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Peer groups, Cumbria spring group: third full day - boundary issues, friendships and singing round a bonfire under the stars

And it's the final early morning of this four day residential group.  I wrote yesterday about sunshine along the wall outside - and it's here again today, bright & fresh.  Sunday morning.  I can be a very organized person - lovely though to let my hair down at times here (what hair I've got left).  Yesterday evening we sang around a bonfire.  Fantastic stars.  The stream.  Wine.  Singing together.  Happiness.  Not to bed till well after midnight.

The day had begun writing in this little side sitting room here in the old converted watermill.  People emerging.  A dip in the stream.  Less a torrent now, but still wake-uppingly cold.  Breakfast and into our small support groups.  Checking in, and from brief conversations at breakfast I'd had a sense that some challenging issues might well be raised that I would be involved with in the full group.  And having the chance to begin feeling, thinking, speaking them through in this little support group of four people.  So lovely this chance to get to know these people better ... and be "seen" more by them.  An hour and a quarter or so in the small group.  Coffee and into the full group.  I had been a little concerned that because we are mostly such old friends coming together for this "20 year reunion", we might stay very much in "good time" mode.  Absolutely special and appropriate celebrating our friendship, but a chance to work psychologically on more difficult issues is also a precious, important aspect of these groups.  I'd wondered whether this kind of tricky stuff might be avoided a bit here.  But no.  Happily, at times bruisingly, we have regularly worked right into true feelings, even when they have been very challenging.

And themes of safety, loss, boundaries, grief, anger bubbling and criss-crossing.  Being given space.  Held.  Kindness, experience, enquiry, expression, working through.  Gosh so many crucial things can be raised here ... and mostly, again and again, they're processed very helpfully.  Not always, but frequently enough to make this one of the most special, in some ways "sacred" aspects of these meetings.  And we do have a lot of experience, insight, courage here.  There's no formal leader.  The richness of strong, honest, wise people sharing together.  I love it.  Scary at times ... and I love it.  Alive and learning.  Giving.  Receiving.

Lunch.  Speaking afterwards as two couples with old friends.  We've been on holiday breaks with them.  Crossed the country to be at each other's major celebrations & anniversaries.  I and the other husband have even run workshops together at times in the past.  Friendship.

And then one-to-one, walking with an old, old friend.  We've been here together so many times in Cumbria.  And, not surprisingly (!), we agreed to explore a walk we'd never been on before ... even after more than 20 years of coming here.  Fresh, beautiful day.  Talking deeply.  The curlew calls bubbling and dancing over the fields.  Checking in with our lives as we've done for well over a decade now - the post "Friendship: science, art & gratitude" looked more fully at these relationships.  And as I wrote then "The blog post "Strong relationships improve survival as much as quitting smoking" discussed a major recent meta-analysis highlighting how key the benefits of relationships can be. As the meta-analysis's linked editorial stated "The researchers reported that stronger social relationships were associated with a 50% increased chance of survival over the course of the studies, on average. The effect was similar for both "functional" (e.g., the receipt or perception of receipt of support within a social relationship) and "structural" measures of relationships (e.g., being married, living alone, size of social networks). Quite remarkably, the degree of mortality risk associated with lack of social relationships is similar to that which exists for more widely publicized risk factors, such as smoking. Arguably, such a level of risk deserves attention at the highest possible level in determination of health policy."

So good relationships are literally a life & death issue. They are also a happiness & wellbeing issue. As I wrote in the post "Friendship: a three day workshop" - "But it's not just about physical health & mortality - relationships are also so strongly connected with happiness & wellbeing. Csikszentmihalyi & Hunter's "Happiness in everyday life: the uses of experience sampling" found highest levels of reported happiness when people were with friends. Diener & Seligman's study on "Very happy people" reported how social happy people are. And it's not just sociability, it's depth too. Demir et al found that friendship variables (number, quality, personality, conflict) accounted for nearly 60% of variance in happiness, with friendship "quality" being of particular importance. Similarly Reis et al's "Daily well-being: the role of autonomy, competence, and relatedness" reported that to satisfy relationship needs "The best predictors were meaningful talk and feeling understood and appreciated by interaction partners". And in a study done this year - "Eavesdropping on happiness" - Mehl & colleagues used digital audio recorders to track real world behaviour and found that 'The happy life is social rather than solitary, and conversationally deep rather than superficial'".

And back from the walk.  Tea.  Again into a bit of a cauldron of feelings.  Where else could we do this?  Extraordinary.  People touching down to profound emotions.  Sharing here what is so immensely hard to feel down to in the busy-ness of our day-to-day lives, let alone to have the time & courage to express and be heard so openly & caringly.

And the supper.  Another feast.  But not drinking alcohol, so we could go to the bonfire and initially use it for a ceremony involving what we want to burn, leave behind and what we want to take forward from these magic days.  And then bringing in the wine, harmonica, singing on into the night!  And now the morning is speeding up.  People clearing, cleaning, looking again at the photos that go back over the last two decades.  Time to head out into this last morning of the group.  

For the last post about this four day group, see "Peer groups ... last morning and reflection overall".

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