues wrote about this in their 2003 paper "The social consequences of expressive suppression" and just last year Srivastava & colleagues looked at this issue prospectively.  In their study "The social costs of emotional suppression: A prospective study of the transition to college", they found that emotional suppression "predicted lower social support, less closeness to others, and lower social satisfaction."  We need to be cautious about extending these findings wholesale to non-Western cultures, but opening up is often so important for real emotional closeness with our friends and partners.

And in the morning full group there was such an amazing section where a dear friend stood and talked with deep passion about our connection with the natural world.  Of course he acknowledged the importance of our early family experience, and how our lives go as we grow up and live out in the world, and too the political and social systems we find ourselves in.  However, he also spoke from the depth of his being about our connection with all other living things, with nature, with this world.  And we are so immensely connected.  This shows in our genomes.  Carlisle and others have argued academically that " ... both the 'science' of wellbeing and its critique are, despite their diversity, re-connected by and subsumed within the emerging environmental critique of modern consumer society. This places concerns for individual and social wellbeing within the broader context of global human problems and planetary wellbeing".  Brown & Casser showed in their paper "Are psychological and ecological well-being compatible? The role of values, mindfulness, and lifestyle" that people with higher well-being reported higher levels of "ecologically responsible behavior" and this link was mediated by intrinsic values and mindfulness.  They conclude "These findings offer clues to a sustainable way of life that enhances both personal and collective well-being."  We need to be more responsible for our natural world, but - even psychologically - our natural world looks after us.  Last year, in a fascinating paper "Can nature make us more caring? Effects of immersion in nature on intrinsic aspirations and generosity", Weinstein & colleagues reported that "Four studies examined the effects of nature on valuing intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations. Intrinsic aspirations reflected prosocial and other-focused value orientations, and extrinsic aspirations predicted self-focused value orientations. Participants immersed in natural environments reported higher valuing of intrinsic aspirations and lower valuing of extrinsic aspirations, whereas those immersed in non-natural environments reported increased valuing of extrinsic aspirations and no change of intrinsic aspirations. Three studies explored experiences of nature relatedness and autonomy as underlying mechanisms of these effects, showing that nature immersion elicited these processes whereas non-nature immersion thwarted them and that they in turn predicted higher intrinsic and lower extrinsic aspirations. Studies 3 and 4 also extended the paradigm by testing these effects on generous decision making indicative of valuing intrinsic versus extrinsic aspirations."

Such a privilege and gift to hear of others' passionate commitment.  And in the afternoon we decided to walk further than usual.  We headed out to the hills to our south and made our way up the Green Bell - one of the Howgill Fells.  Apparently "The celebrated fellwalker A. Wainwright described the Howgills as looking like a herd of sleeping elephants".  Walking for a bit over two hours.  Such a soft, tough, rolling countryside these East Cumbrian hills.

And back to a shorter full group and, unusually, a second small group session.  Two or three of our group of five had issues come up that we wanted time for.  This, I guess, is part of the sense of time moving faster.  There's now only tomorrow and the final morning.  The cooking pot of the group feels very safe and the emotional heat is up.  Feelings, patterns, memories, associations, being triggered off.  Here's a place one can revisit old pains, old hopes, new joys, new excitements.  A precious, rare oasis of possibility in the busy-ness of our lives.

And after a delicious supper we danced.  Some of the best dancing of my life has been in these groups.  People are so warm, open, wild, risk-taking, exuberant, tender.  Mostly dancing, weaving, interacting in and around all of the group.  Such fun.  Playful.  Joyful. 

And then finally to bed.  A good day ... such a good day to have in my life.

Now see tomorrow's post "Peer groups, Cumbria spring group – fourth morning: honouring my mother"



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