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Peer groups: Cumbria spring group - arriving

Catero and I drove down from Edinburgh starting a little after 2.30 pm and reached Fawcett Mill Fields in Cumbria less than three hours later. We've been to this lovely converted watermill so many times. Such a special place. We began - or this phase of meeting up with friends in 'groups' began - in 1991. I'd felt friendships with people who lived all around the UK were becoming more anaemic. All of us were - and continue to be - busy, working hard, enjoying hard, engaged with our lives. I wondered, and wrote to others asking, if I rented a place in the country, whether they would like to meet up for a few days. I said something like it would be a really great chance to spend time with each other, to look a bit more deeply at how our lives were going, and to have space to breathe and appreciate being somewhere beautiful. I talked about the 'three refuges' (and the ‘three jewels') in Buddhism - the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. I said that, although I wasn't a Buddhist, I found a sense in which these 'three refuges' seemed very relevant to what I was suggesting. So, for me, the Buddha represents a belief that we are all capable of living more fully, more richly, more truly. The Dharma represents a belief that there are ways, methods, environments that can help this process. The Sangha - the community - represents the sense that being with others who are serious about this process can be very helpful. I quoted Yeats "A friend is someone who sees the potential in you and helps you to live it" (or "A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words"). I asked if friends felt they wanted to try spending a few days together in this way. As they say "The rest is history".

That first group was for a mixture of both men and women. At the third Mixed group, in '93, the guys decided we would like to set up a Men's group as well for the autumn. A while later some of the women also decided to meet as a Women's group in alternate autumns. For a while we even had a peer winter Meditation retreat. The Mixed group has continued in the spring. It's been a blast, hugely precious. I calculate that now, in 2008, this is the 41st group meeting (Mixed, Men's, Meditation or Women's) that we're about to start. Well over 100 people have been through these groups. Additionally they have led to smaller regional group meetings in Scotland, East Anglia, the South Coast, the West Country and elsewhere. The groups have always been peer-led, so no designated or paid leaders. They have been open to friends and friends of friends. The request has been only to invite people who one feels would fit into this peer group culture. As the groups have evolved and their culture of caring, sensitivity and honesty has become established, we have kept the maximum number of newcomers in any year to less than about 20% of the total group number. The aim has been to maintain the culture that has been so helpful. As well as friends, participants have also invited their partners to the Mixed group and their sons to the Men's group - the Women's group has stayed small, so no daughters invited as yet. Precious times. Often very helpful. If I was to list ten things that I've done in my life that I feel best about, helping to get these peer groups going would be on that list.

Today we're the first to arrive. We pick a bedroom, do some unpacking, and get on with preparing the first evening meal. Others arrive bit by bit. Greetings, big hugs. By 8.30pm we decide to start eating even though the last couple is still to arrive.

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