Peer groups, Cumbria spring group – fourth morning: 'vision express' & where are these groups going?
Last updated on 24th September 2014
So how was yesterday? In the blog post "Peer groups, Cumbria spring group - third morning: authenticity, learning & interpersonal conflict" I talked about conflict & confrontation. I think I jumped in too fast and too hard a couple of days ago in a small group interaction that sparked some difficulties we went on to work with yesterday. Good intention, good work. Things have moved forward it seems. Teasing out the issues, being honest, hearing each other, apologising for unnecessary hurt. And it seems to me, it's well worth going back again to speak more about it ... to see where we've got to in our individual processing of what happened. There's potential learning here for me, for the other person, for our relationship.
And yesterday began with the usual mix ... of people gradually emerging, talking, hugging, many of us meditating together, shared forms of exercise and movement. Several of us too dipping in the stream. And breakfast. Getting together in the full group. Starting by each of us drawing how we are, how we're feeling. Then into small groups to talk about what came up and give feedback on what we saw in each other's drawings. Moving on to more talking in smaller groups. Massage too ... at least for some people.
I'd volunteered to make lunch. With help from friends we put together a rather delicious salad full of goodies ... eggs, pecans, olives, fennel, peppers, new potatoes, tuna, tomatoes, herbs. With bread and a couple of local cheeses, pretty bloody good ... even if I say it myself! It's lovely caring for each other in this way. And after lunch we went out on a brief "Vision Quest", a kind of "Vision Express"! I talked about this process at last year's group in the post "Honouring my mother". This year I walked with Catero, my wife. A good deal of the time we were in silence. In the past I've quoted the beautiful Mary Oliver poem, "The summer day" with its final lines:
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
And that's sort of what we did. A magical, childlike walk together. The "Vision Quest" was originally a North American Indian rite of passage lasting several days. Other cultures have similar practices. In this very short adaptation we carried a question, crossed a symbolic "threshold" to start and end the walk, looked for objects or places that we were drawn to and that might hint at new understandings of the question we were carrying. Lateral thinking. Being open to intuition and surprise. We talked, prepared, then went out for only an hour and a half or so. Coming back to the full group and, for a couple of hours we shared our different journeys, our adventures. Then making a bonfire, cooking, taking food and wine out to the fire. Eating, talking and singing. And finally many went to sauna and then a night time dip in the stream.
And this morning, waking as usual quite early. Thoughts, feelings, stirrings. Both about this particular Mixed Group, and about the overall cluster of linked residential peer Groups that have grown up over the last 21 years. Most numerous is the UK Men's Group with 30 to 40 coming each year and the numbers gradually increasing. There's also a Scottish Men's Group (a three day rather than the UK four day residential) - 23 guys came to this in February. And there are other smaller regional Men's Groups that get together as well. There's a fairly small UK Women's Group - it has its own character with maybe a dozen or so old friends meeting up for four days every other year. There was for a while a four day peer UK Meditation Retreat. It lasted three or four years and then "died". I suspect this was partly because it grew too quickly and didn't have a stable enough "culture". When the inevitable interpersonal disagreements came along, I don't think there was enough shared experience of coping with this kind of difficulty in the group of varied meditators who were taking part. "Spiritual" communities tend, I think, to be quite rule-driven, quite "authoritarian/paternalistic". This can work very well, but it doesn't build self-directing, interpersonal, peer group skills into participants. They may come expecting some "no external authority" version of this kind of retreat to always work as smoothly as the pre-packaged off the shelf version. No such luck. In some ways there are greater possibilities in the self-directed version, but there greater responsibilities too.
And then there's this UK Mixed Group. We were the first kid on the block, starting in 1991 after I'd contacted a bunch of people asking if they'd like to meet up for four days. I recently wrote an email about a possible Scottish Mixed Group that harked back to that original invitation saying "These peer groups are about personal growth work, friendship, and ‘retreat'. Although they don't have allegiance to any particular spiritual tradition ... the three jewels/refuges in Buddhism caught much of their flavour. So the concept of Buddha represented the understanding that we can all grow more into our potential; we can all, at times, live more fully and truly than we currently do. The concept of Dharma represents a sense that there are tools, ways of working, ways of exploring that can help us do this. And the concept of Sangha ... that being with others who are serious about this can help us hugely. Another way of putting it is via the Yeats quote ‘A friend is someone who sees the potential in you and helps you to live it'".
And there's change here in this Mixed Group. How do we see ourselves evolving? This year we're a dozen people, mostly in our 50's and 60's. Mostly we're old friends. I would add a fourth corner to what I see this loosely linked cluster of peer groups to be about. So there's personal growth work, friendship, and ‘retreat' (taking a special break in a beautiful place surrounded by so much greenery and blossoming Spring). And the fourth area, for me, the fourth corner is "outreach" ... welcoming others in to this network, this community. And this can be friends, and friends of friends. It can also more obviously go down the generations, our children, our children's friends, younger people who know us or who have been involved in the work we do. And with a Scottish Mixed Group starting this year ... a group that is likely to be younger on average and with a more obviously psychological/personal growth work flavour ... how will this affect the UK Mixed Group?
Buckminster Fuller said "The flow of energy through a system acts to organize that system". The people who are most involved and committed and interested in these peer groups rightly have a big say in the direction they go in. And different people can start different groups with different emphases. Evolution not revolution seems part of the message from the failed Meditation Retreat group. Space for many different forms also seems a clear message. And I personally would currently like the balance here in the UK Mixed Group to become a little more "personal growth work" flavoured again (this year, for me, had a higher proportion of friendship and retreat). I would also like more emphasis on "outreach" opening the UK Group gradually to input from younger people ... for example there is a rich, challenging opportunity emerging with the launch of the Scottish Mixed Group.
And for the fifth and last post about this Mixed Group, see "Peer groups: Cumbria spring group - reflection".